A soldier's view of the Great War

8th May 2015 at 01:00
Members of the British Army give lessons on the conflict

Serving soldiers from the British Army are visiting schools to help history teachers deliver lessons on the First World War, drawing on their first-hand experiences of the battlefield.

The initiative has been set up by the armed forces to mark the centenary of the Great War, giving secondary students a glimpse of what life would have been like in the trenches a century ago.

According to the organisers, army personnel who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan are able to offer students a greater insight than history teachers into what soldiers might have experienced on the front line.

The project employs props such as rifles, gas masks and other equipment used during the First World War to bring the realities of early 20th-century conflict to life.

The scheme has been put together by Captain Ash Edwards of the Royal Yeomanry regiment, who said that serving soldiers could offer a deeper understanding of the strategic decisions and mistakes made between 1914 and 1918.

"We can give a better insight into what life is really like in an active [combat] environment, and explain what the soldiers in the First World War may have been going through. Plus there is a bit of the `wow' factor when you have soldiers in uniform giving a presentation on the war," he explained.

Captain Edwards dismissed suggestions that the scheme might be viewed as an attempt to recruit students into the armed forces. "If anything, it would put them off," he said.

Joining the ranks

Yardleys School in Birmingham is one place to have been visited by serving soldiers linked with the project. History teacher Ed Lawrence said their contribution had made a huge impact on his students - and had gone a long way to improving perceptions of the British Army among his largely Muslim pupils.

"The children were just raving about it. They came in earlier this week and they are still talking about it," Mr Lawrence said. "It is successful because it is being delivered by people who have walked in soldiers' shoes, 100 years on.

"They have seen active service. They have seen what the battlefield is like. Plus it puts a human face on the British Army which, for many of our students, is often viewed as a monolithic oppressor of Muslim countries. It helped to remove a lot of the preconceptions."

John Blake, a history teacher and assistant head at the London Academy of Excellence, said such initiatives could do a great deal towards improving community relations by highlighting the number of Muslim, Hindu and Sikh soldiers who fought as part of the Allied forces.

Serving soldiers could prove very effective at bringing the Great War to life, he added. "Hearing from those who can draw on their own experiences can convincingly explain what life would have been like on the front line," Mr Blake said.

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