Bringing history to life

12th January 2007 at 00:00
With the local war memorial and the world wide web at their disposal, Alf Wilkinson and his pupils made connections that fixed the First World War in their minds forever

I had often looked at the war memorial in the Methodist chapel in my tiny Lincolnshire village. I read the names and wondered who they were, where they are buried and what happened to them. Well, by using the web, it is now possible to find out a great deal about them. My class was studying the First World War and I wanted to link it to the local area, as well as to emphasise the global nature of the conflict.

Too often we focus on the Western Front to the exclusion of all else, and too often we fail to link the war to the rest of the population. So I decided to use my local war memorial as a starting point. It has only two names on it: one, Fred Garrill, died at Gallipoli, and the other, John William Ward, died at Passchendaele.

By using the Commonwealth War Graves Commission site we were able to trace both soldiers, see their memorials and find out about the battles in which they died. Your local memorial will probably have more names on it. With some judicious selection, you can ensure your research covers different fronts.

Further web research helped my pupils discover more about Gallipoli and the Western Front, thus firmly linking our village to the whole war. Both my casualties were in the Lincolnshire Regiment, so more investigations (on www.regiments.orgregimentsukinf010Lincs.htmNoNohistory, for example) told us about the history of the regiment, and especially its role in the First World War. We discovered that the badge on the war memorial, "Egypt", refers to a battle honour granted to the regiment in 1801, one of Wellington's great victories over Napoleon. And that the regiment's nickname is "the Poachers", as their regimental march is The Lincolnshire Poacher. There is a regimental museum in Lincoln, so a visit there grew out of our discussions and research.

A simple lesson based on two names on a war memorial, using technology to research and present information, proved an effective way to anchor the First World War in the local area - as well as to prove that at least one of the official documents held by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission was wrong. Fred Garrill of Great Hale Fen has become Great Vale Fen in the register - showing that you can't always trust official documents. Why don't you try to do the same for the names on your own local war memorial? Each village has one, and with a little time spent searching, you might be amazed at what you can discover Alf Wilkinson is professional development manager for The Historical Association. He taught for 24 years in a comprehensive in Bedford and then part-time in several Lincolnshire schools. He has written a series of textbooks - Longmans' History First for key stage 3 - and has his own website - - for history teachers

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