Furnished in Forties' style

30th June 1995 at 01:00
History on the home front has been recreated by a Lincolnshire primary. Harvey McGavin reports. When you are only eight-years-old, history can be a hard concept to grasp. But pupils at one Lincolnshire primary have a unique resource to help them understand the past - a recreation of a 1945 house on their doorstep.

Cranwell Primary stands next to an RAF training base - the flyers' equivalent of Sandhurst - in an estate of pre-war servicemen's married quarters.

Decommissioning has left many houses empty, so staff at Cranwell approached the RAF with a proposal to return one to the way it would have looked 50 years ago.

It has taken weeks of decorating, borrowing and scavenging by staff, RAF cadets, parents and the children themselves to transform the three-bedroomed house into a vivid representation of life during wartime.

Local businesses have given their labour free, putting back original features like light fittings, enamel sinks and stoves.

The house, which was built in 1936, is decorated and furnished for a family of four - father in the RAF, an eight-year-old daughter and a baby son. It's similar to the home situation of many of the 220 pupils - three-quarters of them have parents in the air force. And postings mean the school has a high turnover.

The RAF has allowed the school free electricity and water and graced the opening ceremony last week with a flypast from the Battle of Britain memorial flight and the Red Arrows display team.

There have been more donations of household items than there's space for ("we've had an embarrassment of wringers and mincing machines," says deputy head Steve Douglas). Period furniture, much of it loaned by a television and film props company, completes the picture.

Outside, the windows are taped, there are sandbags round the front door, a rusting Anderson shelter has been rescued from a farmer's field and the infants' Dig for Victory garden is sprouting nicely.

"We have had a lot of help from the local community and that's been one of the nice things about it: everyone has wanted to get involved," says headteacher Denny Woodthorpe.

"The idea is that it is going to be a living museum for the children to work in. Instead of just seeing a picture of something, they can actually come in and work in the environment. We want it to look as if we have just unearthed this place and dusted off the cobwebs."

But it's not only the children at Cranwell who will benefit. "We want as many people as possible to get use out of it," says Denny Woodthorpe. So the house will be open to other schools by appointment during the week and to the public at weekends.

Teachers are putting together a series of activity worksheets on a variety of themes, looking at how and why the house differs from homes nowadays, and what a child's life was like in those days.

Leaving the complex politics behind the outbreak of World War II to their secondary colleagues, the staff concentrate on the home front and attempt to explain the war to the children in terms they can relate to: "We tell them that Germany was bullying Poland and we had to go to their aid," says Denny Woodthorpe.

Deputy head Steve Douglas thinks the project has extended the children's limited experience of the past - "yesterday is history to most of them. " Their first impressions of the house brought some unexpected responses. "We were looking at how everyday objects have changed and they noticed some really funny things, like how heavy the telephone was. One class was intrigued by the blankets - they have only ever had duvets!" It has also given them a real sense of how their grandparents might have lived at their age, he says. "The children don't relate so much to Victorian things but there are people still alive who can remember things in the house. It's that link which has really caught the imagination."

A group sit in the front room listening to school governor Doris Wallington reminisce about her wartime experiences as a policewoman. Mrs Wallington is one of several local people in their sixties and seventies who have been invited to take part in an informal oral history project.

"What they can't understand," she says, "is that our generation knew very little about Germany. The children here have travelled all over the world. "

The children are enthusiastic about the house. "It's brilliant the way they have done it up," says eight-year-old Kirsty Mellors. "I thought it would be really uncomfortable but it isn't at all."

They are less keen, however, on the idea of living in it. Given a choice between the wind-up gramophone or wireless of 1940s austerity and the relative prosperity of the 1990s, there's only one winner. "I think I would miss my CD player," Kirsty decides.

Details of the project are available from Denny Woodthorpe at Cranwell Primary. Tel: 01400-261271; fax 262217

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