Actor to read British teenagers' research on Anglo-American WW2 relations, reports Sarah Cassidy
TOM Hanks, the Oscar-winning Hollywood actor, is to judge an essay competition for British schoolchildren which will ask them to explore the special relationship between the United States and the UK during World War II.
Teenagers will interview grandparents, elderly neighbours and war veterans to record the testimony of a generation who lived and fought alongside American servicemen during the war.
Mr Hanks will be part of a trans-Atlantic team of judges who will spend summer reading the teenagers' research. Since his performance in Saving Private Ryan, the actor has been involved in initiatives to commemorate the war including raising money for a memorial in Washington DC.
The competition is the brainchild of Philip Lader, the US ambassador to Britain. Since taking up his post in 1997 Mr Lader has hiked from Land's End to John O'Groats to meet British people from all walks of life.
On his travels he met many elderly Britons who told him about the friendship and camaraderie they shared with Americans during the war. "It is impossible for a history book to convey the depth and breadth of the British-American friendship," said Mr Lader.
"I have met many of the war generation who recounted extraordinary stories of friendship, relatonships and danger they shared with Americans. But sadly many are passing on. It occurred to me that it would be very useful to help ensure the generational continuity of this bond."
American young people were just as unaware, he added. But British youngsters had the opportunity to do their own historical research in their communities.
Mr Lader said: "I want young people to ask why they have family friends in Illinois - because their grandfather fought with someone from there. Why do they have American relations? Because an aunt met and married an American during the war.
"As an American who settled in Britain and with two daughters attending British schools I feel strongly that future generations can only benefit from a deeper understanding of how intertwined our culture, our history, our economy and our security are."
The competition will be officially launched by Education Secretary David Blunkett and senior embassy staff at the Imperial War Museum on Tuesday.
It will be open to all 14 to 16-year-olds, who must write up to 1,000 words on the impact of the British-American collaboration on their families, communities or the world. The authors of the three best essays will win a trip to Washington DC to meet officials at Capitol Hill and the White House. Twelve runners-up will win computer equipment.