Second World War suffers

4th September 2009 at 01:00

Yesterday marked the 70th anniversary of Britain's declaration of war with Nazi Germany. While thousands of men and women who saw active service are still able and eager to share their memories, each year sees their number reduced.

History - elective, not compulsory - flourishes in Scotland's schools, and there has been open and vigorous debate on the place of Scottish history in the syllabus. Decisions have been made. In the revised Higher history examination, there will be a compulsory paper in Scottish history. Given existing resources, it is probable that one of the most popular options will be "Scotland at War; 1914-1918". It is one of Scottish history teaching's success stories.

The same cannot be said of the Second World War. This conflict has remained the preserve of courses in the upper primary, with emphasis on the Home Front. Laudable though the teaching might be, "whale meat again" is a deficient diet for our pupils.

A curriculum gap exists which leaves young people with inadequate understanding of the last century's three crucial decades, 1914-1945. Several years ago, Hitler's biographer, Sir Ian Kershaw, summed up the Second World War as "the unfinished business of the First", arguing that the period must be viewed as a single entity.

As things stand, pupils would have to study an impossibly eclectic mix of National Certificate courses to have a sound and rounded knowledge and understanding of the causes, course and consequences of the "war of the century". But, with the new curriculum, a remarkable opportunity exists to create national certification courses on the Second World War. Our pupils need to know the history of a war in which their families were participants, as combatants and as civilians.

If we fast-forward 25 years, talk will be of the handful of survivors left who participated in Belsen's liberation, were part of "Bomber" Harris's squadrons or visited Hiroshima in the aftermath of its destruction. It will be fitting and just if, by then, an informed and articulate understanding of the Second World War has been created in our nation's schools.

Ron Grant, High School Drive, Elgin.

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