War memories come home for children

6th May 2005 at 01:00
Moving and dramatic testimonies of war veterans have been used to make a permanent record of their experiences during the Second World War, informing children about the significance of VE day.

The resulting exhibition by pupils at Netherlee primary in East Renfrewshire coincided with the 60th anniversary of VE day this week, and has helped bridge the generation gap and give youngsters greater insight into the war.

Every child in the upper school was asked to produce homework based on interviews with older family or community members to form part of the exhibition, which included artefacts such as gas masks, medals and uniforms loaned by the local community.

Taking pride of place were DVD recordings pupils made with local veterans.

They tell the story of the war in their own words, including soldiers who took part in the D-Day landings in Normandy, a prisoner of war who escaped and a woman who, as a girl, saw Rudolph Hess, Hitler's Deputy Fuhrer, after he bailed out of his aircraft over Scotland in 1941 in an episode still shrouded in mystery.

Eight primary 7 pupils, who run an enterprise company called Lessons from the Past Shaping Our Future, launched the project with the help of pound;4,500 in lottery funding and the support of three of the school's principal teachers, Mark Weir, Brian McLachlan and Michael Hapgood.

"We wanted to do the veterans justice and create something lasting," Mr McLachlan said. "The school has always focused heavily on the Holocaust, not least because of the large Jewish population in our surrounding community. But this project has made a link between today's generation and those who served or lived through the Second World War."

Twelve-year-old pupil Cairn Cleland said: "This was the first time I had ever spoken to someone who had been through something like that. They were happy to share their memories but said they seemed to remember the happy bits better. Sometimes it was ghastly hearing what they went through but it was great to speak to the person rather than read it from an old book."

Christina Scott was 10 when she was evacuated to nearby Eaglesham, where she witnessed the aftermath of Hess's landing.

Mrs Scott said: "The memory has always stayed with me, although I don't think about it very often. I was happy to speak to the pupils and glad that they were interested enough to listen. Young people often think war is all about battles and don't always appreciate the reality about life at home, such as the rationing."

There are recollections from Iain McDonald, a Wellington bomber pilot who was shot down. Mr McDonald said: "I had to censor some memories for the young people but I think it is very good for them to be interested. I hope it would maybe deter a future war if they hear what has happened in the last major war. I thought the exhibition was wonderful."

Mr Weir, one of the principal teachers, said: "These pupils have done a first class job of bringing history to life. They have captured the memories of older people on DVD as a local history and educational resource. Some parents have said it is the first time that children and grandparents have sat down and discussed what happened, because for an awful long time it was something that wasn't talked about."

Local councillor Mary Montague, who visited the exhibition, said: "This is history, citizenship and enterprise education all rolled into one. It's a trip down memory lane and a reminder to us all of how precious the peace which the veterans fought for is to younger generations."

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