War's lesson for the heirs of peace

5th May 1995 at 01:00
Children's and schools TV take pupils back to 1945 with memories and re-enactment. SCHOOLS AT WORK: OPERATION GRAN. Age group: all.Channel 4, May 9, 10.53am

For today's school pupils the Second World War constitutes ancient history, something familiar only from television or an elderly relative's interminable reminiscences.

Operation Gran encourages a different view. By juxtaposing one woman's memories with her mementoes, the programme brings home the emotional and material hardships suffered.

This term's Schools at Work begins with four programmes related to the VE Day anniversary, in a series designed to show how schools can bring the curriculum to life, featuring real pupils in real schools.

In a mock-up of a wartime canteen, pupils from the George Mitchell School, Leyton, east London, both recount and act out the wartime experiences either of acquaintances or members of their families.

The main drama concerns a pupil whose great-grandmother lost her husband early in the war. Following the re-enactment of a canteen conversation in which the woman, played by a pupil, reads out one of his last letters ("Kiss the children for me, and take a big one for yourself"), we see her as she is today, recalling with her great-granddaughter how she learned of her young husband's death.

With the relevant official documents inserted at appropriate places in the narrative, this is a tale made more poignant by its typicality. First, official notification of injuries suffered, next a pessimistic War Office form, "the department has reluctantly reached the conclusion that he must have succumbed to his wounds" and third, the standard letter of condolence, "The Queen and I offer our heartfelt sorrow in your great loss".

It is a touching little story, and one which will rouse pupils to similar inquiry among their own families as well as adults in general.

As presenter Martin Spafford says, "The pupils realised that this is a history they shared, wherever in the world their families came from". It is hard to think of a more appropriate lesson for VE Day.

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