Each year in October and November, Poppyscotland receives correspondence from schools across the country requesting – among other things – learning packs, poppies and collecting tins. There is also a noticeable spike in use of our online resources and the Lady Haig Poppy Factory’s school-visit programme is always over-subscribed. Scottish schools are hugely important in helping future generations to understand Remembrance, as well as its wider significance.
Remembrance can be difficult to define. It is living, changing and a part of everyday life. It can be personal or shared, it can comfort those left behind and it pays respect to what is past. Poppyscotland’s learning resources focus on why it is important to remember.
However, it is schools, through assemblies, local history projects, fundraising events and other activities, that help shape young people’s understanding of Remembrance. I have had opportunities to work with a number of schools over recent years and have always been struck by the range of activities and depth of children’s understanding. Some of the most effective class projects have centred on research around those whose names appear on nearby war memorials. The ability to personalise Remembrance makes it much easier to relate to.
The centennial of the First World War has concentrated attention on the battlefields of France and Flanders. No veterans of 1914-18 survive to give voice to their experiences. Likewise, the number of men and women who participated in the Second World War is steadily declining.
Young people have a crucial role to play in future Remembrance. They should fill the void and become custodians of these memories, to ensure that the sacrifices of previous generations are not forgotten.
Poppyscotland’s 2017 competition, Poppy Places and Spaces, is a chance to explore the power of design as part of Remembrance and reflection in as creative a way as possible. Groups of schoolchildren are challenged to design an area – either indoors or outdoors – to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. This has become a fun and important part of the curriculum for many schools, with more than 1,000 entries in 2016.
Remembrance can also be controversial, however. There is a recurring debate over the alleged politicisation of the poppy.
Consequently, it is more important than ever that young people are well informed and able to contribute to this ongoing dialogue.
Poppyscotland does not seek to lead this debate in one direction or another. Rather, we facilitate as broad an understanding of the subject as possible among our nation’s young people. Scottish schools have an important part to play, too. Based on current levels of interest, future generations will be well equipped to appreciate the importance of Remembrance – and why it remains significant to them.
Dr Derek J Patrick is the Moving Poppy outreach project and learning officer at Poppyscotland