Traditionally, the First World War had been seen by my students as a distinctly “black and white” war.
Many of them had not been able to sympathise or empathise with the plight of the soldiers. They simply felt that the War was “nothing to do with us. It’s in the past.”
In a world dominated by vivid LED screens and colour, what Peter Jackson’s new film has done is help build a bridge between the past and the present. A bridge that allows the youth of the 21st century to reach out to the youth of 20th and begin to appreciate the monumental sacrifice that this “Lost Generation” made to save the world from tyranny and horror.
No longer were my learners believing that this conflict was eons ago; now they have begun to appreciate that real people, with real lives and real families, fought and died for their country.
Together with the accompanying resources, the video footage created a really strong level of engagement within the class. The previously grainy images now had the feel of something students might find on Netflix or YouTube, and so instantly held more resonance.
This increased engagement lead to higher order questioning around medicine during the war and allowed learners to delve deeper into the clips themselves.
I was able to quiz the learners about whether medicine could ever advance without the occurrence of warfare. This prompted them to consider the impact of plastic surgery on the battlefield, as well as the use of portable X-ray machines by Marie Curie and her assistants.
Having previously struggled to capture imaginations on these topics, the use of video had brought about a visible step change.
A lasting memory
As well as helping teaching, Peter Jackson’s work permitted learners a very real glimpse into the life of soldiers on the Western Front. Not from the point of view of a text book author or myself, but from the soldiers themselves.
In capturing the imaginations of the children, it has allowed the memory of the First World War to be kept alive for another generation. It made learners appreciate the duty, but also their right, to perpetuate the story of the sacrifice, bravery and honour with which every individual involved showed in this conflict.