Teaching friendship through conflict: unseen footage sheds new light on the Great War

Having taught the First World War regularly as part of his school’s history curriculum, Aaron Oliva was looking for a new way to help students engage with the topic. Through unseen footage used by Peter Jackson, he was able to highlight the importance of friendship amongst the fighting.

Aaron Oliva

Friendship In The First World War

Since I started teaching in 2015, World War One has always been an important topic on the school curriculum. Over the years I have frequently focussed on the causes of the Great War and what conditions were like for the men and women involved in it. 

But rarely do we touch on the moments of war in which friendships were forged, how the social interplay helped these young men and women in horrendous circumstances.  However, by using unseen clips from Peter Jackson’s new film provided to me by the 14-18 NOW project, I have come to discover a whole new dimension to the war – one of laughter and friendship.

Banter on the battlefield

The footage and accompanying resources were thought-provoking, providing myself and the students with a valuable insight into how soldiers amused themselves during the war and why the bond of friendship was so important. 

In particular, one video showed a group of soldiers walking round a small mound, with one man holding a large wooden pole and hitting his friend playfully on the head as they circled around the scarred battlefield.

The students were surprised and amused, but more importantly they were able to empathise with the young man in the video. A group of students claimed, “Sir, that is something we would do”. 

The smiles on the faces of the soldiers helped the students to realise that friendship and laughter was an important part of war and that it was a necessity to help men cope with the sorrows of war.

On the back of this task, we were able to use oral evidence, supplied by 14-18 NOW, to provide the students with a deeper understanding of what friendship meant to the men. 

A deeper understanding

The lesson did not just give the students an understanding of the war, but it was also thought-provoking and enabled them to think about the importance of friendship today in their own lives. 

As a teacher, you often know when your students are engaged in a topic or not, which makes it easy for me to say that this lesson was one that engaged the students on a different level that I have not seen for a while. 

After the lesson, students commented on how warming it was to know that friendship was a big part of war, but more importantly, as one student pointed out “Sir, it was nice to hear about something good – because often it’s all doom and gloom”. 

The 14-18 NOW project has given me a brand new perspective on the war and what to teach from it. The fact that they have provided valuable resources to aid in the teaching of the topic, has motivated me to re-write our World War One History curriculum. 

I would challenge more History teachers to use these resources and to provide their students with a new insight to The Great War.