Preston schoolchildren in World War One event
PUBLISHED: 00:00 12 September 2014
It was a history lesson like no other for children from five schools near Preston, as Paul Mackenzie reports
Children were given a first-hand taste of life as a World War One soldier when their school became a training camp and battlefield. After being put through their paces on the parade ground, the youngsters were drilled in the use of rifles and bayonets before advancing on the enemy trench at the far end of the school field.
Pupils from St Wilfred’s at Longridge, Goosnargh Oliversons and Lea County Primary and Grange County Primary from Preston took part in the day-long event at Barnacre Road Primary School in Longridge.
The unusual history lesson was the idea of Barnacre Road headteacher Simon Wallis, who said: ‘We had different events taking place throughout the day. There were two men from the Museum Service dressed as Tommies who knocked the children into shape by shouting and bawling at them and had them square bashing. Then they spoke about the causes of the war and got them doing bayonet and rifle drills and there was a workshop about trench life.
‘There was an obstacle course for the children to do while carrying a broom handle and wearing a helmet. They had a World War One lunch and in the afternoon we recreated the first day of the Somme.
‘Some children were hiding in a ditch and the others were lined up and marched across. We had tape representing the barbed wire that hadn’t been cut and which funnelled the soldiers into narrow gaps and when they were close enough the children in the ditch threw water bombs. If you were hit you were dead, if you were splashed you were injured.
‘We didn’t want to trivialise what those men had gone through but it was a very interesting experiment and more than half were injured. We had an act of remembrance and a minute’s silence to remember what happened.
‘It’s all about bringing history to life. As a teacher I believe – and the teachers at the other schools involved have a very similar ethos – that children learn by taking part and being involved. It is the most powerful way of teaching.’
Simon was featured in Lancashire Life earlier this year after his World War Two show at Preston Guild Hall, performed by children from the same group of schools, won rave reviews.
He had been prompted to write that show by the stories his parents had told him and there was a family connection to World War One as well; his grandfather, Eliot Wallis, served as a second lieutenant with the West Berkshires.
‘He was at Passchendaele and he recorded some of his memories on tape – right from being a Victorian schoolboy to 1969,’ Simon said. ‘I think the reason he survived the war is that his regiment were posted to Italy. Although he took part in some quite horrific things, it wasn’t like being on the Western Front.
‘He never spoke to us directly about his war experiences but in his recording he discusses having to walk across duck boards over the mud and said he could have made the journey by walking on body parts.
‘I went out there with my father and brother and we re-traced the steps of his regiment. It is a very sobering experience.’
Barnacre Road Primary School WW1 event
Attacking the obstacle course
Where did he go?
Head teacher, Simon (Lieutenant Colonel) Wallis, leads the band
'Drill sergeant' Tony Durber of Lancashire Museum Service and some recruits
The School library was converted to represent the trenches and Sgt. John Meredith of the Lancashire Museum Service briefs his recruits before going over the top....
Head teacher, Simon (Lieutenant Colonel) Wallis, leads a chorus of 'Pack Up your Troubles'
The words of 'Pack Up your Troubles' projected onto the big screen
Tess Williams negotiates the obstacle course
Charlie Whittam negotiates the obstacle course
Ten years old Tess Williams and her first world war diary
Teacher Amy (Sgt Major) Shorrock putting her charges through their paces
Eleven-year-olds Matthew Dewhurst and Kyle Hutchinson helped to create this WW1 display
Hope Strickland and Fiona Heppenstall Deputy Headteacher Barnacre Road Primary School
Keeping notes for their diaries
Taking aim....Ten-years-old Connor Ashton of Grange Primary School (Ribbleton) receiving rifle training from Sgt. John Meredith of the Lancashire Museums Service
No ration books required here as the recruits sit down to lunch
And he will share that experience this month with a group of Year Six pupils from the five schools when they spend a week in Ypres visiting battlegrounds and war memorials.
‘The children will take part in the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate by laying a wreath and singing Pack up Your Troubles,’ he added. ‘We will visit Sheffield Park where the Accrington Pals went over the top and we will be looking for Lancashire names on the Thiepval Memorial to the missing of the Somme. We will also visit the Lachnagar crater where a massive mine was blown up on the last day of the Battle of the Somme.’