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The Great War Blogger

December 19, 2007

Is it possible to use a blog to genuinely bring history to life? The answer is a resounding yes as this imaginative blog ably demonstrates.

As many of you may know, as well as being an advocate for all things Web2.0 I’m also a keen student of the Great War. As such, you can probably guess that I was always going to love the WW1: Experiences of an English Soldier blog which is one of the most imaginative uses of the medium that I’ve yet discovered.

William Henry Bonser Lamin was a British soldier during the Great War and the blog consists of the letters he wrote home along with other related documents… the clever bit is that Lamin’s grandson is posting the letters 90 years to the day after they were originally written. This means gaps between posts… sometimes considerable gaps… but this just adds to the reality of the letters. The letters start in February 1917 when Harry is at training camp. There is something extremely human about his mention of being unable to get rid of a cold then immediately saying “… but I am lucky to keep as well as I do.”

letterLamin’s grandson has taken the time to give background on the main players in this story (Posts in October and September 2006), but you will soon begin to know them through reading the letters. One gets a real sense of the agony of waiting for news that those back home must have experienced through having to wait for the next ‘post’ on the blog.

As a teaching tool, the blog has immense potential for English and History, but I think other subjects could tie into the subject matter of the letters. A couple of ideas I had were to get my own class to write letters/replies to Lamin based on what he said, to put themselves in his position and write to their own families, or moving away from the Great War, consider the impact that writing spread over a period of time has compared to the single ‘one-off’ essay that typifies much of the work pupils do. As a means of relating a narrative, it is a wonderful resource. It is also fascinating to see how the way we use language on a day-to-day basis has changed.

As a historic text, I think it would feed easily into the study of the Great War in a History department. I re-discovered on my trip to the Battlefields earlier this year that our pupils may learn the numbers, but it is up to the teachers to put human faces onto those numbers and this blog is a brilliant means of doing so.

If you want to follow Harry’s experiences, you’ll need to do two things. First, you need to start at the beginning of the blog and work your way through to the present day, and then you’ll need to add him to your RSS reader… The first post is HERE if you want to get started.

Finally, one of my favourite museums is the In Flanders Fields museum in Ypres / Ieper. When you enter the museum, you are given a barcoded ticket with the name of someone who participated in the Great War printed on it. As you move through the museum you can scan your ticket to find out what happened to your ‘character’… inevitably, some of the characters do not survive and I have always been surprised at the impact these ‘deaths’ have on the pupils I am showing around the museum. So it is with Harry Lamin’s blog: there are no indications as to Harry’s eventual fate so you’re just going to have to stay subscribed if you want to find out whether Harry made it to the end of the war safely… I’m hooked!

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. December 19, 2007 9:30 am

    A great resource – some of my S3s are going to be doing war poetry after Christmas so will pass it on to their English teachers. Do you know the film “Joyeux Noel” which is in 3 languages and set in the trenches during the Christmas cease fire? I’m going to use it in French when they are studying war poetry.

  2. December 19, 2007 2:14 pm

    Many thanks for the kind comment on your blog about Harry’s blog. They are much appreciated.

    If you do get pupils to write their own letters, I would really appreciate copies. I can’t guarantee that Harry will be able to reply but I will certainly respond if appropriate!

    Thank you again for the support.

    Bill Lamin

  3. December 20, 2007 3:08 pm

    Thanks for the comments… I am so impressed by the blog and what it has set out to do. Really clever and beautifully simple way of bringing the letters to life again.

  4. worldwar1letters permalink
    January 25, 2009 3:47 am

    You will also enjoy reading Soldier’s Mail: Letters Home from a New England Soldier 1916-1919 at which has become a valuable digital research and museum resource as well as a Secondary-level interactive educational experience. Stop by and come march along with Sam!

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