95 years ago, the world was irrevocably changed by the Great War. Across the country, across the world, people gather on Remembrance Day to pay their respects to the countless who gave everything while pursuing a cause they believed to be just and right. The petty politics and partisan squabbling that surround these events — red poppy… white poppy… no poppy — are mere distractions and luxuries paid for by the blood of those who fought and fell. As a teacher, I think it is important to remember that our job is to instruct and lead our pupils to an understanding of the context of war, and while we may editorialise based on our own beliefs, we owe it to the participants to recognise the extraordinary sacrifices they made.
It is our task to take the 20,000 soldiers who died on the 1st July 1916 (a number too large for most pupils to comprehend) and turn them into real people. People like Rifleman William McFadzean who was one of the first of the 20,000 to die on that day and in doing so earned a posthumous VC. His is a story pupils can relate to.
And now, the job of bringing the soldiers’ stories to life has become just that little bit easier thanks to the magnificent Wilfred Owen Multimedia Digital Archive (WOMDA), now renamed The First World War Poetry Digital Archive. For many years this has been a great repository of digitized artefacts from the Great War. Contemporary photos rubbed shoulders with scans of drafts and manuscripts of Wilfred Owen’s poems, audio recordings of veterans of the war sat beside extracts from Geoffrey Malins‘ films of the Battle of the Somme and the Battle of the Ancre, photos of the battlefields today were weaved in amongst the words of Owen, Sassoon, Rosenberg et al…
For a long time, WOMDA was sitting quite neglected and was laid out in a very ‘old’ html format beloved of those who learned to design websites using Netscape Navigator… but not any more… The whole site has undergone a massive makeover and is once more an invaluable place to include when studying poetry or the Great War. One ‘addition’ that I am particularly taken with is the Virtual Simulation of the Trenches on Second Life. At first glance, you might be forgiven for thinking that it shouldn’t work, but a few minutes going through the Camp and then on to the trenches themselves will convince you that this could be a fantastic means of bringing the Western Front to life.
I’ve always had reservations about SecondLife, but this is such a great example of what could be achieved that I am starting to think afresh about its value in education. This is one highly recommended resource, and you can find it at: http://slurl.com/secondlife/Frideswide/219/199/646/
This screengrab shows Wilfred Owen’s Dulce et Decorum Est as a gas cloud. Clever… and very, very effective!