The Great War

With the centenary of World War I underway, I've been trying my best to educate my kids on the significance of this terrible event: its impact on society, the dreadful loss of young life, and how much we owe to those who gave their lives



Important lessons about history

Like many children, mine are quite interested in history, especially when it comes to battles and conflicts. They have been full of questions, which I've tried my best to answer; however, I've discovered I don't know nearly enough about the history surrounding WWI. So, we have being using the internet and getting out and about to uncover some fun ways of learning about this important event.

As a result, we've all been been incredibly moved by some of the things we've learnt. As most people know, one of the stand-out points of this war was the enormous loss of life. This has been estimated as 16 million people worldwide, making it one of the deadliest conflicts ever to occur in history. The overall death and casualty toll is estimated to be 37 million.

Just saying that sends a shiver down the spine and my children were hard put to grasp the magnitude of this. To put it into context, we had to imagine it as halving the entire population of Britain. In addition, the surviving and wounded soldiers had to cope with the terrible burden of living with what they saw, with very little help available to them in the civilian world.

Memorials for the heroes of WWI

We then went out and about, looking at different memorials, some of which we had seen before and some new. Once you start to look, it's just incredible to realise that there is one in practically every town and village across Britain. Some are well cared for, but some are forgotten and overgrown - a dreadful paradox to the words 'we will remember them'.

Most of us will have relatives who were directly affected by WWI, so we had great fun looking up our ancestors on a genealogy website. The children discovered that their great grandfather was in the Royal Horse Artillery and was discharged after inhaling mustard gas. Our imaginations filled in the rest.

The best part of our 'project' was learning about how children coped during this time of great worry and immense change. Not only did they have to cope with losing father's, grandfather's, brother's and uncles, in many cases they had to endure hunger, ill health and poverty too, some families surviving on bread and jam or dripping and perhaps one meal with meat and vegetables on a Sunday.

Unsurprisingly, we discovered that children were more resilient than we think and most displayed courage and fortitude.

We will remember them

My children were amused to learn about the toys of the day, too; they learned that the lucky ones who owned any toys at all had spinning tops, skipping ropes, rag dolls or marbles to keep them amused. For the ones who had no toys, street and parlour games such as cards, hide and seek, or swinging from a rope tied around a lamp-post had to do!

In this busy, instantaneous, consumer-mad world we live in today, it's so easy to forget what has gone before us. Some say WWI was a pointless and terrible war famed only for the scale of its slaughter, and for setting the stage for WWII. Others argue that medical and technological advancements were made without which we would have far less freedom and choice today.

Whichever way you look at it, we owe a debt of gratitude to those young men who signed up, full of goodwill, to fight for their country and then sacrificed so much for those of us enjoying our freedom today.

I just hope we can all take a moment to remember them.

Jayne, Working Mum and Freelance Editor

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