The information and suggestions provided here are intended for use by teachers and parents of children under 11. (Michael Foreman's story 'War Game' (Puffin Books) is recommended as an ideal starter text if needed.) The main text and suggestions for projects are for parents and teachers to present as they wish. Ideas for discussion and activities are addressed directly to the children.

- 1914-1918
- story of the red poppy
- story of the white poppy
- here and now


We call it the First World War, but for quarter of a century it was known as The Great War. Not because it was admirable, but because it was immense. It came as a terrible shock to the millions who took part in it, and to the many more whose lives were affected by it at the time and long after it was over. War on such a scale, and involving so many countries, was new. Weapons of such power were new. Killing in such large numbers was new. And in Britain the need to force men as young as 18 (and some younger ones who pretended they were 18) to fight, by law, was new. This new kind of war filled people with awe-struck horror.


DISCUSS: Talk about shocks and surprises you've had or have learned about. Which were the biggest ones? Discuss what 'awe' means, too.

THINK: Think about the way people behave when they are surprised or shocked. For example, some people pretend it's no big deal, some cry or shout or go quiet, some do something practical. What do you do?

DO: Real life drama. With your family or your group decide on an event that's a surprise, and then imagine that you've been told it's happened. Work out, talk about (and maybe act out) what you all might say and do. Now do the same thing with something that's a shock. Did you make any discoveries?

The war officially ended at 11.00 am on November 11, 1918 (Armistice Day). As the same date approached in 1919, a recently returned High Commissioner told the British prime minister how during the war people in South African had stopped what they were doing for a few minutes at noon every day, to think seriously about the war and what it meant. The prime minister liked the idea of a countrywide silence as a sign of respect. So the newspapers published a request from King George V that 'at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month' people all over the country should pause for two minutes to remember in silence the British soldiers who had been killed in the war. The Daily Express said, 'it is our duty to see that they did not die in vain: there must be a truce in domestic quarrels, an end to industrial strife'. But the Daily Herald said, 'Swear to yourself this day at 11 o'clock that never again shall the peace and happiness of the world fall into the murderous hands of a few cynical old men'.


DISCUSS: Talk about how people behave after something awful has happened to them. Some say they will behave better and try not to quarrel. Some think about how to stop anything like it happening again. If the disaster is war, remember what the Daily Herald newspaper said: wars are planned and arranged by just a few powerful people at the top - maybe we should tell them to stop before someone gets hurt.

THINK: After a disaster what would you want to happen? What would you want to do yourself?

DO: When people gather together in silence to think about someone who has died, it isn't always easy to find the right thoughts. Write down some words that people could concentrate on while they are being quiet. They could be your words, or other peoples' words you've found and liked. You could try sharing them with some of your family and friends: they might find the words helpful too. What about some music to go with them?

On the first Armistice anniversary, Tuesday November 11, 1919, the country did indeed fall silent for two minutes. At the signal - church bells, flares, even gunfire - traffic stopped, people stood still in the street or stepped away from their work, machinery (and every telephone exchange) was turned off, nobody spoke. In some schools there were special assemblies for the Silence, in others people just sat quietly at their desks. At the Cenotaph in London, one of the first war memorials to be built, an Australian soldier stood in silence imagining 'a phantom army' of the dead, 'silently singing a song of triumph or victory'.


DISCUSS: Talk about the Silences, for people who are suffering or have died, which you or your family and friends may have taken part in. What other acts of respect do you know about? Are there others which you think might be a good idea?

THINK: Think about the first Armistice Day Silence. Imagine yourself in a busy street or on a crowded train when 11.00 came. What else would have to stop? What sounds could not be stopped (birds, for instance), and would it have mattered?

DO: There is almost certainly a war memorial near where you are. With your family or friends, find it and read what is written on it. Find out about the Cenotaph, which is London's chief war memorial; prayers have been said beside it on every Remembrance Day morning since 1921.

The impact of 'the Silence' on the people was enormous. The whole of everyday life could be halted simply by everyone joining together to do it. Most people found that very impressive and moving. Many thought it felt like a religious ceremony. The government almost immediately decided to make it an annual event. In the years that followed a spiritual element was encouraged as an important part of Remembrance ritual. So were ideas of 'victory' and 'glory' and 'sacrifice'.

All these were ways of trying to make sense of so many needless deaths, which had filled people with so much awe and horror. In the midst of mourning, people wanted to keep their awe at the enormity of the Great War, but to distance themselves from the horror. The fate of 'our glorious dead' was desperately sad, but the word 'glorious' gave it grandeur. The idea that these British soldiers had 'given' their lives was sad (and misleading, considering the real events); the word 'sacrifice' gave the idea nobility. But there is nothing characteristically grand or noble about war. War makes everybody, living or dead, its victims. War makes people all over the world bring needless death upon themselves and the people they care about (as well as those they don't). To interpret slaughter as sacrifice is to turn away from what is true and real, in search of a comforting dream.


DISCUSS: A ritual is a series of actions that are repeated. They can be simple everyday ones, like getting ready for school, but there are also special rituals like birthdays and festivals. Talk about rituals that are familiar to you: are they boring, painful, pleasant, comforting? Have you made up a ritual when a pet animal has died? And after you have shared a special experience with other people, have you looked for your own ritual (personal or shared) to help you remember it?

THINK: Think about words that are used to make things special. (Even 'special' is one!) Do these words change things? What about the ‘special’ tone of voice used by the people you know when important things are happening. Do you have one yourself? Do people sometimes use 'special' words and voices to make things special, even when they aren't?

DO: Make sure you know what a ceremony is, and then make a list of the ceremonies you know about. In your family or group choose a special event and together plan a ceremony for it using words, music, actions, pictures and objects. Write the plan down, so that it could be used again and again by other people. Afterwards, talk about what it is that makes ceremonies 'work'.

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