Adult Education

7 Meaningful Ways To Commemorate the Centenary of World War One

As we reach Remembrance Day, World War One is everywhere.  It is on the news, the TV, the radio, in your bookshops and at the cinema.  If you’re studying World War One in history or English, or even if you’re interested in finding out some more about the war, this is an ideal time to capitalise on the huge wave of information out there to mark the centenary of the beginning of the conflict. Here is the pick of the wide range of activities available for you to take part in to commemorate those who died in the Great War.

1. Read some war poetry


A-level English students are very familiar with lots of these texts, but if you’re not, search for some online or in your library.  It is really interesting to track the different viewpoints towards the war, ranging from the jingoistic patriotism of Rupert Brooke’s ‘The Soldier’ to Wilfred Owen’s graphic ‘Dulce et decorum est’. If you’re into biting satire, read Siegfried Sassoon’s poetry, such as ‘The General’ – it’s short but has lost none of its vitriol all these years on.

2. Visit the poppy display at the Tower of London

Much has been written about this incredibly emotional and visually stunning installation.  I visited it last week, and was struck by how it seems to be the English version of the mass cemeteries in France and Belgium, such as the Menin Gate.  It is truly spectacular and really brings home the huge amount of loss during the war.  The display will start to be taken down over the next few days, but the section called ‘The Weeping Window’ will be on display until the end of month, when it will go on tour.  Don’t miss your chance to see it!

3. Visit the Imperial War Museum


The Imperial War Museum has permanent displays about life at the front and at home during the war, and so is well worth a trip to explore living conditions for those involved in the conflict.

4. Read War Girls by Adèle Geras and others (2014)


If you want to know about the lives of women during the war, then this fantastic anthology of short stories by well-known writers is a must-have.  Published earlier this year, War Girls explores WWI through the eyes of the nurses, ambulance drivers, land girls and wives left behind.  It explores voices we don’t often hear about when studying the war, and brings an individual perspective to allow some disengaged girls to connect with the material.  Additionally, the fact they are short stories means that they are accessible for unwilling readers.  An absolute gem.

5. Look at some propaganda posters
picture: bbc

If you’re interested in media studies, advertising or psychology, have a look at some of the propaganda posters produced during the war to inspire young men to join up and women to assist on the Home Front (see for example).  The use of persuasive language, emotional blackmail and stirring patriotism is a potent blend, which allows students to put themselves in the positions of people their own age one hundred years ago.  How would you have responded?

6. Visit the First World War Poetry Digital Archive
Wlfred Owen Oxford University

picture: University of Oxford

This website contains fascinating and rare manuscripts uploaded to the public domain, allowing us to access the drafts of poets such as Owen and Sassoon.  Most interestingly, it documents the famous meeting between Owen and Sassoon at Craiglockhart Hospital in Edinburgh, narrated in Pat Barker’s Regeneration (1991).  You can look at the famous manuscript of ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’, which Owen took to Sassoon for his advice at the hospital.  The document contains the handwriting of both poets, showing Sassoon’s amendments and crossings-out as he guided Owen to become the great poet he is remembered as today.

7. Find out about your own history
letter ww1 wikipedia
picture: wikipedia

Take the opportunity to speak to your family members and find out what your great grandparents or great-great-grandparents did during the war.  I spent a part of the summer digging through old family files and found the letters sent between my great-grandma and her husband, held as a prisoner of war in a German camp during the war.  We even have the telegram he sent his wife to tell her that he was on his way home, dated 23rd December 1918.  He was back in time for Christmas, as the army officers famously claimed – but four years too late.

Take the time over the next few weeks to really think about why we are commemorating this event 100 years later.  As we remember the events of the war over the next four years in particular, it is important not just to understand the big picture, but also to remember the individual lives affected by the devastating conflict that ensued 100 years ago today.

By Laura Clash, A MyTutor English Tutor

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