This year, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month marks the centenary of the armistice which ended World War One. One hundred years have passed since that day we now commemorate as Remembrance Day and how the world has changed in that time! Sadly, this was not “the war to end all wars” as was hoped.
Every year, I, along with thousands of other teachers, prepare lessons for Remembrance Day. I try to imagine what life could be like if I lived elsewhere, without the freedoms and privileges we so often take for granted in Australia. Freedoms hard won and bought by the blood of many. I try to imagine the excitement, idealism and patriotism, later replaced by sheer terror, unimaginable conditions and exhaustion experienced by young, poorly trained volunteer soldiers headed off for what they saw as the ‘adventure’ of The Great War. I somehow doubt so many teenagers and young adults would be rushing to sign up if war broke out now.
We talk about commemorating the ultimate sacrifice made by thousands of servicemen and women. There are often stories of relatives who have served. Students sometimes report parents not wanting to commemorate this significant date “because it’s too sad and depressing” or “because it celebrates war”. I must admit, I also struggled with this for many years before arriving at my current viewpoint. I agree, it is sad to think of all those promising young lives cut off.
It is a sobering experience to wander through a war cemetery, wherever it may be, reading the grave markings. It is impossible to imagine anyone experiencing the horrors of war, but often the war graves belong to teenage boys, not yet men. Imagine the fear in the hearts of these boys as they faced their enemy, being forced to kill or be killed. Imagine the turmoil experienced by mothers, sisters, wives, children waiting for their return and finally hearing of their deaths. I disagree that Remembrance Day celebrates or glamourises war. I believe it is important to keep stories of war alive in the hope we may one day learn from history. (A big call, I realise.) As the two world wars slip further into history and those who survived them are no longer around to remind us, we are left with the danger of making the same mistakes that led to these wars all over again. Many would say it is already happening.
Gratitude has a large part to play in Remembrance Day commemorations. We are grateful to those who fought and died, believing they were making a better world and buying our freedom. I love to incorporate gratitude activities into the classroom and what better time than Remembrance Day? A few years ago I discovered a TpT Remembrance Day Australia resource. (Note: It has since been updated and the new version looks different.) Amongst other activities was a ‘gratitude poppy’. I loved the idea of this and now use it to finish Remembrance Day activities on a positive. Tears are often shed as we share war poems or picture books and it’s nice to finish with some uplifting thoughts. After sharing John MacCrae’s “In Flander’s Fields” poem, written in 1916 and still guaranteed to leave everyone listening close to tears and silent in 2018, we discuss how red poppies became known as a symbol of remembrance soon after World War One before making our own ‘gratitude poppy’.
Children are encouraged to think beyond ‘things’ to concepts, rights and privileges they can be grateful for. They are made aware their poppies will be displayed and can adjust responses to suit this. Responses vary and reveal much about the maturity, world concept and understanding of those completing them. One child is grateful for soccer, whilst another is grateful for sight, clean water and a safe place to live. One is grateful for an x-box whilst others record their pets, family, enough food to eat or the opportunity to get an education. It is always interesting to read the responses and kids love to read what their friends wrote too. I’ve been saddened to discover several students who really struggled to find anything they were thankful or grateful for but most children have the opposite problem, struggling to narrow their gratitude down to fit into each petal of their gratitude poppy. Students then decorate their poppies.
In past years, I’ve displayed the completed poppies on a noticeboard or asked children to take them home to share with families. This year, I finally followed the directions of the activity developer and made a giant wreath on a classroom noticeboard. Being a double class, we had plenty of poppies to make a beautiful gratitude poppy wreath.
Our gratitude poppy wreath will remain on the wall long after Remembrance Day, serving as a visual reminder of the gratitude we owe to our fallen and the gratitude we can express for our everyday lives.
11. 11. 1918 – 2018. We will remember them.