Active Learning on

Approach 7 – Getting personal with wars
Family starters for investigating the start of World War Two

Download the attachment – my mother's wartime [ click here ]

The Burma StarDuring a plenary at the 2010 SHP Conference Neil Bates, AST in Hampshire, demonstrated how he began teaching about Peterloo. Brandishing (carefully) a sabre acquired from a family friend, Neil asks students to ask questions about the sabre – but only answers with a limited amount of information so that the picture of when it was used, by whom and why only emerges slowly. It occurred to me that I might do the same with my Dad’s World War Two campaign medals of which the Burma Star was the one he was most proud of. The aim would be to work through – which war, who did they belong to, why were the awarded until we move into questions I can’t answer, of which the most obvious is ‘why did Dad join up in September 1939?’

So the medals are a starter and my genuine ignorance something to be made good use of – can the class research the outbreak of war in 1939 and why people joined up and having done so, offer me possible explanations of why my own father did so? Clearly I’d have to explain a little about him (such as until 1939 he’d never been further from Liverpool than the Isle of Man) and that why he joined up was one question I never asked – having spent over 4 years in India and Burma he never wanted to talk about his wartime experiences.

So, nothing lengthy there – just a personal way into exploring a big topic.

A not dissimilar question was sparked by another session at the 2010 Conference when James Woodcock ran a workshop on aspects of locality and significance, including work by his KS3 students on why World War One was so important to the people of Cottenham.

My motherStealing this question, I could also ask ‘why was World War Two so important to my mother?’ - a potentially interesting question because the answer has little to do with the usual aspects of war – causes, campaigns or, for women, work on factories or farms. For her the war was an escape – as the attached extract explains she deeply resented being forced to leave school at 14 and then her father’s death in 1942 prompted her to join the WRNS under-age – after training she was posed to Troon in Scotland, worked on a communications switchboard in the clubhouse at Royal Troon Golf Club (ironically one of those golf clubs that for years after the war didn’t allow women members) and went dancing with Canadian Air Force fliers. Most dramatically she and other Wrens did communications duties on landing craft practicing for the D-Day landings on the west coast of Scotland – all before she was 19. So for her World War Two was escape, excitement, freedom – and that was not untypical.

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Using Family Histories

Using Family Histories

  1: Generations

  2: Migration

  3: Sense of Period

  4: Industrial Revolution

  5: Changes in Everyday Life

  6: Overview of 20th Century

  7: Outbreak of WW2

  8: GCSE Medicine


The entire article (PDF)

My mother’s 1930s (PDF)

Dad’s 20th Century Lifetime (PDF)

My mother’s Wartime (PDF)

What do we owe our lives to? (PDF)