Rising Brook V-Thanks Project
Rising Brook High School is an 11-18 High School to the Southern edge of Stafford. It serves the local community and has recently been designated Specialist Sports Status. During the year 2005 all of Year 9 were involved in a project to commemorate and re-live the events of 1945 to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II. Altogether around 100 pupils, including some Sixth Form, 20 members of staff, members of the Staffordshire Regiment Army and 5 War Veterans were involved in the Project.
The overall aims of the Project were to encourage Y9 pupils who were studying World War II as part of their History syllabus, to investigate the impact that the Second World War had on the lives of those who lived through it through engagement and interaction with veterans, by visiting the Imperial War Museum in London to experience interactive exhibits and to re-create a realistic World War II experience in school using staff, the Army and other volunteers.
|Pupils working on the project
In February 2005 Y9 pupils visited the Imperial War Museum in London and participated in the Blitz Experience as well as viewing exhibits and artefacts from the time of the Second World War. They used a Secret Code worksheet to follow a trial on a special D-Day exhibit to work out a secret message. In subsequent follow up work in class some of these experiences were reflected upon and built into lesson planning.
A small group of 8 Y9 pupils then undertook to find and interview War Veterans about their experiences. Using a Pensioners Lunch Club in the school, with some help from their teacher (me) we persuaded the reluctant pensioners to talk about their experiences and these are recorded in Appendix One. A reporter from the Express & Star newspaper became interested in this project and interviewed these pupils resulting in the first of two articles appearing in that newspaper. As a result of links through the ‘Their Past, Your future’ project at the Imperial War Museum, we were contacted by another War veteran in the area, who in November 2005 came to give a talk to the same Year group who were studying History GCSE (by now in Y10) .
|V Thanks display in school
The final part of the Project was a V-Thanks Day on Friday 8th July, timed to co-incide with national V-Thanks Day, in which 100 Y9 pupils undertook a number of themed activities involving map-work, rationing, marching, being evacuated, taking part in an escape plot (in French) and mass singing!! The 181 AYT Army team from Lichfield Barracks led square bashing and parade drill and all staff who took part (including the Headteacher) dressed up in costume specially hired for the day. Needless to say, press coverage was extensive and a large photographic display from the event provided the centrepiece of Open Day for the School, occupying pride of place in the foyer.
It is impossible to measure the outcomes for pupils in quantitative terms, but feedback from nearly all pupils was very positive and they will all have had an opportunity to experience a simulated World War II experience as well as time for reflecting and learning more about World War II. Some pupils brought in objects and had obviously talked to elderly relatives about their experiences.
The group that interviewed the Veterans had a chance to meet and talk to a different generation, with mutual benefit to both, with the pensioners impressed that young people were still interested in finding out about and studying the War and the young people fascinated by some of the recollections, as well as a reluctance on the part of some to talk about it even after all of this time.
|Staff taking part in activities
The staff who took part, from a variety of subject disciplines, all had a fantastic time, the opportunity to develop a cross-curricular theme related to Citizenship outcomes and relating directly to the Community. They now want it to become an annual event!
The British Legion also benefited from a donation of £360 which was raised from the sale of V-Thanks badges and sale of carrot and Anzac cake to hungry pupils to raise funds on V-Thanks day. (Thanks to the canteen staff also for developing the recipes and baking the cakes).
(Project Co-ordinator and Head of History)
Stan was born in Stafford but worked in Reading for most of the War years. He left school at 14 and went to work for an engineering company. At first they were making bicycle parts but then they switched production in 1940 to making the tips of the wings for Spitfires. Apparently they kept splitting and falling off when the plane was landing because they were not strong enough. The new wing tips were wooden and had to be taken to the nearby Spitfire factory to be fitted. Stan would cycle with them and was worried that if he dropped one and they split then the foreman of the Spitfire factory would shout at him!
At first there was little bombing in Reading, presumably because of the Phoney War, but then the air-raids started. The siren would go when the planes came over the coast and everyone would have to go down the air-raid shelters. Stan reckoned that the Anderson Shelters were quite good, but could not survive a direct hit. One day his friend at work did not appear-his house had taken a direct hit the night before. Reading was not a main target but the bombers would sometimes drop their load either on the way to Coventry(?) or on the way back. At first the sirens would not sound the all-clear until the following morning, but after a while they stopped doing this because no work was being done on the night shift and the workers were too tired to work the following morning. You did not get much sleep in an Anderson Shelter.
Later in the War Stan’s factory started preparing for D-Day. They made the flat bottomed boats that the Allies used to land on the beaches of Normandy. These were originally an American design but were made now in Britain. They were launched on the Thames and floated down to the docks (Tilbury?) ready for use by the troops. They sat low in the water and had a big flap that dropped down at the front so that the soldiers could run straight up the beach.
Eventually Stan was old enough to join the Navy and was sent to Singapore, but by then it was back in British hands and Stan saw no significant naval action. He later moved back to the Stafford area where he still lives to this day.
Two other of his friends who saw action in Palestine were unwilling to speak about their experiences, even 60 years later.
Interview of pensioners by Nicole Brannan, Y9 pupil Rising Brook High School
World War II! I bet most of you wondered what happened. On Thursday, 29th of June, I interviewed a man called Tony Wilkinson who was between the ages of 8 and 10 years old when the war first broke out. He told us that everyone about at this time knew that there would be a war at some point. However, 11:00 on a Sunday morning it was made official. The prime minister declared that there was going to be a war with Germany.
As a child aged 8-10, Tony Wilkinson found war as a game. When the bombing started, he thought it was no big deal and just carried on. When the bombs hit the ground, he thought that it was just something exciting going on in the area. However, he did own a tin hat which he wore when the bombings were going on. He told us “ I wasn’t being brave, it was just the age”.
Even though Tony had already experienced deaths within the family and friends that he cared about, nothing could prepare him for the death of his father. He was gassed in the First World War. Also, his uncle was part of the troops fighting the war, he did not return until d-day and he was not in uniform. He was in the sea for 8 hours and when he was found, he was given any clothes that could be found nearby. His brother also went to war in the Middle East (Israel) at the age of 18 but he did not return home until 5/6 years later.
At school, Tony experienced, nasty teachers who would sit and eat sweets while the children f the class watched. However, they were informed about the war in school and it was illustrated to all those who did not understand the concept of what was going on. Talks were held in the school and by now, every child knew exactly what was going on.
However, the adults had a much harder time trying to find out what as going on in the war. They would be glued to the most important thing… the radio almost every night. If they did not have a radio they could also find information from the cinema.
In 1940, Tony Wilkinson started to feel the danger. In the first year of WWII, the food was rationed along with clothes, sweets etc. there used to be a very successful sweet shop that he used to go to but that, along with everything else, had to be rationed. There were a lot of air raids going on. It was a war of words and a physical war all at the same time.
Mr Tony Wilkinson feels that it is very important that children our age should learn about the war and what went on. This makes him feel good that we are earning about the conditions of the war, the fact that things were rationed etc. it is important to him and it is important to us that we learn about it. And we do!
Interview of pensioners by Amy Watkins, Y9 pupil Rising Brook High School Stafford
To help us understand more fully what life was actually like during WW2, we interviewed Mr James Large (82), who was involved in one of the most remembered days in this century, he was involved in D-Day. D-Day was when the British triumphed over the Germans on June 6th 1944. Mr Large was born in Wales but moved to Rugely when he was two because the mines his father worked in were closing. He grew up and began to work in labour, which involved factory work in Cannock. However when he was 18 he was enlisted for the army. He knew the war was inevitable and he knew he would be called up sooner or later because he was at the right age. In 1942 he was eventually called up and was sent with the other soldiers to a camp where they would be tested to see what their strengths and weaknesses were.
In D-Day Mr Large drove a tank, he had been previously informed that there would only be a 60% chance of survival, but all he could do was “Hope for the best”. Whilst the fighting was around him he could hear the firing and knew that he was aiming at other people but it didn’t dawn on him what he was doing, it was what he was told to do and he just had “to accept it” there was no point in objecting all he could do was to “do your best with what you know”. There were 5 people with him in the tank but only him and 1 other survived, he says “I was extremely lucky” to be in a tank as he felt for the Infancy because he was in a metal vehicle designed to repel some bullets and they had nothing but a gun to protect themselves.
His family meanwhile had to live with the knowledge that he might never come back, and because he got married during the war his wife had to sit and worry where he was and how he was. There was limited communication between the soldiers and their families because their letters were censored to prevent any information leaking out to the enemy. Luckily Mr Large sustained no injuries during the war, and his wife never had to receive the dreaded telegraph so many women received informing her of her husbands death.
When he was 25 he was finally allowed to be released from his job as a corporal and was sent to be demobbed in York, he received a new suit for his services during the war. He then went back home to his wife in Rugely and carried on where he left off, at his job in labour. Being in the army had prevented Mr Large from doing his childhood ambitions, of becoming a football player, the closest he got was to play in the army.
Today Mr Large tries not to remember that part of his life too often, and keeps in touch with few people from the war. Talking to Mr Large has helped us to understand how people felt during the war and what it was really like to be there. His memories help us to learn and improve out futures, and hopefully not repeat old mistakes.
By Amy Watkins and Rebecca Hughes