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British Legion HM Queen Mother Great War Scholarship 2008

Dan Guiney

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Royal British Legion HM Queen Mother Great War Scholarship 2008


I was fortunate enough to be awarded this year's scholarship which entailed spending five weeks on the Somme over the summer researching my local regiment, the Norfolks. The aim of the project was to compile a pack of written, audio, and visual sources for teachers in Norfolk to cascade to their students so that the international element of WWI can be viewed through local study. To achieve this I was given unlimited access to museums, databases, archaological trusts, historians, and British Legion expertise in France as well as having the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of the Regiment. Moreover, I got to work closely with the IWM and my local regimental museum back in England.

Background to the scholarship

I have ran a trip with my colleague Joanne Philpott for Year 10 students to the battlefields of WWI for many years which has always been a highlight of the teaching year. Student feedback has always been positive and the trip's goals were to highlight the horrors of war and the noble sacrifice of the men involved whilst also enabling students to use higher level historical thinking. However, the trip had tended to focus on the 'big picture' ie: countries not individuals, field marshals not privates, military strategy not ground combat. Moreover, I was concerned that students would come home and feel a certain distance between their home life and their experiences on the trip.

With this in mind I took some students to the local war memorial. Here they did some cliometric analysis and number crunching comparing surnames to the school register. Moreover, they picked a handful of names which they decided to do further research on using the Commonwealth War Graves Commission's website. Using one soldier from the memorial, Pte. C Brunton, as an example, they discovered his date of death, his regimental number, and that he was in the 1st (Regular) Batallion of the Norfolk Regiment. From here I then leafed through the town's local newspaper records via the Dereham Antiquarian Society and the Norfolk Heritage Section of the library and looked up the corresponding entry for his date of death. This revealed further information about him such as place of employment and previous injuries and also provided a photograph as well as letters written by him to his neighbour. Further research came in the form of the 1901 online census which revealed his address, the number of people in his household (from which students could infer a little about his childhood), as well as information such as socio-economic background (his parents were basket-makers) and so forth. I then used Roy Westlake's book to provide the detailed movements for his regiment and visited the Public Records Office to gain access to military intelligence memos, trench maps, and officers' logs for his daet of death. Students then visited France, including Delville Wood where he died in a bayonet charge on 27/7/16, and finally found his name on the memorial to the missing of the Somme at Thiepval. This provided a powerful link between local and international history. It was with this in mind that I decided I wanted to furnish history teachers and more importantly children across the county with an awareness of the men who came from their areas and who fought in WWI.

I applied, went to the British Legion Headquarters at Haig House on Pall Mall, and was accepted as the 2008 scholar.

Highlights of the scholarship

I was based, for the period of the scholarship, at the Thiepval Visitor Centre on the Somme. The visitor centre is run by the Historial de la Grande Guerre. The Legion-funded education guide, Lawrence Brown, based at the centre was the person I worked most closely with during my stay and he guided my around some amazing sites pertaining to the Norfolks, notably Carnoy (where the 8th went over the top on the first day of the Somme) and Delville Wood (where so many of the 1st died on 27th july 1916). Other sites of huge interest were Blighty Valley Cemetery where the Norfolks were on burial detail and Norfolk Cemetery in which 16 year old I A Laud was the first burial. I also had the chance to attend a series of organised events taking place in the area such as:

* Irish Peace Park at Messines (Belgium) reconciliation program concerning the religious divide in Ireland, via the experiences of the 16th and 36th divisions.

* The Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Went behind the scenes at the Commission’s workshops near Arras as well as their educational resources to witness headstone renovation amongst other things.

* The Volksbund. The German equivalent of the War Graves Commission – spent time with one of their youth camps that spend two weeks working on cemetery maintenance and reconciliation. This included teaching a group of German Year 9 students and also returfing part of La Targett cemetery and cleaning up headstones.

* Spend time at The Thiepval Visitor Centre and find out what draws people there and how the site is interpreted for school groups. I also had access to the Linge database.

* The Historial de la Grande Guerre at Péronne – saw a French view of the Great War and the work they carry out with visiting school groups.

* Visited Beaumont Hamel, the Newfoundland Memorial Park and studied the work of the Canadian guides and attended induction courses for new intake of guides at Beaumont Hamel and Vimy week of 18th August.

Outcomes of the scholarship

Both myself as scholar and Joanne Philpott as advisor gave an initial talk about the scholarship at the history network meeting at Norwich Professional Development Centre in October 2008. The purpose of this talk was to outline the research completed and the motivation behond it. I am at present in the collation stage and will be delivering my overall findings and pack to the same group before December 2008. Further links about the scholarship can be found at http://www.thiepval.org.uk/stop_press.htm and http://www.esinet.norfolk.gov.uk/cadmin/fi...Sept%202008.pdf

Edited by Dan Guiney
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