Touching WW1 with Longhaugh Primary School

Archive staff had a very successful morning with P7 pupils at Longhaugh PS. The pupils have spent several weeks learning about and investigating WW1, but hadn’t had the opportunity to use primary source material – to handle and learn from letters, journals and photographs of those who had experienced the war. But fate stepped in when teachers Gillian and Tricia visited the Archive’s display at the Dundee WW1 Home Front event in the summer.

Longhaugh PS P7 pupils examining Red Cross autograph bookTaken by the archival material on display and the stories they told, the teachers asked if it was possible for the children to use them. We agreed that a session at the school would be a valuable learning experience, for the pupils and for us, so this morning’s visit was arranged, and activities planned.

Archive staff had been a little concerned about the safety of the unique and irreplaceable documents that the children were going to handle – but it was a needless worry. Teachers Tricia and Gillian had explained about how precious the material was, and how careful the children had to be. It was a lesson well- learned, as each child (all with freshly washed hands!) took the greatest care in handling all the items.

Dividing the children into five groups, each group had two items to work with. These included the telegram announcing that poet Joseph Lee was missing and one of the journals he kept while a prisoner of war – a journal filled with photographs, sketches as well as details of his daily routine. Other material included the admission register of Dundee Royal Infirmary which logged the injuries sustained by soldiers in 1914-15 and Nurse Walker’s autograph book, filled with sketches and thank you notes from soldiers whom she’d nursed back to health at Monifieth’s Red Cross Hospital. Another group worked with the ‘Soldier’s book’ of Private Jim Braid and the last letter he sent home before being killed in the Battle of Loos.

The class was obviously thrilled being able to touch and use items that were 100 years old, and activities also encouraged them to step back in time to understand about the war and those who served. One group recreated the last picture of the crew of the HMS Mary Rose before it was sunk defending a merchant ship convoy in 1917. Another talked about different forms of communication before creating their own telegram alerting their families to momentous news. One child even found her g-g-g-grandfather’s name listed in the Dundee War Memorial magazine supplement.

Longhaugh PS P7 classes reporting backAt the end of the morning all the children gathered and reported what they’d been doing, which generated even more questions and discussion. What particularly impressed the Archive staff was how knowledgeable the children were about the war, how intelligently and sensitively they worked with the archive material. It was a real pleasure to spend the morning with them, and Archive staff look forward to many more similar visits to the classroom.