My ‘day job’ for many years has been in engagement of people and especially young people in all aspects of heritage: natural, historical and cultural. What a delight to be invited to Avoch Primary School on the Black Isle to talk about Major Tom’s War to the P5, P6 and P7 classes.
Out of curiosity I asked around about what others spoke to school classes about. Rats, lice and latrines in the trenches was the general advice (thanks Jeremy Banning and others) and certainly all three went down well, but I was also able to talk about punishment and execution with some classes, explaining how hard it was to command a firing squad for example, and we discussed the concept of a self-inflicted wound – a ‘blighty’ – which Tom talks about too – and how losing a hand might be preferable to remaining there and fighting.
It was clear that the staff of Avoch Primary have worked hard with the pupils during the Armistice commemorations to get across the magnitude and awfulness of war.
It was good to de-bunk a few commonly-held myths.
A. Not everyone died (one in 10/11 or thereabouts were killed, which is bad enough, though many injuries were mental and invisible)
B. In the trenches there was no constant firing (there wasn’t enough ammunition to allow this and there were long, depressing spells of inactivity)
C. It was not constantly muddy (on the contrary, in summer it became hot, dry and dusty and water supplies were an issue)
D. Not all the people who fought against Germany in the war were from Britain. Tom for example fought alongside many Indian troops of many different faiths: Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims for example
The pupils asked great questions (including ‘did Tom your grandfather meet Adolf Hitler?’ – not quite the error it seems at first, as Corporal Adolf Schiklgruber, who would go on to become Adolf Hitler in the Second war, was an undistinguished corporal during the First World War – but as far as I know Tom never encountered him).
Probably the highlight activity was trying on my pair of Tom-era glasses. Looking through those was quite sobering for the pupils who tried them on.
Major Tom’s War is NOT a children’s book, but various bits of it could be read aloud. Parents who are interested in acquiring a copy should have a handout about this (with a discount offered if I don’t have to post it to you!).
Well done to all the classes and staff concerned, thank you to Mrs Goldie for arranging it and let’s just hope that these fabulous children live their lives without ever knowing the kind of warfare Tom experienced in France.
Merry Christmas and a happy and above all peace-full 2019 to all.