Dulce et decorum est
At this time of uncertainty over Britain’s place in the world, it is interesting to cast one’s mind back 100 years to a time when Britain really did rule the waves, and held sway over an Empire that placed us at the very centre of world affairs.
The young men and women growing up in this age were self-confident, proud and patriotic, and when the storm clouds gathered over Europe in the summer of 1914, the mood in the country was one of excitement and anticipation. Reflecting on the first few months of the war, the future Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, up at Balliol at the time, remarked, ‘Our major anxiety was by hook or by crook not to miss it.’
And the teachers of the day did nothing to temper these views, if we go by the example of Uppingham’s Headmaster, the Rev Harry Ward McKenzie, who famously said at Speech Day 1914, ‘If a man cannot be useful to his country, he is better dead.’
Anthony Seldon’s book on the part played in the Great War by the Public Schools paints a vivid picture of how the officer class were schooled for their part in the carnage from an early age. The OTC was still very much a feature of most schools, and for school after school, the list of boys serving at the Front, usually as young officers, and the heart-breakingly long Rolls of Honour, are testament to the expectation placed on them that when their country needed them, they would be ready. We have a photo in our new Never Again anthology of a House at Christ’s Hospital in 1911, all but 3 of whose 53 members were known to have served in the War, and the same will apply to almost any school one chooses to select.
Knowing what we know now about the horrors of the trench warfare that these young men were to endure, it is remarkable that idealists such as Rupert Brooke could have written as they did of the glories of war. But as a vehicle for exploring our modern day view of nation, community, globalisation and, dare we suggest, British Values, the early poetry of the 1st World War provides teachers with a rich vein of material with which to work.
For details of how you can put Never Again at the heart of your school’s commemoration of the centenary of the end of the Great War, including details of how you can order class sets or bespoke editions of the anthology with content specific to your school, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Never Again webpage HERE
To accompany the anthology we have put together a resource pack with lesson plans, PowerPoints and worksheets, for English, History and RS, and hope that these provide a springboard for teachers wishing to address the question of when we can truly say, with confidence, Never Again.
Image from Marlborough College, 1913 OTC Challenge Shield