Friday, 24 October 2014

First World War Education

This week we have a guest post from our Education Archivist, Dawn Layland, talking about the First World War workshops the Record Office offers.

It goes almost without saying that the First World War was a devastating conflict and the numbers of dead are staggering. Yet each one of those men was someone’s son, father or brother. Each one of those men had his own story and it’s these stories that are the focus of our soldier research workshops.

Soldiers resting in a trench in France or Belgium c. 1916 D/DLI 2/8/62(59)
D/DLI 2/8/62(59) Soldiers resting in a trench in France or Belgium c. 1916
I doubt it will surprise anyone that these are currently our most popular workshops. In a nutshell, we find a soldier from the right area, for whom we can find a good range of sources and present these sources to the children who then get a taste of real research as they use them to find out about that individual. Naturally, a lot of work and careful consideration goes into selecting the soldier. We make sure we can find sources about his civilian life (typically using the Census) as well as his military career (usually by means of a surviving and reasonably complete service record). We can then compliment that with sources held at the Record Office, such as absent voters’ lists or DLI records. Then of course, those sources have to be made accessible to the children, perhaps by using a transcript. Given the right sources and the right presentation, children as young as 5 or 6 can investigate a soldier.

We also run sessions for older pupils.  We recently held a workshop for Year 9 students from North Durham Academy, who came as part of the HLF funded South Moor Memorial Project run by Groundwork North East. The soldier they were researching was Thomas Dargue. By all accounts, Thomas was an ordinary soldier. He was a miner from South Moor who enlisted at 19 years old and was killed just over a year later during the later stages of the Battle of the Somme. Like so many others, he never rose above the rank of private. None of this, however, stopped him from being interesting to the students. He lived in the same town that they do and, though the area has certainly changed, they felt they could relate to him. They enjoyed finding out about his family and came to see him not just as a name on a memorial, but as a person.

South Moor Memorial Park gates, 2005, John-Paul Stephenson
South Moor Memorial Park gates, 2005, John-Paul Stephenson,_Co._Durham.jpg
As well as the workshops researching soldiers, we also offer a range of other First World War workshops for schools and other groups. These include a session on Remembrance Cards, with the chance to research a soldier and design a card to commemorate him, and our War Horse workshop, based on the story of George Thompson who worked with horses during the war. We also have more in depth investigation sessions for older students, including: Life on the Home Front; the Bombing of Seaham, 1916 and Germans in County Durham, 1914.

We offer these sessions at a cost of £100 for half a day of workshops. This can include several classes and the price is the same whether the session is delivered here or at school, though workshops delivered at the Record Office can use original records, which for security and preservation reasons we can’t take out of the building. All workshops can be tailored to the class and school in question and we can even build entirely new workshops if required.

More about the workshops can be found here and you can also download leaflets about particular sessions in PDF format

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