I led my school’s assembly on the subject of 100 years since Armistice Day, 11th of the 11th at 11 o’clock, 100 years ago in 1918…
As the students came into the room, Divenire by Ludovico Einaudi was playing and on the screen was this image:
It is a map of part of the Somme from 1916 created by the War Office. Have a look at a closer section:
Each square with a blue number is the size of a football pitch. The blue number is the number of dead soldiers in that square. Look at the numbers in the squares at the bottom.
Around one million men died in that battle, said to be one of the worst slaughters in human history. One of the soldiers who survived that battle was J.R.R. Tolkien. You can now imagine what gave him the idea of ‘the dead marches’ in The Lord of the Rings which he wrote decades later.
Another soldier who return from the Somme was William Henry Instone. Here is a photo of him aged 18 in 1914 when he joined the Durham Light Infantry and set off for the war. He is my grandfather.
This is why I have a connection to The Great War, as so many of us do. That’s why although it is 100 years ago, it is also just yesterday.
When we see photos from that era, or film footage, it is in grainy, shakey, black and white. It looks old and so long ago, not part of our modern lives. Peter Jackson the acclaimed film maker of The Lord of the Rings was approached by the Imperial War Museum to take the old footage and do something with it to be part of the Remembrance of the centenary of Armistice Day. What he did is not only amazing, but oh so moving.
By slowing the footage down, colourising, extrapolating misusing frames, getting lip readers to work out what the men were saying and overdub actors voices, he has brought 100 years back from the past and made it look like it happened just yesterday.
See the clip below on how it was done and the official trailer for the film. It will be broadcast on BBC television at 9pm on 11th of November 2018.
This is how I closed the assembly:
Today I am wearing a poppy. It’s a symbol long associated with the First World War because of the poppies that grew on Flanders Fields.
It has been misunderstood and misused over the years but it represents remembrance for the fallen, on any side, in any war and the money raised goes to help soldiers and their families who have served recently and who suffer today.
They say wear your poppy with pride. I’m not sure about pride as an emotion.
I wear my poppy with sadness.
A great sadness for the millions of young men who were slaughtered and who’s children and grandchildren and great grandchildren are not here and will never exist.
I wear my poppy with gladness.
A gladness that neither my generation or my parents’ generation had to fight in a such a war.
I wear my poppy with thankfulness.
Thankful for those who serve us today in foreign lands, keeping the peace or fighting for freedom.
And for those reasons, I am proud.
We then proceeded out out onto the junior playground next to the tree that was planted as our cenotaph for the fallen and the whole school observed a minutes silence as students read poems and the last post was played on trumpet (by one of our students. She is German).