The Gallipoli Centenary Education Project – jointly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Gallipoli Association – has been setting up activities in advance of the 2015 commemorations of the disastrous campaign in which thousands of British soldiers lost their lives. Eight pupils from a Hampshire school have just returned from Gallipoli, having taken part in the pilot battlefield visit of this First World War Centenary project with a difference.
The pupils, aged 13-17, from Bay House School in Gosport won places on the trip by writing letters of application and submitting ideas for short plays based on the history of the campaign. Gosport is home to the Royal Navy Submarine Museum, and the pupils prepared for their visit by working with museum staff to discover how submarines played a major part in the campaign, attempting to force a passage through the heavily defended Dardanelles Strait, cutting mines adrift and torpedoing Turkish ships.
Along with 2 teachers, a film-maker, tour guide and staff from the Project they made the 2000 mile journey, following in the footsteps of over 500,000 Allied soldiers and sailors in 1915. Whilst on the visit they explored the battlefields in the Helles, Anzac and Suvla sectors learning about the campaign and what life was like for the men from all countries that took part. The children were able to locate graves and memorials of some of the men from the town of Gosport and short commemorations were held.
They were able to meet Turkish pupils to exchange views on the campaign and they performed a short play that they had developed over the 3 days. The students made a trip to nearby Troy to think about the idea of myth-building, which is of course something that has happened at Gallipoli as well. They performed their Gallipoli play in the classical Greek theatre on the site, to the delight of their Turkish friends who joined them on the visit to Troy.
On their return to Britain they will continue their work with the Submarine Museum and write and perform a play about Gallipoli and what it means to us today.
Here are some words from the students themselves:
- ‘Before, I didn’t see the war as such a big event. I thought it only involved Europe and it didn’t really have any effect on my current life, but that was so wrong. I didn’t think about the piles of dead or the fact that other countries were affected. I’m glad I now know.’ (Jake, 16)
- ‘It’s made me really appreciate how much they really meant to us. If I knew someone who was very dear to me who fought in a war, and in a hundred years they were forgotten, even though they were heroes, I would be really upset.’ (Gemma, 13)
- ‘Meeting the Turkish students was really interesting. You could see aspects of Gallipoli in them because they said that they have fighting in their blood. That fits with what we were told by our guide about the Turks never giving up and being very persistent. They have a strong work ethic.’ (Connie, 16)
- ‘I think what struck me was the idea of something that looks so beautiful completely juxtaposed with the idea that something so sad and brutal happened there.’ (Adam, 17)
One of the aims of the project is to develop international links between schools in the countries which sent soldiers to Gallipoli, including Ireland, France, Turkey, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and India. Teachers in our project are focussing on global citizenship as well as history: in one teacher’s words ‘we study it because it helps us discover what made the Great War into a World War’. But it is the stories of individual soldiers which sit at the heart of our project.