Stars of David on the head­stones, shrap­nel on­the­ground—how a gen­er­a­tion came face to face with­WWI

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY CHAR­LOTTE OLIVER

THE WIND is un­re­lent­ing as we march into the Bailleul Road East Ceme­tery in north­ern France.

We pass rows upon rows of head­stones em­bla­zoned with the names of sol­diers who once stood side by side, but now rest grave to grave.

Scan­ning the ceme­tery — just one of the many that are main­tained by the Com­mon­wealth War Graves Com­mis­sion to memo­ri­alise the fallen sol­diers of the First World War — we spot Stars of David among stones in­scribed with crosses.

“I like that peo­ple of all faiths are buried to­gether,” says Olivia Dow­ell, 17, from Has­monean High School. “They fought to­gether and they died to­gether.”

Af­ter hear­ing the per­sonal sto­ries of sev­eral sol­diers in­terred at the site, in­clud­ing Jewish poet Isaac Rosen­berg, we walk 20 me­tres down a gravel path.

There, we find a shady field re­plete with Ger­man graves. Space is lim­ited, mean­ing one mass grave in the cen­tre holds more than 32,000 men. Look­ing at the sur­round­ing head­stones, Star of Davids are vis­i­ble again.

“It is so in­ter­est­ing to see how many lives were lost on either side,” ob­serves Has­monean pupil Harry Gothold, 16. “My fa­ther’s grand­fa­ther on one side was Ger­man and his grand­fa­ther on the other side was Bri­tish. Both were Jews who fought for their coun­tries.”

We then march, sin­gle file, back to our wait­ing coach.

I am trav­el­ling as an in­ter­loper on a very spe­cial school trip — one that has taken me from Kent to Calais, and then on to Ypres in Bel­gium and the Somme in France. This four-day tour is one of thou­sands of trips that form a five-year ini­tia­tive: the First World War Cen­te­nary Bat­tle­field Tours Pro­gramme.

The pro­gramme is run by the UCL In­sti­tute of Ed­u­ca­tion (IOE) along­side school tour op­er­a­tor Eq­uity, and is funded by the Depart­ment for Ed­u­ca­tion (DfE) and the Depart­ment for Com­mu­ni­ties and Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment.

The aim? To en­able teach­ers and pupils from ev­ery state-funded sec­ondary school in the coun­try to de­velop a deeper un­der­stand­ing of the Great War.

It runs from 2014 to 2019 — span­ning the cen­te­nary of the First World War. Dur­ing this time, the IOE of­fers a free tour to one teacher and two stu­dents from ev­ery state school in England.

“Pres­sures on the na­tional cur­ricu­lum mean that the First World War can some­times get left in the past,” ex­plains IOE ed­u­ca­tor Eric Den­nis, who is over­see­ing the tours. “But it’s not just ‘in the past’. There is shrap­nel still on the ground all around us.

“We b o t h t r a i n teach­ers to teach the war in new and dif­fer­ent ways, and en­cour­age stu­dents to be am­bas­sadors for re­mem­brance when they go home.”

So far, 1,150 schools have taken part, amount­ing to 60 vis­its. Each tour is led by a spe­cial­ist In­ter­na­tional Guild of Bat­tle­field guide, and is also ac­com­pa­nied by a soldier from the Bri­tish Army, who ex­plains to pupils how war has changed in 100 years — and how some things never change. With a tar­get of 4,000 schools, the IOE has an­other 2,850 to go.

But that is only half the scheme. As only two stu­dents are el­i­gi­ble to at­tend from ev­ery school, they carry the task of tak­ing home what they have learnt. Each is ex­pected to par­tic­i­pate in Legacy 110, an ini­tia­tive where they strive to im­pact upon at least 110 peo­ple within their com­mu­nity.

If this is achieved, the project will reach more than 880,000 peo­ple in to­tal, which is equiv­a­lent to the num­ber of Bri­tish and Com­mon­wealth sol­diers who died dur­ing the First World War.

“It is a bril­liant idea,” says Nathan Hed­dle, head of his­tory at Has­monean Boys’, who is ac­com­pa­ny­ing Harry, and Tomer Wei­der, 17. “Our stu­dents are tak­ing their re­spon­si­bil­ity se­ri­ously.

“They will be pre­sent­ing Armistice Day as­sem­bly to the whole school when we re­turn.”

My coach is filled with 45 stu­dents from 15 schools, rang­ing in age from 13 to 17. Th­ese in­clude del­e­gates from Has­monean High (both the girls’ and boys’ schools) in Hen­don and Mill Hill, JFS in Ken­ton and King David High in Liver­pool. It is the first time that Jewish schools have been in­volved.

“I am fas­ci­nated by the First World War,” says JFS his­tory teacher Ge­ordie Raine, who has come with Ja­cob Ar­beid, 17, and Vi­tale Stone, 16. “The war was fun­da­men­tal to our un­der­stand­ing of the 20th cen­tury and, specif­i­cally, to our un­der­stand­ing of the Jewish ex­pe­ri­ence. It en­ables us to have a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the Holo­caust.” His­tory A-Level stu­dent Ja­cob adds: “The First World War can some­times get side­lined at school. But I think it is im­por­tant to counter the myth that Jews didn’t fight.”

Our tour days are long and jam-packed — in­clud­ing, but not lim­ited to, vis­its to the In Flan­ders Field mu­seum, Li­jssen­thoek Mil­i­tary Ceme­tery, Beau­mont Hamel New­found­land Me­mo­rial Park, Thiep­val Me­mo­rial and Tyne Cot Ceme­tery. Along the way, we are led by our im­pos­si­bly well-in­formed guide, Tim Stone­man, who, be­fore lead­ing school par­ties, sol­diers and mem- bers of the pub­lic on Bat­tle­field tours full-time, served in the Royal Navy for 35 years. He is an im­pos­ing and au­thor­i­ta­tive cross be­tween Brian Blessed and Lord Kitch­ener.

“I make it my busi­ness to show the chil­dren a per­sonal con­nec­tion to the sites we visit,” Stone­man ex­plains. This aim, and the fact that Jewish chil­dren are on board our tour, leads him to choose Isaac Rosen­berg’s grave as a point of in­ter­est. There, Stone­man passes out po­etry writ­ten by Rosen­berg from the trenches.

Ev­ery morn­ing be­gins with Stone­man and Den­nis pos­ing a fo­cus ques­tion to stu­dents, such as “Is re­mem­brance more or less im­por­tant 100 years on?”, to en­cour­age deeper thought and un­der­stand­ing.

Such insight is also fos­tered with the help of David Bar­row, a WO2 (aka a Sergeant Ma­jor) in the Re­serve Lon­don Reg­i­ment of the Bri­tish Army, who fought in Afghanistan.

“I am here to give stu­dents a mod­ern per­spec­tive, and take them into the mil­i­tary mind,” Bar­row ex­plains. “Be­ing forced into un­pleas­ant situa-

‘The war was fun­da­men­tal to our un­der­stand­ing of the 20th cen­tury’

Har­ryGothold laysaS­tarof

David re­mem­bran

ce­to­ken at a Jewish soldier’s grave­stone

Olivia Dow­ell, Colour Sgt John Nay­lor and Eva Bracha

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