Massive Response by Shropshire children to WW1 Remembrance Project

“I said you were the bravest of them all and that you always write.”
“I can’t bear it…..Tom was shot.   My own son, our son.  I held his hand.  He whispered to me his dying words.  He said ‘I love you Father and I love Mother and Mary’…” 
These poignant and brutally honest words weren’t written by soldiers from the trenches 100 years ago, but a few weeks ago by primary school children in Shropshire as part of a remarkable and far reaching reading and literacy project delivered by Shrewsbury Children’s Bookfest.  The pupils’ grasp and clear understanding of the topic humbled their schools and teachers alike.
Earlier this year, Shrewsbury Children’s Bookfest delivered to 18 primary schools across Shropshire hundreds of copies of The Best Christmas Present in the World, a short story by the former children's laureate, Michael Morpurgo.  It describes how in December 1914 the British and German forces famously laid down their arms to play a game of football.  The story is told through a letter that is found by chance almost a century later, bringing one soldier’s experience hauntingly to life.   Shrewsbury Children’s Bookfest has been able to deliver this project thanks to grants from the Armed Forces Community Covenant, Arts Council England, and from several local charitable trusts and associations as well as local businesses.  This funding ensured that the schools taking part were able to keep their copies of the book in their libraries so that future pupils can read and enjoy the story.
Caroline Thewles, organiser of the Bookfest Remembers programme said "It is hoped that one of the outcomes of this project is that civilian children and their families will have a better understanding of the lives of service families and the stresses under which they live.”
To accompany this class read in school during this term, Shrewsbury Children’s Bookfest created a letter writing competition for the pupils taking part.  The children were encouraged to write a letter, either in the past or in the present day, to or from someone working in a war zone or an area of conflict.  Michael Morpurgo said of the project at its launch "This exciting project by Shrewsbury Children’s Bookfest – of which I am proud to be Patron – will encourage the primary school children of Shropshire to consider seriously what it must have been like 100 years ago to be away from home over Christmas, far from all those you loved and all that you held dear, and in a place of danger, battle and fear.”

The Bookfest organisers were completely overwhelmed by the response from the schools – over 800 letters were written and sent in to be judged by an independent panel.  After tears, laughter and deep admiration generated by the language, themes and interpretation in the pupils’ letters, the judges finally managed to select winners from each year group.

Mrs Byrne, teacher from Dorrington Primary School, said of the project:  “I thoroughly enjoyed teaching and taking part in this project.  It generated plenty of discussion and interest and also introduced letter writing as a skill.  I was really moved and inspired by the children’s reaction to our research of WW1.” 

The  winners have been invited to Theatre Severn on Sunday 16th November to watch the sold out performance of Michael Morpurgo’s play of The Best Christmas Present in the World, adapted from the book, starring himself and Virginia McKenna and the singing group, ‘Voices at the Door’, directed by Simon Reade.  In a special private gathering after the play, Michael Morpurgo will be meeting the winners of the letter writing competition to chat about the project and to present them with their prizes.


Pete White Pete White

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