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February 2015

Soldiers in the Battlefield

Pacifists didn't want soldiers on the battlefields of the First World War between 1914 and 1918 and they certainly don't want them accompanying children to the same places between the years 2014 and 2018. Unfortunately the problem is that, as part of the Government's programme that sees two students and one teacher from every state funded secondary school in England visiting the battlefields on the Western Front between 2014 and 2019,each coach ferrying teachers and pupils to the killing grounds contains at least one serving British soldier.

The aims of these trips include the following:

* enable students to develop a personal connection to the First World War through interacting with the battlefield sites, participating in remembrance ceremonies, recording, reflecting and sharing their own experiences

What is missing is the posing of the question WHY? Why for instance should students develop a personal connection to the First World War, interact with the battlefield sites and participate in remembrance ceremonies? The Peace Pledge Union (PPU) would very much support the idea of pupils visiting cemeteries and the scenes of mass slaughter if the aim was to bring home to pupils the fact that war is a crime and that everything in our power should be done to avoid conflicts in the future whilst remembering that wars are futile and wasteful of human life and potential. Some teachers do of course share such views and are interested in providing a more balanced approach. It is also to the credit of the organisers of the Institute of Education, Continuing Professional Development events that they have given space to the PPU to enable a pacifist narrative on WW1 to be shared with teachers.

Some teachers, however, do not have fully formed objective perspectives about World War 1and many accept the not uncommon view that the British and Commonwealth (note the use of the word Commonwealth as opposed to Empire) soldiers were killed and sacrificed in order that Britain could be free. Much emphasis is placed on pupils researching the lives of local men so that they can personalise remembrance and provide some meaning when confronted by row upon row of soldiers' graves. The very nature of the carefully tended graves with their residual xenophobic trappings do promote the glorification of that mass slaughter, yet providing an individual local context is perhaps a more easily digestible way for young people today to be accepting of the carnage of World War1.


Like the ever present soldier on state sponsored school tours the Cross of Sacrifice broods over the gravestones and visitors in British military cemeteries.
A perpetual and deliberate reminder of the intimacy between church and the military.

Worryingly remembrance is being used as an implicit validation for current and future involvement in conflicts as tools of foreign and domestic policy. This is brought into sharp focus by the involvement of serving soldiers when pupils are studying World War1. The "official" reason for this involvement is that real and live commentary can be provided on what it is like to be a soldier in combat situations and allegedly pupils as young as 11years old can then get a realistic feel for what men experienced on the Western Front during WW1. At this point the question arises exactly how can a soldier in the modern British army manage to replicate experiences of First World War soldiers, closely followed by question why do pupils need to know what were those experiences.

The PPU views with alarm the increasing militirisation of education in the UK exemplified by the expansion of the Combined Cadet Corps into state schools, the celebration in a growing number of schools of Red, White and Blue Day, Camo Day, Armed Forces Day, Uniform to Work Day, Remembrance events and National Heroes Day.

Of course it doesn't stop there, only recently the DfE announced extra funding for the Troops to Teachers scheme now being promoted within the "Military Covenant" i.e. for the benefit of veterans as opposed to a measure that was originally being championed as helping disadvantaged pupils in state schools. Perhaps the promotion of the British Armed Forces: Learning Resource in our schools shows how far the Tory led coalition government has travelled in ditching any semblance of objectivity in its espousal of military involvement in schools. It is difficult to see how this one-sided piece of propaganda can be described as a "learning resource". Our colleagues at Forces Watch have prepared a critical report that details key concerns. The report is accompanied by an excellent animation produced by Quaker Peace & Social Witness.

Serving soldiers have an agenda that promotes militaristic values and ethos and it is extremely worrying that many teachers implicitly buy into a notion that the British army is a force for good in the modern world with service discipline also something that schools and pupils should be welcoming. Soldiers accompanying pupils to cemeteries and battlefields is another part of the increasing normalisation of militarism in education, which is part of the British armed forces insidious schools' recruitment strategy. It is within this context and that of pupils increasingly being expected to show their unqualified support for the armed forces that the PPU opposes military involvement in Battlefield Tours.

If you also wish to make your opposition felt to the involvement of serving soldiers in the Battlefield Tours please conatct me.

Peter Glasgow