Gresham’s – First World War Living History

With current DfE advice against domestic (UK) overnight and overseas educational visits organising a school trip is challenging. For many schools the annual trip to the battlefields, which provides so many wonderful experiences, simply hasn’t been able to go ahead. There are however, alternatives.  With over 20 years’ experience of running First World War Living History sessions, when we were approached by Gresham’s School keen to find just such an alternative, we knew exactly what to suggest.

Last week, Anglia’s Dickie Knight was delighted to have the chance to deliver two fantastic Living History presentations in the wonderful setting of the school’s Chapel. Taking with him a wide range of uniform, kit and equipment Corporal Knight, as he was known for the day, set about bringing the Western Front alive for Gresham’s young historians.

“The presentation I gave covered all aspects of trench life, from what a soldier ate, how he kept clean in a muddy trench, to latrines and trench foot”. In the past Dickie would have asked for ‘willing volunteers’ to assist him. This normally involves dressing a few eager students in the uniform and equipment of the British Tommy. However present circumstances meant he had to come up with another approach. “As I cannot have the assistance of my eager volunteers, I brought along a full mannequin, dressed head to toe as a Tommy and another three half mannequins each in a different uniforms. This meant I was able to give a full presentation without missing any of the interactive sections”

The use of Gas and the development of the gas masks is another subject Dickie would normally cover with a volunteer. However using the extensive range of equipment he has available Dickie was able to show the evolution of gas equipment from “a sock which the soldiers dipped into urine, to the state of the art Small Box Respirator.”

For Dickie it was great to have the chance to work with the school. “I put a lot of questions to them throughout the 1 ½ hour presentation and the students were keen to reply. There were so many hands in the air! After the presentation, it was lovely that so many came up and said thank you. It was really encouraging to talk with the group who hung around afterwards to ask more questions – another chance to feed their inquisitive minds”.

The great news was it wasn’t only Dickie who enjoyed the experience. Simon Kinder, Head of History at Gresham’s said “Dickie was brilliant and the event was a huge hit with the kids. They were shown the uniform, weaponry and equipment of British and German soldiers and also explored hygiene, health and the evolution of gas masks and grenades. Highlights included watching First World War rifles in action and getting up close to so much of the technology and equipment. The pupils loved the interactive demonstrations, the amount of authentic kit and the energetic and expert storytelling. Highly recommended”

If you would like more information on the range of themes we can cover in our Living History presentations or would like to book a session at your school please email [email protected] or call us on 01376 574130.