Out of the two large-scale conflicts that rocked the Western world during the 20th century, World War I often takes a backseat to its successor. Whether because of its place further back in history, or because it was not linked to the sort of atrocities the Second World War became infamous for, the skirmish that took place between 1914 and 1918 tends to be discussed in much less depth than its 1939-1945 counterpart.
And yet, for a not entirely negligible number of countries in Europe, this war left an indelible mark. French, Belgian, English and German families all mourned the loss of their sons in this conflict, and some of the outlying countries were similarly affected by the passage of soldiers and armies through their borders.
Fortunately, recent years have seen a conscious effort to make current generations remember the war their grandfathers and great-grandfathers may have fought in. Quite apart from including this tussle in history textbooks – where it has always been so – responsible parties have taken it upon themselves to launch a series of initiatives aimed at keeping this conflict alive in the minds of youngsters.
Among the most important of these initiatives are WWI battlefield tours, which take organised groups – often school classes – through some of the conflict’s main theatres of war, allowing them to take in the atmosphere their 1918 counterparts may have felt when standing on these fields awaiting the enemy. As a result, children (and many adults) can gather a few distinct educational benefits, some of which are detailed below.
A Better Understanding
The most immediate benefit students can derive from WWI battlefield tours is, of course, the same they derive from any field trip: the opportunity to experience a location first-hand. Even a century removed from the events that made a specific spot famous, there is a certain atmosphere that lingers wherever there has been a major historic event or confrontation, and these sites are no different. Pupils embarking on WWI battlefield tours will therefore be likely to gain a new understanding of, and see a new dimension to, the conflict they have read about in their textbooks. This, in turn, will vitally aid in their appraisal of this subject, which is an important aspect in their academic careers.
Quite aside from that, however, WWI battlefield tours can also help pupils put the war, and its different skirmishes, into context. This is true not only in the context of Europe as a continent, but also of each of its countries, including England, which had a far from negligible part in the conflict. This, in turn, can give young learners a better appreciation for their country and the struggles it went through as the result of world politics.
Angela Bowden works for EST (Equity School Travel), the UK’s largest educational travel company, providing WW1 battlefield tours for secondary schools, primary schools and colleges. Tours with EST can also encompass a wide range of other learning opportunities in worldwide destinations.