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World War One revisited

Tuesday 4th December 2007 by C. Freeman
A-level students looked at aspects of first world war literature during a day-long seminar at Brooke Weston. Students from three different schools took part in drama workshops, discussions and an impromptu Latin lesson, which gave them an insight into issues surrounding the war.

The day was organised by the Raising Standards Partnership Trust, an alliance between English teachers from eight county schools and the University of Northampton. Students from Brooke Weston, Mereway Community College and Southfield School for Girls, were transported back to a public school assembly of 1910 where teacher, Wilf Portch, from Manor School, Raunds, took on the role of headmaster complete with gown and mortar board. Students studied the poem, Vitai Lampade (The Torch of Life) by Sir Henry Newbolt and then had a quick Latin lesson, looking at Horace's Odes, one line of which, 'Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori' provided the title for one of the best-loved first world war poems by Wilfred Owen.

The Latin translates as; 'It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country,' and was originally published 2000 years ago and addressed to patriotic Roman citizens. It was the final line of Owen's poem and seen as an ironic comment on the horrors of the trenches.

Dr Ringrose said: 'It's difficult to avoid the emotional impact of these poems. Now gruesome detail is a staple of war films whereas at the time it was something new, to actually speak frankly, which is why the poems had the impact at the time; they're a mixture of brutality and tenderness.'

The 55 students also improvised dramatic scenes using extracts from the anti-war play, Oh What a Lovely War!, written by Joan Littlewood in 1963, and guided by Ursula Wright, director of the Northampton Masque Youth Theatre. Other topics included a lecture on the role of women in World War One and there was also the chance to see authentic memorabilia, such as postcards sent home from the Front.

The day is a preparation for the A-level synoptic paper, in which students have to have read a variety of texts written from different viewpoints. Dr Ringrose said: 'It's quite a testing paper because students are given broad questions on the theme of war but they've got to include a range of material and an inventive approach.'

This is the first time that the event has been held at a school. The previous two study days were hosted by the University of Northampton.

Head of English at Brooke Weston, Carly Waterman said: 'This event gave students a chance to work collaboratively with those from other schools. It also covered the breadth of reading and study that they will have to demonstrate in the A-level exam. The topics covered, such as poetry, women's writing and drama, will give them starting points for their own, more in-depth studies.'

Dulce Et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!-An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,-
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Vitai Lampada by Sir Henry Newbolt

There's a breathless hush in the Close tonight
Ten to make and a match to win
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play and the last man in.
And it's not for the sake of a ribboned coat,
Or the selfish hope of a season's fame,
But his Captain's hand on his shoulder smote
'Play up! play up! and play the game!'

The sand of the desert is sodden red,
Red with the wreck of a square thast broke
The Gatling's jammed and the colonel dead
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
The river of death has brimmed his banks,
And England's far and Honour a name,
But the voice of a schoolbody rallies the ranks,
'Play up! play up! and play the game!'

This is the word that year by year
While in her place the School is set
Every one of her sons must hear,
And none that hears it dare forget.
This they all with a joyful mmind
Bear through life like a torch in flame,
And falling fling to the host behind –
'Play up! play up! and play the game!'

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Copyright © 2007 - 2018, Brooke Weston Academy. All rights reserved.
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