Patron of Reading project: postcards from the trenches

Patron of Reading

Clayesmore Prep’s Patron of Reading, Gillian Cross has been working with Year Six to mark the centenary of the First World War. Each group was given a local family from the 1911 census (names have been changed) in which at least one son was eligible to fight. Working dramatically, pupils captured the reactions of different family members, from proud and patriotic fathers to anxious mothers and excited siblings. Having explored a number of real letters and postcards to and from the front, the children composed two poignant postcards of their own: one to a son in France and the other from the son to a family member, still working with real families. The aim was authenticity, capturing the writing style and voice of the period.  

 The second part of the project saw pupils discovering more about the humdrum and discomfort of everyday life in the trenches. The children learned how men coped with this existence by collecting trophies and making trench art. Working collaboratively, groups composed two diary entries: one from a boy soldier on a typical day near the front line, and, in contrast, an entry from a day behind the line, when the soldier had experienced some welcome leave and relaxation. The children wrote poignantly, an echo of those voices from one hundred years ago . . .

I am very tired. I cannot get to sleep. Tea was not the greatest and my stomach is empty. A few hours ago we were all sitting in the mud cleaning our bayonets. The lice feel like they are biting away at me. It has been raining all week and the mud is slowly covering me.  I have never known worse food than corned beef. Therefore I was very excited when Mother sent her fruit cake. Every hour I pray for safety and peace . . . By Hester, Erin, Daniel & Charlie

In the final part of their project, children thought about how it might have felt in a local Dorset village when the Armistice was signed. After this, the soldier or soldiers from their ‘families’ (allocated from the 1911 census) were then called forward one by one to open a plain brown envelope in which was sealed their fate. Some survived and were unscathed.  Another received a medal for bravery. For some, their fate was not so bright. Several were wounded: one blinded, one paralysed and one an amputee. Others did not return at all. . . This was a poignant part of the session and Year Six showed great respect for the subject matter. Still images were generated in which the family members spoke aloud their feelings about the injured and the lost. Finally, the children considered the act of remembrance and how this might have been in a village one year after the war in 1919.  They wrote thought-provoking letters to the future from their families.


Dear Future,

We haven’t forgotten what the war was like. My son fought bravely for the safety of our country. We never saw our son’s face again. Don’t let another war happen. Millions of people died for your future, so don’t waste it.

From 1919 Mavis, Harriet, Daisy, Misha & Ryan


Dear Future,

We lost everything it seems now that our son is departed from us. War is not something to be proud of. Everyone has a right to live in peace, friend or foe. We shall remember them.

From 1919 Hester, Erin, Daniel & Charlie