"I felt I had to write to you to tell you how delighted our ‘team’ was by the way the your visit to St Andrew's progressed. We would like to send our congratulations to the students for their exemplary behaviour, clear focus, politeness (always goes down well!) and inquisitiveness. It was a joy to work with them. We know that this superb level of interaction is not an accident; (many of us were teachers in an earlier life!) Our thanks to the Bevois Town staff for their expertise in preparing the children so well.
Hope to see you again next year." Alan Marshall
The history behind this story...
On Southampton Common, during 1914, three women saw soldiers attempting to write letters in the pouring rain. They offered them a place of sanctuary- St Andrews Church- which soon became a place of comfort for soldiers before heading off to France. By the end of WW1, the church had seen tens of thousands of men post letters home to loved ones.
The scale of the churches' efforts had been all-but-forgotten until a recent reorganisation of the church archive unearthed a report documenting what was provided when the hall threw open its doors.
Bevois Town children travel back in time...
A number of volunteers, headed by Alan Marshall and Maureen Paine made contact with the school two years ago, when our partnership with the church began. They asked if our children would be interested in learning more about the lives of the soldiers that travelled through Southampton on their way to war. In particular, the church were keen to share the book: 'A Record of Fives Years Work', which was the historical source that had cast so much light on this time in Southampton's past.
The children started their journey by walking the exact route of WW1 soldiers from Southampton Common to St Andrew’s Church, where they took part in a variety of different activities that allowed them to gain an understanding what soldiers’ lives were like. These included the use of pen and ink to write postcards to loved ones; an exploration of the documentation found at the church; training to march like a soldier and a study of the real lives of the soldiers that visited the church.
The unique experiences of this trip and the expertise of the volunteers at St Andrew's Church provided the children with the knowledge and understanding to write in role as a WW1 soldier. The children were tasked with placing themselves in the 'boots' of a soldier in Southampton in order to write a letter home to a loved one, describing their experiences and commenting on their view of what was to come. Understanding the historical context and the audience was essential to the children providing appropriate content. The letters were not about filling their family and friends with fear and dread but about instilling a feeling of hope.
In order to demonstrate their understanding of audience, some children then went on to write a diary from the same perspective. However, this time the children chose to reveal the fear and anxiety that so many soldiers experienced.
"Oh my goodness, those letters have reduced me to tears. What fantastic empathy from children who hopefully, have never known or will ever know war. They touched me deeply because my father was killed in WW2 and I was left wondering what he would have written to his parents before he left. I am grateful to have played a small part in extending their knowledge of WW1 somewhat."
"Many thanks for sharing these wonderful pieces of writing. They show a depth of empathy and understanding that is remarkable for children at Primary school stage. Their standard of articulation is a result of excellent teaching. Well done all round! It is so good to feel we at Avenue St Andrew's have been part of such high quality learning."