Donald Simpson Bell's Victoria Cross

Teachers' notes, activities and linked resources

** Try out the new WW1 Medals Interactive resource on My Learning. Pupils can explore the significance of medals, stories of medal recipients and design their own medals online and view them in 3D. **


Curriculum links: 

KS2 - History - First World War - Study of a Named Individual
KS3 English - Media/Non-Fiction - Print-based Media
KS3 History – WW1
KS4 English - Media/Non-Fiction - Print-based Media
KS4 History – WW1

Aims of resource: 

To provide a human story that engages pupils with the First World War and concepts of loss, heroism and sacrifice, and also introduces the history of the Battle of the Somme.


Learning objectives:

Knowledge of a human story of the Battle of the Somme and the history of the Victoria Cross
Understanding of soldiers’ battle experiences in WW1 and the significance of the Victoria Cross
Skills to consider that WW1 is made up of human stories and to interpret the conflict from an individual’s perspective

Discussion ideas:

  • Why do you think Donald chose to risk his life by destroying the machine gun?
  • Why might Donald have been so modest in his letter to his mother?
  • Why do you think it is important to reward acts of bravery in wartime with medals?
  • In peacetime, killing 50 people would be seen as a crime. How should we view Donald’s act of throwing bombs into the German trench?
  • Before the Victoria Cross, only officers could win medals for gallantry.
    - Why do you think this was? 
    - What does it suggest about Victorian society?
  • Why might the military authorities have worried that the introduction of the Victoria Cross would inspire more soldiers to risk their lives to win it?


Activity ideas:

  • Watch The Battle of the Somme 1916 film footage on YouTube (see link below). As you watch the film, think about how the makers of the film have used language, imagery, symbols and music to create a certain effect.
    - What might they have left out?
    - What evidence in the film suggests that it might be real footage?
    - Can you spot anything to suggest that the footage might not have been filmed during the battle?
    - Whose perspective is the film from?
    - Whose voices do we hear in it and whose are not represented?
    - Are some images shown for a longer time than others? Why might this be?
    - In what way does it tell the story of the battle? Why?
    - What do you think the purpose of the film was?

    Carry out some research to find out the real history of the film.
  • Analyse a source: Pick out six moments from the 1916 Battle of the Somme film (link to the footage on YouTube below). Using what you already know about the Battle of the Somme, think about what the soldiers in the film might have experienced and what they may have been feeling and thinking. Write a caption for each film still.

  • Explore a moment in history: Draw a figure covering a sheet of A4 paper to represent Donald Bell. Think about the moment when he set off on his own to destroy the German machine gun. Draw arrows and speech bubbles from different parts of the figure and write notes about what you think he was thinking, feeling, seeing, smelling, hearing, and saying at that time.

Teacher's Feedback:

' This is a really good case study of a named soldier and a great starting point for looking at the truth and myth surrounding the Battle of the Somme. I think that I would use this resource especially in preparations for a run-up to the 100th anniversary of the Battle in a few years time.

'I think that this case study of a dashing and athletic young man joining up to do his duty voluntarily would interest hard-to-engage young men in the class.'
- Michelle Ross, Special Needs Co-Ordinator and Year 5 teacher.

View other relevant WW1 resources on My Learning. Scroll down for a list of links and resources on this topic.



 
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