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Harry Oldham's Story

Teachers' notes, activities and linked resources

Curriculum links:

Arts Award  KS2-3:  Identify and experience a range of art forms
English  KS2-3:   Writing - Creative Writing; Discussion and debate; working collaboratively with peers.
History  KS2-3 WW1; Local history study

Aim of resource:

To encourage the use of First World War archival material in Arts and Arts Award activities.

Learning objectives:

Knowledge of the experiences of Harry Oldham during the Battle of Passchendaele
Understanding of the type of experiences undergone by soldiers during the First World War
Skills to use archival material as inspiration for a creative response

How this resource could be used:

'I would use it as a single lesson focus within a wider history enquiry about WW1 – perhaps from the focus of life in the trenches or suvivors of the war.
'It can also be used in a session about interpretations of the war, considering Harry's opinions (eg. the sarcasm in 'Oh what a lovely war') and contrast it with the propaganda of the day.'
- Allison Robinson, KS2 teacher

Discussion ideas:

  • Why do you think Harry Oldham wanted to write about his wartime experiences?
  • What do you think of the language Harry uses when recounting his experiences?
  • Does it remind you of anything?
  • How is language in Harry's account of the battle different from the quote from the letter to his brother?
  • What do you think Harry's watch might have meant to him during and after the battle?
  • What sort of meanings might the watch have for us today?
Activity ideas:
  • Research the stories of other Passchendaele veterans. Start off by listening to the stories of three men from New Zealand (see links at the bottom of this page) who took part in the battle: stretcher-bearer Sidney Stanfield; gunner Bert Stokes; and rifleman Stanley Herbert.

  • Literacy:
    Use the novel  Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo to introduce the idea of time. The novel is structured in chapters which represent segments of time. Pupils could use this as inspiration to recount the day Harry spent in the shell hole, in blocks of time, writing in a similar first-person style.
Arts Award ideas: 
  • Create an illustrated clock-face: 
    Time is an important theme in Harry's story, as he was wearing his watch when he was rescued and would have used it while counting down until the start of the battle, and then again as he waited for help.

    Create an illustrated clock face in which each segment (you could create four three-hour segments or more) shows part of Harry Oldham's experiences during the battle.

  • Create a collage using words from War poetry/language:
    Compare the wording in Harry's account of the Battle of Passchendaele with that used in poetry about the First World War. Can you find any similar themes, words, images? Write down common words and phrases, cut them out and use them to make a collage, perhaps grouping them into themes.

  • Create a poem from Harry's story:
    Follow these steps to make a poem or piece of writing using Harry Oldham's story for inspiration
    - think of five nouns (names of objects or things related to Harry)
    - think of five adjectives (words describing someone or something)
    - think of words relating to each of the five senses (what could Harry see, hear, smell, touch and feel?)
    - think of five similes using any of the words you have chosen (for example, 'as slippery as mud') 

    On an A4 sheet of paper, write five sentences that each contain one or more of the words you have chosen, then draw a decorative border around the words.