A visit to historic sites is worth a hundred textbooks, says Carol Craymer

Lest we forget

IMG_1327In a dis­cus­sion with a par­ent about the wide range of inter­na­tion­al trips and exchanges avail­able to stu­dents these days, he regret­fully com­men­ted, “In my day a tour of a dairy farm with my geo­graphy class was all that was on offer.” With cheap­er air­fares today, times have changed: so many stu­dents are trav­el­ling with­in and bey­ond New Zea­l­and to par­ti­cip­ate in sport­ing or music­al events, to prac­tise a second lan­guage, and to learn about oth­er coun­tries and their his­tory. Trav­el­ling over­seas, espe­cially when you are young, can often be trans­form­a­tion­al, shap­ing self-iden­tity as each new exper­i­ence is ref­er­enced against one’s own cul­ture and values.

I was reminded of this when, in July, I vis­ited the Lycée Baudi­mont in Arras, a school with which Scots Col­lege and Queen Mar­garet Col­lege have a bien­ni­al stu­dent exchange, arranged by may­or Celia Wade-Brown dur­ing her 2009 vis­it to this region. The sig­ni­fic­ant his­tor­ic con­nec­tions between New Zea­l­and and the Nord-Pas-de-Cal­ais region of France are pain­fully vis­ible. Cemeter­ies with rows of white crosses mark the graves of the estim­ated 1 mil­lion men, includ­ing 12,500 New Zeal­anders, who were killed here dur­ing the First World War.

Numer­ous memori­al sites in this area bear wit­ness to the Kiwi sol­diers’ bravery, such as the under­ground mil­it­ary sys­tem, a vast labyrinth of tun­nels cre­ated near Arras by the 446 men of the New Zea­l­and Tun­nel­ling Com­pany. In just three months these men dug 8 kilo­metres of tun­nels, touch­ingly giv­ing them New Zea­l­and place-names. These con­nec­ted to exist­ing under­ground chalk quar­ries, thereby provid­ing refuge for the townspeople and troops dur­ing the siege and a launch­ing pad for a sur­prise attack on the enemy lines.

The Kiwis’ sup­port is recog­nised by an impos­ing memori­al in Arras, unveiled in 2007, and an under­ground museum, Car­rière Wel­ling­ton, which tells their extraordin­ary story. Sim­il­arly, Kiwi sol­diers are recog­nised in Le Ques­noy in north­ern France, lib­er­ated by the New Zea­l­and Divi­sion in 1918, where the street names hon­our vari­ous New Zea­l­and towns. And in the vil­lage of St-Maclou-la-Brière in north­ern Nor­mandy, a memori­al recog­nises the bravery of Second World War pilot and Scots Col­lege old boy, James Stel­lin, who, in 1944, chose to stay in his dam­aged Hawker Typhoon and sac­ri­fice his own life, rather than para­chute out and risk crash­ing on loc­al houses. The French gov­ern­ment later awar­ded him the Croix de Guerre avec Palme medal.

At all of these French sites there were plenty of young tour­ists from all parts of the world exper­i­en­cing the sac­ri­fices of earli­er gen­er­a­tions. Wreaths laid on these memori­als, many from vis­it­ing schools, are testi­mony to those stu­dents who have trav­elled to these sombre places. On one memori­al I noted flor­al trib­utes laid on behalf of Marl­bor­ough Boys’ Col­lege and Strat­ford High School along­side a poppy wreath from Eton Col­lege in England.

The com­ments in the vis­it­ors’ books illus­trated the glob­al impact of war with men­tions of rel­at­ives, fallen mem­bers of neigh­bours’ fam­il­ies, and vis­it­ors from the sol­diers’ vil­lages, schools or sports clubs from around the world. Many young vis­it­ors’ words reflec­ted that well-known phrase, “For your tomor­row, we gave our today”.

As I observed people fully engaged in see­ing first hand the hor­ror of war through their bat­tle­field vis­its, I thought how we should not just rely on edu­ca­tion as being the product of the nor­mal school day. In a time when edu­ca­tion is often too nar­rowly focused on the res­ults of assess­ments and teach­ers are required to fit learn­ing into bite-sized areas of know­ledge and under­stand­ing, ideas such as sac­ri­fice, bravery and loy­alty can be dif­fi­cult to grasp fully.

About Carol Craymer

Car­ol has an MA in Eng­lish from the Uni­ver­sity of Can­ter­bury and has been prin­cip­al of Queen Mar­garet col­lege since 2004. Pri­or to mov­ing to Wel­ling­ton, she was assist­ant prin­cip­al at Orewa col­lege and deputy prin­cip­al at Taka­puna Gram­mar. How­ever, Car­ol is not all about ‘dotting the is’ and cross­ing the t’s’. She has also worked for Radio New Zea­l­and as an announ­cer, acted in Eng­land in a theatre troupe tour­ing schools and raised two daughters.

About Carol Craymer

Carol has an MA in English from the University of Canterbury and has been principal of Queen Margaret college since 2004. Prior to moving to Wellington, she was assistant principal at Orewa college and deputy principal at Takapuna Grammar. However, Carol is not all about 'dotting the is' and crossing the t's'. She has also worked for Radio New Zealand as an announcer, acted in England in a theatre troupe touring schools and raised two daughters.

Connect

View all Posts

You must be logged in to post a comment Login