Well-known playwright and author, Hugh Brewster, visited campus this week to work with our grade 8 history students.
Following their weeks of exploration into the lives of those brave young Andreans who fell in the First World War, Mrs. Ramon’s grade 8s are turning their research and creativity into short dramatic pieces.
Hugh Brewster, who has written many children’s books about both world wars, helped the students imagine the horrors of everyday life 100 years ago in the trenches of France and Belgium, on the battlefields of the Somme, and during the 100-Days War. He described how a ‘rabble’ of ill-trained Canadian soldiers transformed into an elite force of respected troops who more than earned their battle colours. This impressed Gordie McDonell, for whom the highlight was “… learning about how important Canada's role was in some key actions like Hill 70 and the taking of Vimy Ridge.”
The students were encouraged to think about how the soldiers occupied their time when they weren’t directly involved in fighting. In spite of the chaos and horror of war, there was still humour, there was still music, and there was always great camaraderie. “Having someone tell the history was better than reading,” said Kieran Walters. “I liked how he made us see them as people, not just soldiers.”
In fact, World War 1 was known as the singing war. The soldiers performed skits and sang the popular songs of the day, some of them taking the female roles, which they went on to reprise after the war. Hugh asked the students to consider including these lighter elements in their plays to make them more real. He also suggested the inclusion of letters to family and friends, relating how soldiers at the time wrote a last letter, to be sent home in case of their death. Other aspects for the boys to consider were the bravery of our indigenous soldiers concomitant with the awful racism a century ago and the significant role of women, which led to suffrage after the war.
The grade 8 boys left the sessions keen to find out more about those everyday details which would bring their plays to life. Dr. Sue Hayter, SAC Archivist, has been inundated with questions this week: “Who was the football coach back then?” “Which teachers would have taught my soldier?” “Did he have a nickname?” “Is my soldier’s name on the honour board?” Hugh Brewster’s visit certainly inspired the students to dig deeper for richer and more relevant content. We look forward to seeing some of their plays in Focus next year!