Commemorate Armistice Day with your young people
'Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom,
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark-green fields; on - on - and out of sight.'
From Everyone Sang by Siegfried Sassoon
Armistice Day – also known as Remembrance Sunday – is nearly here. The second Sunday of November marks the hundredth anniversary of the end of First World War in 1918, a day of remembrance in Britain and around the world for those who fell during the four year conflict. It’s customary that Scouts, who historically played a role in the war with peaceful duties such as coast-watching and message-delivering, mark the occasion with activities that respectfully observe the passing of this national day of remembrance. Below are some suggestions for what your group can get up to.
If you’re leading a Beaver Colony, you could spend the meeting before Armistice Day finding out what they know already. Correct any misconceptions and provide them with extra details and stories – like this one on the brave Scout, Captain Anthony Slingsby. You can discuss the kind of jobs young people did in the war, paying tribute to their effort and inspiring the Beavers to be civic minded within their communities wherever possible. You could also bake cupcakes as a Colony and decorate them with rice paper or fondant poppies, holding a bake sale afterwards for the Poppy Appeal or a similar charity.
You can spend the Pack meeting before Armistice Day (or on the day, if you have an activity planned around the 11 o’clock silence) re-enacting – with dressing up, if you like – the legendary Christmas Day football match. You can also take the opportunity to remind your young people of the importance of their Cub Promise – doing your best in whatever role you are given – and how that relates to the First World War. Young people were often soldiers, couriers, nurses, had jobs at home, and so on, and were expected to adjust to their new jobs, always doing their best. This year is also the one hundred year anniversary of the Royal Air Force. You could discuss the role of planes in the war, from direct conflicts to distributing aid, and can use the time for Cubs to work on their Air Activities Badge.
Take a historical walk with your Scouts around the community, and try to imagine what different areas were like during the war – a local librarian or historian might be able to help fill in the facts. Planning further trips to battlefields or other sites of significance can also spark imaginative minds lacking a deeper understanding of the history. A WWI-style weekend sleepover could be ideal to carry your group through into Sunday, if weather permits; you could plant vegetables in the spirit of ‘Dig for Victory’, use WWI recipes (and ration amounts) for making meals; and set up an extra tent to serve as a ‘bunker’, occasionally sounding off an air raid alarm so that everyone has to run to the bunker for safety. All of these help to convey the lifestyle and feelings of young people during the war. Wind down in the evening by watching some historical footage featuring young people (you can find this on the British Pathé website).
Explorers are likely to have more knowledge of WWI, but showing a film that captures the reality of the war could give them a new perspective of it, particularly of its devastating scale. The recent film, Dunkirk, is a good example as it follows young people in different roles at the Dunkirk evacuation. If a local speaker or family member within the community has deep or even first-hand knowledge of the war, they could come in to answer questions afterwards. Young people could also create their own wreaths, in lieu of buying them, attaching luggage labels with the names of local soldiers (you can find these at local cenotaphs). On Armistice Day, you can lay these wreaths as a Unit. If you can find out which battlefield any of the soldiers died at, planning your next summer camp around visiting it could be a moving way to follow up these activities.
This year celebrated British filmmaker Danny Boyle will also be inviting millions of Britons to the seaside to commemorate heroes of the First World War in an event called Pages of the Sea. A large-scale portrait of a casualty from the First World War, designed by sand artists, will be washed away as the tide comes in. You can bring your young people along and join in by ‘creating silhouettes of people in the sand, remembering the millions of lives lost or changed forever by the conflict.’
The event is described as an ‘informal, nationwide gesture of remembrance for the men and women who left their home shores during the First World War.’ Boyle said that as a ‘small nation, surrounded by beaches, the locations for the tributes were a great stage. Beaches are unruly, democratic places, where nobody rules other than the tide.’
However you choose to spend Armistice Day, we’re sure you’ll be able to fit in practical, engaging activities which keep your section entertained while respectfully observing the passing of the day.