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In it for the long haul

Prepared for anything

by Brian Radcliffe

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To explore students’ sense of short- and long-term commitment (SEAL theme: Motivation).

Preparation and materials

  • You will need a leader and three readers.
  • Have available the song ‘Hold on’ by KT Tunstall and the means to play it at the end of the assembly.


  1. Leader  When Britain declared war on Germany on 4 August 1914, the country’s leadership gave a very clear signal about the outcome.

    Reader 1 The war will be over by Christmas.

    Leader  Presumably with Britain being the winner. A similar message was given in Germany, however, when Kaiser Wilhelm told his troops:

    Reader 2 You’ll be home before the leaves have fallen from the trees.

    Reader 3 Meanwhile, the Russian army was planning to be in Berlin, capturing the German capital, within six weeks.

  2. Leader The message was the same from all the opposing countries. It seems everybody felt that this war wasn’t going to last long. Why was this?

    Reader 1 Each side thought that it had such technologically advanced weapons, it would be possible to simply sweep the opposition away. Tanks and machine guns were such efficient killing machines that, it was believed, the enemy would be decimated. Indeed, Germany was so confident in the superiority of its arms that its military leaders only had a stockpile of the chemicals necessary for the production of explosives to last them six months.

    Reader 2 Recent history also gave a number of precedents for short wars. The Franco-Prussian War had lasted less than a year, the first Boer War and the Spanish-American Wars were each barely six months’ long. Even the second Boer War took only just over two years.

    Reader 3 The main reason, however, was that of propaganda. The promise of a brief war encouraged men to volunteer for the fighting. The idea of a war seemed somehow less serious if it wasn’t going to last for long. This promoted optimism and kept morale high in each country.

  3. Leader As we now know, the First World War was to last for more than four years. Partly this was because the armies cancelled each other out. Each one had new technology, but it was soon copied by the other side. There was no obvious advantage, so it simply turned into an inevitable long, drawn-out face-off in Belgium and Northern France.

    There were other factors, too. The weather was appalling during the first autumn and winter of the war. Rain and cold affected communications and supplies to the front line and rapidly led to outbreaks of illness among the troops. 

    So, no Allies reached Berlin within six weeks, German soldiers were not home before the end of autumn and Christmas was spent on the front line.


Time for reflection

Leader  There are many opportunities to commit ourselves to major tasks. Maybe there is a drama production or musical event that requires us to attend rehearsals for several months. Maybe there is a training course that will lead to a qualification. Maybe there is an award scheme such as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. Maybe we want to achieve a certain set of exam grades at the end of the year.

There are also relationship commitments that we can make. In the Christian Church, there are three occasions when people make such a commitment. One is when, during a christening service, parents, godparents and the local church community promise to help a baby grow to know Jesus. A second is, when people are baptized later in life or confirmed, they make a commitment to follow Jesus. Finally, during a wedding service, a couple promise to be faithful to one another for the whole of their lives. These can also be seen as models for the many informal commitments we make to our friends and family to love and support them through thick and thin.

What are you like at making such commitments? Do you get swept up in a burst of early enthusiasm then become bogged down as other factors need to be taken into account? How good are you at considering carefully the implications and the cost? What resources do you have in terms of time, energy and maybe also cash? What are your expectations?

It would be easy to avoid such long-term commitments, but it would be a loss to ourselves if we did. There’s something very special about the final performance of a play or concert, receiving our award or qualification, picking up a great set of results. There’s also something very satisfying about being in a long-term relationship – the trust, stability and shared memories.

We should make these commitments, to a few people and a few projects. What we can learn from the leaders in the First World War, however, is that we need to give careful consideration to what we’re taking on and make sure we have the resources available to see it through. 

Dear Lord,
Thank you for the variety of ways in which we can commit ourselves to others and our own future.
May we be realistic in our expectations, strong in our desire to succeed and ready to run a marathon rather than a sprint.



‘Hold on’ by KT Tunstall

Publication date: June 2014   (Vol.16 No.6)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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