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Armistice: War and Peace

An assembly from the Culham St Gabriel archive

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)

Aims

To commemorate Remembrance Day by focusing on war poetry.

Preparation and materials

  • You will need a leader and five readers.

  • You will also need a large candle and reflective music.

  • Optional: you may wish to use some stirring music such as Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance Marches and the national anthem.

  • Note: this is a long presentation that requires plenty of time for reflection. You may like to consider extending the usual allotted assembly time. If this is not possible, you may like to edit the assembly to ensure that enough time is provided to take in what is being said. You may also like to use this material as the basis for a class discussion about the issues raised here.

Assembly

Leader: When you go home, tell them of us and say
             
For your tomorrows, these gave their today.

Reader 1: Today, we remember all those who have lost their lives or been injured in war. In particular, we remember those who died in the First World War, from 1914 to 1918, and the Second World War, from 1939 to 1945. However, we also remember those who have died in other wars that have taken place since, and are still taking place. This year, many have died and been injured as they fight for peace.

Reader 2: We are going to read some poems that highlight different aspects of the wars. The first makes the point that war isn’t a game, but a serious business.

Reader 3: Whos for the game? by Jessie Pope (abridged)

Whos for the game, the biggest thats played,
The red crashing game of a fight?
Who
ll grip and tackle the job unafraid?
And who thinks he
d rather sit tight?

Who
ll toe the line for the signal to Go!?
Who
ll give his country a hand?
Who would much rather come back with a crutch
Than lie low and be out of the fun?

Come along, lads -
But you
ll come on all right -
For there
s only one course to pursue,
Your country is up to her neck in a fight,
And she
s looking and calling for you.

Reader 4: The second poem captures the horror of war and tells us why we use poppies to remember the war dead.

Reader 5: In Flanders fields’ by John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Leader: These poems show two different sides to the First World War. The first poem shows how young men were encouraged to join up and were taunted if they did not want to. The second poem, by contrast, urges the importance of remembering the sacrifices that were made by those who were fighting. The first poet wrote from the safety of England and tried to shame men into joining up; the second poet wrote from the reality of the battlefield.

Reader 1 (lighting the candle): Let’s listen to some music for a moment and watch the candle flame as we think about those men and women who have given their lives in all the wars of the last century, and in those that are still taking place.

Reader 2: At this time of remembrance, we dont just remember those who have died, we remember the survivors, the injured and the courage of those who fought for their country. Maurice Wood, later Bishop of Norwich, was a young chaplain in the Royal Navy when the Normandy landings took place in 1944. He told of running up the beach under fire. When remembering that time, he said that his deep faith in Jesus left him with no fear of death, but he was terrified of being badly wounded because he would carry the wounds for the rest of his life.

Reader 3: Let’s listen to another poem that considers those who were injured in the wars. As we listen, let’s consider what attitudes and ideas the poet is attacking.

Reader 4: Does it matter? by Siegfried Sassoon

Does it matter? - losing your legs? . . .
For people will always be kind,
And you need not show that you mind
When the others come in after hunting
To gobble their muffins and eggs.

Does it matter? - losing your sight? . . .
Theres such splendid work for the blind;
And people will always be kind,
As you sit on the terrace remembering
And turning your face to the light.

Do they matter? - those dreams from the pit? . . .
You can drink and forget and be glad,
And people wont say that youre mad;
For theyll know youve fought for your country
And no one will worry a bit.

Reader 5: At our age, it can be difficult for us to appreciate how important Remembrance Day is. If we watch the Remembrance Day service on television, some of the men and women marching seem old and the wars lie far in the past. However, in most of our family histories, there will be relatives who have died in the First and Second World Wars and in over 200 wars around the world that have occurred since 1945.

Leader: Today, we face many issues. There are still wars in many parts of the world, many refugees are fleeing from war-torn areas, there are fears of terrorism and there are people who are living with the terrible effects of each of these.Our final poem speaks about the importance of reconciliation. We remember that people from both sides of every war feel the pain and heartache of death, separation, suffering and injury.

Reader 1: ‘Reconciliation’ by Siegfried Sassoon

When you are standing at your heros grave,
Or near some homeless village where he died,
Remember, through your hearts rekindling pride,
The German soldiers who were loyal and brave.

Men fought like brutes; and hideous things were done;
And you have nourished hatred, harsh and blind.
But in that Golgotha perhaps youll find
The mothers of the men who killed your son.

Reader 2: John Maxwell Edmonds is credited with the famous words often heard during this time of remembrance.

When you go home, tell them of us and say
For your tomorrows, these gave their today.

Reader 3: We give thanks for those who gave their lives for our freedom.

Reader 4: (Optional: we will close by singing the national anthem as we think about those who have been prepared to give up their lives so that we can have a better future.)

Song/music

Optional: you may wish to use some stirring music such as Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance Marches and the national anthem.

Publication date: November 2017   (Vol.19 No.11)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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