Friday, 11 November 2011

Preparing a Remembrance Day talk

Paul Goodwin has written today's Blog article where he shares his thoughts about giving a talk on Remembrance at this time of year.

In 2008 I was privileged to be given the opportunity to speak at a school assembly for Remembrance Day. This would be a new experience for me and had to be done correctly. I would have about fifteen minutes and would be watched by the pupils and teachers, the local minister and the head teacher (my boss).

I started with a short video clip of a reading of ‘In Flanders Fields’, it sounds better in a Scots accent and mine is English. I followed this with a few words on the origin of war memorials and a slide of our local claim to fame, the oldest civic memorial in Scotland, the Crimean memorial at Balmaclellan which is in the school catchment area. I then gave a few examples of different types of memorials with a slide of each, all from the local area of course so that they would be known to the audience.

With these words I continued “I tried to think how best to bring a sense of presence to these memorials so I decided to focus on one man , and to make it straightforward, I chose the first man listed on the nearest memorial (the one on Main Street, Dalry).” I will leave the story of Robert James Clark for a future blog but I showed slides of his name on the memorial, the man himself, his house and told the story of how he lived and died. I held up examples of the medals and his cap badge.

At about this time I realised that I could not hear anything so wondered if I was going deaf! I looked up and saw everyone watching in silence, I had never seen the pupils that quiet before. Ok, I had given them the intro, grabbed their attention by showing them something familiar and turned a name on a piece of granite into a face on the screen in front of them. Now for the sucker punch!

If he had lived then his great grandchildren would probably be here now as pupils of this school, perhaps sitting on those two empty chairs behind you.” They all turned around and looked at two empty chairs I had placed at the back of the room and one or two gasped. I hoped that I had now turned a war so long ago into a real event for them and, at least for some, given them the understanding that the loss of those men continues to affect us all. (As an aside, that use of the empty chairs is still occasionally mentioned by pupils two and a half years later so it obviously left an impact).

Behind every name on every memorial is a story like this one, of a real person, a real family and a real loss.” That’s it, job done; now time to wrap up with a few words to plug the Scottish War Memorials Project and the War Memorials Trust.

(If anyone would like a copy of the script I used that day, just send a PM to ‘spoons’ at the Scottish War Graves Project.) And now I will end as I did on that day…………

The next time you pass a war memorial, please STOP………… and read a name…………. and pause for thought.”

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