Bringing Living History to Schools

Blog post written by Dickie Knight, Anglia Tours Living History guide who recently visited a school to carry out a new socially distanced Living History lesson.

With current DfE advice against domestic (UK) overnight and overseas educational visits organising a school trip is challenging. For many schools the annual trip to the battlefields, which provides so many wonderful experiences, simply hasn’t been able to go ahead.

There are however, alternatives. I have been working as a battlefield guide and a Historical Interpreter for Anglia Tours for 10 years so as soon as they approached me and asked me if I wanted to deliver a First World War Living History session at Gresham’s School I jumped at it.

I started, as I always do by contacting the school and spoke with Simon Kinder, Head of History at Gresham’s. Simon was able to let me know what the students have studied in class, exactly what themes he wanted me to cover and how many sessions he would like me to run. He was also able to let me know that I would have the chance to work in the school’s wonderful Chapel.

So, armed with all this information, on 5 October I set off for Gresham’s taking with me a wide range of uniform, kit and equipment all of which would help me set about bringing the Western Front alive for Gresham’s young historians.

The presentations I gave covered all aspects of trench life, from what a soldier ate, how he kept clean in a muddy trench, to latrines and trench foot. In the past I would have asked for ‘willing volunteers’ to assist me which normally involves dressing a few eager students in the uniform and equipment of the British Tommy. However, present circumstances meant I had to come up with another approach. So I brought along a full mannequin, dressed head to toe as a British Tommy and another three half mannequins each dressed in different uniforms. This meant I was able to give a full presentation without missing any of the interactive sections.

The use of Gas and the development of the gas masks is another subject I would normally cover with a volunteer. However, using the extensive range of equipment I have available I was able to show the evolution of gas equipment from its beginning, a sock which the soldiers dipped into urine, to the state of the art Small Box Respirator.

It was so great to have the chance to work with the school. I put a lot of questions to the students throughout each of the 1 ½ hour presentations and they were keen to reply. There were so many hands in the air! After the presentation, it was lovely that so many came up and said thank you. It was really encouraging to talk with the group who hung around afterwards to ask more questions – another chance to feed their inquisitive minds.

I’m very pleased to say that it wasn’t only me who enjoyed the experience. Simon Kinder was kind enough to say that he thought the sessions were “brilliant and the event was a huge hit with the kids. They were shown the uniform, weaponry and equipment of British and German soldiers and also explored hygiene, health and the evolution of gas masks and grenades. Highlights included watching First World War rifles in action and getting up close to so much of the technology and equipment. The pupils loved the interactive demonstrations, the amount of authentic kit and the energetic and expert storytelling. Highly recommended”

If you would like more information on the wide range of themes that can be covered in one of the Living History presentations or you would like to book a session at your school please email Anglia tours at or call them on 01376 574130.

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