Iraq and Gulf wars – Daisy’s family history

Daisy’s dad and grandad, John and Joe Hogan, spoke to the class about two of the most recent wars that the British army has been involved in.  John fought in the war in Iraq (2003) and Joe the Gulf War in Kuwait and Iraq (1990/91).  Both vividly remember the date and the moment that they left their families to travel to the war zone.  For both John and Joe, leaving beloved families for an unknown amount of time (possibly, even, never to return) was the hardest part of their experience of war.  Receiving mail, with news from home, was what they looked forward to more than anything.  Joe also spoke about how much he had enjoyed receiving letters at Christmas time, sent by school children to the British forces.


John and Joe served in the Royal Engineers.  John helped to lay roads across the desert to enable the army to move equipment and Joe constructed improvised air raid shelters from oil drums, concrete, sheet metal and sand bags, and helped with the water supply, including building a very popular desert shower.   

There were frightening periods of fighting, of course, sometimes lasting minutes, sometimes hours.  Colleagues were killed.   But they said their time at war was not all bad.  There was excitement and adventure and camaraderie between the soldiers.  John told us about lizard races in the desert.  He also told us how to solve the practical problem of cooling drinks in one of the hottest places on Earth.  What you can do is put your water bottle inside an old sock, pee over the sock,  and then tie the sock to the wing mirror of a vehicle and drive across the desert.  As the liquid on the sock evaporates into the hot and dry desert air, heat energy flows out of the bottle and the water cools.  

John and Joe answered lots of insightful questions from the class, openly and honestly, and we were all left with a deeper understanding of the experience of soldiers in wartime and in the conflicts in Iraq and Kuwait in particular.   The experience of soldiers in war obviously changes over time.  When asked about one thing that they would change about their experiences (other than the wars not starting in the first place), John’s response was that he would have liked to have had the ‘face time’ technology that soldiers can use to keep in touch with loved ones from conflict zones today.

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Thoughts about war

We ended our study of the Second World War by reflecting on war generally; on whether war can ever be justified; and on whether, as individuals, we think that we might ever be prepared to fight in a war.  

Although the Second World War is now part of history, we discussed the terrible fighting currently taking place on the edge of Europe (images of Aleppo in Syria that we looked at were similar to many of the images that we had studied of cities destroyed in the Second World War).  We agreed that, although we are fortunate to live in a stable part of the world, we should not think of war as something that only happens in other places to other people at other times, and that it’s important to develop our own views and understanding about issues of war and peace.  Here’s a selection of the reflections.

Ignas said: “I’ve learned that “the Second World War was a horrific time of death and anger and that we should try to prevent war in the future.”  Jim similarly: “..war is unimaginably awful and scars people for life”.   Nell said, “I have learned how lucky we are to be in a safe part of the world and how we should be grateful for our health and homes.”

Ellie wrote: “I’ve learned that war is about blood and bravery, right and wrong, and great and evil leaders.   War is life changing and always life ending.  My views on war haven’t and will not change.   I believe that if you start a war out of choice your innards are ugly and black and you are inhuman to be so cruel.”

The children reflected on what had helped them to understand the nature of war.  Sarafina said: “I’ve learned that the Second World War was a cold, dark, dangerous time in history….  What helped me understand was family history, other people’s points and perspectives , and stories of what happened to them.”  Nina: “The family histories made me understand war from different perspectives.  Images of war helped me see what was going on.  The Silver Sword makes me realise that children go through dangerous times too.”

There were lots of different points of view on whether war could ever be justified.  Ignas: “I think that we have to be prepared to fight but we have to try every resort before we do… we are fighting for peace not for fun.”   Temmyyaa:  “I have learned that war isn’t about yourself, it’s about people you care for…. I would be able to fight for my country, the people I care for.”

On the other side,  Caspar: “I’m an absolute pacifist, because I hate the idea of killing.” Sylvie:  “I think I am a pacifist.  I just think it’s wrong and I couldn’t bring myself to kill people living who have feelings and families who care for them.  And if it wasn’t war, we could have been friends.”  Sarafina: “I am an absolute pacifist.  I would never, ever go out to fight in a war.  People don’t understand what they’re doing.  As soon as they sign their name, their life has changed.”

Nell tries to take a balanced view: “ I don’t feel war is a solution but in a way I understand why we had them because the Nazis needed to be stopped.”   Jim says, “War can be justified and can bring out good leaders.   Also we can learn from it and make sure it never happens again.”  Do you think Jim’s right?  Can we learn from history?

Second World War family history – Gabriel

This is Gabriel’s story of his great uncle Gerry, who fought alongside one of the most famous generals in the British Army, Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery (or “Monty” as he was nicknamed).   Monty fought in a number of the most important battles in both world wars, in Europe and in Africa.  You could see what you can find out about him before we discuss Gabriel’s story in class next week.  

During the Second World War, Gerry was in the Eighth Army which fought in the Mediterranean and Middle East theatre.  He fought under a famous general called Bernard Montgomery.  

Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery (“Monty”)

Gerry was very unlucky because he drove over a landmine and then was hit by artillery.  He was very lucky to survive but lost an eye.  He said that his mates were looking for his eye.  He was very badly injured and his family didn’t know where he was for six months.

His life was never the same again and he was very self-conscious about the way he looked.  He had tunnel vision in his eye and my mum couldn’t believe that he could legally drive a car.  He needed help with house work and sometimes he had to chase the chickens out of the house!  [Gabriel will have to say a little more about this last part of the story in class…]

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Joseph Rotblat

We will learn about Joseph Rotblat in our work on World War II next week. Although he was not involved directly in the fighting, he was deeply involved in, and affected by, the war. He was Jewish and from Poland and lost his wife in the holocaust.  He was a scientist and became involved in the project to build the atomic bombs that were dropped on two cities in Japan, finally bringing the world war to an end.  And he played an important role, as a peace campaigner, in the Cold War that followed.  You could try to see what you can find out about his life. Much of the material on the web is perhaps difficult, in part, to follow, but you could start here:  Joseph Rotblat

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Second World War family history – Emily

This is the history of some of Emily’s family who lived through the Second World War in Asia.  You will read that Emily’s great grandfather, who was captured by the Japanese army and held as a prisoner of war, never spoke about his experiences (just like Ellie’s Great Uncle Frank).  War is often unimaginably terrible and even those who survive are affected by the experience for the rest of their lives.


In 1937, before the war started, my Grandmother moved to Singapore because her father was in the British army.

Life in Singapore was at that time very different from England.  The family had servants and they had a pet monkey.

In 1942, Singapore was threatened with invasion by the Japanese army.  Singapore is on a peninsula surrounded by water on three sides and the British were confident that the attack would come from the sea.  They planned their defence but the Japanese attacked by land, through a jungle.   The Japanese surprised the British and successfully captured Singapore.


My Grandma was nearly six years old.  She had to escape.   She left Singapore with her mother by boat heading for Australia.  Her father stayed behind to continue to fight.  They caught the last boat which was not bombed or sunk.  They had to leave almost all of their possessions including the monkey and all Grandma’s toys.  She had her sixth birthday on the boat.  They arrived safely in Australia and my grandmother spent the rest of the war in Australia where she went to boarding school.

My Grandma’s father was captured and was a prisoner of war for the next three years.  He and other soldiers built a railway.   They were treated badly and many prisoners died.  My great grandfather survived until the end of the war.   He received a letter from King George VI after he returned.  He never spoke of his experiences as a prisoner of war.

The letter (on Buckingham Palace notepaper) reads:

The Queen and I bid you a very warm welcome home.

Through all the great trials and sufferings which you have undergone at the hands of the Japanese, you and your comrades have been constantly in our thoughts.  We know from the accounts we have already received how heavy those sufferings have been.   We know also that these have been endured by you with the highest courage.

            We mourn with you the deaths of so many of your gallant comrades.

            With all our hearts, we hope that your return from captivity will bring you and your families a full measure of happiness, which you may long enjoy together.

 September 1945



Second World War history – strafing of Forest Hill

One of the things we are learning about war (and will discuss further) is that when war breaks out all sense of morality often breaks down.   We have learned about the indiscriminate bombing of London by the German air force – terror bombing designed to kill people.  The British air force bombed cities in Germany in the same way.   A neighbour, who lived in south-east London through the Second World War, described to me seeing a German fighter plane (a Messerschmitt) strafing Forest Hill Road (close to where I live).  Strafing means flying low down the street shooting people with the aircraft’s machine gun.  This seems particularly vindictive, and is frightening to imagine, although it is perhaps no worse than dropping a bomb from on high or firing a missile from afar.

Mr Milne


A Messerschmitt shot down on a London street


Second World War family history – Mr Milne

Here are some of my dad’s recollections of the war – they may give you ideas for tomorrow’s writing lesson, when we are going to be imagining experiencing an air raid.

I can remember hearing the siren going off in the night. An awful wailing, moaning sort of sound. This meant you had to get out of bed, go out in the dark and walk to the shelter at the end of the garden. The shelter was called an Anderson Shelter and was meant to keep you safe in case the enemy dropped any bombs near where you lived. The shelters were cold, damp and smelly and all my family had to crowd in to the tiny space.


I also remember looking up in the sky and seeing fighter planes shooting at each other. The tracer bullets lit up like lines in the sky.  (Tracer bullets are bullets that burn brightly along their path, allowing the shooter to adjust their aim if necessary.)


The German planes used to drop clouds of silver paper (aluminium foil), which made it harder for them to be tracked by radar.


Towards the end of the war, there were great convoys of American soldiers who drove along the road outside our house.  They were very friendly and waved at us children. The used to throw packets of gum from the army trucks into our garden.

At the end of the war my whole family slept overnight in the Mall so that we would see the great victory parade the next day.  It was very cold but we had lots of blankets and hot thermoses of soup with us….  Then in the morning we saw this great military parade passing us, guns and tanks and loads of soldiers, sailors and airmen and then the jeep with Field Marshal Montgomery  (one of the leading British military commanders) standing up and saluting everyone as he went by.  This was a very exciting moment with everyone cheering the great general.