Today it is Remembrance Day, and at 11 o’clock on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, people across Britain will be holding two minutes of silence to remember soldiers who have died. Remembrance Day was originally called Armistice Day (which is still celebrated on the same day), and started to mark the signing of an agreement that ended the First World War. The reason that people wear poppies to mark it is because on many of the battlefields where the worst fighting happened in World War One, poppies began to grow and inspired a soldier called John McCrae to write ‘In Flanders Fields’.
This year, as it is the 100-year anniversary of the start of the First World War, we’re featuring Terry Deary’s Frightful First World War, included in the collection The Frightful First World War And, the Woeful Second World War: Two Horrible Books in One (BOOK ZONE 940.3). The First World War started in 1914 and lasted until 1918, and despite the fact that it only lasted four years, it had a massive toll on both sides and has become infamous for its terrible conditions, especially in the trenches on either side of the battlefields across France and Belgium.
Terry Deary’s Horrible Histories books have been getting people enthused about history for more than 20 years and have been made into TV series, computer games and even a Horrible Histories prom. Filled with cartoons and jokes, they teach history with the gory bits left in. In Frightful First World War, Deary explains the reasons why the First World War started in a way that’s easy to understand and talks about the realities of every day life at the time. If you’re squeamish, though, you might want to give some bits of the book a skip – Horrible Histories lives up to its name and there was a lot that was horrible about life in the trenches! The cartoons by Martin Brown (and various other illustrators in other Horrible Histories books) are almost as iconic and Terry Deary’s terrible puns.
Frightful First World War has a handy timeline of events as well as quotes from real documents like letters and poems from the time. It’s a great way to learn about the war that, at the time was called ‘The Great War’, because nobody believed it would ever be repeated. Of course, we now know that the Second World War was looming in 1945, but the horrors of World War One meant that people were anxious not to repeat the mistakes made in 1914.
Horrible Histories is really good for giving an interesting and funny approach to learning about history, but it also never skips over the unpleasant bits. If you want to read about history with the gory bits left in, and maybe learn something into the bargain, then try Frightful First War.
If you want to learn more…
Watch The World At War, a landmark BBC series from the 1970’s that had Laurence Olivier providing narration and used rare full-colour film footage of the war (BOOK ZONE 940.53).
Read novels written about the First World War: Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks (NORFOLK HOUSE LIBRARY 823.91), The First Casualty by Ben Elton (BOOK ZONE 823.91) and Regeneration by Pat Barker (BOOK ZONE 823.91).
Learn about the war through the eyes of the people who were there. Some soldiers wrote poetry to express their feelings about the war, and it shocked people back in Britain because they had no idea that conditions in the trenches were so bad. Some of the famous poets are Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves, who also published his wartime diary as Goodbye To All That (BOOK ZONE 940.3). We have lots of books on First World War poetry, but The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry (BOOK ZONE 821.91) is probably a good place to start.
For another comedy take on the First World War with a surprising amount of poignancy, try Black Adder Goes Forth (DVD LOBBY 791.453617). The famous Edmund Blackadder, a scoundrel who tries to get out of responsibility and make a bit of money along the way, is conscripted into the army and sent to the trenches, where he does everything he can to get out of fighting (which was a sadly common event, and many people who were psychologically damaged by the fighting were executed as ‘deserters’). I won’t spoil the ending for you, but the end of the final episode is considered by some to be one of the greatest moments in British television.
The Horrible Histories series covers lots of periods of time. We have an audio dramatization of Frightful First World War (BOOK ZONE 940.3) and books on periods of time from the Stone Age to the modern USA! Look up ‘Horrible Histories’ on the catalogue or ask a member of staff to find out more.
Have a look at the website for Horrible Histories with games, an online magazine and competitions, and the site for the CBBC Horrible Histories TV series with clips from the show and activities. Right now they’ve got an episode up all about the First World War, so catch it quickly!