The First World War

First World War 1918 by Feature Writer Sally Stacey

For a brief time in the dark ages, now known as the 1980s, I worked as a private tutor in London. My mission was to rescue failing students who were struggling with their GCSEs and A Levels. My first English Literature student was trying to get to grips with the First World War poets but just couldn’t make any headway. More specifically, she simply couldn’t understand what made Wilfred Owen’s work so very different from that of Rupert Brooke.

A question of engagement

I wondered why the teenager wasn’t engaging with the poetry. Many decades had already passed since the end of The Great War, but my pupil was only 5 years younger than me. As I was acutely aware of the impact of the conflict and the terrible hardships that the brave men who fought in it had endured, why wasn’t she?

Was I just old enough to have been touched by the repercussions of the war? Were youngsters’ lives now so completely different and so divorced from those times that they would never be able to comprehend the horrors of a war that changed so much for so many?

Changing the course of history

Ultimately, I was to discover that my pupil possessed a perfectly good knowledge of British history including both World Wars. She understood everything despite being the child of immigrants who didn’t step foot on British soil until the 1960s. What my pupil lacked was the ability to interpret the poetry and not a failure to comprehend the impact of a war which changed the course of history.

What was I to do? How could I help this girl learn to feel the poetry rather than just to read it? I decided to do something a little left-field but I needed the permission of my student’s parents to carry out my plan. They were curious as to why I wanted their daughter to watch the movies Rambo and Platoon, but reluctantly agreed!

Watching Rambo and Platoon

When my pupil had seen the films, I asked her how she thought they differed in their portrayal of warfare. She announced confidently that Rambo celebrated glory whereas Platoon captured the horrors of battle. Aha! I suggested that she read the poetry again in the light of these thoughts. The following week, she explained that she now realised that Rupert Brooke’s poetry glorified heroism while Wilfred Owen’s work reflected the misery of war and the tragedy of lost lives. Bingo!

That there’s some corner of a foreign field That is for ever England

My student had failed her mock A level but went on to gain a B in her final exam. Phew! The First World War continues to touch lives, change lives and influence new generations who are too young to have so much as met a survivor of the conflict. Advancing women’s rights, preserving our freedom and inspiring amazing poetry, the First World War continues to impact all of our lives, sometimes in the most unexpected ways!

The Stamp Issue

In 2014, Royal Mail embarked on a five-year commemorative programme marking the First World War. Each year of the war has been explored in a stamp issue covering the themes of poppies, poetry, war art, memorials and artefacts. The latest issue is the fifth and final in a stunning series which can be combined to create a poignant collection. It features six stamps as follows:

1st class- 100 poppies by Zafer and Barbara Baran. 100 poppies were photographed and layered to produce a striking and memorable image.

1st class – ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’, Wilfred Owen. An emotional piece in which the poet mourns the waste of young lives.

1st class – Second Lieutenant Walter Tull. Celebrating the first mixed-race Army officer to command troops in a regular unit. Tull was killed in action in 1918 and has no known grave.

£1.55 – We Are Making a New World, Paul Nash.  A wounded soldier turned official war artist, Nash painted at the front and saw the destruction of trees as a metaphor for human suffering.

£1.55 – The Grave of The Unknown Warrior, Westminster Abbey, London. A symbolic memorial which has always provided a focal point for the grief of a nation.

£1.55 – Lieutenant Francis Hopgood’s goggles. Hopgood was shot down during the war, captured and held prisoner. His goggles survived the crash-landing.

This issue also includes a First Day Cover, presentation pack, Prestige Stamp Book, coin cover and stamp cards.

More importantly, you are now able to get your hands on a Composite Sheet which features all 30 stamps which have been issued in the Great War series.

The First World War Souvenir Pack is also not to be missed and contains five Poem Prints with one each of the Poppy stamps issued since 2014.

A limited edition of just 1918, the pack comes with a certificate of authenticity.

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