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Last Updated: Sunday, 12 November 2006, 00:54 GMT
Painful lessons of war handed on
By Dan Parkinson
BBC News

When 13-year-old Rebecca Sullivan penned a war poem for a homework assignment she thought only her teacher would see it.

But the piece entitled There Lie Forgotten Men was heard by thousands when she read it out at the country's biggest Armistice Day service.

Rebecca Sullivan
Rebecca Sullivan learned about Remembrance Day at school
Her teacher was so moved by the poem - which describes a world in which war dead are all but forgotten - she sent it to the Royal British Legion.

Officials decided to include it in a service at Trafalgar Square after deciding that it stood out from the hundreds of poems the Legion receives each year.

Rebecca wrote her piece after being moved by the poems of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon which she read as part of a school project.

"The way they wrote about war and the needless death of soldiers really moved me," the pupil at Highlands School, in Enfield, north London, said.

"It was the feeling that nothing would happen for these soldiers after they died, they would get no proper burial or funeral and would be remembered only by their loved ones.

I wanted to express how important it is that the people who have died in wars are remembered
Rebecca Sullivan

"I really liked Wilfred Owen's Anthem for a Doomed Youth. It really brought out some powerful feelings.

"I wanted to do the same thing with my poem. I wanted to express how important it is that the people who have died in wars are remembered."

A Royal British Legion (RBL) drive aims to make sure that young people like Rebecca understand the significance of Remembrance Day.

This year is the 10th anniversary of the Legion's school programme and it was started amid fears younger generations were not being taught about the sacrifices made during 20th century wars.

After a slow start the Legion now distributes 43,000 teaching packs to schools in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and also to the Republic of Ireland.

The RBL scheme teaches children the story of the poppy

The packs teach youngsters the story of the poppy and the reason for the annual two-minute silence.

The work of the war poets is covered and children are also taught about modern-day conflicts across the globe.

A national network of RBL veterans also visit schools to talk about their personal experiences of war.

Remembrance was placed on the national curriculum by the government six years ago after lobbying from the RBL, and its packs are designed to help teach the subject.

The scheme is to be expanded next year with exhibitions, a new series of posters and a teachers' conference.


RBL schools adviser Helen Hill said: "We are reaching a lot of young people but there are still some not getting the message.

"We are the custodians of remembrance. It is up to us to make sure our war dead are not forgotten.

"We show them the horrors of war and the sacrifices that were made.

"And we show them that war is still going on. Hopefully it makes them realise the futility of it all."

I would hate to think that when we're all gone the sacrifices we made will be forgotten and Remembrance Day will simply fizzle out
Len Jeans, World War II veteran

World War II veteran Len Jeans, 81, who fought in France and the Netherlands, visits schools on behalf of the RBL.

He said young people were moved and fascinated by his stories but that more schools needed to invite veterans to speak to children while they were still able to.

"There is no talking or laughing when I go in, every child is so attentive," he said.

"They ask very specific questions like 'did you shoot anyone?' or 'did you lose any friends?'

"They clearly get so much out of it and I think it's something they remember for a long time.

"All children should have the chance to meet a war veteran while we are still all around.

"I would hate to think that when we're all gone the sacrifices we made will be forgotten and Remembrance Day will simply fizzle out."


The country's latest war poet, Rebecca, said there was little chance of that happening as long as young people continued to learn about what solders like Mr Jeans had to endure.

"My friends and I were all moved by what we learned," she said.

"It is so important young people learn about the horrors of war. We are the future.

"We can't let the mistakes of the past be repeated again and again."

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