Field-Work

Jon Cook points to the value of school visits for history students.

March 1996: 7.00am: King Sector, Gold Beach, Normandy. The sea was a thin grey strip half a mile away as the coachload of boys emptied onto the damp, windswept sand for a breakfast packed away by the school caterers the previous lunchtime. The overnight ferry from which we had recently disembarked seemed less like a good idea now. ‘Why have you brought us here?’ was etched deep into every face. Worksheets were received without enthusiasm.  

Things went downhill after this unpromising beginning. By mid-afternoon, boys were slumped across glass display cases in the museum at Pegasus Bridge. Through miraculous good fortune, our visit coincided with that of a veteran of the Allied attack on the Bridge early on D-Day. Les Chamberlain from Ilkley told the amazing story of how he came to be in the first of the three gliders that crash-landed in the dead of night yards from where we now stood. Here was a primary source that lived and breathed. But it was no good. The sleepless night took its revenge: boys slept where they fell. How could we get things so badly wrong? 

The mistakes made on this day from hell now seem so blindingly obvious as to be laughable. Thankfully, it hasn’t always been like this. 

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