Young should visit war graves of both sides says author

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ALL young people should visit not just British war graves but German memorials too to ensure that they understand “where we come from”, a leading author has claimed.

Michael Morpurgo, who wrote War Horse, also suggested that children need to be told personal stories about historical events like the First World War because these are often too big for them to comprehend.

Speaking at a conference for schools on how to mark the centenary of the Great War, Mr Morpurgo said stories are able to get through to people in a way that history books are unable to do.

At the same event, broadcaster Jeremy Paxman suggested people today lack the same “sense of duty” that drove young men and women to fight in the First World War.

Mr Morpurgo told delegates he wanted to inspire and alert young minds to what happened during the war because it was “the critical moment of our times, it was the cusp of history”.

“I think it should be, I won’t say obligatory, but the Minister of Education in me says obligatory, for every child to go there and stand there and look at those graves, but not just our graves, to go to the German graves where actually they don’t go,” he said.

“Because they were sons and fathers just as our boys were. So I think that’s important because we are living in this world where we travel, we are European, we feel together with these people but it is important for us to know where we come from.”

He also said that fiction and stories can teach people about different topics. “Of course history has to be the basis of it...but it is the case also that the records that are left behind, that is the diaries, the letters home, those voices which speak from the heart, from the front to those who are loved at home, or simply jotted down, or the poems that they wrote, they have a way of getting through to us as a history book might not be able to do.”

He added: “I think the critical thing about making stories that work for children is that the children have to somehow feel the reality of the story.”