Activity 1: Working with primary sources - a FEPOW in school

The FEPOW experience and events of the war in Asia are topics that have seldom been covered in any great depth in British school history textbooks. It is very much “forgotten history”. However the new National Curriculum offers the scope and flexibility to History teachers to explore areas of history previously untouched, and develop historical skills in the process. It was with this premise that the History Department at Pensby Girls decided to investigate the FEPOW experience through the use of primary source material.

One method we used with a group of Year 9 pupils was to approach the topic ‘cold’ without providing any prior knowledge of the topic, and developed the skill of inference. This involved using original source material and asking the students: “What can you learn about the experience of Far East Prisoners of War from this source?”. We used a range of source material such as the itinerary of a red-cross parcel sent to the FEPOW camps during the Second World War; a postcard home from a soldier informing his family of his situation; and one of the Jack Chalker illustrations of weary prisoners. In each case the pupils were able to give responses by explaining what the sources suggested, inferred or implied. For example “..the source contains a list of food and medicines which suggests that the prisoners it was meant for must have been hungry and in need of medical care.” Or “The illustration by Jack Chalker implies that the prisoners were mistreated very badly because they look underweight and desperate.”

Another approach we used was to give the students a general background by way of introduction to the topic and some very specific information about the predicament of soldiers and civilians captured by the Japanese Army. Once the students were familiar with the conditions in the camps they were asked to produce their own postcards with a limit of 25 words to send a message home to a loved one without revealing any obvious information about their whereabouts or condition. This activity brought home to the students the real frustration of not being able to communicate fully and the impact was greater when they were informed that this would be the only contact with their family in 2/3 years.

Finally we used a modern clip from the internet of an ex-FEPOW Fergus Anckorn (see http://youtu.be/6Jg_w8S-WRw ). Fergus had visited our school a year earlier, but this was these particular students’ first encounter with him, playing a magic trick with an egg to illustrate how his quick wits kept him alive. This led to a general discussion with the students about how useful material like Fergus’ recollection is. Questions such as: “If Fergus is now 91 years old, are his stories more or less valuable to an historian?” were posed, which led to a good debate on the nature of evidence.

Clearly we have only touched the surface with the variety of approaches that can be used with such material. By exploring these evidence-based skills through an unusual but fascinating and accessible topic, there are clearly benefits for study beyond KS3 History.

Activity 2: How best to remember - working with memorials

Details coming soon...