A colourful field of thousands of commemorative poppies created by local schoolchildren will be one of the first sights to greet visitors when Arundel Festival gets under way in August.
Excitement is already building among the pupils at Arundel Church of England School (ACE) where the youngsters are hard at work cutting out fabric for the iconic blooms.
Two hundred of the poppies will be made at ACE and will join another 1,800 from other schools, all of which will create a prominent feature on the town’s causeway roundabout, taking pride of place alongside the magnificent life-size sculpture of a ‘warhorse’, inspired by Michael Morpurgo’s famous War Horse book.
In this centenary year of the start of the first world war, remembrance of the conflict is one of the elements of the 2014 Arundel Festival and it fits in perfectly with the current Year 6 project at ACE.
The 11-year-olds have been researching the Great War in depth and they are busy giving workshops to the younger pupils on how to make the poppies. Each flower, cut in the shape of a hand from red fabric, will bear a poignant message, thought or poem from the child who has made it.
The fact that the poppies will take their place beside the sculpture adds to the children’s excitement at the prospect of meeting Michael Morpurgo.
His books are enormously popular with children and on the opening day of the Festival, August 16, many of the ACE pupils will go to Arundel Cricket Club where their favourite author will be storytelling for a young audience.
“We have always taken part in the festival – it’s exciting and a chance to do something for the community,” said Karen Walker, the teacher leading the Year 6 project.
“The whole school is involved in making the poppies. Every child will be making a hand out of red fabric and will write a poem or thought about the people who died in the first world war. I think it will all look stunning with the sculpture of the horse.
“The Year 6 pupils have been researching and each child was given a letter of the alphabet to write about – for instance A for Archduke Ferdinand, B for Battalion, groups of men from different villages, C for Conscription, F for Food, U for Unsung Heroes, W for Women.
“They have also been writing letters to the unknown soldiers who represent all who gave their lives.
“A lot is heard about the Second World War, but I don’t think enough attention is paid to the First World War. As a school we always take part in the festival and what we are doing this year is tied in with the First World War remembrance element.”
The depth of knowledge and perception the pupils have gained about events a century ago is impressive and touching.
“The poppy really shows that the world needs to be in peace,” said 11-year-old Will Simpson. “It’s a symbol that helps us remember. The soldiers were heroes for our country.”
Owen Zarins, also 11, agreed: “The poppy was the flower that grew on the battlefield. Lots of people are going to see what we have done and they will remember, and I’m very proud about that.”
Will and Owen said they were particularly moved when they found out about the Christmas truce between soldiers of both sides in the trenches when the singing of Silent Night could be heard across the battlefield on Christmas Eve and all hostilities ceased for Christmas Day.
Jess Luckin-Tout, 11, researched the role of women in the first world war.
“After the men had gone to war, the women had to take over men’s jobs,” she said. “I think that’s what changed the way we are today. The women actually helped to make the weapons and things to keep soldiers alive and they should be celebrated as well.
“I’m very excited about Malcolm Morpurgo coming to Arundel. The way he writes is very realistic and more from a child’s point of view. We shouldn’t forget the people who fought and the horses, as well. They are the unsung heroes.”
Jess Solti, 11, believes lessons can be learnt by remembering what happened in the first world war. “Wars are still going on today. Why? Why can’t’ we just live in peace?
“I knew about the second world war but didn’t realise how different the first world war was – a lot worse. It pulls at your heartstrings, all the men giving their lives for us. It must have been really hard for them, but they were proud to go and fight for their country.”
Nichola St Quintin, 11, is glad her school project will be a feature of the festival.
“I have always liked being part of the festival. It’s an exciting time and I like being able to be part of it. And I’ve enjoyed finding out more about the First World War. I’ve watched the film War Horse, which is wonderful.”
As well as making the poppies, Year 6 are giving a presentation of their project to the school assembly on July 1 and ACE pupils will be taking part in the Remembrance service in Arundel on August 4.
“Finding out about World War I has really gripped the pupils and given them a chance to use their imagination and creativity,” said Andrew Simpson, headteacher of ACE. I passionately believe these are things our children should remember and as a school we take it very seriously. We always take part in Remembrance Day in the town.
“This year’s project is a marvellous way to inspire children and help them to understand the concept of war, which in some cases is the last resort but has an enormous effect, not just on those who are fighting, but on their families and the nation as a whole.
“Memories of how soldiers from here would have felt at the time can help us through difficult times in our own lives. By remembering, there are always things we can use to help ourselves. Lots of men and their families gave up a lot in the first world war and it teaches children that sometimes you have to do that. You have to believe in something, and about hope and forgiveness.”
He continued: “The children are really excited about Malcolm Morpurgo coming to our town and the audience he is giving is a good way of bringing families into the festival. We use his writing in our curriculum, we have a collection of his books for group reading and the children are really inspired by him as an author.
“They understand the passion and the joy out of reading a good piece of prose.”