Centenary battle lives on

The students of Jennings Public School were the beneficiaries of an Arts North West project earlier this month that saw all children participate in an intensive three-day program exploring aspects of the Battle of Beersheba through art.

Arts North West executive director Caroline Downer enjoyed the more intimate surroundings of delivering the project at small schools.

Arts North West executive director Caroline Downer enjoyed the more intimate surroundings of delivering the project at small schools.

ANZAC Cenetenary funding supported the project being taken to five small North West schools, with Jennings the half-way point of the rollout.

Arts North West executive director Caroline Downer said the project commemorates the Battle of Beersheba, exploring more than the gallop which many have heard of. She feels while the Battle of Gallipoli is well-known and commemorated, the Battle Of Beersheba should be celebrated as a victory, and one of special significance to this region.

With the Tabulam roots of 7th Light Horse commander then Lt-Gen. Sir Harry Chauvel, and much of the force comprising soldiers from this region and Victoria, the episode has local relevance.

General Sir Harry Chauvel was born in Tabulam and along with his older brother were part of the 1st Light Horse Troop-Upper Clarence, which was raised by their father in 1885. The battle’s centenary is being commemorated in Tabulam on July 16 with Light Horse events, recollections and a movie screening. 

To bring history to life in an age-appropriate manner for the students, Ms Downer said it’s not possible to talk strategy but that art and story-telling are good media. The students learned  about the men involved by looking at ID tags, letters home and collected objects. Items included an original uniform, a gun sight, and original black-and-white photos.

The children tried to put themselves in the soldiers’ shoes, practising their creative writing skills by composing letters home from the war front.

The project is based on Ms Downer’s research of University of New England regional archives, aided by archivist Bill Oates. She said the Hunter River Lancers Museum was also a resource, as was The Armidale School’s old boys’ network.

The initiative aimed to reach a geographically-broad spectrum of small schools, who don’t often receive such opportunities. In Jennings’ case all 12 students participated in the immersive program.

“It’s a fantastic arrangement, much more intimate,” Ms Downer said.

She has been receiving positive feedback from the program, with some children having grandfathers or great-grandfathers involved in the Light Horse, and some bringing memorabilia from home.

“It’s nice having that personal connection,” she said.

She is keen to promote art subjects not just as an add-on.

“It can do so much,” she said.

“It can teach them about history and be integrated with English and maths, and in creative writing.”

Christine Durham was the arts educator for the program, leading participants through a discussion of the Light Horse movie, maps, newspapers, poster, photos and inventions from WWI. They also looked at uniforms, hats, diet sheets, photos, diaries and letters.

The children got be photographed in a soldier’s hat, and had an introduction to the role of the horse in war. Hands-on activities included creating a recruitment poster and ID tag, letter-writing, cooking hard tack biscuits and finally, individually creating horses to stage their own charge.

School principal Shannon Booby relished to the opportunity to bring the program to her school, particularly as it examined a big part of local history.

“Over three days it’s a big project, but the kids loved it,” she said.