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Leveraging mobile technologies to bring the First World War alive.
© J F Vernon (2014)
Fig. 1. A ‘mash-up’ featuring a 1917 cutting from the Consett Gazette recognizing the award to John Arthur Wilson of the Military Medal, with ‘Jack’ placing a poppy at the Tyn Cot memorial to the missing 75 years later.
The problem with war memorials is that those named on them risk becoming forgotten words on a list. By using the affordances of the ‘read, write’ and connected Web we can find out who these people were and where they lived: we can try to put a face to the name and a story to the name and then we can share what we find and let others know by creating a unique ‘quick response’ code (QR code) which links to specific content and then wear this QR Code on our commemoration poppy. I liken QR codes to using your phone as a remote control to click to a TV channel. You point a smartphone, or tablet at the QR code to read it and go instantly, pretty much, to a web page.
There are more than 54,000 war memorials in Great Britain, most of these put up after the First World War; there is barely a community without one. Significant interest already exists, especially as we approach the centenary of the First World War making this initiative a potentially easy one to add to what is already taking place.
Quick Response codes are fast, they are free and their potential in learning has yet to be realised.
© J F Vernon (2014)
Fig. 2. A ‘mash-up’ featuring a Poppy on the National Maritime Memorial, Tower Hill, a frame from the interactive webpage ‘The First Day at Gallipoli’ and a screengrab of the blog ‘That’s Nothing Compared to Passchendaele’.
Worn in this way, featured in the centre of your commemoration poppy you can share directly with others the person whose life you wish to remember. People will ask what the QR code means, so as well as directing people to the content online by using their smartphone, you can also suggest that they too ‘adopt’ a name from a war memorial and do the same thing.
Where QR codes have been successful is in targeted learning experiences in schools (Tucker, 2011; Gradel & Edson, 2012), where the affordances of the QR code have been exploited to form part of an engaging, constructive and collective learning experience. QR codes work where participants are ‘equipped’, and where they can take an active role, such as in ‘on the spot’ surveys or quizzes, where they are prompted into cooperative learning and where timely ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ are given. (Awano, 2007: Information Standards Committee 2008; So 2008; Robinson, 2010; Hicks & Sinkinson, 2011; Ryerson Library & Archives, 2012). There are many ways to use the QR code to invite and encourage engagement, interaction, creation, collaboration and discussion.
The opportunity exists, mentored and guided by educators, with support online, for schools, colleges and associations to engage people in bringing the stories of those named on our war memorials alive. In this way a deeper and more meaningful connection is made with the past and our relationship to it.
Awano, Y (2007). Brief pictorial description of new mobile technologies used in cultural institutions in Japan. The Journal of Museum Education, 32(1), 17-25
Gradel, K., & Edson, A. J. (2012). Higher ed QR code resource guide.
Hicks, A., & Sinkinson, C. (2011). Situated questions and answers: Responding to library users with QR codes. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 51(1), 60–69.
Ryerson University Library & Archives (2012). QR codes. Retrieved 6th Feb 2014, from http://www.ryerson.ca/library/qr/.
So, S. (2008). A Study on the Acceptance of Mobile Phones for Teaching and Learning with a group of Preservice teachers in Hong Kong. Journal of Educational Technology Development and Exchange, 1(1), 81-92.
Tucker, A. (2011). What are those checkerboard things? How QR codes can enrich student projects. Tech Directions, 71(4), 14-16.
(The action described here took place in later October 1917, possibly around 26th. Egypt House, Nobles Farm and Colombo House are the pill boxes Jack was in. The ‘beck’ is most likely the Broembeck. These are narrow, but deeply set in the ground – possibly 12ft or more from the roadside to the water in peace time).
“We had another casualty, a Birmingham lad who was in charge of that gun … the engineers would rig up a bit of a dug out on a dry spot with corrugated sheeting. They’d been trench mortared and he was hit in the shoulder with a fragment. They brought him to my gun because it had the duckboard track leading from it, other than that you were walking through the mud. I kept him there until late. Blair got him away … but it was fatal. He died. “Thought he’d got a blighty’.”
Blair sent me to take over this gun, we were in another pill box higher up. That was when I heard this kid in this shell hole by the stream shouting for his mother.
I was running along the duckboards when I heard this voice. There was this beck which ran along one side, full of frogs … if it rained the thing turned into a torrent. I just stopped. I don’t know if he’d been hit or he’d just fallen in. All I could see was his head and shoulders sticking up above the mud. So I lean down, mind you with all the mud I might have slipt in with him. So I grab his shoulder belt and told him to help himself and he kicks about and I get him up onto the duckboards.
“I can’t wait”, I tell him.
You couldn’t stand around out there, and off I went.
This was % O’Clock in the morning. There’d been an attack and it failed. He was yelling for his mother. I saw him struggling in the mud and filth.
There were no wireless or crystal sets in those days. You just read what was in the paper.
My father took the Penny Pictorial that only cost a penny.
A crystal set had a bit of shiny coal with a coil and earphones. There was a cat’s whisker in a holder with a variometer.
Before the War, we moved to 25 Consett Road, Castleside, which is just behind the Royal Hotel. Father got a car and we ran taxis. I’d help on a Saturday. We had this big Mercedes for Weddings.
Pubs in those days were open from 6 in the morning ‘til 11 at night until the Gretna Crash on 22nd May 1915 in which the driver was found to have been drunk. The two signalmen were imprisoned.
It was soon after that I went up to the recruiting office.
We learnt about the ‘Fourteen Eighteen’ War through one of these huge posters which were put up all over the place in August of 1915 with Kitchener pointing his finger and saying.
“Your Country Needs You.”
Ernie Caldwell and Tom Brown joined early on. They were in the Royal Garrison Artillery. There were two divisions, the Royal Field Artillery and the Royal Garrison Artillery. Ernie Caldwell joined the Royal Field Artillery. He was a driver. He was killed on the 16th September 1916. Tom’s brother Dick got his leg shot in Amsterdam early on. I bumped into Tom at Passchendale in late 1917.
One lunchtime Bill Baron and I went down to the recruiting centre.
Bill and I took it all in a jovial way.
“Fancy going up to the recruiting office in Consett one lunch time?”
I was nineteen but there were lads a lot younger than me who got passed the Recruiting Officer. Boys of 14 and 15 were taken on. My young brother Billy got into the Royal Flying Corps and he was only 16. He claimed to know a bit about planes though, which probably helped. He was flying by the time he was 17, a bomber pilot.
Consett was the recruiting office for the area. It wasn’t far from the office, only about a quarter mile. Up Blackhill by the bank. Bill failed the medical on account of a groin rupture whereas I passed.
Within a few weeks I was called up.