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About This Site > Learning Zone > Schools: Faith in Wartime

Activities for Schools: Faith in Wartime

The resources on this page can be used by teachers and community educators in classrooms and learning centres. Lesson Plans are based on extracts from stories which were submitted to the WW2 People's War site. They are suitable for both primary and secondary students and have curriculum links to History, English, RE, Citizenship and Media Studies.

  • Lessons meet the skill and content requirements for the UK curriculum in history, English and citizenship (England and Wales).
  • It may be possible to use some exercises to support RE classes at Key Stages 2, 3 and 4.
  • The lessons could be adapted to use as part of centre-designed history coursework for Key Stage 4.
  • Some topics will naturally fit into one lesson and others may run over a number of weeks.

This lesson plan includes:

  • Lesson 1: Conscientious Objectors (Key Stages 2, 3 and 4)
  • Lesson 2: Faith under fire (Key Stages 2, 3 and 4)
  • Lesson 3: Religious comfort(Key Stages 2, 3 and 4)

How to use these lesson plans

  • Use as a structured scheme of work on the British Home Front, 1939-45 or the Era of the Twentieth Century.
  • Use as generic lesson plans for the teacher, rather than material to be given direct to the pupils.
  • Alter the plans and cut and paste questions in order to make resource sheets according to the ability and age of the pupils.
  • The plans are for mixed ability groups, although the teacher may want to split groups and tasks according to ability.

The list of resources at the beginning of each lesson includes a reference to stories and images from the BBC's WW2 People's War site, extracts from which are on the Story extracts page. You may find it useful to print out the full stories. There is also a guideline of preparation materials that are generally found in schools or can be provided by the teacher.

Lesson 1: Conscientious Objectors

Key Stages - 2, 3 and 4

Objectives - To begin to understand why people were conscientious objectors and how they were treated by the rest of the population.

Extracts from the following WW2 People's War stories. These, and links to the stories, can be found on the Story extracts page.

  • Only I Can Speak for my Conscience
  • A Conscientious Objector's Wartime Story

Other resources needed for the class

  • Photocopies of the relevant extracts from the Story extracts page
  • Photocopies of Pupil Task Sheets
  • Print up Teacher notes about conscription
  • Mini whiteboards or plain paper
  • IT access needed to read full stories or printed up version

Teacher Notes

Conscientious objectors had to attend a tribunal. The chairman was normally a county court judge. Every tribunal panel had a trade union member and, if the conscientious objector applicant was female, a woman member. Conscientious objectors were asked to present witnesses to give a character reference.

The tribunal could exempt people from military service, recommend alternative civilian service, recommend the non-combatant core of the armed forces or dismiss the application.

About 60,000 men and 1,000 women applied for exemption. Almost 3,000 were given unconditional exemption. Around 18,000 applications were dismissed. The rest were either recommended to do alternative civilian work, or put on the military service register as non-combatants.

Non-combatant work involved duties such as bomb disposal or working in medical units.

Civilian work included agricultural, forestry, social or hospital work, and towards the end of the war coal-mining was added to the list. Many tribunals wanted to send men away from home, so that like fighting men they made some sacrifices.

Activity 1

Read the extract Only I can speak for my conscience. This could be done either by splitting the class into groups of three and asking them to discuss the questions below, or as a whole-class discussion.

Feed back the ideas to the rest of the class and discuss why this man should be considered to be very brave.

Activity 2

Read the extract A Conscientious Objector's Wartime Story. Split the class into groups of three and ask them to discuss the questions.

Feed back and discuss why people treated conscientious objectors differently and why it was very brave to stick to principles despite the attitudes of other people.

Plenary

Discuss the ideas that many conscientious objectors did very difficult jobs during the war and did contribute to the war effort, yet many people thought they were cowards and did not understand their actions. Split the class into groups of four pupils. Produce a brief radio broadcast to explain why conscientious objectors could not fight and why their actions were very brave. Use extracts from the full versions of the stories to support the show.

Lesson 2: Faith Under Fire

Note: This could be an upsetting topic so consider pupils who have been affected by a recent death.

Key Stages - 3 and 4

Objectives - To consider how difficult it was for people to maintain their religious faith while experiencing the horrors of war.

Extracts from the following WW2 People's War stories. These, and links to the stories, can be found on the Story extracts page.

  • God's Providence: Dunkirk 1940
  • D-Day and Belsen Concentration Camp
  • Church Service at the Front

Other resources needed for the class

  • Photocopies of the relevant extracts from the Story extracts page
  • Photocopies of Pupil Task Sheets
  • Print up Teacher notes about conscription
  • Mini whiteboards
  • IWB - Interactive White Board
  • Highlighters

Teaching and Learning Activities

Starter Activity

This activity could be started using an IWB. Write the words 'Prayer', 'Fear', 'Help' and 'Promise' on the board. Check that the pupils understand what each means. Split the class into groups of three and ask them to construct a sentence that links all four words together.

Example: When a person is living in fear of an event they sometimes say a prayer asking for help and they promise to do something in return.

Get each group to feed back their ideas. Discuss as a class why people may use these words/actions in wartime. Pupils could feed back their ideas by moving them about on the IWB.

Activity 1

Ask the class to read the extract God's providence: Dunkirk 1940. As they read they should highlight the words and phrases in the extract that illustrate the words from the starter activity.

Activity 2

Split the class into groups of four pupils. Ask each group to discuss reasons why the soldier may have been unable to keep his promise. What things could have happened to stop him believing in God?

Feed back as a class and compile a list of reasons why soldiers may have questioned their religious views or even stopped believing during World War Two.

Activity 3

Ask the pupils, in their groups, to read the extract D-Day and Belsen Concentration Camp. Ask them to think about the questions below and highlight the parts of the extract that support their answers.

Pupils could suggest the following points:

  • Where had the author worked? Military hospital; Belsen; a concentration camp
  • What do you think her job had involved? 'Something medical as she had 'turned it into a military hospital'. Looking after injured men - 'We were very busy as there was a lot of fighting ahead.'
  • Why do you think that she still had faith during the war? 'She was looking after soldiers, she believed in the idea of war. However, after liberation she saw starving civilians in terrible conditions.'

Activity 4

Write the word 'Faith' on the board. Ask the pupils to write on mini whiteboards another word that expresses the meaning of this word. They then hold up their boards and look at what everyone else has written. In pairs, pupils should attempt to write a sentence to express the meaning of faith. Read out some examples and decide on a class definition.

Activity 5

Hand out copies of the extract Church Service at the Front and highlighter pens. Read the extract aloud. Ask the class to say 'Stop' when they hear a word that indicates faith. For example, 'Closer to God', 'treasured hymns','Never had a hymn meant so much'. Once a pupil has said 'Stop' and the class has discussed the word they should highlight it on the extract.

In pairs, pupils use the parts they have highlighted to discuss why these elements of faith would have been important to soldiers. Feed back and discuss as a class.

Plenary

Split the class into pairs. One person is to represent someone who lost their faith and the other is to represent someone who was supported by faith. Each person takes five minutes to prepare their reasons and a statement to give to their partner. They then swap statements and ask each other questions about their views using evidence from the extract.

Each pair should then complete this sentence: Members of the armed forces and medical personnel held different views about religion at the end of World War Two because...

Lesson 3: Religious comfort

Key Stages - 2, 3 and 4

Objectives - To begin to understand how religion gave comfort to people on the home front.

Extracts from the following WW2 People's War stories. These, and links to the stories, can be found on the Story extracts page.

  • The Faith of a Child - Light in Darkness
  • Kept Safe During the Manchester Blitz by 'BK'

Other resources needed for the class

  • Photocopies of the relevant extracts from the Story extracts page
  • Photocopies of Pupil Task Sheets
  • 'The Sound of Music' on video, DVD or audio CD (depending on their age, pupils may prefer to watch the film)
  • Highlighter pens
  • Tape recorder or video camera
  • If your school has access to a music/technical recording room you could use it for the final activity

Teaching and Learning Activities

Starter Activity

Play the song 'These are a few of my favourite things' from The Sound of Music. Then ask the class to create a list of all the comforting parts of the song that could help when people are afraid.

For example: singing, thinking about things they like, objects or events associated with happy times, being with someone who cheers them up.

Activity 1

Hand out the extract The Faith of a Child - Light in Darkness. Split the class into pairs. Ask them to read the extract and highlight the words and phrases that indicate comfort, for example 'consoled'.

Feed back and discuss as a class and make a list of the words mentioned.

Activity 2

Split the class into groups of four and ask them to read Kept Safe During the Manchester Blitz by 'BK'. Discuss what other religious activities people performed to help them feel safe, for example praying, singing, going to church. Pupils should keep a record of these activities.

Activity 3

Write the word 'Christmas' on the board. Ask individual pupils to write words around this that indicate the meaning of Christmas as a Christian religious festival, for example 'peace', 'celebration'. Split the class into pairs and, using the words on the board, ask them to discuss why the ideals of Christmas would be difficult to celebrate during wartime. Feed back and discuss.

Activity 4

Split the class into groups of four pupils. Ask them to compose a song that uses the words from the first extract and refers to the actions of the second extract and the words that relate to the meaning of Christmas. It should aim to be comforting and uplifting, but they must remember that many people were separated from their families at Christmas and many would have relatives fighting.

If your school has a music room pupils could compose the music as well as the words.

Perform the songs. If your school has the facilities, you could tape or video these to use for future activities. It may be possible to use the songs as part of a Christmas assembly.

Plenary

Ask each pupil to give one reason why religious faith provided support during wartime.

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