“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana (1863-1952), philosopher

There is great value in learning about history. It gives those who were there opportunities to reminisce, recognise and appreciate the value of their experience. And it allows those who were not there to learn about the consequences of actions and an opportunity to find a better way.

One major historical anniversary is Remembrance Day, celebrated every 11th of November since World War I ended in 1918. Originally known as Armistice Day, it is also known as “Veterans Day” in America, and informally, “Poppy Day”. In Britain, the celebration is sometimes delayed to the nearest Sunday, called Remembrance Sunday. Around the country, we mark the occasion with a two-minute silence “at the eleventh hour, on the eleventh day, of the eleventh month”. How can we make this meaningful for young children?

With the passing of Vera Lynn this June, during lockdown, many children will have heard the strains of “We’ll Meet Again”, possibly with neighbours holding socially-distanced garden parties, or on the television or radio. This Remembrance Day is an opportunity to bring meaning to a valuable tradition.

For young children, stories and poems about life during wartime can be powerful. Music can make these powerful experiences memorable, but selecting suitable material can be tricky, especially since many popular wartime songs were not always child-friendly. Older generations will not think twice about the meaning behind these words because of the way that these songs were learnt: in a social situation surrounded by family and friends. Their joy is not in remembering the literal meaning of the lyrics, but instead, singing the songs in special places with special people. This is a little like young children today who innocently sing very adult lyrics of pop songs, not because of what they mean, but because they were with special people when they heard it. Children who sing wartime songs now will use their experience to try to understand what they are singing. Recognising the social dilemmas that children may experience creates opportunities for discussion, so choosing suitable material also comes with the responsibility of taking on those discussions. Here are a few songs that may be useful to introduce at this time, with a child-friendly commentary – the songs can be found on the Musicaliti YouTube channel or you can source the original recordings. If lyrics prove to be too complex for some children, they could be turned into a dance or instrument play while the adult/teacher sings.

It’s A Long Way To Tipperary


It’s a long way to Tipperary, it’s a long way to go

It’s a long way to Tipperary, to the sweetest girl I know

Goodbye Piccadilly, farewell Leicester Square

It’s a long, long way to Tipperary

And my heart lies there

Many people travelled during the war – across the country for training, and then overseas for fighting, but they never forgot the important people in their lives. Some people died and did not go home. Those that did go home were glad to leave their training places like Piccadilly and Leicester Square, and they looked forward to seeing their sweethearts back home.

I’ve Got Sixpence


I’ve got sixpence, jolly, jolly sixpence

I’ve got sixpence to last me all my life

I’ve got tuppence to spend and tuppence to lend and

Tuppence to take home to my wife

People got paid while they were in the army, but it was not a lot. They had to plan how it would be divided up so that it would last until they were next paid.

White Cliffs of Dover


There’ll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover

Tomorrow, just you wait and see

There’ll be love and laughter and peace ever after

Tomorrow when the world is free

The shepherd will tend his sheep

The valley will bloom again

And Jimmy will go to sleep

In his own little room again

There’ll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover

Tomorrow, just you wait and see

There’ll be love and laughter and peace ever after

Tomorrow when the world is free

During wartime, people dreamed of the day that they would be reunited with their families and friends. When they were sad, they would think about things going back to the way they were before.

You Are My Sunshine


You are my sunshine, my only sunshine

You make me happy when skies are grey

You’ll never know dear, how much I love you

Please don’t take my sunshine away

We don’t know whether this song was written about a child or an adult, but this popular song helped people to remember the good times with the people that they loved.

We’ll Meet Again


We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when

But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day

Keep smiling though just like you always do

‘Til the dark skies chase the blue clouds far away

So won’t you please say hello to the folks that I know

Tell them, I won’t be long

They’ll be happy to know that as you saw me go

I was singing this song

We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when

But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day

Everybody was sad to be separated, and they knew that it was just as hard to go as it was to be left at home. Although families did not want soldiers to be sad, soldiers did not want their families to be sad either and this song reminded them that one day, they would be together again.

Peace is the message behind Remembrance Day, and it is a message that is useful for all people everywhere, especially in times of uncertainty. With the inequalities and frustrations surrounding almost every aspect of life at present, finding ways to bring peace, from playground to Parliament is a timely reminder.

About the author:

Musician, researcher and author, Frances Turnbull, is a self-taught guitarist who has played contemporary and community music from the age of 12. She delivers music sessions to the early years and KS1. Trained in the music education techniques of Kodály (specialist singing), Dalcroze (specialist movement) and Orff (specialist percussion instruments), she has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology (Open University) and a Master’s degree in Education (University of Cambridge). She runs a local community choir, the Bolton Warblers, and delivers the Sound Sense initiative aiming for “A choir in every care home” within local care and residential homes, supporting health and wellbeing through her community interest company.

She has represented the early years music community at the House of Commons, advocating for recognition for early years music educators, and her table of progressive music skills for under 7s features in her curriculum books.

Frances is the author of “Learning with Music: Games and Activities for the Early Years“ “Learning with Music: Games and Activities for the Early Years“, published by Routledge, August 2017.

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