Centenary of the Commemoration of the First World War: Bringing communities together

Image: Anne Southwell is the Senior Curriculum Support Officer for HSIE K–6.

Australians remember

Between 2014 and 2018, Australia will commemorate the centenary of the First World War as well as other wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations in which Australians have been involved. This centenary is a milestone significant to all Australians. The First World War helped to forge our national identity through the service and sacrifice of Australians. The centenary will not only remember those service men and women who went to war, the large numbers who never returned or were injured or maimed, but it is also an opportunity to commemorate more than a century of service in the armed services by Australian men and women. Centenary of the Commemoration of the First World War, allows for all students in NSW public schools to be involved, to learn about and remember the men and women who served in war and how the First World War changed Australia as a nation.

Key themes for NSW public schools consideration is the significance of:

  • Australia’s involvement in the First World War and the results of this involvement
  • the First World War to all Australians
  • the impact of the First World War on developing Australian identities then and now.

The theme of ‘Bringing communities together’has been identified to engage with the diversity of Australian communities in this commemoration. This supports the inclusion of a wide range of backgrounds that were not typically part of our communities 100 years ago. In addition, the following annual themes support the concept of Bringing communities together.

The annual themes are:

2014: Challenge

Australia faced enormous challenges as a newly federated nation going to war in Europe in 1914, including a small population spread over great distances and limited financial resources to support the war effort. An unknown number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service men and women also enlisted to protect our land. These challenges were met with the usual can do approach that is now seen as typically Australian.

2015: Change

As the war effort gained momentum, communities needed to change. Women, in particular, took on a wide variety of roles, which changed the face of Australian communities. The development of Australian patriotism was an important feature of this time.

2016: Caring

As the loss of service men and women mounted, support for remaining family and friends was important. Care is epitomised in the Australian concept as mateship.

2017: Community

The First World War brought former colonies and different communities around Australia together as support for the war effort continued. The armed forces built a sense of loyalty within their ranks as diverse groups of men and women came together from different parts of society. Broad links were forged that became a foundation for progress after the war.

2018: Commemoration

As the war came to an end the great cost in human lives, those who never came home, was felt. The continuing need to remember those who gave their lives is a defining feature of what it means to be an Australian and an ANZAC.

How will schools be involved?

‘The Centenary of the Commemoration of the First World War: Bringing communities together’provides a significant quality teaching learning opportunity, as outlined in the curriculum mapping.

Schools already undertake a range of commemorative activities around ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day; the marking of 100 years since the beginning of the First World War will add another rich layer of significance to these events. A focus on forging links with schools’ local communities allows for the inclusion of a diverse range of perspectives. Schools can use this commemoration as an opportunity to forge relationships with current service men and women as part of regular school events and through the Adopt a Veteranmodel.

The NSW syllabuses for the Australian curriculum provide a valid context for teachers to identify and teach about Australia’s military and community sacrifices in a meaningful way. This ensures future generations inherit the legacy of contemporary, respectful commemorations.

What can schools do?

Schools have the opportunity to strengthen ties within their local community using a range of initiatives related to the commemoration, which may include:

  • adopting a local veteran
  • identifying and researching local war memorials or commemorative boards and contributing to their preservation
  • planting trees to commemorate events of significance to the local community
  • identifying opportunities for recognition and reconciliation with Indigenous Australians that support the telling of local stories.

Schools can also ensure that current serving soldiers and local veterans are included in a manner that is appropriate for their local community, which may include developing or enhancing a relationship with the local Returned Services League (RSL). The opportunity for parents and citizens to take a key role in linking school and community is important in building long term relationships that bring communities together.

How can schools incorporate Learning across the curriculum?

Learning across the curriculum supports the notion of bringing communities together as they support the Centenary of the Commemoration of the First World War. Some opportunities include:

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures

It is estimated that several hundred Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men enlisted in the First World War. They were treated equally while in the armed forces, but upon returning home the discrimination continued. Learning about the contribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service men and women has specific relevance to Stage 3 and Stage 5.

Ethical understanding

Learning about the lives of ordinary men and women during the First World War provides the opportunity to examine a range of motives and actions to evaluate ethical understandings particularly in relation to war and its effect on individuals, families and the wider community.

Information and communication technology capability

Locating and evaluating sources used to learn about the First World War now requires students to utilise information and communication technologies. This has particular relevance to using online techniques to research a veteran.

Intercultural understanding

Some culturally diverse communities, including those from countries which have been involved in war and conflict, will need to address aspects of intercultural understanding with sensitivity. For example, both sides of the conflict should be presented.

Personal and social capability

Engaging with a variety of learning about the First World War provides students with the perspectives about the challenging positions of people in that era and supports them to engage with the values related to the decisions and choices of that time.

Civics and citizenship

Learning about how the Australian nation responded to the war effort, the conscription debates of the time, community support and organisation, the changing role of women at the time, the struggle of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples for citizenship rights, are just some aspects of civics and citizenship that can be addressed. Opportunities for civic action today can also be explored, such as:

  • including current armed forces personnel in school events
  • undertaking community service to support retired armed service man and women
  • contributing to the maintenance of memorials.
sculpture on gold plated star on floor
Image: Rayner Hoff’s sculpture, Sacrifice, inside the ANZAC War Memorial, Hyde Park, Sydney (Photograph by Anne Southwell)

How does commemorating the centenary of the First World War support the curriculum?

There is a range of syllabus opportunities which meet the centenary commemoration of the First World War. These opportunities can support an integrated approach across a range of subjects including history, English, creative arts, and also aspects of science and technology for the inclusion of a range of activities for student learning and engagement.

The following pages identify NSW syllabus links and provide some suggestions for learning ideas for Early Stage 1 to Stage 5:

Early Stage 1 (Kindergarten)

History Early Stage 1

History: HTe-1, HTe-2

Concept: Perspective

Skill: Analysis and use of sources

Family histories

How the stories of families and the past can be communicated, for example through photographs, artefacts, books, oral histories, digital media and museums (ACHHK004)

How they, their family and friends commemorate past events that are important to them (ACHHK003)

Learning ideas:

  • use images of ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day events to explore the significance of these events.
  • invite guest speakers (for example, grandad/ grandparent, RSL member) to discuss family stories from the First World War
  • make ‘hard tack’(firm ANZAC biscuits eaten by the diggers).

English Early Stage 1

English: ENe-1A, ENe-8B, ENe-10C

Concept: Characterisation

Respond to and compose texts

Develop and apply contextual knowledge

Understand and apply knowledge of language forms and features

Respond to, read and view texts

  • read and respond to texts such as My Grandad Marches on ANZAC Dayby Catriona Hoya and Anzac Biscuitsby Phil Cummings.

Creative arts

Drama: DRAES1.1, DRAES1.3, DRAES1.4

Students engage in roles through imaginative play and dramatic situations. They use movement, spaces and objects to dramatise personal experiences. They respond to different forms of dramatic experiences.

Learning ideas

  • make, perform and appreciate mime such as marching in pairs and groups.

Stage 1 (Years 1-2)

History Stage 1

History: HT1-2, HT1-4

Concept: Continuity and change, Significance

Skill: Empathetic understanding

The past in the present

The history of a significant person, building, site or part of the natural environment in the local community and what it reveals about the past. (ACHHK044)

The importance today of an historical site of cultural or spiritual significance; for example, a community building, a landmark, a war memorial. (ACHHK045)

Learning ideas:

  • locate and investigate the significance of a local war memorial or honour board
  • discuss the importance of preservation using the key inquiry questions
  • plant a memorial tree and invite community members e.g. Parents and Citizens (P&C), parents and grandparents, Returned Services League (RSL) members
  • develop an empathetic understanding of what life was like for children of the same age in 1914-1918
  • focusing specifically on schooling, clothing, games and food
  • explore the Themes tab on the My Place website and watch clips/episodes relating to education, food, entertainment and Australians at war
  • investigate and analyse sources using memorial Box 01 – Australia in the First World Warfrom the Australian War Memorial.

English Stage 1

English: EN1-2A, EN1-7B, EN1-11D

Concept: Interconnectedness

  • of Australia’s memory/memorial in letter form and its significance for our past, present and future
  • empathy within author’s message

Respond to and compose texts

Understand and apply knowledge of language forms and features

Learning ideas

Science and technology Stage 1

Science and technology: St1-4WS, St1-13MW


Question, predict and conduct investigations.

The different properties of materials enable them to be used for particular purposes.

Learning ideas

  • identify and source from old clothing stores, a range of clothing made of different materials from past to present
  • access images of clothing worn during the First World War
  • conduct an investigation to explore materials for texture, durability
  • compare similarities and differences of materials which show the character’s place in time, by the style of the clothing.

Creative arts Stage 1

Visual arts: VAS1.1, VAS1.2, VAS1.3, VAS1.4

Students make artworks representing both real and imagined situations exploring a range of techniques and media. They discuss qualities of artworks such as subject matter and technique, recognising that artists create artworks for different audiences.

Dance: DAS1.1, DAS1.2, DAS1.3

Students perform dances with some understanding of body movement and expression, exploring a range of movements to make choices in order to convey ideas, feelings and moods. They describe the ideas, feelings and moods conveyed by dances.

Learning ideas

  • make, perform and appreciate pair and group dances of the era, for example, ragtime
  • create a digital image ‘smash’of past and present memorial sites.

Stage 2 (Years 3-4)

HSIE and history Stage 2

History: HT2-1, HT2-2, HT2-5

Concept: Significance, Empathetic understanding

Skill: Perspectives and interpretations, Research

Community and remembrance

Days and weeks celebrated or commemorated in Australia (including Australia Day, ANZAC Day, Harmony Week, National Reconciliation Week, NAIDOC Week, National Sorry Day) and the importance of symbols and emblems. (ACHHK063)

HSIE: SSS2.7, ENS2.6

  • contributions of paid and unpaid workers and voluntary organisations in the community
  • gives reasons why groups are associated with a feature or site
  • plans and implements a strategy for caring for a particular feature or site.

Learning ideas

  • research origins of people in the local community, history of remembrance/commemoration events in the local area. Focus on Remembrance Day
  • discuss the significance, interpretation and symbolism of Remembrance Day by accessing images
  • explore the Themes tab on the My Place website and watch clips/episodes relating to historical events Remembrance Day (Armistice)
  • establish empathetic understanding, perspectives and interpretations with/of the characters of My Placeduring 1914-1918
  • research history and access images of the role of the Red Cross (centenary 2014), contribution of volunteers in the war effort of First World War (also link to text Simpson and his Donkey)
  • discuss the role of women and the importance of volunteers using the key inquiry questions
  • research history and role of United Nations Educational, Scientific and CulturalOrganisation (UNESCO) and its formation after both world wars
  • discuss which countries belong to UNESCO and compare flags, coat of arms, anthems
  • discuss the advantages and disadvantages of submerged war wreckage as a natural or built environment
  • discuss the importance of the First World War and the cultural heritage in order to better preserve the submerged heritage sites.

English Stage 2

English: EN2-2A, EN2-7B, EN2-10C

Concept: Imagery

  • symbolism of animals/mateship in war

Respond to and compose texts

Understand and apply knowledge of language forms and features

Learning ideas

  • engage in and review a range of texts which represent a variety of perspectives, images and symbolism of animals/mateship during First World War, for example, Simpson and His Donkey by Mark Greenwood, M is for Mates by Department of Veterans’ Affairs, The Donkey Who Carried the Wounded by Jackie French, including notes (Australian, Turkish and animal perspectives)
  • access poetry or songs from The Australian Light Horse Association
  • read and respond to the Ode of Remembrance by Laurence Binyon
  • produce imaginative texts (poetry) with a focus on the imagery of animals/mateship and war
  • compose storyboards or visual sequences to represent an imaginative text from a soldier’s perspective.

Creative arts Stage 2

Visual arts: VAS2.1, VAS2.2, VAS2.3, VAS2.4

Students make artworks that represent a variety of subject matter and make choices about the forms and techniques used to best represent the qualities of the subject matter. They discuss reasons why artists make particular artworks and why different interpretations are possible, recognising similarities and differences in how subject matter is represented.

Music: MUS2.1, MUS2.2, MUS2.3, MUS2.4

Students sing, play and move to music, demonstrating a basic understanding of musical concepts. They organise musical ideas into simple compositions and use understood symbols to represent these. Students listen to a range of music, identifying key features and they make some informed judgements about musical preference.

Drama: DRAS2.1, DRAS2.2, DRAS2.3, DRAS2.4

Students use movement and voice to build the action and roles of a drama in a variety of situations. They devise and sequence drama to create meaning. Students experience and interpret a range of drama forms and elements by making, performing and appreciating drama.

Learning ideas

  • recreate mixed media interpretations, for example, digital, fibre and recycled materials of submerged war wreckage using UNESCO images
  • create soundscape compositions with a focus on water and war using graphic and traditional notation
  • compose, perform and appreciate a War Horse puppetry piece using marionettes.

Stage 3 (Years 5-6)

HSIE and history Stage 3

History: HT3-3, HT3-5

Concept: Cause and effect, Contestability

Skill: Research, Comprehension, terms and concepts

Australia as a Nation

Stories of groups of people who migrated to Australia (including from ONE Asian country) and the reasons they migrated, such as World War II and Australian migration programs since the war. (ACHHK115)

The contribution of individuals and groups, including Aboriginal people and/ or Torres Strait Islanders and migrants, to the development of Australian society, for example in areas such as the economy, education, sciences, the arts, sport. (ACHHK116)


  • gathers information about the rights and responsibilities of being an Australian citizen
  • contributions of groups, movements, policies and laws in the development of fairness and social justice in Australia.

Learning ideas

  • discuss cause and effect and the role of First World War in shaping Australian identity
  • using the Decade timeline tab view information about Australia in the 1910s then view My Place,Episode 10, 1918 and identify changes to society
  • research ‘Adopt a veteran’from local honour board or war memorial, (the Bridge Street State Office Honour Board lists the NSW public school teachers involved in the First World War) by using Australian War Memorial search function
  • research significant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who represented Australia in First World War, for example, Harry Thorpe, Captain Reg Saunders, Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker) included in the Indigenous Service
  • investigate sources using memorial Box 03 - Too dark for the light horse: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the defence forces analyse primary sources including letters and diaries of soldiers belonging to the Australian 6th Light Horse Regiment (NSW)
  • research what happened to Aboriginal servicemen upon returning home, did they receive the same recognition and support? What changes had occurred to their land and communities while they were serving?
  • view sources and judge the contestability of perspectives and the role of anti-discrimination legislation in Australia during the First World War.

English Stage 3

English: EN3-1A, EN3-2A, EN3-6B, EN3-8D

Concept: Representation

  • of Australian identity in First World War with a focus on colloquial language

Respond to and compose texts

Understand and apply knowledge of language forms and features

Learning ideas

  • deliver a multimedia presentation using research to inform audience and purpos
  • develop arguments to conduct a debate with a focus on Australian identity and the impact of war
  • view and respond to the language of soldiers’ letters, diaries from the Australian War Memorial, for example, and interact with the Learn soldier’s slang activity from the Australian War Memorial
  • reimagine a song or poem from the First World War period and rephrase it according to current language colloquialisms, idioms, slang
  • access First World War posters as a representation of persuasion and discuss contestability, perspective, interpretation
  • compose multimedia posters to persuade involvement in the protection of Australia with a focus on colloquial language.

Creative arts Stage 3

Visual arts: VAS3.1, VAS3.2, VAS3.3, VAS3.4

Students make artworks for a variety of audiences using different forms and techniques to convey meaning and represent the likeness of things in the world. They discuss artworks in terms of how subject matter is used and represented, artists’ intention and audience interpretation and make reasoned judgements about these artworks.

Music: MUS3.1, MUS3.2, MUS3.3, MUS3.4

Students sing, play and move to a range of music, both as individuals and in group situations, demonstrating an understanding of musical concepts. They organise musical ideas into compositions, using notation systems to record these ideas. Students listen to a range of familiar and unfamiliar music with a sense of understanding, appreciation and discrimination.

Learning ideas

  • rephrase as a rap, jazz or pop song First World War songs such as Pack Up Your Troubles, Road to Gundagai
  • compose percussion repertoire using traditional notation to accompany First World War songs
  • interpret and discuss the similarities and differences between official war artists’impressions, for example, Streeton and more Streeton links, Lambert
  • view the The ANZAC Book
  • investigate a range of techniques to reproduce the likeness of war artists.

Stage 4 (Years 7-8)

English Stage 4

English: EN4-1A, EN4 5C, EN4 6C, EN4 7D


Representing the Self and experience

Learning ideas

  • explore representation of self through stories and multi-modal mediums
  • respond to and compose different forms in which stories of self and others are portrayed
  • appreciate the power of stories to develop self-awareness and empathy
  • explore how personal stories are shaped and constructed
  • appreciation of self – students learn about themselves through the appreciation and discovery of others
  • explore first person accounts: for example, interview their veteran, read and respond to

biographies and autobiographies and discuss the place that stories and retelling has in our society and culture, discuss the place of journals and diaries in their lives and the lives of others past and present

  • students bring an artefact which has significance to themselves and their life experience. How and why does this artefact represent their life experience?

Film: All quiet on the Western Front (1979) and film trailer (You tube videos need a teacher log in)

Novels: Kerry Greenwood 2013, Evan’s Gallipoli: a gripping story of unlikely

friendship and an incredible journey behind enemy lines, Allen & Unwin, NSW

Jackie French 2008, A Rose for the ANZAC boys, Angus & Robertson, Sydney

Dianne Wolfer & Brian Simmonds 2009, Lighthouse Girl, Fremantle Press, WA

Poem: William Butler Yeats, An Irish Airman Foresees his Death

Visual texts: Mark Wilson 2011, My Mother’s Eyes: the story of an Australian boy soldier, Lothian Children’s Books, Sydney

Gary Crew & Shaun Tan 2003, Memorial, Lothian, Vic.

Website: Australian War Memorial

Stage 5 (Years 9-10)

History Stage 5

History: HT 5-1, HT 5-2, HT 5-3, HT 5-4, HT 5-5, HT5-6, HT 5-7, HT 5-8, HT 5-9, HT 5-10

Core study:

Australians at War: World Wars 1 and 2 (1914–1918, 1939–1945)

Learning ideas

  • In this stage teachers have a wide variety of outcomes with which to work.
  • At this stage of schooling the students would engage in activities that look at differing perspectives towards the war. Therefore, students could:
    • re-enact significant pre-war or wartime speeches
    • debate issues such as conscription
  • These would be done with a suitable audience in mind and would engage a significant number of the school community in the delivering of this project.

English Stage 5

English: EN5 1A, EN5 2A, EN5 3B, EN5 5C, EN5 7D

Concept: Persuasion

Learning ideas

  • interact with group and individual viewing, analysis of and response to texts
  • analyse and build familiarity with persuasive techniques used by writers to position a reader and influence their point of view
  • analyse and respond to war poetry by English and Australian poets
  • explore personal point of view and interpret text language and structures
  • understand strategies used by writers to put forward ideologies
  • discuss effectiveness of interrelationship of context, audience, purpose, ideology on shaping meaning.

War poets: Australian, English:

Siegfried Sasson, for example, The rank stench of those bodies haunts me still

Wilfred Owen, for example, Anthem for Doomed Youth and Futility

Kenneth Slessor, for example, Beach Burial

David Campbell, for example, Men in green

Blog commentary: Harry Leslie Smith 2013, This year, I will wear a poppy for the last time

Novel: Geoff Dyer 2011, The Missing of the Somme, Random House, New York - a personal meditation on war.

Support materials

A wide range of materials, websites and activities suitable for use with students are being developed nationally and internationally, with new materials being published frequently to mark this commemoration. As support for this commemoration is ongoing and much is still under development, a Centenary of the First World War Pinterest board is being used by the NSW DEC to collect and curate resources.

Keywords: WWI, First World War, English, history, creative arts, primary, secondary, programming

How to cite this article: Southwell, A. 2014, ‘Centenary of the Commemoration of the First World War: Bringing communities together’, Scan 33(1)

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