Children at heart of D-Day 80 with ultimate history lesson

Schoolchildren were given the ultimate history lesson for the 80th anniversary of D-Day, with a behind-the-scenes tour of 10 Downing Street and Second World War Royal Navy ship HMS Belfast. 

Akshata Murty welcomed 30 schoolchildren to Number 10 as the Ministry of Defence announced a range of initiatives to inspire a new generation with the story and legacy of D-Day. 

The children from Hayfield Cross School near Kettering met two D-Day veterans – George Chandler and Bernard Morgan – during the visit to 10 Downing Street, where they received a tour and a lesson on the role of Prime Minister Winston Churchill in planning the Normandy Landings. 

Following the visit, Akshata Murty said: 

It was a privilege to welcome George and Bernard to Downing Street today. They along with all our brave veterans are truly inspirational. It was wonderful that the pupils from Hayfield Cross Primary School were given the unique opportunity to hear their incredible stories first-hand. 

The team from the Imperial War Museum also provided the kids with a powerful lesson in the Cabinet Room that helped to highlight the unparalleled sacrifice that so many made 80 years ago.

They then boarded a Second World War-era red double-decker bus adorned with the D-Day 80 logo and travelled to HMS Belfast – the only British ship remaining from the bombardment fleet of D-Day. 

Onboard, they met Defence Secretary Grant Shapps and Education Secretary Gillian Keegan, learned more about HMS Belfast’s role in D-Day, participated in a hands-on Morse code lesson and had the special privilege of asking the two D-Day veterans questions about their experiences 80 years ago.

As part of a range of new education initiatives, the Ministry of Defence and its partners are working to ensure the inspiring message of D-Day is passed down to a new generation. 

On 3 June, D-Day veterans will gather in Portsmouth to meet local schoolchildren and modern-day Royal Marines personnel to pass on their wisdom to a new generation.

At the national commemorative event in Portsmouth on 5 June, a total of 900 schoolchildren and cadets will hear directly from the veterans of D-Day. They will hear powerful testimonies from D-Day veterans and military personnel, as well as musical performances by a military orchestra. 

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps highlighted the importance of the commemorations: 

Remembering D-Day is a crucial step to ensuring we appreciate the hard-earned peace and freedom we enjoy today. 

It was an honour to speak with George and Bernard, and to meet the inquisitive class from Hayfield Cross School.  

I hope the ultimate history lesson has worked to highlight the significance of D-Day and to help keep the memory of those that fought alive.

The Normandy Memorial Trust has published a D-Day 80 Teacher Resource Pack which was compiled in collaboration with the British Council and GCHQ.

The printed pack will be handed to schoolchildren taking part in D-Day 80 activities in Portsmouth on 3 June, ahead of the veterans’ departure to Normandy. Packs will also be available at The D-Day Story Museum in Portsmouth, thanks to generous funding from The Spirit of Normandy Trust.

The Normandy Memorial Trust’s ambition to share the lessons of the past with generations of the future will be fulfilled by The Winston Churchill Centre for Education and Learning, thanks to funding from principal sponsor BAE Systems, the Ministry of Defence and others.  

The new facility, at the British Normandy Memorial in Ver-sur-Mer, France, will officially open on the 80th anniversary of D-Day. 

As part of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission ‘Lighting Their Legacy’ programme of events, a torch of commemoration is being passed from veterans to young people to represent the passing on of the legacy of D-Day to a new generation. 

Three Canadian mechanical engineering students at McMaster University in Ontario designed the torches as part of a degree project allowing them to reflect on why the commemoration is important, and why the Second World War continues to be relevant for future generations. 

The torch will now travel to the capital cities of the Home Nations and cities up and down the country including Manchester and Plymouth, before joining veterans on a ferry to Normandy for the 80th anniversary.