Remembering The Somme

JS93684832Last weekend, I enjoyed watching Exeter Chiefs win their second pre-season warm-up game against Ulster at Sandy Park.

Before the game, I made a visit to a wonderful piece of artwork that had been installed in the club bar to commemorate the Battle of the Somme.

1untitledBack in July, this project was displayed in full in Northernhay Gardens in Exeter’s city centre – and consisted of 19240 hand-made shrouds laid out on the grass to represent the Allied servicemen who died on the first day of the Battle of Somme100 years ago. Each 12 inch plastic figure in a hand-stitched shroud was linked to an Allied fatality on July 1st, 1916 using records from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.


The smaller – but equally effective – installation at Exeter Rugby Club consisted of 3237 shrouds that represented the men of the Devon and Ulster Regiments who fell on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. That is why the fixture against Ulster was chosen for the display – and a sponsored walk of 19240 yards held in the morning before the game helped raise funds for the SSAFA Armed Forces charity.

imagesGIK0YA2BThe idea for the artwork behind the shrouds came to Somerset artist Rob Heard in 2013 while he was recovering from a car crash and watching TV images of British soldiers returning from Afghanistan. He linked up with ‘Show of Hands’ musician Steve Knightley, who helped him develop the ‘19240 Shrouds of the Somme’ into one of the largest WW1 commemorations in the country. Rob says his work is very different in its approach to the sea of ceramic poppies at the Tower of London in 2014 – “The interesting thing about the poppies is that the individual was lost in that sea of red: but in what I’m doing, the individual is everything.” Stories and images of those killed on the first day of the Somme have been sent into the project by relatives and researchers, and each of the 19240 has a record on the Shrouds of the Somme web site at:

imagesT96EKH7EThis site has some excellent information about the Battle of the Somme, and a full searchable record of all of the Fallen. It fascinated me to read that one of Exeter Chiefs’ star players – England international winger Jack Nowell – discovered at a fund-raising dinner for the charity that his great, great Uncle Frank was among them. His father, Newlyn trawlerman Mike Nowell, knew that Francis Nowell had fought and died at the Somme because the Nowell family visit the war memorial where he is listed every year. What they didn’t know was that he was one of the 19240 who died on the first day.

The individual shrouds are available for purchase via the web site, to help raise funds for the Exeter Foundation and the SSAFA.

p03n0n6pMeanwhile, ‘Show of Hands’ have released a single and video to mark the centenary. ‘The Gamekeeper’ tells of a young man from Devon sent to the trenches and the impact on his life.

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Recreate Olympic Races In Your Home Area

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Date For Your Diary: Twitter Chat For Geographers

Calling all geography teachers! There will be a public forum on Twitter starting:

Wednesday 31st August from 7.30-8pm

All are welcome to contribute or just watch what is happening.. A great way to make new connections and squirrel new ideas. The forum will use the tag #ukGEOGchat, so you can follow all tweets using this.
If you are new to twitter – this could be a great place to get started!


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Plastic Bags, Rwanda, and Community Action

plastic 2A number of recent articles in the press have highlighted the fact that there has been a massive reduction in the use of plastic bags since a charge for their use was introduced. To put some numbers to this, the number of single-use bags handed out in shops dropped to 500 million in the first six months since the charge, compared to 7 billion used in the previous year. This amounts to an impressive reduction of 85% – but still seems like a heck of a lot of bags!

plastic 3There are some useful facts and figures for use in the classroom in these articles published in the Guardian and Times newspapers:

 Reading these articles reminded me of my last school trip to Uganda, when we flew via Kigali in Rwanda. As we came in to land in Kigali, I remember being impressed by the announcement that explained how plastic bags were banned in the country, and advised passengers to ensure they had none in their luggage.

 Rwanda’s enlightened attitude to land pollution also came to light while reading Levison Wood’s excellent book ‘Walking the Nile’. In this really well-written travelogue, Wood describes his incredible adventures as he walked the length of the river Nile from source to sea. While searching for the source of the Nile in Rwanda, he came across a custom particular to Kigali itself. It is called ‘Umuganda’, and refers to events that take place from 8.00 am to 11.00 am on the last Saturday of every month when the entire population of the city is required to devote itself to Kigali’s upkeep. For this one day each month, business in the city grinds to a halt, and every man, woman and child turns out to sweep the streets, or tend the parklands and green spaces.

rwandaThe word Umuganda can be translated as ‘coming together in common purpose to achieve an outcome’. By law all able bodied persons above the age of 18 and below 65 are expected to participate in this community work.

Participation in Umuganda is usually supervised by a manager, or Umudugudu chairperson who oversees the effectiveness and efficiency of community participation. On this day, business activity halts, public transportation is limited, and people are seen everywhere working. People participate in cleaning streets, cutting grass and trimming bushes along roads, or repairing public facilities or building houses for vulnerable persons. People with particular skills offer their services for free on this day. For example, doctors may offer free medical examination.

 The benefits of Umuganda are not merely economic. The day is intended to build community involvement and strengthen cohesion between persons of different background and levels. One such a benefit is that people can access authorities to articulate their needs and voice opinions on various issues. The labour cost from Umuganda contributes to national development programs. By reaping the rewards of the volunteer labor and by having more capital to invest in the country, Umuganda has contributed to the growth and development of the Rwanda.

 Today close to 80% of Rwandans take part in monthly community work. Successful projects include the building of schools, medical centres and hydro electric plants as well as rehabilitating wetlands and creating highly productive agricultural plots. The value of Umuganda to the country’s development since 2007 has been estimated at more than US $60 million.

Other countries have followed Rwanda’s lead, including Nepal:,nepal,use,plan,plastic,to%20ban,bags,to%20implement&utm_campaign=Climate&__surl__=IgOlq&__ots__=1467749974371&__step__=1

 plastic 1So, I welcome the shift in behaviour in relation to plastic bags – but I can’t help but wonder how much further we could go to improve our community environments if we were to follow the example of a small economically developing nation in central Africa. Worth discussing with your students?

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Mapping The Sea Bed


An interesting article in this weekend’s Sunday Times described an exciting plan to map the sea bed.

 Scientists are planning to use advanced sonar on  ships and submarines to scan the entire ocean floor ‘Google Maps’ style to plot mountains, trenches, volcanoes and other underwater features.

 One great advantage of this project will be the mapping of submarine hazards currently not shown on marine charts. It is estimated that there are at least 100,000 unknown sea mountains over half a mile high.

 This will all be made possible by the application of modern technology called ‘multibeam sonar which allows one vessel to map a swathe of sea bed hundreds of metres wide. Software can then turn  the data into instant charts.

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Will You See The Perseid Meteor Shower?


The Perseid meteor shower is the most famous of all the meteor showers, and has been visible since the end of July, with one meteor an hour crossing the sky. But the action begins to hot up by the 10th August, with up to 15 mwteors an hour being visible if the sky is clear.

The peak dates to see the Perseid meteor shower are between the 12-13 August when up to 100 meteors an hour can be seen! There will also be good rates either side of the peak shower between 11-12 August and 13-14 August.

Check out the Met Office site to see a map forecasting when it is visible in your area. You can also download an excellent PDF about watching the Perseid Shower.

There is also a good short video explaining the Perseid shower on the BBC weather site:

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Support Groups For New Exams

I know that a lot of geography teachers are currently slaving away in their holidays to prepare for new year and the new GCSE exam syllabi.

 A couple of new collaborative groups have been set up on Facebook to share resources and save everyone some time:

untitledAQA GCSE Teachers Facebook Page (set up by Rob Chambers):

 Rob has been incredibly busy preparing resources for the AQA syllabus, and although most of them are on the Facebook page, you may also want to check out:


 OCR Teachers Facebook Page (set up by Jo Payne):

 Other resources that may be of interest:

 A fresh resource being developed by Tutor2U to support the AQA A Level:

 Other Facebook sites:

 Edexcel A Level:

 OCR A Level:

Eduqas B:

 AQA A Level Teachers Facebook Group:


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