Last week, the second of a series of year-long activities in a War Literature unit, the SHS library put on a trench warfare simulation to make war novels come to life for seniors. Participants were from Mrs. Lisa Simmons’ AP Literature, College 1010, and English 12 classes, along with Mr. Brett Miller’s and Ms. Jill Thackeray’s English 12 classes.
Students marched into our very own SHS library to discover it had become a battle ground with two “trenches” (upside down tables) and “No Man’s Land” in between. The recruits had to fill out facsimiles of WWI draft cards before they could join the ranks. The soldiers were each given a dog tag and their C-rats, (rations including prepared wet rations, hard sugar candy, a Hershey’s Chocolate Bar, Chiclets and other necessities.) Outfitted for the battle with tin hats (representing WWI helmets), they sat in their trenches munching on C-Rats, and listening as Staff Sgt. Tritt from the USMC and librarian, Mrs. Lanell Rabner, explained what combat is really like.
The students learned about conditions in the WWI trenches, what soldiers wore, military conduct, and much more. General Rabner gave a presentation on WWI and displayed authentic U.S. Army issued uniforms and equipment. Rabner also shared her experiences in historic battlefields, museums, and concentration camps, to help students gain a realistic perspective. Simmons even got a “lift” from Sgt. Tritt as he demonstrated how they carried out wounded soldiers during a battle.
Students also learned about the things soldiers carried to war, such as letters, pictures, and books. While in the trenches, they read letters from home, as well as letters soldiers wrote to their loved ones, and examined authentic texts of the era, namely WWII Armed Services Edition books that were just the right size to drop in a pocket.
Perhaps one of the most shocking and memorable parts of the simulation was the reality of death. The students, after finishing their draft cards placed them in a bowl. Periodically during the simulation a bell would toll (a reference to Ernest Hemingway’s, “For Whom the Bell Tolls”), and Mrs. Simmons would select a card and pronounce that solider dead. These students were chosen to represent the soldiers who died in battle. Sgt. Tritt would then escort them to sit in the “Dead Zone” or graveyard, for the rest of the presentation. It’s unnerving to be sitting next to your friend in the trenches, only in the next moment for them to be gone forever.
Through it all, the simulation proved to be a very memorable learning experience for everyone involved. It’s sure to be a lesson the students will never forget.