D-Day--As Kids Remember It (Prepare Yourself)

Roundup: Talking About History

Chris Hasting and Julie Henry, in the Sunday Telegraph (London) (May 30, 2004):

IT IS 1899 and Denzel Washington, the American president, orders Anne Frank and her troops to storm the beaches of Nazi-occupied New Zealand.

This may not be how you remember D-Day but for a worrying number of Britain's children this is the confused scenario they associate with the events of June 6, 1944.

A survey of 1,309 pupils aged between 10 and 14 and from 24 different schools found alarming levels of ignorance about the invasion of Normandy 60 years ago.

Only 28 per cent of primary and secondary pupils who sat the Sunday Telegraph quiz last week were able to say that D-Day, involving the largest invasion force ever mounted, was the start of the Allied liberation of occupied western Europe.

Many of them could only say that it was something to do with the Second World War - though 26 per cent were flummoxed by even that fact. Some thought it took place in the First World War, or was the day war broke out, the Blitz and even Remembrance Sunday.

"It's a day when everyone remembers the dead who fought," said a 14-year-old girl at a north Devon secondary school. Only 16 per cent of 918 participating primary school children had the answer right. One 10-year-old in a Northamptonshire school thought it was the day the "Americans came to rescue the English". Another thought D-Day involved "the invasion of Portsmouth". Various dates for the assault were 1066, 1776, 1899 and 1948.

Children also had great difficulty in naming Britain's war-time prime minister. Less than half of the overall sample and only 39 per cent of primary school children correctly identified him as Winston Churchill; a significant number opted for Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair.

Seventeen per cent of the sample and only 38 per cent of secondary school children identified Franklin D Roosevelt as the then President of the United States. Other candidates offered by both age groups were Denzel Washington (the Oscar-winning actor), George Washington, John F Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln and George W Bush. Some said simply: "George Bush's dad."

Ignorance about the Allied leaders, however, contrasted sharply with knowledge about Adolf Hitler. Overall, 71 per cent of the sample and 64 per cent of primary school children were able correctly to name the Nazi leader. Only one in three could identify the broad location of D-Day, with a number saying that it happened in New Zealand, Skegness or Germany.

Thirteen per cent could name two of the beaches involved, and only 10 per cent of the sample knew that Dwight D Eisenhower was the Supreme Allied Commander. Others thought that the invasion was led by Anne Frank, Private Ryan (the eponymous hero of the Steven Spielberg D-Day epic), or Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, Eisenhower's deputy....

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

R.R. Hamilton - 3/4/2008

"Surely, today, it is far more important for youth to question why and how, rather than simply regurgitate what, who and when."

If you don't know "what, who and when [and where]", then you can't ask "why and how".

Chris Murphy - 6/4/2004

How amazing it is to read that some of us continue to judge youth by how many useless facts they can recall. I would have thought the days of rote learning dates and the names of "famous" generals had well and truly past. Surely, today, it is far more important for youth to question why and how, rather than simply regurgitate what, who and when.

I wonder just how many D-Day veterans would have known, in 1944, the dates of the American Civil War, or the name of the U.S. President at the turn of the 20th century. Besides, what would it have mattered anyway? Far better that they understood why they were doing and why.

History as events and dates and names belongs to the musty "museums" of small towns. If ignorance is to be measured, let it be in terms of people's inability to question today's history makers, all-too-often "famous men" who obviously have no understanding off what mortal dangers await their citizen soldiers in far off lands.