Cecil Slack
The Great War 1914 - 1918

Teaching Activities for History

This is the Index of Teaching Resources where you will find links to the teaching activities for history and English.

These resources are intended for use by teachers and pupils following Programmes of Study at KS2 and KS3 of the National Curriculum for England and Wales.

They may be helpful for teachers and students working at other levels.

If you are a pupil, you may be able to work on your own.

If this is too hard, your teacher will help you.

Remember that this site is written for children and grown-ups, in primary, junior and secondary schools, as well as teachers and other visitors.

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What Do You Already Know?

This activity can be done by speaking and listening, or by writing or making displays.

What Do You Know About Letters?
  • Do you receive letters? From whom, when and why? If not, why not?
  • Do people in your family receive letters? From whom? About what?
  • How else do you and your family communicate (keep in touch) with other people?
  • Are these other ways used more or less than writing letters? Give reasons for your answer.
  • When is it better to write a letter? When is a letter not the best way to communicate?
Using Letters to Find Out About History
  • What can we find out from old letters about the past?
  • Think about any letters you have written or read. What things would someone in the future find out about how you live today? What would they not find out from letters?
  • Do you have any old letters at home which can tell you things about the past? You might have to ask other people in your family.
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As an activity your teacher might ask you to bring in old letters that someone in your family has kept.

If they are valuable, you could make a photocopy, or ask a teacher to do this.

If there are personal things in them, you might want to hide these bits!

Make sure you have permission from the person who owns the letter.

Either at home or at school, you can look in the letter for information (things to learn) about the past.

Your teacher will tell you some things to look out for.

You could write about what you have found. Don't just copy the letter, but put things together where this helps make sense of the information.

You could work with your friends to make a display about what you have all found.

The letters may not tell you very much, but they are real evidence about the time when they were written.

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What Do You Know About War?

You are not likely to have lived in a country which was at war while you were there. If this did happen to you, you may not want to talk about it. But people in your family certainly did live through many wars. You can answer these questions by speaking to other pupils, your class, or by writing answers down.

  • Do you know of any wars which have names? How many can you list?
  • Are you interested in weapons, vehicles, ships or aeroplanes which are used for fighting wars? What are they?
  • Do you know anyone who has fought in a war?
  • Do you know anything about the Second World War? What?
  • Do you know anything about the First World War - which was once called the Great War? What?
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Using Evidence to Find Out About War

What kinds of things can you use today to find out about wars in the past?

Where would you look at home?

At school?

In a library?

In a town or village?

Where would you look if you had lots of time to collect information?

Is one bit of information as good as any other?

Some things might tell you a lot or little, and some might tell you things you did or didn't want to know.

Some might be very truthful or not very truthful.

Look at the list which follows.

Work out how likely it is that the things in it will give you lots of information, tell you what you want to know, and be truthful.

That's three questions for each thing on the list - you could do this by giving them a mark out of ten, where ten (10) is the best and zero (0) is worst.

Don't worry if you don't know what they all are.

Miss out any you think you can't do.

  • Something you heard one of your grandparents say a few years ago.
  • The Encyclopædia Brittanica.
  • A magazine about weapons.
  • A war memorial in a town or village.
  • A feature film, like Saving Private Ryan or Schindler's List.
  • A talk with someone who lived through a war.
  • A collection of letters written by a soldier and his fiancée.
  • A computer game based on air warfare.
  • A school history book.
  • Official records of a regiment in the Army, squadron in the Royal Air Force or ship in the Royal Navy.
  • A Web site set up by someone interested in the First World War.
  • An old German history book for schoolchildren.
  • Adolf Hitler's diaries.
  • A TV/cinema advertisement for the Army.
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Using a Letter as Evidence About War

Read the letter below, then answer the questions which follow it.

You may do this as a spoken or written task.

The date has been removed from the top of the letter.

You can find the letter with its date on, in Volume 3 of the letters on this site.

Please do not look at it until you have answered the questions.

Click here to go to Volume 3 of the letters.

After the questions you will find a list of statements.

Do you agree with these statements?

For each one, see what evidence is in the letter.

Liutenant Cecil Slack to Flossie and Dora, 150th. Brigade, 50th Division, B.E.F.

Dear Flossie and Dora,

I arrived here safely on Thursday evening.

"Here" is 40 yds. from the Huns.

There are about 15 of my old platoon left.

We were very glad to see each other again.

The enemy were very quiet the first night, probably having heard of my return, and feeling a bit awed thereat.

Yesterday our guns had a strafe for about 30 minutes, the Germans replying in a very meek and mild fashion.

It is very muddy and wet, and quite cold at nights.

Rats swarm, they come and give one the glad eye when resting in a dugout, and run across one at nighttime.

They feed on bacon scraps and dead men.

We have spells of 4 days in the trenches, 4 days in the reserve, 4 days in the trenches again, and then 4 days rest.

There is nothing to do except keep the trenches tidy, and inspect rifles and gas helmets.

Every morning everyone has to remove his gum boots and socks and rub his feet, otherwise "trench foot" is contracted, and the toes and feet drop off.

I had a couple of shots this morning at what I thought was a German.

I don't know whether I killed anything, but I tried hard.

We are not allowed to speak to the people across the way, but they have recently informed us that the war will be over in one month's time.

Yesterday we had bacon and eggs for breakfast, a luxury which I had not expected.

We have roast beef for dinner.

The joint is passed round and each cuts a chunk off.

The same knife is used for butter, meat, jam, bread and cheese, and for stirring the tea!

Our tea is made from water pumped from the ground.

You know it is tea, because of the tealeaves.

Shaving water comes from the same source, and you know it isn't tea because there are no tea-leaves.

I met an old schoolfellow on the boat from Southampton.

G. N. Smith is his name.

I think he had a sister at Penrhos.

A piece of shell from one of our guns fell within 3 yards of me yesterday, and quite startled me for the moment.

There is a rumour here today that 3 divisions of Huns have been cut off by the French.

An unexploded shell has this moment dropped outside our dugout.

We are feeling quite pleased.

Kindest regards to your Father and Mother,

Yours sincerely,


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Questions About the Letter

Your answers should be linked to evidence in the letter. Try to give evidence in your answer: "I think this because..."

  • When do you think this letter was written?
  • What is the letter about?
  • Who is the writer and who is the writer writing to? What do you think might be the relationship between the writer and the readers?
  • Why might the writer choose to write about the things he has written about in this letter?
  • What things in this letter surprise you, and why?
  • What words in the letter do you not know? Can you guess or find out what they mean?
Statements About the Letter - what the war was like

How much evidence can you find in the letter for each statement below?

It may help if you know that a yd. (yard) is slightly less than a metre in length, and that the soldiers' rifles could fire over half a mile, and were accurate over several hundred yards/metres.

  • Few soldiers died in the war.
  • The British and German front lines were very far apart.
  • Soldiers did not lose their sense of humour.
  • Life in the trenches was hard for soldiers.
  • Standards of hygiene (keeping clean and free of germs) were very good.
  • The soldiers enjoyed their food.
  • The soldiers had excellent clothing to keep warm and dry.
  • British soldiers liked the Germans very much.
  • British soldiers spent all their time fighting the Germans.
  • The soldiers knew when the war was going to end.
  • British soldiers all had beards.
  • The British were on the same side as the French.
  • Trenches were clean, dry and comfortable.
  • Soldiers were very safe in the trenches.
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Comparing Sources

On this site you will find many volumes of letters sent by a soldier in the First World War to his fiancée, family and friends, and their replies to him.

You will also find some entries from his diaries, and a newspaper account of some events in which he took part.

This account was published in the Yorkshire Post, shortly after the end of the war.

You can find two or more accounts of the same event - using a letter, a diary entry or the newspaper article.

Compare these, to see what they agree on, and if anything is different.

If you find differences, you must decide which is more likely to be a reliable account.

You can write down points of agreement or difference.

You could do this on your own, in pairs or small groups - your teacher will advise you on this.

To find the sources, you can follow the links at the top of the page, or here.

  • Click here for Cecil Slack's diaries.
  • Click here for Cecil Slack's letters.
  • Click here for the 1919 Yorkshire Post article on the 4th Battalion of the East Yorkshire Regiment.
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Use this site to learn more about the Great War

Many of you will study the Great War as part of your school's programmes of study for history in Key Stage 2 or Key Stage 3.

If your teacher does not want you to do any of the activities on this site, you can simply use the extensive articles on it, to find out more.

For example, if you are asked to find out about the life of a soldier or people who stayed at home, you will find lots on both of these subjects.

You can find out about officers and ordinary private soldiers.

You can find out about nursing, about how casualties were treated, about transport, food and entertainment.

You can find out how people used to write to each other.

Some things in the letters and diaries will make you smile, but others are very sad.

Remember that these are the words of real people.

In some ways they are remarkable, but in other ways they are ordinary human beings.

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Suggest an Activity

If you have an idea about how to study the Great War, or war in general, please let us know.

If there is something you think should be here but isn't (yet), tell us.

If you are a teacher, and you would like a particular exercise, so your class can use this site to study history and use Information and Communication Technology, let us know.

To make a suggestion, use the e-mail address at the bottom of the page.

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Except where otherwise stated, the copyright in all of the archives and letters on this site is held by Robert Slack (grandson) and the Slack family. Copyright in teaching resources and materials on this site belongs to the East Riding of Yorkshire Council. Please acknowledge intellectual property rights by giving the URL of any pages you use, and/or include the © copyright symbol. Thank you.

Robert Slack - "I am very happy for (the letters) to be used by others. If teachers ever wanted to see the original letters for teaching purposes etc, I would be very happy to loan them, or send good copies of the originals."

To contact Robert, or to comment on this site, please e-mail Chris.A.Brown@eastriding.gov.uk

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EAST RIDING of YORKSHIRE COUNCIL School Improvement Service, County Hall, Beverley, East Yorks. HU17 9BA.
Tel: +44(0)1482 887700   Fax: +44(0)1482 887700   Website: www.eastriding.gov.uk