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Anzac Day and remembrance

Page 6 – Walking with an Anzac project and school kit

In 2013 I had the good fortune to meet Emma Bettle and the team from School Kit at the SOCCON Conference in Hamilton. We got talking about the upcoming First World War Centenary and some of the work we were planning at Manatū Taonga. I wanted to support students to critically engage with this significant event from our past and not miss the opportunity to really understand what it meant to them, their families and communities. It became clear that we were on the same wavelength – no commemoration of ‘famous battles’ for the sake of it, or the study of our famous war ‘heroes’. We wanted to support New Zealand students to develop their research skills through the discovery of local stories of First World War soldiers. In 2014 Manatū Taonga commissioned School Kit to deliver the Walking with an Anzac Education Programme in New Zealand schools. The labour of love began. Over the commemorative period the School Kit team visited 2400 schools and documented items with a connection to the First World War. A total of 2752 stories were discovered, and schools were connected with the research and records on at least one soldier from every discovery. This project was without doubt the highlight of our centenary educational work and easily the most amazing project I have had the privilege of working on. In these uncertain times of lockdown (and beyond), Walking with an Anzac remains an invaluable resource for those looking to develop authentic and meaningful online inquiry. Over to you Emma.

Things are different for everyone, everywhere right now. Birthdays, professional milestones, going to school and sadly even the nature of funerals have all changed dramatically for us all overnight. With this also comes a change to the way we mark days that carry heavy meaning for us as a nation. Instead of gathering together at our community cenotaph, we’ll be standing alone at the end of our driveways as this Anzac Day dawns.

As teachers, many of us have found ourselves needing to change direction rapidly as well. It’s frustrating because genuine supported inquiry for students takes time, resources, trips to the library, planning sessions with colleagues, and conversations with experts. Not to mention things like a printer you don’t have, paper to go in that printer, and potentially a website name scribbled on a post-it note you left on your desk before Level 4.

How also do we create online learning experiences that are rich, varied, and up to your personal standards when everybody (including our kids) is only just learning how to do this? 

A new way of learning doesn’t have to mean we reinvent the wheel. There are existing projects out there that are rich in detail, full of new lessons for our students and that are already proven to have a powerful impact. 

The Walking with an Anzac Discovery Box, and more importantly, the website that supported it, were used by 64,000 New Zealand school children to foster independent inquiry and develop research skills. We believe that this is the perfect solution for teachers searching for authentic, local, relevant, New Zealand-based online learning suitable for Years 7–10. We promise a compelling journey of discovery.

What is it?

The website has 32 items. Each item has:

  • A dedicated page and simple Year 7+ story to give context to the item.
  • Three scaffolded tasks focused on basic research skills that increase in difficulty.
  • Three further tasks that extend the inquiry and lead the student to a more complex inquiry.
  • An unsolved mystery that our team could not find the answer to.
  • A Pinterest board containing all the images and documents we were able to find on your person.

How would I use it?

  1. Do Walking with an Anzac the way it was intended: Assign each student or group of students an item. You can download a digital version of each item and if you wanted to add a bit of theatre you could even send an item to each student. The activities are already scaffolded, so your students can pursue their research pathway according to their individual level. It’s an out of the box solution – just push play.
  2. Go further than just a name and a date this Anzac Day: Encourage your students to take the name their family commemorates on Anzac Day and discover more about their lives. Walking with an Anzac is a great training ground for developing research skills (searching, keywords, perseverance) and discovering NZ-owned archives (Papers Past, Cenotaph, Digital NZ).
  3. Make it an intergenerational project: There is no one left alive who served in the First World War. However, many, many families (regardless of their origin) have a connection with someone who served. Even just the path of the conversations to find the first name of a great, great uncle, or those involved in mapping the family tree, are wonderful opportunities for an intergenerational conversation.
  4. Collect a name from your local cenotaph when you’re out on your walk: Almost every NZ community has a cenotaph. Challenge your students to find theirs and choose a name. Use their Walking with an Anzac skills to follow the same research pathway, but this time focused on their cenotaph name.
  5. Get obsessed: All these items lead to various rabbit holes, but some have more twists and turns than others. Stephen’s last dinner with his mates before Gallipoli; the incredible Harriet (so amazing even the NZ government didn’t believe she was telling the truth) Simeon.
  6. Break your heart: The story of Karl and the wonderful Lily who loved him; Keith and his best friend Doug, and the headmaster who made sure their friendship would be remembered forever; or William Friar’s telegrams and the baby he never met.
  7. Do the maths: Statistics, tally charts and numbers reign supreme with Thomas Kinder and his teammates; or trace the fates of the sons of a single road in Dunedin (Moray Place).

The story behind the project

We found the original items as we visited New Zealand schools during the WW100 commemorative period. Our job was to identify items inside schools with a connection to the First World War and then support classrooms to use archives such as Papers Past and Cenotaph to unpack the stories behind those items.

Often, we’d arrive back at our accommodation for the night having followed a research trail down a rabbit hole, working with staff and students long after the bell had rung and the rest of the school departed. We were driven to local sites by school bus drivers; given keys to unlock community halls (“two km down the road on your right, red roof you can’t miss it”) containing huge framed photos of long ago soldiers who had become community icons; climbed hills to visit trees planted in remembrance; donned overalls to help teachers uncover long-forgotten memorials behind walls, under floors and in dusty caretakers’ cupboards. We were shown flags, dead men’s pennies, violins, queen’s carnival crowns and untold other items in boxes dragged down from high-up shelves.

And the stories were irresistible.

They were human stories, about local people. They were the kinds of names we can all find on our local cenotaph. They were intimate, small stories – not famous battles or medal winners or war heroes. Increasingly we saw that the skills involved, and the archives searched in uncovering the stories, had a far-reaching value that could be applied by students in multiple settings.

With the support of Manatū Taonga / The Ministry for Culture and Heritage, we created a Discovery Box containing 32 of the best stories our team had found in New Zealand schools. Items were designed to feel like the real thing. Badges, uniform labels, pages from diaries, letters home, school photos were amongst the treasures we reproduced. Each item was attached to a story that students then pieced together and applied research skills to unpack.

In all, 64,000 students used the Discovery Box to uncover the stories of these soldiers, mothers, nurses, fathers and conscientious objectors. But the real lesson was that our own community story is all around us, everywhere, if we just teach ourselves and our students how and where to look for it.

Unpack it again …. and use it. Lest we forget.

Emma Bettle, School Kit

How to cite this page

Walking with an Anzac project and school kit, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated