Alan Dee: This trenches trip is utter madness

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Do you know what? It’s mad. It’s madder than Mad Jack McMad, the winner of this year’s Mr Madman competition.

Why am I quoting famous quips from the Blackadder canon? Because it’s mad, that’s why.

I’ve seen a lot of nonsense in this world, and not much makes me simultaneously snort with derision and sigh with despair.

But the self-aggrandising government scheme to send representatives from every secondary school in the country to the First World War trenches is a real stinker, isn’t it?

It’s going to cost more than £5 million to ship two ‘student ambassadors’ and a teacher from every school over to the battlefields of Northern France, and at first you might think it all sounds like a jolly good idea.

Hold hard, though. Just two pupils and one teacher? That doesn’t sound like the best use of stretched education resource to me.

And let’s not even start counting up the number of secondary schools that have run history field trips to the trenches in recent years, where this daft idea will literally be covering old ground.

The idea is to teach today’s teenagers about the sacrifice made by people in their communities 100 years ago. Fair enough.

But, and correct me if I am wrong, there is already a very visible way of teaching people about the horror and the human cost of the madness that gripped Europe – not quite the world, but enough far-flung countries were dragged into the mess to justify the title – between 1914 and 1918.

It’s called a war memorial, and I think you’ll find there’s one a lot closer to every secondary school in the country than the battlefields themselves.

I’ll agree that standing in a war cemetery on the other side of the Channel, or even exploring the sanitised trench systems which have been preserved, is a solemn experience that provides plenty of food for thought.

But it’s no more solemn than standing in front of the war memorial around the corner, and contemplating all those young lives snuffed out, how many share the same surname, wondering how they met their ends and whether they thought it was worth it, or even had much idea of what they were doing there in the first place.

Here’s a not so mad idea – get secondary school pupils to adopt their nearest war memorial, research the biographies of the heroes whose names are listed, learn about the men who marched away and those they left behind. That would be far cheaper, much easier to organise, and include more people.

And if they want to find out more, then they could do worse than start with the final series of Blackadder, which has plenty of sobering truth hiding in among the jokes.

Beyond that, there’s a huge body of factual history, fiction, films and documentaries that will tell you all you need to know about the First World War.

A jolly across the Channel isn’t the way to make sure that we all know about that terrible period, and more importantly that we all learn the lessons of that cataclysmic conflict.