The First World War was a turning point in world history, the first truly global conflict. It claimed the lives of millions of people and had a lasting impact on those who lived through it, an impact that is still felt today.
To commemorate the centenary of the Great War, Never Such Innocence was founded to give British children an opportunity to pay tribute to those who were involved in the war through poetry and art.
Now in its fourth and final year, Never Such Innocence runs a competition to engage children aged between 9-16 years old to submit a poem or a piece of artwork.
The charity takes its name from Philip Larkin’s famous poem MCMXIV, which reflects on the changes caused by the First World War.
The competition launch was held on Friday 22nd September in Birmingham and was one of the first events in the build up to the Royal Air Force's Centenary next year, which will mark 100 years since the formation of the world’s first independent air force.
As such, Never Such Innocence and RAF100 will be encouraging children to consider the war in the skies as part of their contribution.
Over 160 children from seven schools across Birmingham attended the event and were invited to recite poetry they have written or perform songs they have written during workshops with Marty Longstaff, of The Lake Poets, and musician, BethZienna, as part of Songs of the Centenary (SOTC).
In addition to the poetry, art and songs performed and displayed at the event, notable speakers and guests included Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier, Chief of the Air Staff. He said: “I am delighted that we have partnered with Never Such Innocence. Through this competition, we can ensure that our children are educated in the events of the First World War. I am looking forward to the roadshow which will be hosted at RAF Stations across the United Kingdom. This is one of many initiatives as part of RAF100, which will help make our centenary a special year”.
Some of Air Training Corps cadets were able to take time away from school to form a guard of honour. It gave the schoolchildren the chance to see people only a little older than themselves wearing an RAF uniform and performing competently as the professionals. The opportunity to talk and take a photo with Sir Stephen made the experience even more memorable for the cadets.
The driving force behind Never Such Innocence is Lady Lucy French, great-granddaughter of Field Marshal Sir John French who commanded the British Expeditionary Forces from 1914-15. She said: “It has been an extraordinary three years and I am delighted to be in Birmingham to launch our fourth and final competition. We aim to engage and inspire more children in our competition than ever before as we look to the end of the centenary.”
The Never Such Innocence competition is free to enter and provide free resources to all schools, including a resource booklet on the First World War which provides information about many different themes of the War to inspire children to enter the competition.