Posted by: Bill Lord | July 18, 2010

Second World War resources

I have been working with some teachers recently looking at supporting them in their planning for forthcoming topics.

IWM London

I have decided to extend this work to develop a slightly more cross curricular set of links to resources and web links although as ever the main thrust will be Literacy and ICT but I have sought to include resources for a wider curriculum.

In this post I am looking at the Second World War.


My secret war diary – Marcia Williams: It is almost impossible to describe the wonder of this diary. It is of such quality that it really could be the true diary of Flossie Albright recounting her war years, as the daughter of a soldier fighting in France, whilst she lives on a large estate encountering rationing, evacuees, land girls and other key elements of World War 2. With photographs, captions, diagrams and illustrations the book is as powerful a non fiction tool for study of the period as an enchanting read.

The Greatest Skating Race – Louise Borden A beautifully illustrated book telling the true story of Piet who has always wanted to skate in the Elfstedentocht ice skating race on frozen canals. It is 1941 and he  finds himself skating taking two young Jewish children to safety away from occupied Holland.

The Little Ships – Louise Borden and Michael Foreman Another beautifully illustrated Borden book telling the story of the little ships and their evacuation of a third of a million troops from the beaches of Dunkirk.

Across the Pacific – Louise Borden This time Louise Borden tells the story of her uncle and his war-time experiences serving on a submarine.

Rose Blanche – Ian McEwan and Roberto Innocenti I am sure that most people reading this blog will be aware of this wonderful book by Ian McEwan with the evocative illustrations by Innocenti. This is one of those books which could support  some incredible dialogic work around war-time experiences.

Erika’s Story – Ruth Vander Zee and Roberto Innocenti Translated from the original Dutch this book is another picture book brought to life by Innocenti’s illustrations. Erika and her family are sent to almost certain death in a cattle rail truck and they try to save her life by throwing her to safety. Erika was taken to a woman who risked her life to care for this baby giving her a new life and safe identity. This is Erika’s story of survival and courage during World War II. This would need some discussion and time but a great book for older junior children.

World War II – Simon Adams Another book which is probably known to many British readers but a good staple non fiction book with excellent images as well as text.

The Boy in the striped pyjamas – John Boyne A book which would also go into the list for excellent transition from book to film. A wonderful book to read to children  not to study, not to deconstruct but to simply to listen to and be transported to another world.

Party Shoes – Noel Streatfield An old classic written more than forty years ago telling the story of Selina who is evacuated to live with her aunt and uncle. The story is set with a background of the war but centres around her receipt of a party dress and shoes from her godmother in America.

The Machine Gunners – Robert Westall Another classic of the Second World War which should not be overlooked. This is an edgy book which should be matched carefully to the right child. It tells the story of Chas McGill who lives in the North East and whose life revolves around moving up from having the second best collection of war souvenirs in his town of Garmouth. Then one night a German plane crashes into the woods and Chas adds the shiny, black machine gun to add to his collection. This story works on a whole range of levels and covers many of the issues of living in war-time England. It also includes the wonderful quote “Some bright kid’s got a gun and 2000 rounds of live ammo. And that gun’s no peashooter. It’ll go through a brick wall at a quarter of a mile.”

The book was dramatised by the BBC schools department for radio transmission in 2008. It is available with teacher notes here.

I have found some wonderful clips on YouTube from the BBC dramatisation of the book which was made in 1993.

Episode One Part One

Episode One Part Two

Classic moment from the series and book

Fathom Five – Robert Westall The sequel to The Machine Gunners finds Chas and many of the characters from the first book suspecting that there is a German spy in Garmouth.

Linked website – Westall’s War.
Steve Bunce of Vital very kinded tweeted me a link to this wonderful site created by the Tyne and Wear Archives Service and the Gateshead Grid for Learning.

At 11.12 pm on Saturday May 3rd 1941 the Air Raid Alert sounded over North Shields. Locals hurried as usual to the air raid shelter beneath Wilkinson’s lemonade factory. At midnight, a single bomb from a lone German raider scored a direct hit on the three storey building. Walls, machinery and debris collapsed into the shelter. 107 people, 41 of them children under 16, were killed. It was the worst bombing incident in North East England during World War II.

The site is the most incredbily detailed recount using a range of sources and archive materials to allow pupils to research what happened, the implications and the impact. A highly recommended resource even if your class is not in the North East.

Westall's War

The D-Day Experience – Richard Holmes (in association with Imperial War Museum) This box set written by Professor Richard Holmes in conjunction with the IWM and with access to many of their resources and archives. This will bring to life the enormity of the D-day invasion  through to the liberation of Paris with facsimiles documents. The box set has a detailed book and then copies of many different resources including maps, RAF pilot’s flying logs, copies of soldiers note books, letters and guarantees of Safe conduct for surrendered German troops.

The book could be used in conjunction with clips such as this below from the History channel

Johnnie’s Blitz – Bernard Ashley I love Bernard Ashley’s writing and don’t think he ever gets it wrong! This book tells the story of blitz torn London and a young boy called Johnnie branded a thief and on the run who takes on the care of a traumatized three year old girl called Shirley. She has no-one to look after her and he takes her to safety meeting a range of people.  Like so many of these books the war provides a strong setting to explore the human spirit and how people react at times of crisis.

The War and Freddy – Dennis Hamley This book tells the story of Freddy and how he is affected by the war at the age of 3. This book works very well with lower juniors (aged 7 to 9) in bringing to life the enormity of the effect that the Second World War had on everyone in Britain.

Hitler’s Canary – Sandi Toksvig Another book which could be used with Lower Juniors this tells the true story of the author’s grandparents. It is a warm and realistic recount of how life in Denmark was completely changed by the war and how the Toksvig’s eccentric family took part in one of history’s most dramatic rescues – smuggling Denmark’s Jewish population, across the water to Sweden, and safety.

Friend or Foe – Michael Morpurgo A fantastic book for reading aloud but also one which could drive a topic in Lower Juniors. It tells the story of two boys who are evacuated from London to the safety of the countryside well away from the war. Then one they hear the noise of an air raid and then the war comes to them and brings them face to face with their hated enemy. It also forces them to consider whether they can overcome their hatred.
The book gives great opportunities for speaking and listening activities and taking this into drama. This could include recreating the scenes of the children leaving home and arriving at the village hall prior to finding out who they would live with. After role-playing this in detail and taking images of the drama work and making sound recording this could be taken in work on plays creating a class playscript.

Billy the Kid – Micheal Morpurgo and Michael Foreman A book, told in flashback,  where Billy the Kid is 80 today, and looks back over his life. His adventures include going off to war, living rough as a tramp, and best of all, being picked to play football for Chelsea. A perfect mixture of Morpurgo’s prose and Foreman’s sublime artwork.

The Silver Sword – Ian Serraillier A classic novel from 1957 about the flight from Warsaw of three children whose parents had been taken away separately. It is a tale of hope, friendship, character and love. They travel together towards Switzerland, where they believe they will be reunited with their parents, they encounter many hardships and dangers. This extraordinarily moving account of an epic journey gives a remarkable insight into the reality of life in war-torn Europe.

Goodnight Mr Tom – Michelle Magorian This book is now almost 30 years old and is known and loved  by many readers across the world.  The book in simplest terms tells the story of Willie Beech evacuated to live with the eponymous Mr Tom who neither knew that he was going to receive a child nor wanted to do so. The book is a real journey as we see Willie develop under the care and love of Tom. This is not a comfortable read and should be saved for Upper Juniors or older.
The reach of the book was also widened by the ITV adaptation of the book for a TV drama in the UK starring John Thaw. The film was well received but did simplify the book omitting some of the important sub plots and agendas. It is important that, where the book is used, children experience the whole text before accessing the film. It is also important that they do access the whole book and that the film is not used instead in order to show extracts from the book in isolation and out of context.

These clips from the TV film may be useful to accompany reading the whole text.

Interview with Michelle Magorian

War Boy: A wartime childhood – Michael Foreman
Michael Foreman tells the story of his own childhood growing up in a quiet seaside town in Suffolk, right in the front line of the German bombers in World War Two. There’s the gang life as the Hill Street gang try to outwit the Ship Road gang, there are games to play with gas masks and, above all, there’s the delight of giant gobstoppers. A glorious portrait of a childhood from an extraordinary time.
A clip of the author reading an extract

After the war was over – Michael Foreman This book is the sequel to War Boy and sees Foreman living in a world where the war is ending and the country moves forward. The Victory celebrations give way to a clear up (of bomb sites and defences) and big changes in lifestyle for the nation. From Foreman’s viewpoint as a young boy we see him growing up and discovering girls, music, football and art. This book provides a wonderful introduction for children to this historical period.

Carrie’s War – Nina Bawden Another story of evacuation which studies the relationship of the characters within it. The three evacuees of the story Albert, Carrie and Nick find themselves in a strange world of which they try to make sense and to make better. The story is narrated by the adult Carrie to her children as she remembers the events and her actions from years before.

The play adaptation of the book is touring the UK in the autumn on 2010. Details

Interview with actors and author before the opening of the stage adaptation.

The Lion and the Unicorn – Shirley Hughes No list of books about the Second World War could be without this beautifully illustrated book by Hughes. Lenny’s father goes off to fight in the second world war and he gives his son a brass badge with a lion and a unicorn on it. Lenny keeps it with him when bombs are dropped on his street and when he has to be evacuated to a big house in the country. During his unhappy time he escapes the misery through visiting a secret garden which has a stone unicorn. A touching and challenging story.

When Hitler stole Pink Rabbit – Judith Kerr The true story of  young girl and how her understanding of the world and her life is changed by the onset of war. It is the story of a childhood which can never be the same and falls into the must read category as combined with the historical setting, the reality of the situation there is a warmth and humour which captures children from right at the start until the end of the book. A great read aloud.

Once – Morris Gleitzman
This book and the two sequels are inspired by members of Gleitzman’s extended Jewish family who lived in Krakow in Poland. Whilst it is a fictional account of the life of a young Jewish boy, Felix,  after his parents place him in an orphanage as a safe haven during the war.  The book is told in first person narration by Felix as he decides to run away to find them and so begins the trilogy. On the journey he finds Zelda (a 6 year old girl) who takes under his wing and who he has to placate with stories on regular occasions during their ordeals. A book which allows you to step into the mind of a young boy in perilous circumstances.

Question and answer session with Morris Gleitzman on the BBC Newsround site

Hear the author read the first chapter

Then – Morris Gleitzman
In this sequel to Once, Felix finds refuge for a time with  Zelda. Grumpy turnip-digging Gernia takes them in to her farm as nephew and niece, bleaching their hair and re-naming them as non-Jewish-sounding Wilhelm and Violetta.

Hear the author read the first chapter

Now – Morris Gleitzman
Gleitzman brought the story to the present day by visiting the Felix’s grand-daughter, Zelda, and her life. This time Gleitzman based his story during the appalling bushfires of February 2009 when several townships near Melbourne were totally destroyed by fire. Although not set in the Second World War it would be wrong not to complete the trilogy and experience more of Gleitzman’s powerful writing.

Hear Anne-Marie Fahey read the first chapter
Read the first chapter

Morris Gleitzman cites a range of texts as the inspiration and texts he read on his journey to writing this trilogy. (These are of interest to the teachers rather than being intended to read to children)

Tail end Charlie – Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom From one of the better pairings of author and illustrators in the UK we have Manning retelling the stories he heard in his childhood from his father who had served as an RAF airgunner in the Second World War. They have lovingly recreated each of the stories for their children (Charlie’s grandchildren)  and children all over the world.

Memorial – Gary Crew and Shaun Tan A Moreton Bay Fig tree, planted as a memorial to Australian soldiers killed in World War I, looks set to be cut down by the local council. A young boy tells the moving story of the tree, as related by his great-grandfather, grandfather and father, each of whom has participated in wars over the years. Whilst the book commemorates originally the sacrifices made in the First World War it explores the service of Anzac soldiers since then and how communities remember their fallen.
Poetry (Please use these for reference rather than sharing with children due to the adverts on the sites)
Poems for Remembrance Sunday World War Two poems

The National Archives

The National Archives provide wonderful source materials and resources to use during history topics and should be an early port of call for any school looking to study British or Commonwealth history.

Here are some of their resources which could bring a World War II topic to life:

The Art of War

The Home Front

Lesson resources
There are three sets of resources designed to get children using primary sources to come to conclusions about events in WWII.

The British response to V1 and V2 rocket attacks

Evacuation to Shropshire

What was it like to be an airman in WWII?

Squadron Leader Mahinder Singh Pujii

The amazing story of an Indian Sikh who decided to travel across the world to fight in the Royal Air Force as a fighter pilot.

Mahinder Singh Pujii


Chotie Darling A wonderful blog project where the love letters of Lt. R.K. Williams to his wartime sweetheart are being released in real time 70 years to the day of their writing. A wonderful resource and insight into war-time experiences.

Click to open the site

Additional film resources

World War Two told in 80 seconds

Rare colour film of the D Day invasion

Videos of evacuees

The evacuation of shipbuilding town of Sunderland – one of the most bombed places in the UK.

Peace in our time

Chamberlain’s declaration of war

Churchill speech “We shall fight them on the beaches…” (post Dunkirk evacuation)

Churchill speech “Never in the field of conflict…”

Churchill speech on German surrender

World War Two sites on Google Earth

Second World War Art

Propaganda Posters

Propaganda posters

Keep Calm and Carry On

Keep Calm and Carry On

Book Chook suggested the web site Keep Calm and Carry On website which allows you to create your own poster – unfortunately you do need to be careful with the use as it does archive previous posters by other users some of which may contain swearing so the site will need to be supervised for children’s use.

Second World War Music

Vera Lynn – When the Lights go on again

Vera Lynn – White Cliffs of Dover

Vera Lynn – We’ll Meet Again

303 Squadron

This wonderful online game from Channel Four  brings to life the story of 303 Squadron: 34 Polish fighter pilots who overturned RAF prejudices to earn their chance to fight in the Battle of Britain, in which they shot down 126 Luftwaffe aircraft.

The game is here

Further details

Museum websites

Imperial War Museum
The Imperial War Museum is the source of many resources and artefacts. They have digitized many of them and made them available online including the art work of Edward Ardizzone. By clicking on the image on the site below you will be able to access the collection.

Imperial War Museum Collection

It is important to remember that the Imperial War Museum has several locations which could be locations for school visits. They also have more specific resources on their websites.

IWM London

IWM HMS Belfast

IWM RAF Duxford

IWM Churchill War Rooms

IWM North (Manchester)

Stockport Air Raid tunnels

Did you know that Stockport sits on top of mile upon mile of tunnels? The network of tunnels, nearly a mile long, was hewn out of the red sandstone hills on which Stockport stands, to provide air raid shelters for 6,500 during the Second World War. The link will take you to the website of the museum which has some amazing facts and images.

Stockport Air raid Shelters

The RAF Hornchurch Project
Website of one of the most significant British war time airfield (for both WWI and WWII).

What was life like in the Second World War?
An excellent resource aimed at Junior aged child to use independently or as a whole class.

The Second World War Experience Centre
A website which collects and collates the personal experiences of people who lived or fought in the Second World War. A good resource for teachers.

The Second World War in Northern Ireland
This website lets you explore how the Second World War affected people in Northern Ireland.  It provides access to objects, documents, images, audio and film that bring their experiences to life and testify to their courage.

Johannes Koelz

The artist who refused to paint Hitler
This is the online version of a popular exhibition by Leicester City Museum Service. Fragments of a Koelz triptych were given to the City by Koelz’ daughter who lived nearby. This generous act began a growing exhibition project which has resulted in a re-appraisal of the work of a courageous and significant German artist.

The Battle of Britain
MSN has teamed up with Shoothill to present an interactive overview of the Battle of Britain. Zoom into a mosaic of archive images and documents; compare present-day maps with maps and charts showing bomb damage during the Blitz; and view high-resolution Photosynths of iconic RAF aircraft.

Redcar becomes Dunkirk
In 2007 the film ‘Atonement’ based upon the book by Ian McEwan was released. It depicts, at one point in the film, the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940. The town of Redcar in the North East of England was selected as the most appropriate location to take back 60 years with more than 1,000 extras.

This website shows how they recreated Dunkirk using explanations, photographs and interviews.

Turning Redcar into 1940 Dunkirk

Purple Mash

Purple Mash

I was contacted on the comment section of the blog by Anthony Evans of 2Simple who has shared some of the new Purple Mash resources to support work on the Second World War.

Evacuee letter writing

Rationing in the Second World War

Newspaper report on the blitz

Blitz poem

War on Film (National Archive)
This resource is a wonderful collection of films about war time. You can download the films or stream them from their website.

Carve her name with pride

The Longest Day

The Great Escape

The Man who Never was (Story of Operation Mincemeat)

Hope and Glory

Useful educational web links


Woodlands Junior School site


  1. What a tremendous collection of resources! I think your students might enjoy making a Keep Calm and Carry On Poster as another quick literacy activity -

    • Thanks for that! The resource is a wonderful one but it is important to note that it archives previous posters made which means that at present there is an example with swearing on the front page. This means that the resource would be wonderful for teachers to use to make posters to share with the class but not for use in the classroom by pupils.

  2. Wow Bill you really have surpassed yourself with these amazing blog post.

    Deserves to be a website in its own right!


    • Thanks! It turned out to be a bit of a labour of love and became much bigger than the quick collection of resources that I had intended!!!

  3. Wow! Where to start? I have heard of two of the books you’ve mentioned so it’s great to have a wider range to work with. This is a fantastic collection Bill and one I will be sharing immediately. *Just adding to delicious now…*
    Thank you

  4. Hey thanks a bunch. This will come in very useful.

  5. A hugely comprehensive list Bill, which shows your passion for literature and good pedagogy.

    Cheeky I know but I recntly made a couple of WW2 themed Publish projects which I think are worth a mention.

    They are free to use though logging in will unlock more features.
    Thank you

  6. Brilliant Bill you have just saved me many hours!!! But have now spent a ridiculous amount of time on Youtube watching the clips…! (and a disgusting amount of money at Amazon)
    Any ideas for texts with inks to Eygpt – just been asked and drew a blank..?

    • I have some ideas – will blog later

  7. Wow, What a fabulous collection, many of which I’ve not seen before!
    Love the youtube videos, shame they’re blocked in most schools!

    • I would look at the films from the National Archives on the blog but also look at talking to your school or LA about unblocking YouTube. We allowed it through in our schools with absolutely crystal clear terms of use. Some teachers use work arounds such as Zamzar or YouTube downloader which they use at home.

  8. Hey thanks a bunch. This will come in very useful.

  9. Brilliant resource- thanks Bill. Already shared it with a few people who are planning this theme.

  10. Thank a bunch mate. Very handy info there.

  11. Thank you for the interesting article.

    • No worries – hope it helps

  12. Very nice collection mate.
    I am happy that youtube is not blocked in my school.

    • This is a tricky issue – as I have said before my last school was one which didn’t block YouTube. We looked into it very seriously and trained both staff and children in the use of YouTube and the child protection issues behind it. We only had one issue over three years which was very minor. The benefits greatly outweighed the problems we perceived.

  13. […] I often do I finished with a flag up for my blog post on the Second World War which remains one of my most read posts. Possibly related posts: (automatically […]

  14. Thank you so much for linking to my blog of Dick’s wartime letters and the lovely review you gave Chotie Darling – my stats are soaring!

    • This has made my day! The Chotie blog is wonderful!!!

  15. This will definitely improve our topic. No greater accolade than that.
    Phil Bagge

    • Thanks Phil – I’m glad it will be useful. Do let me know if you know of any links which may be useful that I have missed.

  16. […] here for lots of other Second World War […]

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