Learning about War: Using BBC Video to Teach the Second World War

The Second World War dominates the landscape of the twentieth century. Just over two decades after the ‘war to end all wars’, Europe was again plunged into turmoil following the German invasion of Poland. What followed was one of the most destructive wars in history.

soldier at warLearning about war is key to understanding the events of the twentieth century, which irrevocably changed the future as well as the map of Europe. Video can give substance to these world-altering events and gives students a real sense of what it must have been like to experience them first-hand.

BBC Active has a range of series which are an effective way of learning about war. BBC programmes can be shown publicly for use in education and training with a licence from BBC Active. History videos are engaging and help students to visualise wartime scenarios and bring events to life. The use of video in education helps make learning more memorable for many students.

The following videos from the BBC are ideal history teaching resources to supplement classroom and textbook learning:

D-Day to Berlin

group of soldiers at war - educational video imageThis is a series of history videos for GCSE students which examines Allied military operations from D-Day to VE Day through the accounts of some of the British, American and German soldiers involved in the great military offensives which were to change the course of history in Europe.

Episodes from the BBC Series D-Day to Berlin:

The Struggle to Break Out – Episode 1 In this first episode we learn how the buoyant mood which followed the success of the D-Day landings soon gave way to grim reality as Allied troops found themselves embroiled in some of the bitterest battles since World War I. Sixty thousand men were killed or wounded in the first three weeks alone. It was clear that the Allies were facing a skilful enemy, and the Germans’ superior power in the form of their Tiger tanks was hitting Allied ground forces hard. It was Allied air power which eventually turned the tide and by August 1944, with the German army in full retreat, Allied victory seemed assured.

Allies at War – Episode 2

soldiers equipped for battle - learning about warThey had succeeded in liberating Paris, but the Allied generals could not agree on how to conquer Germany itself. This episode examines the rift between Eisenhower and Montgomery using eyewitnessaccounts and first-hand written sources. Archive and drama sequences bring to life the bloody Battle of the Bulge and Monty’s ill-fated attempt to capture a strategic bridge over the Rhine which resulted in the loss of more than 10,000 British troops at Arnhem.

The Dream that Died – Episode 3

In this episode, some of the German veterans who resisted the Allied advance give their account of the final months of the war. But with Hitler dead and British and American forces advancing on the Germans from the west and Soviet troops from the east, the only path open to Germany is unconditional surrender. Against this backdrop, Stalin and Roosevelt agree on a plan to divide post-war Germany. Was Goebbels’ prediction that the dream of a new world order would lead to Europe being divided by an ‘iron curtain’ set to come true?

Carrie’s War

This 2004 adaptation of  the popular 1973 children’s novel by Nina Bawden follows the fortunes of young Carrie Willow and her brother Nick during their evacuation to Wales in World War Two. Carrie and Nick are sent to stay with the bullying Mr Evans and his sister, whom they come to affectionately call “Auntie Lou”. Carrie’s War is a heart-warming tale in which the children meet a host of colourful characters and befriend a fellow evacuee. This enchanting drama is an excellent means of learning about war from a child’s point of view.

Time to Remember

HitlerThis educational series brings the first half of the twentieth century to vivid life through the use of iconic and evocative British Pathé newsreel footage. Time to Remember captures the momentous events which transformed the Western world between 1896 and 1945. Teachers may recall the ground-breaking 1960s series of the same name; this 2011 update features much of the narrative by renowned actors which contributed to the success of the original.

Body Hunters – Missing in Action

Body Hunters is one of the BBC’s history teaching resources about Americans in World War Two and Vietnam. Unlike other countries, the US continues to actively search for its war dead. This programme looks at the activities of the Joint Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Command team (JPAC) and focuses on their search for the bodies of two pilots shot down during Operation Rolling Thunder during the Vietnam War - a search which the widow of one of the pilots wants to stop.

Through Hell for Hitler

Through Hell for Hitler is the dramatic real-life story of Henry Metelmann, in which he relates his experiences of growing up in Nazi Germany. We journey with Henry from his days in the Hitler Youth to his conscription into the Wehrmacht, in which he saw action in the Crimea and the Battle of Stalingrad. He speaks frankly about the Nazi atrocities in which he confesses to being involved and how he gradually came to the realisation that the Nazi cause was unjust. Through first-person narrative and drama, we witness Henry’s evolution from proud Hitler Youth to staunch peace activist. This is a fascinating insight into the involvement of ordinary people in war, and its effect on them.

Codebreaker - Bletchley Park's Lost Heroes

This history documentary reveals the previously secret story of mathematician Bill Tutte and engineer Tommy Flowers, the men behind the world’s first programmable computer, Colossus. The Timewatch documentary reveals how Tutte cracked the complex code of Hitler’s personal communications to help win World War Two.

These history teaching resources can be used for educational and training purposes or at exhibitions and seminars with a licence from BBC Active.  A full range of vibrant and engaging videos to assist with learning about war is available.