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World War 2 is probably the biggest topic in modern history that your children will work on at school.
However, they won't just learn about dates and facts - cultural topics, such as World War 2 poems, will also be taught during KS2. Children will learn about the different types of poetry that were prominent in the period, the techniques used to write them and the most famous war poems.
English poetry reflected the different stages of World War 2, right from the start of the war in 1939, to the Battle of Britain in 1940, right through to victory in 1945. This makes it a fascinating and important topic to learn about. This guide will help you to discover the basics of English World War 2 poetry so that you can help your child with their KS2 homework. It also provides some ideas and inspiration for how you can explore the topic further together at home.
Different Types Of World War Two Poetry
The war poetry written during World War II reflected the events going on at the time. Earlier poems tend to reference disbelief at the scale of the conflict, while those written later become more mournful.
One type of World War 2 poetry that will come up in KS2 English is Blitz poetry. This a genre of poetry all about the heavy and frequent bombing attacks on London and other cities during the war.
This type of poetry often used a technique called personification (when an object is described as doing something like a human or with human-like qualities). If used well, the technique can make the poem very powerful and it allows the poet to create strong imagery in an emotive way. War planes and bombings are already very powerful images, but by using personification we can make those planes, bombs and people more vivid and striking. Explaining this is a good way to remind your child that the aim of poetry is to paint a vivid image with words and that a poem does not always need to rhyme to be successful.
Some war poems were written by the soldiers themselves. These poems often talk about the atrocities seen on the front line and how witnessing this has affected the poet's mind.
Other war poems depict the horrors of the Holocaust. We should approach this subject with particular care with children - while it's an important historical event, the awful treatment of the victims may not be suitable for younger kids to read about and it may leave older children with many important questions which must be handled sensitively. The events were so traumatic that many Holocaust poems do not go into too much detail, instead, focusing on the rawness of human emotions. Many Holocaust poems were still written long after the war had ended, with some even created by the children of the surviving victims about the effect that the Holocaust had on their parents.
Figurative language is often used in World War 2 poetry. Common techniques include similes (comparing one thing to something else), metaphors (talking about something as if it is something else) and personification as discussed above.
Teachers like to reference AANVA (adjective, adjective, noun, verb, adverb) when teaching poetry. This is a structure that children are encouraged to use to creating exciting sentences when writing poems. Can your kids identify this structure in any examples of WW2 poetry?
Famous World War II Poems For Children
It is important to take the time to look at these poems yourself before discussing them with your child. The atrocities of war can have an impact on children, so please consider this when discussing WW2 poetry with kids.
We've selected a few World War II poems that English teachers may have introduced to your child in class.
September 1, 1939
This war poem by the famous poet W.H. Auden is a good starting point, as it depicts the very beginning of the conflict. Despite being one of his most famous poems, the author himself later criticised it and left it out of his Collected Shorter Poems in 1966. The full poem is quite long, so here is the first verse to get started:
I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.
That Night Of Death
The following Blitz poem, by John J. Rattigan, was written in 1940. Rattigan was in the Army at the time of the November 1940 air raid on Coventry.
Who can forget that night of death,
Wrought by the sky devil's fiery breath,
Who can forget that night of pain,
Dealt out by a madman's twisted brain.
We shall not forget as our homes we rebuild,
On bomb-scarred ground where innocent were killed,
We shall not forget as we look at the land,
Where once stood a building so stately and grand.
Even God's house is not safe from this Hun,
Who bombs and destroys at the setting of the sun.
So let him send over his cowardly hordes,
Who shatter the homes of paupers and Lords,
That night was severe, there is no doubt,
We had a hard blow, but they can't knock us out.
For our men are of steel, our women won't kneel,
Nor children for mercy plea.
A new hope will arise, when the world is free,
From the rubble and ashes of Coventry.
The Death Of The Ball Turret Gunner
The below poem was written by American soldier Randall Jarrell at the end of the war in 1945 and shows a perspective of the war outside Britain.
From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.
First They Came...
This poem by German pastor Martin Niemöller is Holocaust poem from a different perspective. It is about the cowardice of certain clergy (including himself) during the Nazis' rise to power. It was written in 1950 and was originally a confessional text before being adapted as a poem:
First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me
World War Two Poetry Activities For Children
Now you've started to look at World War 2 poetry it is time to explore them in more detail together. Choose a couple of poems about the war, the Blitz or the Holocaust and see if your child can identify where each one has used personification, similes, metaphors and the AANVA structure.
You could also unleash your child's creative side by getting their paintbrushes out and seeing if they can paint a real picture of the images depicted in one of the poems you've discussed. Be careful not to use a poem that contains graphic imagery.
Finally, you could both have a go at writing your own World War 2 poetry, using the pieces you've explored for inspiration as well as your shared historical knowledge of the war. For example, you could write a poem from the perspective of a soldier on the front line (use their voice, consider their emotions and the images they are likely to have seen). Try to use personification in your poem and play around with metaphors and similes.
Despite living in London for more than 10 years, Becky is a countryside lover at heart. After growing up in the Yorkshire Dales, she relocated to the capital to continue her journalism career before finally settling in West Sussex in 2019. Mum to a chatty toddler (and a middle-aged cat), if she's not being forced to sing nursery rhymes she can be found watching live sport with a nice cup of tea.