New programme looks at diverse identities of First World War soldiers

Summary

Brussels’ two universities and the Go! education network have launched a project to make First World War history speak to all pupils, including those with an immigrant background

‘Make this history their own’

Hundreds of primary school pupils from Brussels visited the campus of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) yesterday to take part in a ceremony to honour the victims of the First World War. The event was meant to recognise the role of soldiers from regions where many of Brussels schoolkids also have roots.

The university, together with its French-speaking counterpart ULB and the Go! education network, simultaneously launched the new project Molem’back to the future. The event and the project – launched just ahead of the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War – put the spotlight on soldiers from regions such as North and Central Africa, the Middle East and Asia who fought in the war.

According to the universities, these soldiers are often overlooked during memorials and commemorations of the Great War in Belgium. Many of these soldiers either came to western Europe or fought on front lines closer to home.

“For many children with an immigrant background, these stories are essential in understanding the role their own ancestors played in the First World War and to make this history their own,” said VUB in a statement.

Molem’back to the future will host activities addressing this history as well as provide educational materials to teachers. “Molem’back to the future commemorates the end of the First World War from a variety of angles and from a non-Belgian perspective,” explains VUB history professor Joost Vaesen. “What did the residents of Molenbeek go through during the war, and what were the consequences of the war on them? How do we today address the same themes that they faced, such as war refugees? The goal of this programme is to not only illustrate this history but create connections between the past and the present.”

First World War

Claiming the lives of more than nine million people and destroying entire cities and villages in Europe, the Great War was one of the most dramatic armed conflicts in human history. It lasted from 1914 to 1918.
Flanders Field - For four years, a tiny corner of Flanders known as the Westhoek became one of the war’s major battlefields.
Untouched - Poperinge, near Ypres, was one of the few towns in Flanders that remained unoccupied for most of the war.
Cemetery - The Tyne Cot graveyard in Passchendaele is the largest Commonwealth cemetery in the world.
550 000

lives lost in West Flanders

368 000

annual visitors to the Westhoek

1 914

First Battle of Ypres