Military history group’s unique approach to learning

By Greg Piper, U3A Military History Group

The U3A Nunawading Military History Group has a rather unique model of content delivery in its various learning activities. Instead of the traditional top-down delivery of a set syllabus via a lecturer, the group members generate their own content.

The group’s coordinator is Mr Gilbert Foster, and a committee oversees the smooth running of the administration and day-to-day activities, but the actual subject matter is generated and driven by class participation. Over the year, this learning can take many forms, including field excursions to various museums, or facilities that have a historical importance, and debate on a theme, with teams for the yes and no.

Show and tell uncovers military treasures

Show and tell, is where members bring artefacts or present for five minutes on a subject that may relate to a family member, a place, a recollection, or service in the armed forces. These are informal and may lead to group discussions that draw contribution from the class members.

This format has led to items as varied and precious as family diaries, valuable ancient medals from the Crimean War, archery equipment, models of armour from the Middle Ages, and swords recreated from the Roman Empire.

Engaging lectures from guests and class members

Guest lecturers are also invited to enlighten the group on their subject of interest or expertise.

Most of the class time is devoted to half and full class lectures prepared by the members. These may be based on subjects dear to their heart or life experience, and are usually delivered as PowerPoint presentations, although on memorable occasions, we have had bagpipes playing in the library. Often class member-based lectures take months to prepare as public speaking is a demanding task.

Everyone delved into research for the Mock Trial

Another vehicle for delivering content has been the annual Mock Trial where an improvised costume play is used as a vehicle to investigate various historical themes or characters.

The theme for this year’s trial was the bombing of Dresden in the last months of WW2, and was it a war crime, and whether the senior commander of RAF Bomber Command Air Marshall Arthur Harris be considered a war criminal.

The format was a loose recreation of a traditional civilian court with prosecution and defence both calling expert witnesses. It was all done in a light-hearted and often hilarious fashion, but many serious topics were covered too, and members found themselves ‘hitting the books’ in order not to be gazumped by the other side. Competition was a great spur!

Discussing today’s conflicts

In the end, we found ourselves discussing and investigating weighty subjects that are relevant to the world in which we live today, in particular with the conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East.

Like the bombing of innocent civilians and residential areas; the use of prohibited weapons; the breaking of international conventions and treaties; what or who constitutes a war crime; the justification of nation states for the committal of war crimes; the responsibility of chain of command; the operation of the War Crimes Court in the Hague; how the Nuremberg Trials were conducted; and the treatment of POWs.

For anyone interested in registering to join the Military History Group next year, check out the 2024 Course Booklet. The group meets on a Thursday between 9.15 am and 11 am.

See the Military History Group class photo gallery. Photos taken by Greg Piper and Robert Vecci.

<- Previous

Next ->