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The lost souls project

The Lost Souls Project was a Heritage Lottery funded project working to connect the children at West Leigh Infants School to a real sense of personal local history by introducing them to the legacy left behind by the people who lived in Southend-on-Sea between 1914 and 1919.  History often seems very remote to young people but if you can link it to children’s town or their family it makes it come alive. The West Leigh Infant School community was particularly interested in learning about the history of Southend during the Great War.  Local volunteer researchers from the Royal British Legion, Essex Society for Family History, the Leigh Society and U3A guided our knowledge about how the airport was transformed during WW1. 


The Lost Souls project focused on the people who fought in the forces and those that lived in Southend during the Great War. We learnt about the pilots who flew from Southend Airport – then Rochford Aerodrome, the fisherman who became a greengrocer in Leigh-on-Sea and a young cricketer who died in Gallipoli. By organising and running volunteer supported sessions in school and then visiting key icons such as Southend Airport, the Leigh Cemetery and other places of interest bought a whole new perspective on the idea of learning about history.

We ran in-class sessions with 2-year groups from the WLIS, Year 1 and Year 2, with a total of 240 children taking part in the project and learning about the heritage of their local area.The first set of sessions was with the four Year 2 classes and was supported by our amazing volunteers.

The children were given sessions on Family History, Memory Boxes, Cemetery Visits, Memorial Rubbing, Memory Trails, Local Visits, Open Days, Family Trees and People of Leigh On Sea. The children particularly liked getting out of the classroom and the Cemetery Visit and Local Site Visits put huge smiles on their faces.
The staff of the WLIS were great at following up our sessions with lessons that took the heritage learning further and built it into studies.

As well as the single class site visits, we organised a day where the whole year of 120+ children visited the London Southend Airport and had an brilliant day with activities that started with airport staff Jo and Jamie checking the children’s passports, then the Royal British Legion had veterans telling the children about their experiences, a very engaging re-enactment of a Great War pilot by actor Michael Deacon, Local Historian Michael Eighteen going into the events of Southend in WW1, the Essex Society for Family History worked with the children to understand the differences between the airport now and in 1918, Peter Rainey from the Vulcan trust explained how the world moved on after the world wars the children saw the wonderfully restored Vulcan bomber that is kept at the airport and local photographer Dean Trotter kept the children laughing with photos of the children in period hats and in class groups.

The day attracted praise from the children, the school, the volunteers and the airport. 20 volunteers gave their time to make the day such a brilliant success.

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