As a pilot of the famous Spitfire fighter planes, Brian MacConnell knows he had one of the more exciting gigs in the Second World War. MacConnell can regale any eager youngster with tales of dive bombing and shooting down enemy aircraft.
But even he can appreciate the challenge facing high school history teachers trying to make the war interesting to today’s wired teens.
“History can be a bore,” MacConnell, 87, says. “My hope is that being a live part of the history of the Second World War might increase their interest.”
MacConnell is one of more than 700 veterans across the country who have participated in The Memory Project: Stories of the Second World War, a growing digital archive of veterans’ personal stories and memorabilia.
“Students are far more interested in face-to-face conversations with veterans than they are with reading textbooks,” says George MacDonnell, who fought with the Canadian army in the Battle of Hong Kong and was a Japanese prisoner of war for nearly four years.
MacDonnell, who has written a book about the battle and his experience as a PoW, has visited nearly 100 high schools in the last decade, trying to help students understand Canada’s involvement in the Pacific.