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Despite initial hopes that the First World War would be over quickly, it lasted for four years from 1914 until 1918. There have been many films produced about this period in history, some of which have been for children.


  • With a partner, talk about other films you may have watched or heard of that deal with a similar period in the past.  What do you know about this period and what is the focus of some of the films set during this time?
  • Now watch Michael Morpurgo explain why he has chosen to set another of his novels during the First World War.
  • After viewing, discuss with a partner the points raised by Michael Morpurgo that you find the most interesting. Give reasons for your choices. If you have time, visit this Imperial War Museum site to find out more.

2012 © Eagle Media Group. All Rights Reserved.

Michael Morpurgo interview transcript


Well, I think World War… World War I, 1914, actually, was the cusp of history. I mean politically what it was was the great European powers coming together to try and sort out who was the big boy. Er, this had followed a period of European dominance of the world through - through our empires for 100 years and more in our case, more. And life, to some extent was, in England, was quite settled at that moment.

There was - there was clearly a class, a system which was, by and large, accepted, there was a certain kind of prosperity. It was, to some extent, you could say at that moment for many people a green and pleasant land.

People who, for instance, lived in my village, where I come from, had been farming the land at that time with the same church and the same pub and in the same sort of way for hundreds and hundreds of years, since Saxon time, and with the horse, you know. Everything was done by hand and with the horse.

Then what comes along is this massive conflict which draws everyone in to it, at the same time as the technology of was was rushing in to this extraordinary ability to - that we had discovered to destroy ourselves really quickly.

So you had machine guns and you had massive shells and you had barbed wire. Steel, if you like, had come way beyond the sword and the shield to weapons of mass destruction, that's really what it was, was the first war where there were weapons of mass destruction on this level.

When the horse met the tank, the moment in War Horse, is the moment really when the horse, the old ways, the 1,000 year old ways of fighting wars and ploughing your land, ‘cos tractors were coming in a little bit on the farms as well, that moment was the moment when things were changing around. And then at the same time the access of world power.

Come 1917, and I think it was 1917 and the Americans came in to war, that was the moment when weak and bleeding Europe wasn't coping any more, and in came fresh, young America with its huge industrial base, and actually that was, from that moment on, it was America's world, you know, that's when the American empire building, if you like, began. Certainly the American influence in the world began. And so the whole thing was turned on its head. And, of course, that affected massively society back at home.

Think of women, for instance, suddenly in the First World War, all the men have gone, middle class women found they had to wash up for themselves, cook their own food, things that many of them had never - never had to do.

Others of them were found working in factories, began to earn the money, began to find that they had actually the ability, thank you very much, to do this very nicely myself. And so the men came back from the war to a rather different kind of a woman sometimes, so it was changing socially that  way.

The class system had been really broken down, broken down, because many, many, for instance, officers in the British Army were now working class people, not simply people who'd come out of public schools with money. A huge, huge amount happened very, very quickly. So it's a fascinating period to look back at. And for me, fertile ground, yes, for making stories.