Few words come sweeter to kids than “don’t use the spoon, just use your hands…” so with those instructions cordially issued, I knew my girls were on to a winner as new recruits to the Black Watch Museum’s Explorer’s Club.
‘Tastes from the Trenches’ is the latest in a series of monthly hands-on, exploratory experiences from the Museum designed for children aged 7-12. Over the course of two action-packed hours, my daughters Eliza, 9 and Penny, 8 alongside their fellow explorers would get a peek into life in the trenches of World War I.
The afternoon’s chief assignment? To make and bake a ‘trench cake’...
But the afternoon’s chief assignment? To make and bake a ‘trench cake’……….
Queue aprons, bowls and spoons. While weighing flour and feverishly shaking cocoa powder they learned that trench cake became a much-anticipated luxury treat from home for many front line soldiers more used to a trench diet of canned meat and teeth-shattering biscuits.
When encouraged to plunge hands into bowls to knead their mixtures, the explorers didn’t need asked twice. Gleefully they followed baking orders from Learning and Audience Officer Carol-Anne Mackenzie who sprinkled nuggets of history while the children worked.
Did you know eggs weren’t often used for baking during the war as they were considered too expensive? And that the vinegar the kids were so liberally splashing (oh, really quite liberally in my kids’ case) into their creations proved a necessary preservative to stop cakes from spoiling en route to the front line.
After obligatory finger-licking, the mixtures were ready for baking while the explorers were introduced to Private Angus McNiven direct from the trenches of World War I and masterfully played by Museum volunteer Jan Radford for the next part of their adventure.
In full attire, Private McNiven led the group to the exploratory trench in the Museum’s grounds. Enraptured pairs of eyes swept the trench as a grim picture was sketched through stories of rats, mud, piercing cold, relentless rain and the decomposing bodies of fallen soldiers.
The Explorer’s Club works brilliantly to make history a livelier, sensory experience.
Huddling in the dugout the kids were shown typical trench rations – bread, stinky cheese, delicately-named ‘dog vomit’ (meat and veg in a can) and navy proof rum (for warmth and cheer!). Private McNiven explained how soldiers warmed tea with candle stumps, using the final inch of a lukewarm cuppa to give their faces a much-needed wash.
Front line soldiers were on duty an average of five days with jobs including manning the periscope, trench repairs, and, particularly in a Private’s case, clearing out the ‘toilet’, on hourly rotation.
With appetites whetted, the explorers returned to the Museum to sample their baking and take them home in time for lucky grannies and mums on Mother’s Day! Isn’t it the thought that counts?!
The Explorer’s Club works brilliantly to make history a livelier, sensory experience – less dates, facts and figures and more an opportunity for kids to feel, touch and taste their way through this fascinating period.
As for us, we’ll be back! My kids loved it and takeaways from the day included of course, their very own (rather vinegar-y) trench cake, a couple of cool Explorers Club t-shirts and perhaps most notably, a profound appreciation for Andrex toilet tissue…
For more information on the Museum Explorer’s Club and to book a place on their next adventure contact The Black Watch Castle and Museum >
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