Prize-winning Swiss school projects on the First World War

Press release, 07.11.2014

Bern, 07.11.2014 - Three school classes from Liestal, Morges, and Tenero have won prizes in a competition launched in March 2014 by President Burkhalter to mark the start of the First World War one hundred years ago. Pupils from all over Switzerland delved into the First World War and submitted projects. Next week, the winning classes will travel to the Belgian city of Ypres – an important theatre of the First World War – where they will meet with President Didier Burkhalter on 14 November.

Black and white photograph of a group of soldiers and cooks of the Swiss Armed Forces taken during the First World War. © Keystone
Swiss Armed Forces soldiers and cooks in an undated photograph from the First World War. Keystone

The winners of this competition on the topic of the First World War, which was open to all post-compulsory school classes (e.g. vocational schools, cantonal schools/upper-secondary baccalaureate schools and upper-secondary specialised schools), are class 3MHi1 of the Gymnase de Morges (VD), class 3MA of the Scuola professionale per sportivi d’elite in Tenero (TI), and class  2IM of the Gymnasium Liestal (BL). The 37 projects submitted by school classes since March were judged to be excellent by a panel of experts. The three winning projects are:

  • "A day in August 1917, stories make history" (class 2IM, Gymnasium Liestal): Based on documents held in the Basel State Archives, the pupils wrote stories set on 30 August 1917, a day when demonstrations against the war were held in several Swiss towns. These fictional stories depict the fate of ordinary people in Switzerland during the First World War.

  • "Letters to Henriette Rémi and others" (class 3MHi1, Gymnase de Morges): the school class used Henriette Rémi’s book "Hommes sans visages" (Men without Faces) as an inspiration to examine the First World War. The pupils wrote readers’ letters to the author in which they discussed the book and other documents about the 1914-1918 period. The book recounts a young woman's work in a hospital ward for seriously injured victims of the war. 

  • "CH 14-14" (Scuola professionale per sportivi d’elite Tenero): The school class from Tenero produced a video that shows the impact of the First World War on future international relations and its influence on Switzerland's future role in the areas of international humanitarian law and the peaceful resolution of conflicts. 

By exploring on the First World War, these projects aim to make these decisive years tangible to people today. The competition also aimed to launch a discussion on the topics of conflict prevention, peace-building, disarmament, and respect for humanitarian law. In August, seven school classes selected by random draw visited International Geneva (Palais des Nations and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum), where they met with President Burkhalter, who has made young people a special focus of his presidency. The pupils were also received in Geneva by the Acting Director General of the United Nations Office at Geneva Michael Møller and by Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

On 14 and 15 November, the three winning classes  – one from each of Switzerland's language regions  – will visit Ypres, a city that was devastated in the First World War. Around half a million lives were lost during the battle of Ypres, the first time that chemical weapons were used on a large scale.

In the afternoon of 14 November 2014, the pupils will have the opportunity to discuss their impressions and questions with President Burkhalter. Following official talks with King Philippe of Belgium, Prime Minister Michel and Foreign Minister Reynders in Brussels, President Burkhalter will travel to Ypres, where he will attend the Last Post ceremony in the evening. This ceremony, which honours Commonwealth service personnel who were killed in action around Ypres and never received a proper burial, also preserves the memory of all victims of the First World War and of the suffering caused by the war.