Operation Freedom – A Veteran’s Story

Posted on July 17, 2012


Last week a lucky throng of children was positively starstruck when an 88-year-old Word War II veteran visited an east-end primary school. It was no Kim Kardashian, there was no red carpet, but a celebrity far worthier of the kids’ admiration arrived and the excitement was palpable.

Veteran spitfire pilot Brian Bird came to Harbinger Primary on the Isle of Dogs – along with a full size Spitfire replica – as part of a heritage project conceived by arts charity Eastside Educational Trust and Legasee veterans’ archive. In honour of Armed Forces Day 2012 the project aimed to offer the children historical insight into their local area – which was once devastated by bombing during German air-raids – as well as an intimate window into how Brian’s heroism has touched their lives today.

And that it did. With shrieks of ‘Oh my God he touched my face I’M NEVER WASHING AGAIN’ and excited glowing faces all around, it was great to see the kids so enraptured by this frail, gentle man who had a whole myriad of stories to tell of his time ruling the skies as a wartime pilot.


WWII veteran pilot Brian Bird is reunited with a lifesize Spitfire replica

The day was filmed as part of an ongoing effort to document the movements of the last living World War veterans, and to create a lasting testimonial to how their actions have shaped the lives of today’s youth. Operation Freedom – A Veteran’s Story will follow one primary school class’s journey, from discovering a life sized Spitfire replica in their playground and meeting one of its pilots, taking part in a televised newsroom-style interview with Mr Bird, to their subsequent efforts to make sense of the day through journalistic and creative writing.    

At a time when it feels like arts funding has been all but obliterated and schools nationwide are scrabbling around for decent resources, it was especially satisfying to see just how much the youngsters took away from their day of interactive historical learning. It was a pertinent reminder that no matter how often our government hammers home the importance of whipping young minds into shape so they can fly the nest and boost the economy, giving them the time and space to be creative is also infinitely crucial. Letting children run away with their imagination will never cease to be important. 

All images courtesy of Eastside Educational Trust