What’s on Zero Hour?
Zero Hour is a digital archive of historical sources relating to the First World War service of Captain Charles Linklater of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF).
Linklater enlisted in 1914 and served at Gallipoli with the 2nd Battalion. After recovering from an illness in Australia, he joined the 33rd Battalion for active service in France, arriving there in late 1916. Linklater spent the next eight months on the Western Front where he experienced life in the trenches, led a trench raid and fought at the Battle of Messines in June 1917. During the battle, Linklater went missing and was never seen again. Today he is one of 6,195 Australians named on the Menin Gate Memorial to the missing in Belgium.
What is the rationale behind Zero Hour?
Zero Hour is based on the notion that students learn history most effectively by engaging with primary sources and doing the work of ‘real’ historians. That is, grappling with sources and their incomplete, imprecise and subjective nature to construct a narrative of the past that is based on their own interpretive skills.
In historian Sam Wineburg’s words,
It is not enough to expose students to alternative versions of the past already digested and interpreted by others. The only way we can come to understand the past’s multiplicity is by the direct experience of having to tell it, of having to sort through the welter of the past’s conflicting visions to produce a story written by our own hand.[Sam Wineburg, Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts, Temple University Press, 2001, p. 131.]
This is not a version of history education restricted to older or more capable students. Given appropriate activities, support and source material, students at all academic levels can to some extent, work with the raw, undigested sources.
Aside from securing better outcomes in terms of their retention of knowledge, this approach to history education also promotes critical literacy, research skills and ICT competency.
What kind of documents are in the collection?
The majority of the sources on Zero Hour are primary sources.
The bulk of the collection comes from the letters that Captain Linklater sent his wife Dorothy between 1915 and 1917.
Dorothy Linklater transcribed extracts from these letters and donated them to the Australian War Memorial in 1931. What happened to her and the original letters is unclear.
It seems Dorothy selected extracts relating specifically to her husband's wartime service. They are marked by their absence of personal sentiment and discussion of family issues. Perhaps modesty convinced Mrs Linklater to leave these sections out of the donated letters. Perhaps she simply believed that their relationship was of no interest to the historians who would read her husband's letters in the future.
In any case, the Linklater letters are an impressive record of how one man experienced the war at the sharp end, covering a range of topics and themes including the fighting on Gallipoli and the Western Front, relations with allies and civilians, attitudes to the enemy, battle tactics and so on.
A range of other sources, including photographs, service dossiers, official Army reports and diary entries compliment the letters. Students can use these documents to develop skills in corroboration and critical analysis while also experiencing the different mediums that historians work with.
How can I use Zero Hour in my classroom?
Zero Hour is designed to be flexible in its classroom application.
The documents are presented on the site in a generally chronological sequence, but they can be used selectively to suit student ability, syllabus content and other activities. Teachers may wish to focus on one or two documents to examine a particular theme or time period. Alternatively, they might design an entire unit on the First World War around Captain Linklater’s experiences. A teacher's guide to the documents is available here.
The documents are useful in a variety of classroom and assessment tasks. Some ideas and activities relating to the NSW Syllabus can be found here. You can also download a sample year 9 assessment task and marking guide.