"D-Day, 1899, and President Denzel Washington is leading the liberation of New Zealand from the Nazis."
By Chris Hasting and Julie Henry, Daily Telegraph, UK.
It is 1899 and Denzel Washington, the American president, orders Anne Frank and her troops to storm the beaches of Nazi-occupied New Zealand ...
This may not be how you remember D-Day, but for a worrying number of Britain's children this is the confused scenario they associate with the events of June 6, 1944.
A survey of 1,309 British pupils aged between 10 and 14, from 24 different schools, found alarming levels of ignorance about the invasion of Normandy 60 years ago.
Only 28 per cent of primary and secondary pupils who sat the quiz last week were able to say that D-Day, involving the largest invasion force ever mounted, was the start of the Allied liberation of occupied western Europe.
Many of them could only say that it was something to do with the Second World War - though 26 per cent were flummoxed by even that fact. Some thought it took place in the First World War, or was the day war broke out, or the Blitz, and even Remembrance Sunday.
"It's a day when everyone remembers the dead who fought," said a 14-year-old girl at a north Devon secondary school. Only 16 per cent of 918 participating primary school children had the answer right.
One 10-year-old thought it was the day the "Americans came to rescue the English". Another thought D-Day involved "the invasion of Portsmouth". Various dates for the assault were 1066, 1776, 1899, and 1948.
Children also had great difficulty in naming Britain's war-time prime minister. Less than half of the overall sample and only 39 per cent of primary school children correctly identified him as Winston Churchill; a significant number opted for Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair.
Seventeen per cent of the sample and only 38 per cent of secondary school children identified Franklin D Roosevelt as the then President of the United States. Other candidates offered by both age groups were Denzel Washington (the actor), George Washington, John F Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, and George W Bush. Some said simply: "George Bush's dad."
Ignorance about the Allied leaders, however, contrasted sharply with knowledge about Adolf Hitler. Overall, 71 per cent of the sample and 64 per cent of primary school children were able correctly to name the Nazi leader. Only one in three could identify the broad location of D-Day, with a number saying that it happened in New Zealand, Skegness, or Germany.
Thirteen per cent could name two of the beaches involved, and only 10 per cent of the sample knew that Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower was the Supreme Allied Commander. Others thought that the invasion was led by Anne Frank, or Private Ryan (the hero of the Steven Spielberg D-Day fictional epic), or Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, Eisenhower's deputy.
The disclosure that school children know so little about D-Day comes a week before the country prepares to celebrate the anniversary and will again focus attention on what sort of history is being taught in schools.
Even in those schools where the Second World War is taught, the emphasis is not on military events or even wartime leaders. One primary school teacher said: "We do study the Second World War, but we do not tend to concentrate on particular military events or leaders. We look at issues that are relevant to children themselves. They learn about civilian evacuation for instance, or the issuing of gas masks."
Dr David Starkey, the historian and television broadcaster, said yesterday that the survey had uncovered what he called a climate of "unfortunately reduced horizons and expectations".
It was "absurd", he said, that children were spending so much time discussing Hitler and Stalin to the detriment of everything else connected with the war.
"There is nothing difficult about the concepts being discussed and no reason why a child of primary school age should not be able to understand."
He said that he did not want to go back to a situation where history teaching was nothing but dates and battles, but he said he feared that the pendulum had swung too far in the other direction.
"I think that trying to begin any subject by relating to a child's own experience is a useful tool. But education is about teaching children things they do not know."
Chris Grayling, the shadow education minister, said: "These are really very recent events that have shaped the lives of all of us.
"It is a real worry that so few children seem to know the basics of what happened during the Second World War. We must not allow this to continue."