Year 10 History students recently participated in a two night, three day tour of the WW1 Battlefields in Belgium and France. The students were fantastic and it was a great experience for all involved.
The first stop on our tour was Lijssenthoek Cemetery, which is the second largest British and Commonwealth cemetery in Belgium due to the nearby casualty clearing station. Here students were able to explore graves of all nationalities, rank and regiment, including Nellie Spindler, a nurse who died as a result of a shell explosion saving others at the front. We then drove beside the old railway line the 14km to the front line trenches, where students were able to visualise what the war was like thanks to the many artefacts at Hooge Crater museum. A new feature at the museum was the reconstruction of part of a German front-line trench. Being in the trenches in the cold and mud surrounded by two massive mine craters and concrete machine bunkers gave the students a grim idea of what soldiers had to go through on both sides.
In the evening the students took part in the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate, a nightly tradition for the missing British Empire soldiers going back to 1927. Students were then rewarded for their efforts during the first day with a visit to a local chocolate shop.
Students were up for an early start the next day in order to cross the border into France. Our first stop was to visit the largest French military cemetery, Notre Dame de Lorette. The feedback from students as they stood amongst the 40,057 French soldiers buried here was how they were struggling to comprehend the sheer number of crosses.
At Vimy Ridge we were given a tour of a British tunnel, which was used to bring soldiers and supplies to the frontlines. Out of the tunnel we explored the preserved battlefield and visited the amazing memorial for the Canadian divisions who took the area in 1917. We then visited Newfoundland Park to explore the preserved battlefields, memorials and cemeteries from the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Here students stood by the death tree and listened to an account of a soldier from the Newfoundland division who described the harrowing experiences of soldiers trying to make it through the only gap in the barb wire. We finished our tour of France with a visit to Thiepval Memorial to the 72,000 British Empire soldiers missing at the Somme.
A real highlight from our time in France was that Maisy Parkes and Ben Naylor were able to lay crosses at the graves of their relatives who they had researched prior to the trip. In addition, we saw the cemetery where Ami Nicholls’ relative is buried and Abigail Goldstraw took a photo of her relative’s name on the Thiepval Memorial. Ben has written about his experience: “Percy Thompson was my great, great, great uncle, I felt very honoured to visit his grave and place a remembrance cross next to it whilst on the battlefields trip. It is an experience I will never forget.”
On the final day, the students explored In Flanders Fields Museum dedicated to the hugely significant role Ypres played in the war. We then visited Tyne Cot, the largest British and Commonwealth cemetery in the world.
Despite the pouring rain, which allowed us to picture what happened here in the Battle of Passchendaele quite vividly, the students continued to be interested and engaged and it was here under the cross of sacrifice where we all gathered to lay our USH wreath. We then visited Langemark, one of only four German cemeteries in the Flanders region, and students were immediately struck by the sombre contrast. Here we showed our respect to the German soldiers who lost their lives by laying another USH wreath.
Now on our way back home, we stopped at the town of Poperinge, a place behind the frontlines where British soldiers could relax and be human again.
Here, students were faced with the difficult concept of the ‘Death’ cells where British soldiers were imprisoned and in rare cases shot at dawn for serious civilian crimes and military crimes such as cowardice.
I would like to thank the students who were fantastic throughout the
whole trip and made this a really enjoyable experience for all. I would also like to thank Miss Simpson, Miss Sackmann and Mr Bhardwaj for their great effort and support on the trip and the colleagues back at USH who supported the trip and made sure everything ran smoothly back in school. The students really were a credit to our school and I was extremely proud of them all.
Subject Leader for History