WW1 HISTORY TRIP

Year 10 history students and their teachers set off across the English Channel in March, on a trip through England, France, and Belgium that lasted 10 hours.  After having dropped off our luggage we headed into the city centre of Ypres for our evening meal and walk. We enjoyed a guided tour of the streets leading to the Menin Gate, a large Commonwealth memorial dedicated to the soldiers of the First World War that fell at, and close to, Ypres. As we wandered in at awe of the tens of thousands of names adorned around us, the harsh reality of the casualties of the Great War sunk in, especially after many students located their surnames on the walls.

The next day we visited Tyne Cot cemetery, the largest cemetery and memorial for Commonwealth forces for any war. The most moving aspect was the unmarked graves, which simply read ‘a soldier of the Great War’. To commemorate the fallen, students were each given a wooden cross to place on a grave of their choice in order to remember a man who died for their country, whether he be British, Canadian, South African, or any other Commonwealth nationality. After this, we travelled to Hill 60, a former battleground. The small hill, a change in the otherwise flat landscape of Belgium, was fought over because it would have provided a key strategic advantage to whichever side won it. We also observed the two opposing front lines as we walked the short stretch between the two sides. Next, we went to the Essex Farm Cemetery, which included a preserved dressing station and, again, more graves. Here, the grave that stood out the most was one covered in poppies and crosses. On closer observation, students understood why: it belonged to a boy who was killed in action at only 15 years old. We then headed to the Hooge Crater cemetery and museum, where teachers and students paid their respects to a former Colyton teacher who was buried there. Students Rachel M and Ewan M laid a wreath as the rest watched on in silence. Across the road we ate lunch and had a guided tour, where we experienced reconstructed trenches, original weaponry from the war, and other artefacts in the museum. Our tour guide explained the details of the battles and the effects on both sides front lines.

WWI trenches 2018

For an entirely different perspective we visited the Langemark cemetery, the resting place for soldiers of the German military. The change in atmosphere was clear; this was not a graveyard to celebrate the soldiers and, compared to the Commonwealth cemeteries, was rather modest: tombstones did not protrude and several names were written on each one. It was still important and interesting to see this landmark, especially given that these were enemy soldiers' bodies laid to rest. We then drove back to the centre of the city where we visited the Flanders museum, situated in the market square of Ypres. The grand building hosted a large exhibition with information including medicine and surgery in World War One, one of the topics we would go on to study. After this we had dinner, followed by a ceremony at the Menin Gate, which we had visited the previous day. We waited anxiously with a large crowd of people from all nationalities, for the fanfare that would indicate the start of the ceremony where students Sophie M and Giles B laid a wreath for Great Britain, followed by students from Canada and other parts of the Commonwealth. The patriotic ceremony was short but emotional, and we all walked back to the hostel quietly. However, this was soon changed, as the much anticipated visit to the chocolate shop had arrived! After an exhilarating experience inside the small store, thanks to a very enthusiastic seller, we left with more confectionary than we expected and walked back to the hostel ready to go to bed.

All in all the trip was the perfect accompaniment to our History studies, giving us a deeper insight into the landscape and atmosphere of the Western Front. 

By Marie and Marnie

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