On Sunday 3rd March 2019, two of our Year 10 students, Thomas and Jack, were lucky enough to embark on a 4 day/3 night trip which allowed them to tour the former battlefields of the Ypres Salient (Belgium) and The Somme (France). The tour was operated by UCL Institute of Education, on behalf of the UK Government and was fully funded by the Department for Education (DfE).
Unlike conventional battlefield tours, our itinerary included sites that are currently rarely visited by schools but that provide additional perspectives and insights into the history of the Western Front. Onsite expertise was provided throughout by UCL Institute of Education staff and a member of the Guild of Battlefield Guides. The trip was a real opportunity for some intensive and focused learning to take place on the battlefield sites due to our school being lucky enough to have a 2:2 student/teacher ratio. The British Army were also involved in the programme and sent a serving soldier to accompany our tour. The soldier was available for all pupils and teachers to ask questions of throughout the tour and provided a contrast to serving as a soldier 100 years ago.
The first night of the tour was spent at Grosvenor Hall in Kent where our students took part in an educational and social programme, designed to help teachers and pupils from 30 different schools bond together and finalise preparations for our visit to the Western Front. Our students were part of a group of around 80 students and 40 staff who all took part in the same tour. They had the opportunity to socialise with students from other schools and to develop some personal independence skills whilst on the trip. For example, on arrival at Grosvenor Hall, the students were assigned their rooms and then had to put their own duvet covers and sheets on their beds!
Throughout the trip, the students were required to adhere to strict timings and each morning after breakfast, the students were also required to make up their own packed lunches for their day out on the battlefields. This was an important aspect of the trip for our pupils as it gave them the opportunity to build their independence whilst in another country, surrounded by lots of adults and children with whom they were not familiar. Our boys were an absolute credit to Hollinwood Academy and behaved impeccably throughout.
Over the next 3 days and 2 nights, we visited a variety of memorials, cemeteries, battlefields and museums, all providing us with an in depth knowledge of the events before, during and after the end of World War 1. Each day of the trip had a focus question for the students to explore throughout the day. The students were then expected to all come together, back at the hotel in the evening, to share their ideas and to answer the day’s focus question. The questions were:
- Day 1: How did the First World War affect ordinary people?
The places we visited on Day 1 were: Lijssenthoek Cemetery..
Memorial Museum Passchendaele..
We also got to take part in the Ceremony of the Last Post. This is a daily act of remembrance at the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres which is dedicated to the British and Commonwealth soldiers who were killed in the Ypres Salient of WW1 and whose graves are unknown. It was a very humbling experience and it is amazing to know that this act of remembrance has occurred every evening at 8pm since November 1929. The only exception to this was during the 4 years of the German occupation of Ypres during World War 2. During this time, the daily ceremony was instead continued in England at Brookwood Military Cemetery in Surrey.
- Day 2: Was the Battle of the Somme, in 1916, really a disaster for the British army?
The places we visited on Day 2 were: Beaumont Hamel Newfoundland Memorial Park (which has purposefully been changed minimally since WW1 so the real trenches still exist)
..Sunken Lane (the start of the Battle of the Somme)..
..Caterpillar Valley Cemetery..
..and Thiepval Memorial..
At Sunken Lane, each school picked a soldier and were given a number. When our soldier’s number was called, we had to drop to the floor. This represented the point at which each soldier lost their lives on the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916 and was absolutely mind-blowing for all involved. It gave us a very clear visual representation of the disastrous first day of the battle.
- Day 3: Is remembrance more or less important 100 years on?
The places we visited on day 3 were: Langemark Cemetery (which is a German memorial) and Tyne Cot Cemetery (which is the very famous cemetery and memorial in Belgium, often used in televised official ceremonies to commemorate the soldiers of WW1). At Tyne Cot, there are nearly 12,000 graves, making it the largest cemetery for commonwealth forces in the world, for any war.
On the first day of our trip, each school was given a local soldier to locate at Tyne Cot. Our Soldier was Private C Thorpe of the 10th Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment, who died 18/09/1917. He lived just up past Hollinwood cemetery on Roman Road. The boys worked hard to locate his grave and to lay a poppy in remembrance.
In the afternoon on day 3, we then began our gruelling 10 hour journey home!
It was a jam-packed 4 days but it was definitely a worthwhile experience for both the staff and students. A requirement of the trip was for our students to take part in the Legacy 110 project on their return home. The project has the figure ‘110’ within its title to encourage each student to deliver a First World War based project to at least 110 people within their local community (primary schools, workplace, community-based centres etc.). If all 8,800 participating students participate in ‘Legacy 110’ then we will impact upon at least 888,246 people in communities across England – this equates to the number of British and Commonwealth soldiers who died during the First World War. In return for successfully participating in ‘Legacy 110’, our students will receive a certificate and specially-commissioned First World War Centenary pin badge. Our school will also receive a certificate to display at school, to highlight our involvement in the programme. Thomas and Jack will soon begin their project in which they hope to locate any surviving family members of our local soldier and create a memorial for them so that we can all remember the bravery of our local soldiers who lost their lives as a result of World War 1.
I asked Thomas to write about our travels, here is ‘An excerpt from Thomas’ travel diary’ …
Last week I was very privileged to be able to visit France and Belgium as part of the Centenary Battlefields Tours Program. During this time I learnt valuable lessons about what really happened during World War One and how it affected ordinary people.
During our time there we had to think about three key enquiry questions…
- How did the Great War affect ordinary people?
- Was the Battle of the Somme really a disaster for the British Army?
- Is remembrance more or less important 100 years on?
Each of the locations helped us to answer these questions.
The first day started with an early Sunday pick up at 8:30 from school where everyone was still asleep. We got to Warrington and got on the coach for 9:40. Then a lengthy 6 hour journey was in order. We arrived at the “fabulous” Grosvenor Hall in Kent around 3 in the afternoon. The food was not very nice so I ate a bowl of lettuce instead as I wasn’t feeling too good. The team building activities had no team building involved but were a bit fun to pass the time.
The next morning we set off for the Euro Tunnel and managed to get an early crossing into France. We travelled to Belgium to see Lijssenthoek cemetery. We started learning about medical care in the First World War and the rapid advancements made during this time, such as the growing use of blood transfusions. This part was particularly interesting to me. We then saw the cemetery with thousands of graves lined up. It was shocking to see how many unidentified soldiers were there. This was due to either their bodies being too injured to identify or having no people around to identify them. Next we travelled to The Memorial Museum to look at First World War artefacts and weaponry including a mucky trench experience in preserved trenches from over 100 years ago. For the rest of our trip we would be staying in the Flanders’ Lodge where the food was better than in Kent but not great, however not everyone got fed that night. At 18:30 we arrived at the Menin Gate to see how many soldiers went missing or presumed dead in the 4 year war. It was over 54,000 just on this memorial. Every evening the town of Ieper performs a ceremony to remember all of these people and we all took part. The final part of this day was the shopping where we bought some Belgian Chocolate.
Tuesday started with a dismal and minimalist breakfast provided at Flanders’ Lodge and our first stop was the Sunken Lane to understand how the first day of the Battle of the Somme affected the British Army. Only 1 out of 20 British Soldiers survived this first day. We learned about many mistakes made that day on both sides which lead to the disaster including the premature detonation of a British Bomb inside a mine which alerted the German forces to our arrival. Next stop was the Newfoundland Park Memorial which I found particularly interesting because the trenches were perfectly preserved and it showed a different perspective of the War.