Last weekend, students visited the battlefields of the First World War to learn how countries commemorate the men who fought for their countries. Megan in Year 12 provides a summary of the trip…
After an early start at 5.10am, we headed to Folkestone to catch the tunnel over to France. Once in Belgium we drove to the first stop of the day, Lijssenthoek, the second biggest Commonwealth World War One cemetery. Here we covered the different religions and how the graves show this, we learnt that it is traditional for Jewish graves to have little stones placed on top of the graves and we looked at the role of women within the war.
We were based around Ypres and a few students enjoyed chocolate tasting in the city centre during their free time. The final event for the day was the Menin Gate Ceremony. We had three students, Susie, Rushton and Eddie, who walked during the ceremony and laid a wreath on behalf of Hampshire Collegiate School.
On the second day, we were based in the Somme area and visited the Sunken Lune, Newfoundland Memorial Park, Lochnager Crater and Thiepval Memorial. The Newfoundland memorial was dedicated to the Canadian troops who fought on the Somme and was a favourite for many of the people on the trip.
At Thiepval we found the relative of Mrs Welland, the school’s Director of Marketing & Admissions and we were shown how to use the memorial register. At dinner we had a show and tell with Rick dressing up as a World War I soldier with a full bayonet and a display of gas masks through time.
On the last day, we were based back around Belgium. The first stop was the Bayernwald German trench system. These trenches are preserved German communication trenches which included German bunkers and a well. Here we talked about disease and life in the trenches and why there were more deaths due to head injuries than disease compared to when soldiers wore felt caps as opposed to helmets. To explore this further, we went to Essex Farm Cemetery and the Advanced Dressing Station and looked at the medical side of the war and the different levels of medical centre. Essex Farm was where the famous poet John McCrae wrote Flanders Fields after he worked as a medic and had to bury his friend.
Later, we went to the Langemarck German Cemetery, again another favourite for many on the trip. We discussed the story of the ‘Kindermord’ and how Hitler used that to convince German people for the need for war and his visit to the cemetery. The plain black gravestones were incredibly moving and very heartfelt.
The last stop of the trip was Tyne Cot, the largest commonwealth cemetery in the world, holding over 12,000 buried and 34,000 missing names on the memorial. Here we reflected on the nature and horror of war and the sheer scale of the war.
Overall the trip was really good fun and engaging for the students, our tour guide Natalie and bus driver Lee were hilarious and so interactive which was helpful for keeping people interested.
Thank you to the teachers for organising this thought provoking and moving experience as well as keeping it fun at other times.