Journey to the Battlefields
History students travelled to France and Belgium to gain an insight into the devastation of the First World War
The Summer term ushered in another trip to the Battlefields of France and Belgium, and 39 Year 9 students travelled with several members of staff including History teacher, Mr Oldridge and French teacher, Ms Duddridge, to visit some of the sites where many lives were lost in the First World War.
Student Liam Connolly wrote a diary of the visit…
TUESDAY 12TH MAY
On arrival in France we made our first stop in Notre Dame de Lorette, the largest French World War I Cemetery. The site was chosen as the French fought a long and bloody battle there for the ridge it is situated on. Afterwards, we went to the museum and visited the preserved trenches where there was artillery from the War.
Before travelling to our hotel, we went to the Vimy Ridge Memorial, a large Canadian memorial opposite the Moroccan memorial, as the French Moroccans attempted to capture the ridge before the eventual success of the Canadians.
WEDNESDAY 13TH MAY
Our day was mainly focussed around the Battle of the Somme, and on the way we stopped at the Australian Cobbers Memorial at the Battle of Fromelles. The Battle of Fromelles was designed to act as a diversionary battle whilst the Somme was fought, but was a massive failure. We then visited the Indian Memorial for the missing at Neuve Chapelle. The Indian soldiers were used to help solve the manpower problem until the volunteer army was ready to fight, and near where the memorial is situated was the site of their largest battle.
Later we travelled to the Thiepval Memorial, a large memorial that commemorates more than 72,000 men from the United Kingdom and South Africa who have no known grave. We had a tour from a Canadian student around Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial that was made for all the Newfoundlanders who were also killed in the War and had no known grave. The memorial features a large bronze caribou, the emblem of the Newfoundland Regiment.
We had lunch at Auchonvillers, a café with preserved trenches in the back garden, before visiting the Lochnagar Crater, a massive crater made by the British during the Battle of the Somme to try and destroy the German defences, although it was dug slightly too short. Our last activity was a visit to Pozieres British Cemetery, where many of the casualties from the March-April 1918 crisis are buried.
THURSDAY 14TH MAY
Our first visit of the day was to Spanbroekmolen Crater, a crater that has been landscaped to become a natural attraction – it has been filled with water and trees, plants and fish have been introduced. We then visited Tyne Cot Cemetery, the largest for Commonwealth Soldiers anywhere in the world, for any war. We also looked for certain graves of soldiers whose stories we had read
We travelled to Langemark German Cemetery, a complete contrast to anything we had seen before, as the graves were black and flat on the ground, on account of German culture, and because the huge amount of holes dug left the ground too unstable for anything to stand upon.
We stopped at the Field Hospital Cemetery where John McCrae served as a doctor, and ‘Flanders Field’ was read to us. We also visited the town of Ypres where we learned the town’s role in the war, and how it was reconstructed. Finally, we had the chance to observe the ceremony at Menin Gate, a hugely popular event that occurs every night without fail. It involves a bugler and a wreath-laying ceremony and it visited by people from all over the world. It was an honour to be able to observe it.
FRIDAY 15TH MAY
Our last stop before arriving in Dunkirk for the ferry was Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, the second largest British Military Cemetery. Whilst mainly British, there are also three Americans buried here, several Chinese labourers, French and German soldiers as well as one of only two women casualties of World War I – a Field Nurse called Nellie Spindler, who was killed by shell fire.
Mr Oldridge said "It was great to see students outside of the classroom, really engaging with history and getting the opportunity to find out more about what their own grand-parents went through in World War I."