Independent Co-Educational Day School
Year 9 and 10 visited the Battlefields of France and Belgium from Sunday 8th to Wednesday 11th of July. This was a particularly poignant trip as it coincided with the centenary of the end of the First World War.
The group visited the Ypres area and learnt about the progress of the war on the Salient and were proud to participate in the memorial commutations at the Menin Gate. The following day was spent on the Somme visiting Vimy Ridge, Serre, Ulster Tower, Thiepval and the Lochnagar Crater.
Finally, time was spent at St Omer after the obligatory stop at a chocolate shop in Ypres.
The photographers in Year 11 were able to take powerful photographs for their coursework project after seeing the cemeteries and monuments commemorating the soldiers who gave up their lives fighting for their countries.
During the trip, students created a diary of their experiences. The following extract, taken from one of the student's trip diaries, summarises the children's experiences from the battlefields.
We started Tuesday with a 2 hour journey to France because we were visiting places from the Battle of the Somme. We arrived at our first place, The Canadian National Vimy Memorial. This is a war memorial site in France dedicated to the memory of Canadian Expeditionary Force members killed during the First World War. It is also a place to commemorate Canadian soldiers that were killed but never found and presumed dead in France who have no grave. Their names are carved around the edge of the memorial. On the monument it has the words “To the valour of their countrymen in the Great War and in memory of their sixty thousand dead this monument is raised by the people of Canada” written on it. I found it really amazing and you can see it for miles away. It sits proud at the top of the highest point of the hill that the Canadians captured. You don’t feel the real size of the monument until you are really near it. It is massive. Carved into the monument are women who are meant to symbolise the mourning of the mothers back in Canada. It is amazing and if anyone is in that area I would advise them to visit it.
After we had finished looking at the statue we hopped back on the bus for a very short journey to the museum at Vimy Ridge. At Vimy Ridge we were taken around by a tour guide and we first went down into the tunnels that they used to get around without being seen. They were very impressive and she said that they have 13 tunnels, but that doesn’t include the branches of each trench so there are hundreds of tunnels that the Canadians used. She said that 3 miners from Wales can dig only 6 metres per day. She also said that before the battle, the troops stayed in the tunnel for around 36 hours. After we had come out of the tunnels we went into the British observation trench. She told us that they are bendy and not straight because it makes it harder to map out from the air and if a German got into the trench it would be harder to shoot everyone. It was really interesting and the tour guide made it fun but also told us lots about it.
After we had visited Vimy Ridge we jumped back on the bus to go and visit Serre. Serre was one of the strongly fortified villages held by the Germans at the beginning of the Battle of the Somme. The name of Serre has come to be linked closely with several of the ‘pals’ battalions. The ‘pals’ battalions suffered many losses which devastated whole towns, villages and cities. This was because the ‘pals’ battalion was for if friends wanted to fight together in the war. They didn’t think though that if they lost that battle how many towns, villages and cities would be affected. We first visited the front line of the British. The trench was untouched and over the years it had collapsed a bit but you could still see how the trench curved and had lots of bends. We then walked where the British would have walked as they were advancing on the German trenches. The first day of the Somme was known as the bloodiest worst day in British military history. Just under 60,000 casualties, just under 20,000 of those were fatal. For 4 days before they had bombed the Germans and so they assumed that they would have just been killed, but they were wrong. The Germans had shelters 20 metres down so they hid down there with their guns and machine guns and then once it stopped they came above ground and set up at their post with their guns and machine guns. As the British came closer they started to open fire on them but the British just followed their orders and carried on walking and not shooting back. It was a slaughter that day. The amount of graves in this area showed everyone how bad that battle was and how many people died fighting there.