We had a very early 5.30am start, much to the despair of all the teenagers! We arrived ready for a day of learning about the tactics, the technology, the bravery and tragic loss of life of the soldiers in the First World War.
Our first stop was to Liissenhoek, the site of a Commonwealth War Cemetery. This was a particularly emotional visit as the great great grandfather of Emily Davies (Year 11) is buried there. We paid our respects and remembered him, while our guide Nick told us about the bravery of the Machine Gun Corp and Emily laid a wreath at his grave.
Next, we visited some preserved trenches and got a glimpse of what our soldiers had to endure. We were told about the tactics and new weaponry of the war adding to the hardships the soldiers suffered in the trenches. Afterwards we visited the German war cemetery at Langemark. It had a completely different feel to the Commonwealth war cemeteries. It was dark and mournful instead of light and neat.
Tyne Cot Cemetery was a highlight as it is the largest Commonwealth War Cemetery in the world. The vast number of graves and the names of the missing soldiers on the walls bring home the scale of the loss of life. Soldiers from Britain and the Commonwealth gave up their lives and many of these young men were barely out of school.
By the early evening we were all ready for a well-earned dinner of chicken and chips in a local restaurant in Ypres. Afterwards we visited a Belgian chocolate shop to stock up on supplies. Later, we laid a wreath at the Menin Gate Ceremony in Ypres. This was a truly touching moment as the local fire brigade played the last post as evening fell.
On our second day we headed across to France and the Somme in our wellies and raincoats. As the rain lashed down it helped us to understand the hardships the soldiers experienced in the trenches. We learned about the tragic loss of life on the Somme on the 1 July 1916 as we read an account of a survivor from the 1st Lancashire Fusilliers – a battalion that went over the top where we stood. We walked across the battlefield to the cemetery in which many of those soldiers are now buried.
During lunch, Alice Hanson was kitted out as a First World War soldier and we learned about uniform, weapons and gas masks of the War.
After lunch we visited Lochnagar Crater and learned about the soldiers who tunnelled under the German lines and set mines. The enormous crater is testimony to the size of the explosion. Unfortunately, it did little to help the British at the Somme.
We ended our day at Thiepval Memorial to the missing soldiers of the Battle of the Somme. The walls of the memorial are filled with 73,000 names representing those soldiers whose bodies were never found or who were never identified after the battle. Manor House School conducted a ceremony during which girls who had lost an ancestor or relative laid down a remembrance cross at the memorial. Poems were read and we shared a minute’s silence to respect and honour all those whose lives were lost.
We then began our long journey home.
Thank you Ms St Johnston, Ms Grindrod and Mrs Roberts for organising the visit.
Lauren Corbett, Deputy Head Girl, Year 11