A Trip to the Battlefields of WW1

54 Year 10 pupils visited the WW1 battlefields area of Belgium and France from Thursday 13 – Saturday 15 November 2014. After an early start at 5.45am on the Thursday morning the group travelled by coach and ferry to the Belgian town of Ypres where we visited the excellent ‘In Flanders Fields’ museum, located within the Cloth Hall, rebuilt during the 1920s having been almost totally destroyed by artillery fire during WWI.

The group was accommodated at the Oude Abdij (Old Abbey) hotel in the small Belgian town of Lo, situated approximately half-way between Ypres and the coast. Following a welcome night’s rest, pupils visited Hill 62 and the trench system preserved within Sanctuary Wood. All took full advantage of the opportunity to walk through the trenches and make their way along the tunnels within this trench system, which remains largely as the soldiers left it following the Armistice of November 1918. In the afternoon pupils had the opportunity to compare contrasting cemeteries and memorials to the hundreds of thousands who were killed fighting within the Ypres Salient, many of whom have no known graves or rest within plots marked simply with the words ‘A Soldier of the Great War known unto God’. The sites visited were Tyne Cot – the largest Commonwealth War Cemetery – and Langemarck, its German equivalent. In the evening, the group attended the Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ypres. The Last Post Ceremony has been held at the Menin Gate Memorial at precisely 8.00pm each evening since the 11 November 1929 with the only exceptions being the days covered by the four years of the German occupation of Ypres from 20 May 1940 to 6 September 1944 during WW2.

On the final day the group departed Belgium and travelled to the Somme area of France, stopping at two cemeteries on the way, which enabled a couple of pupils to pay their respects at the graves of family members who were killed during the fighting of WW1. At the Somme we visited Newfoundland Park – commemorating the sacrifice of the Newfoundland Regiment – the Thiepval Memorial, which is the largest memorial in the world commemorating British soldiers killed in conflict, and the Lochnagar Crater at La Boiselle, preserved in commemoration of the combatants from all countries killed in the battle for this location. On completion, we headed for home, returning to Sawston at 10.00pm on Saturday, exhausted but having enjoyed a thought-provoking and rather poignant visit to the battlefields of WW1 on the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the conflict.

Mr J Reed
History Department