On 5th June 2017, 14 year 9 history GCSE students were given the opportunity to visit the WWI battlefield sites in the Ypres Salient in Belgium.
After a very early start the students arrived at their first destination. Tyne Cot Cemetery, is the largest commonwealth burial cemetery in the world with 12,000 men buried here, it also has the names of 35,000 men commemorated on the back walls in honour of those men who have no known resting place.
Our second visit was to Sanctuary Wood museum (Hill 62). This is a unique site in that it still has remnants of a WWI trench system so the students were able to walk around the trench structure, including some underground tunnels and start to understand what the conditions would have been like for the soldiers.
Our third visit of the day was to Essex Farm cemetery which is where John McCrea wrote his poem ‘In Flanders Fields’. Here there are the remains of the concrete bunkers which were used as a forward dressing station. As the students are currently studying Medicine in WWI, they found it really useful to see and understand the conditions in which the medics and casualties had to endure.
Our next stop was an extended visit to Lijssenthoek military cemetery. This was the site of a large casualty cleaning station and as such has an amazing interactive visitor centre. The students were able to research at least one casualty and find out how they were injured and treated. If they died they were also able to visit their individual graves. I am really looking forward to reading about chosen soldiers’ profile.
The final stop was to Ypres itself where the students were able to visit the panel which commemorates a local Wilton Soldier at the Menin Gate. This structure holds the names of 55,000 men who were killed during WWI and have no known resting place. Finally as a treat the students were able to walk down the high street and buy some real Belgium chocolate.
All in all, the students were a credit to the school and behaved impeccably throughout the day and on the transport to and from the various sites. My deepest thanks go to John Lancaster for organising the transportation arrangements, amongst other things, Mrs Stone for her support and to the community members for assisting on the day.