Written by Meg Llewellyn and Freya Cooper - Year 9
Monday 23rd May
On Monday morning we got up very early and arrived at school at about 4:45am. We then drove to the Euro Tunnel, where we left England and made our way to France.
Less than an hour and a half’s journey on the French side of the channel found us in Messines, Belgium at the Peace Village Hostel where we would be staying. After unpacking and dinner we were introduced to our guide, Simon, who taught everyone the meaning and how to perform the Haka. We then went out for the evening, visiting the nearest cemetery, learning about the iron harvest and then performing the Haka at the memorial to the New Zealand soldiers who had fought and died in that area. Before we went back to the hostel we took part in a role play about the Christmas truce and football game of 1914.
Tuesday 24th May
On day two we got up to a delicious breakfast and headed straight out for a busy day. By lunchtime we had visited both a French and German cemetery and the St Eloou crater. After lunch we travelled to Poperinge to visit Talbot House, a building where soldiers could go to have fun and get away from the war. Whilst there we played the piano and had a cup of tea as they would have. Before leaving the town we visited the ‘death cells’ where those soldiers sentenced to death were held before their punishment was carried out in the courtyard. Simon and some of our students acted out one of the court martial cases; it was no surprise that he was found guilty and sentenced to death.
After an amazing evening meal we headed out again to take part in the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ypres. Three of us were lucky enough to take part in the event laying a wreath from Richard Lander School. It was a really great experience, we all took a lot from it and we all slept well that night.
Wednesday 25th May
After a buffet breakfast at the hostel and final preparations for the day ahead, we set off to visit the Somme. We travelled across the border into France, where we met up with a tour guide, who gave us a tour of the sites that made up the Somme. First we went to a crater that was made, during the battle of the Somme, by underground explosives. The soldiers would mine a tunnel underground from their trench to underneath the enemies’ trenches (making sure they made no sound to give the enemies a clue that they had intruders underneath). Then, when the time was right, they would lay explosives in this tunnel and detonate it.
Having looked around the crater, learning about the techniques both sides used, we drove to The Franco-British Memorial, in Thiepval, passing another crater and many memorial sites on the way. The 45 metres high memorial is the largest British War memorial in the world and has 72,205 names of missing soldiers engraved in the stone pillars that hold the huge structure up. The burial sites that lie behind the building belong to missing New Zealander soldiers, as well as many British victims of war. The structure was beautiful and so well kept that we could have stayed there for hours but we had more to look at! Newfoundland Park was our next place. This was where we could actually see the trenches from 100 years ago. They were so intact that the barbed wire poles still stuck out of the ground. The Newfoundland Park was created around the old trenches by the Newfoundlanders. They also put a memorial to the Newfoundland soldiers lost or killed during the First World War. On top of this memorial, there is a metal Caribou facing out towards the German trenches (some say ‘protecting’ the soldiers). This park was maybe one of the most moving places to visit as the original trenches made it all seem real again, as if we were there 100 years ago, at the time of the war.
Next we travelled to the Wellington Quarries where we went down into the tunnels of the quarry made in the First World War and then used again (as a camp where people took refuge) in World War Two. It has now been made into a type of museum, where you walk along the boards, listening to an audio recording. This was very interesting as we got to see where the soldiers, both from Britain and New Zealand, would have lived, worked and eventually where they would have been sent out to the front. As we walked round, we came across the steps that lead out to the trenches. It was hard to imagine what the men would have been feeling as the waited to fight. The fear and terror that they would have been experiencing is unbearable to think about. I’m sure many knew what their fate may be.
Finally, we went into a town called Lille, where we were able to do some shopping and look for presents to take home. Although quite a modern town, you could see the old buildings had been there through the war and how they must have played a huge role during the First and Second World War.
After our evening meal back at our hostel, we watched a presentation about Harry Patch, the last tommy, and the lives of him and his fellow soldiers, who fought in both World Wars and lived to tell the tale.
Thursday 26th May
Our final day! We packed our bags and left to visit Passchendaele Memorial Museum, Zonnebeke. This was a museum full of artefacts found out in the trenches and even in fields. After that we took a trip to Tyne Cot, a World War One memorial ground and cemetery for the dead soldiers that fought. This was amazing as we had seen cemeteries but never this big! Some of us looked in the log book that had all the names of the men buried in that cemetery and found people with the same surnames, however, whether or not we are related to them, we may never know. Finally, before we began our very long journey home, we went to a field and wood on the way to Ypres. Here we stood in the area where Geoffrey Boothby (the young man, whose life we had been following through the letters exchanged between himself and his girlfriend, Edith.) had died. He was in charge of a group of miners. When called out to inspect a suspected German trench above a tunnel they had been digging, he, along with others, were killed, when the Germans set off an explosion above them. It turns out that it had been a trap. The Germans were aware of the men digging below them and so laid a trail of explosives to meet the British tunnel. They knew Geoffrey and others would come and so, when they arrived, detonated the explosives, trapping Geoffrey. Unable to save their fellow leader, the men sent home word to his mother and eventually his suitcase, which was packed ready to go home that day, to his house in Birmingham. We visited the memorial site where he was remembered and paid our respects. The journey home started remembering Boothby and his fellow soldiers.
Overall, this trip was a really good insight into what World War One really was like; how hard it was and how many lives were lost: fathers, husbands, sons and brothers were, and still are, missed greatly.
As the note on the wreath we laid said: “We will remember them”.