A group of almost 50 students and accompanying staff set off for the WW1 Battlefields Visit recently. After a good crossing on the ferry, we arrived at the Sanctuary Wood, a site with real trenches from the war that have been preserved – a moving experience for our students who walked through trenches that soldiers had launched their attacks from over 100 years ago.
Our next two stops took us to war cemeteries – firstly, Essex Farm, a Commonwealth War Graves site where the famous poem “In Flanders Fields” was written by John McCrae, a surgeon who worked at the field hospital which can still be seen at the site of the cemetery. We then went on to Langemark German War Cemetery, which was very different in appearance but just as moving.
That evening, we attended the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ypres and two students presented a wreath on behalf of the school community. It was a privilege to be a part of this ceremony that occurs every evening at 8pm to remember all those lost in the war, especially as our visit coincided with the anniversary of the start of Battle of the Somme – 1 July 1916.
The second day took us to France, down to the Somme region itself. We visited Newfoundland Park, site of the terrible losses of the Newfoundland Regiment, and then the Accrington Pals memorial and Serre Road No1 cemetery where Leeds lad and member of the Leeds Pals, Horace Iles, is buried. After receiving a white feather on a tram in Leeds in 1914, Horace joined the army, lying about his age as he was only 14. He died on the first day of the battle aged only 16. We listened to the last letter his sister Florrie wrote to him, pleading with him to come home, which he never received.
On the final day, we visited Tyne Cot Cemetery, the largest Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in the world, where we had some time for reflection and prayer. Everyone took some time to remember the fallen and placed their Cross of Remembrance on a grave. We finished our visit at the Passchendaele Museum in a nearby village, before making our way back to the port for the ferry home. It was an amazing experience that will not be forgotten by any of us.