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Year 9 Students Tour WW1 Battlefields

Students from Fulston Manor School were privileged to take part in a tour of the World War One Battlefields of Ypres and the Somme. This trip was funded by the Department for Education to mark the World War One Centenary, meaning that only two lucky Year 9s were able to take part in the excursion.  

Students from Fulston Manor School were privileged to take part in a tour of the World War One Battlefields of Ypres and the Somme. This trip was funded by the Department for Education to mark the World War One Centenary, meaning that only two lucky Year 9s were able to take part in the excursion. Remae Harrison, Ryder Delport and Miss Finn joined other school groups and took the Eurotunnel early on Monday 4th March across to the continent, commencing the tour at the Lijssenthoek Cemetery, to commemorate British soldiers that had fought in World War One. Many of the students on the trip had never seen war graves before, so this was a real poignant moment for them to take in.

After this there was a visit to the Memorial Museum at Passchendale. This allowed students to get up close to the artefacts from the time period, including weapons and machinery used by both German and Allied troops. Monday was finished off with a moving ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ypres. This was the Last Post Ceremony, which has been held every day, by the Belgians, since 1944. Many of the students had never been to a ceremony like this before, and to be able to see military personnel laying poppy wreaths was very moving for all involved. Both Remae and Ryder were also able to search the names of the war dead on the Menin Gate and see if there were any soldiers that could be possible relatives of theirs.

Day two of the trip was spent touring areas of France that were involved in the war. En route, they took a detour to the Indian Memorial at Neuve Chapelle, to commemorate soldiers of the British Empire that lost their lives. This was a peaceful place, filled with pearly white grave stones, where many of the students were in awe of the beautiful art work that decorated the cemetery.

Students were then taken to the fields where the Battle of the Somme took place, which was livened up by the discovery of a live, unexploded grenade! They were lucky enough to have a fantastic tour guide who got the children to take on the roles of real soldiers who were there at the time and discover who survived the Battle of the Somme. One of the main aims of the day was to discover if the Battle of the Somme was a disaster for the British, however, many people, including the teachers, had changed their mind about this by the end of the day!

Tuesday was finished with a visit the Thiepval Memorial, where Remae was given the name of a local soldier from Sittingbourne to find on the wall, Ernest Walter Albert Wilmhurst. However, this did prove to be a bit of a task as there are 74,000 names to go through! This, again, was somewhere that stunned the youngsters into silence due to the sheer numbers of names on the walls of soldiers that had never been found after the war.

Wednesday, our final day on the tour, had a very different feel to it. In the morning, the group visited Langemark Cemetery, a cemetery to mark the fallen soldiers from the German side of the war. This was particularly accommodating to students during their trip, as it got them to appreciate that although the Germans were our enemies, they too still had families waiting at home to see a loved one that never came back. The cemetery did not have clean white headstones, but instead had black granite plaques laid down on the floor to commemorate the fallen. Again, everyone walked around, silently contemplating the symbolism of the headstones and why they are very different to those at the British graveyards.

Our final stop before returning back to Blighty was the famous Tyne Cot, the world’s biggest British First World War One graveyard, containing 12,000 soldiers, around 8,000 of which have been buried in what is known as an unknown grave. At Tyne Cot, Ryder was set with the task of tracking down the name of another local soldier to Sittingbourne, a Private William Brenchley.  Luckily, he was much easier to find as at Tyne Cot, there is much easier access to the walls with the names of the fallen soldiers on them. Ryder was also very keen to research the gravestones in the cemetery as he has a personal family connection to South Africa, of which there are many natives buried at Tyne Cot who fought for Britain during the war.

After a short, but moving service and the laying of a poppy wreath for the tour group, it was back to the UK with a greatly increased knowledge about how World War One had an impact on soldiers and those that they left behind in the UK and Germany.

It is a trip that will stay with the both Ryder and Ramae throughout their school career and beyond.