Year 9 Battlefields Trip to Ypres and The Somme
Written by Matthew Treloar, Henry Loughnane, Alice Hockey, Claudia Smith and Isabella Doherty.
Our first day was based in Belgium where we found out how the First World War affected people living and fighting on the Ypres Salient on the Western Front. The first stop was the Essex Farm Cemetery where the name of John McCrae can be found. He wrote the famous poem “IN FLANDERS FIELDS”. We visited the grave of Valentine Strudwick, a 14-year-old boy who ran away from home and lied about his age to fight in the First World War. We also visited the Advanced Dressing Station where injured soldiers would be treated before being sent back to the front or on to a military hospital. From there we moved on to Tyne Cot Cemetery, which is the largest cemetery in Belgium. There are 11,954 burials including 8,367 unidentified British and Commonwealth soldiers here and around 30,000 names on the wall to commemorate soldiers whose bodies were never recovered. We settled into our hotel and visited the all-important chocolate shop where we spent lots of Euros, and then we went to a nice restaurant for dinner.
After dinner, we went to the Menin Gate, which bears the names of 54,398 soldiers who died on the Western Front whose bodies were sadly never found. Three students were chosen to represent Trinity school and they laid a wreath in memory of the soldiers of Sevenoaks who are remembered on the Menin Gate. Proceedings commenced at 20:00 with the sound of the LAST POST being followed by a two-minute silence. After this visitors and military personnel paid their respects by laying down wreaths. The Menin Gate was very moving and we felt honoured to lay the wreath in memory of the soldiers around us who had died.
On the second day we visited the Somme. Newfoundland Memorial Park was our first stop where we were able to picture the events on July 1st 1916: the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Due to our tight schedule, we didn’t have long as we were off to Ulster Memorial Tower. This commemorates the heavy losses suffered by 36th Division on 1st July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme. We were fortunate enough to be able to venture into the woods where the allied troops would have been located. In the woods we were given private access to some trenches, which had been painstakingly uncovered by archaeologists. The talk there was very interesting and they even had actual possessions that soldiers had lost during the war, including a spoon with a bullet hole. After lunch we visited Thiepval Memorial, which commemorates 72,000 soldiers that gave their lives during the Battle of the Somme. Their bodies were, once again, never recovered from the mud. Inside the visitor centre we could search our surnames to find out if any of our ancestors had fought and died in the war. Further up the road we visited Lochnagar Crater, which was the site of a massive mine explosion, detonated by the British under the German front lines. The strength of the explosives was so huge that it had left an enormous crater and was the biggest noise ever recorded – the explosion could even be heard from London!
At the end of our long day, we stopped off at Warlencourt British Cemetery to commemorate one particular soldier. Matthew Treloar of 9G had discovered that one of his relatives had died in the Battle of the Somme on 1st October 1916. George Salisbury Hill died in France aged just 16 as he had actually lied about his age when enlisting. Thus, at the time of his death, George was still too young to have even taken part in the war at all. Matthew said: “He was my Great Great Uncle on my Dad’s side of the family. It was a strange feeling knowing that somebody from my family had taken part in the most brutal conflict known to man. On reflection it was an honour to lay a wreath on his grave and for all of us to pay our respects with a two-minute silence for him. I feel quite proud to have shared this experience with my friends.”
On our last day in Ypres we had some free time to explore the market and buy souvenirs for our friends and families. First stop of the day Lijssenthoek Cemetery and visitors centre. Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery is the resting place of 10,755 casualties of the First World War, among them Nellie Spindler who was one of only two British female casualties of the First World War to be buried in Belgium. It is the second largest British and Commonwealth cemetery in Belgium. Outside of the cemetery there is a timeline with lines carved into it, each one represents a life lost on that day in the military hospital on this site. The scale of this timeline was very moving for us all. Paying our respects, we departed for St Nicolas Church. This was used as a hospital during the war and treated one of the most well-known men to have fought here: CPL ADOLF HITLER. Today he has one of his paintings hanging up in the town museum. Messines is also known for the famous football match that took place on Christmas Day, 1914. Overall, the trip was fascinating and we really enjoyed our time away.