Monday – On The Way Home

Today has been a day that has brought the war close to home in many ways. As well as the visit to the Colne Valley Cemetery, we went to Essex Farm. This is famous for being the place where Canadian poet, John McRae, who wrote In Flanders Fields, served his time as a medic. It is also the home to the monument for the West Riding Division. Alongside our geographical link, we also saw the grave of 15-year-old soldier Valentine Strudwick, the same age as many of our group.

We also went into Poperinge and went to the Place of Execution. We went into the cells where soldiers who had broken the army’s rules were imprisoned. These included some soldiers who were to be executed for desertion, one of whom was from West Yorkshire.

We stood at the Place Of Execution and saw where the death sentences were carried out. It was thought provoking to consider that not all of the soldiers died because of the actions of their enemies.

At The Colne Valley Cemetery

Monday 9:20am: We have just been to visit the Colne Valley Cemetery near Ypres. The West Yorkshire soldiers named one of their trenches Colne Valley, bringing a familiar name to an unfamiliar situation. It is quite an isolated cemetery so it was good for us to visit it and think about soldiers who came from our area.

Some Thoughts On The Battlefields Visit

Joe: My best bit was placing the wreath at the Menin Gate. It made me feel proud and made me feel like I was a part of the ceremony. I have enjoyed the trip very much.

Claudia: I liked it when I got to go to my great, great grandad’s grave. It was good because it was special as I was the first person to visit the grave from my family.

Alec: I enjoyed visiting my great great uncle’s memorial at Tyne Cot. to was interesting but shocking to see the huge amount of graves in such small place.

It was very interesting to visit the cemeteries and memorials. The numbers of graves was overwhelming – it was hard to put the numbers into proportion.

Cameron: When I got to put the wreath on the Menin Gate, it was amazing because it was so big – it felt very serious. I was proud, and proud of myself for doing it.

Anthony: Tyne Cot was the cemetary that meant the most to me. The sheer immensity and scale of the place.

On A Sunday

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Today has been our last full day of touring the battlefields and we packed it to the brim. Starting off, we went to Delville Wood where some of the worst fighting of the war took place. The South Africans were trying to take the woods from the Germans and there were huge casualties. The memorial and museum are dedicated to the South African soldiers. While it has the solemnity of the other cemeteries, the place is a relic of the old South Africa with hardly a mention of the black Africans who were a part of the conflict. The Sikh stretcher bearers are featured in one panel and the black Africans, who were part of the labour force, are on another. Black Africans weren’t allowed to enlist as combatants but they were in Europe doing a lot of the physical work on the fronts.

After Delville Woods, we got to visit Lochnagar Crater that was the result of an explosion on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Miners had buried deep under the German lines and placed enormous amount of explosives underneath. It is hard to capture the scale of the crater but the picture at http://www.lochnagarcrater.org/ gives you some idea.

Following Lochnager, we went up to Beaumont Hamel, the site of a battle between the Commonwealth forces and the German army who were defending a vital railway line. A huge number of the soldiers were from Newfoundland in Canada and the loss was a massive blow to the small community. Canadian students welcomed us to the site and we could clearly see how close the two sides were positioned across the field.

The caribou statue commemorating the sacrifice of the Newfoundlanders.

The statue for the Scottish Highlanders who later took Beaumont Hamel in another battle.

Next we went to Railway Cuttings to see the sites where the Accrington Pals and Barnsley Pals were decimated, leaving towns missing a generation of young men. We also went to Serre Road Cemetary Number One. There we each took time to place a poppy on a grave of one particular soldier. It was an opportunity to focus on one soldier in the face of thousands of graves.

Our last stop for the day was Thiepval, a huge monument to the missing on the Somme. Every side of every column is filled with name after name.

In the evening, we went into explore the healthy eating programme in Ypres. Here are the results of our findings – no photograph of the Belgium chocolate shop available.

At The Menin Gate

This afternoon we left the British cemeteries behind and traveled to the German cemetery at Langemark to see a very different type of memorial. Because there was such hostile feelings towards Germany after the First World War, the Germans were given much smaller areas than the allied forces to bury their dead. About 24 thousand area buried in one mass grave at Langemark and then another 20 thousand in the other graves there. The whole atmosphere of this cemetery is much more somber as the graves are upon the ground and made of  dark stone, not up right and of white stone as we had seen before.

As the rain fell heavily, it added to the atmosphere of the place. Haseena laid a wreath at the cemetery to show respect for the German war dead of the First World War. It seemed very appropriate as we prepare to receive guests at the school from all across Europe spend a moment to reflect on a time when Europe was at war  and yet be able to see from our 21st century perspective that the dead soldiers from all sides left grieving families behind them.

In the evening, we walked into Ypres to take part in the Last Post Ceremony, which occurs every night at 8pm. It was very moving to watch people from all over the world come together under the huge arch, filled with the names of the war dead whose bodies have not been found or identified. Joe and Cameron were able to represent the school and place a wreath along with other representatives of schools, armed forces and youth groups. They performed their part in the ceremony with great dignity and pride.