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The following account is by Sophia, one of two Year 10 pupils who recently returned from a trip to visit the battlefields of Northern France.
We won a trip with the World War 1 Centenary Battlefields Tour, which was fully funded by the government. We travelled by Eurotunnel to Calais and then made our way across the French border to Belgium, where we stayed in Ypres. And it was awesome…
Every day we had a focus question; our first being: “How did WW1 affect the lives of people?” We visited Lijssenthoek Cemetery. Here, we learnt about the importance of analysing your surroundings and then we discovered that every headstone tells a story. It was definitely something. You could see graves; all the headstones were the same – stretching for miles. Afterwards we went to the Memorial Museum in Passchendaele and underwent a dug out experience and the life of ordinary people at war. It was generally very insightful. The day ended with the traditional Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ypres, which was a powerful symbol of remembrance and will forever play in my mind.
“Was the battle of the Somme a disaster for the British Army?” During the second day, we set off to Vimy Ridge in France. Here, there was a massive memorial and it was magnificent in a sombre way, especially the history behind the area itself. I think this by far the most amazing memorial I’ve seen and it had so much meaning behind it – you have to see it to believe it. You could actually see for miles. Then, we went to Sunken Lane shortly after and here we began to understand the downfall of the British Army in the Somme. It was heart-breaking. We got to stand in the middle of no man’s land and reflect on the life that a soldier had to live. We arrived at another cemetery and shortly afterwards made our way to Thiepval Memorial. Earlier on in the trip, we researched a soldier that lived in Feltham and found his name in the memorial. We always were taught to remember – but I’ve never been able to relate because of my background. That has changed. I didn’t realise how small the world was until we managed to find a local soldier mentioned on a memorial abroad.
“Is remembrance more or less important 100 years on?” More important. On the last day, we went back to the Menin Gate, where our guide explained more of the history around. There were millions and millions of names. It was crazy. It put into perspective how many lives were lost but how many families were affected. Think about it: for every 1 life lost 30 others would be affected. That’s a lot of people. After we went to a workshop, similar to the poppies at the Tower of London, and we got to make clay figurines to represent more lives that were lost. Later, we went to the Langemark Cemetery. It was very, very different to a commonwealth grave because it was German. It had an entirely different atmosphere as the majority of graves were boy soldiers, not much older than us. Our last place was Tyne Cot Cemetery. It was the largest cemetery we had been to of the entire tour. Here, we found another local soldier and again, it was a weirdly perceptive experience. We ended the tour with the focus question. I was very grateful for the tour. It opened my eyes a little more, to a world of hate and fighting. I know that it’s difficult to change every human in the world but so many people were injured, missing and died for such a hopeless cause. Awareness is so important, as is remembrance. We should remember. We may not be peaceful or perfect but we should remember.