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Year 9 WW1 Battlefields Experience - June 2019

This June saw our annual pilgrimage to the Battlefields of WW1, with 136 Year 9 students and 13 staff.  Whilst the weather was decidedly mixed, we never actually got soaked – more by luck than judgment…

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After an indecently early start, the first day was spent around the area of Ypres salient, visiting both British and German cemeteries and trench systems, arriving at the excellent Messines Youth Hostel just in time to avoid another huge though brief downpour.  After food, there was a chance to let off steam on the extensive facilities before retiring for the night.  Many students had already had the opportunity to visit the graves or memorials of their ancestors, often a great, great, great Uncle or Grandfather.

Day two saw us travelling down to the Somme area to compare and contrast the offensives and witness the actual places where so many fought and died on the 1st July 1916.  This involved a good deal of walking, retracing the footsteps of the soldiers in weather conditions that were often challenging.  Despite this, our students showed commendable resilience and maintained focus under the guidance of the passionate and knowledgeable Anglia Tours guides.  Lunchtime provided an opportunity to see several of our students dressed up in period gear, trying gas marks and handling contemporary weaponry.  The afternoon saw much improved weather as we visited the huge mine craters at Hawthorn Ridge and Lochnagar.  The final visit of the day was to the mighty, impressive Thiepval memorial to the 72,000 missing soldiers.  Again, many students paid the respects to past family members.

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On our return to Messines, we took the opportunity to conduct our own personal Last Post ceremony at the local cemetery, led by Mr Walker on the violin and one of our students on a flute.  A beautifully respectful and moving experience for all.

Our final (thankfully sunny!) day saw a return to the Somme and Arras – a highlight for many being the chance to visit the underground mining systems from which parts of the 1917 offensives were launched.  The Canadian memorial at Vimy is always particularly impressive in the sunshine.  Our return journey to Calais was via Tyne Cot cemetery, the largest Commonwealth Wargrave Cemetery in the world.  A very fitting place for us to lay a wreath from the school community in one final act of remembrance.

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Through the extensive use of our Facebook site, parents were able to follow our three day adventure almost ‘live’ and to see for themselves all the sites we visited.  We very much appreciated all the messages of thanks received on our return home.  It is a huge trip to organise but seeing how much the students get from it always make it a worthwhile and rewarding experience - their behaviour throughout the three days was immaculate and they were a credit to our whole community.

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