Prior's Field September 2018

Year 11 visit the Battlefields

Published Thursday 6th of November 2014 02:09:41 PM

On Monday 20th October 2014, and to mark 100 years since the beginning of the First World War, 29 Year 11 students from Abbey Gate College journeyed to France and Belgium to visit the cemeteries and battlefields of the Somme and Ypres.

Travelling overnight by coach through Hurricane Gonzales, the weather gave us some impression of the conditions faced by British soldiers in those later months of 1914. Vimy Ridge was the first location and here we took in the atmosphere and scale of the famous memorial before entering the tunnels that brought Canadians that rare prize of a quick victory in 1917. It was a completely different story just outside Beaumont Hamel where Newfoundlanders died almost to a man in a fruitless attack on the opening day of the Somme. Tired but engaged we then drove to the town of Ypres where we stayed next door to the Menin Gate.

Days two and three repeated the above formula � combining visits to trenches, memorials, craters and cemeteries. �Highlights� included the section of frontline at Sanctuary Wood with its water, mud, shell holes, barbed wire and huge assortment of eerie postcards and artefacts. We then contrasted the powerfully moving Commonwealth cemetery at Tyne Cot (where nearly 12,000 identified soldiers lie buried) with its German equivalent at Langemarck (containing a mass grave of some 25,000 souls). Everyone noted the differences. On the second night we attended the Menin Gate Last Post ceremony and Issy Spofforth and Sam Rayner laid a wreath on behalf of the College in sight of around 1,000 spectators.

Head of History, Mr Mike Dickins, comments �Not only did the trip provide a valuable context to our forthcoming coursework on recruitment and the role of women at war, it was also a very personal journey. Over a third of our students and staff were able to trace relatives who had fallen during the Great War, and a significant proportion of our visit was spent at lesser known cemeteries off the beaten track. In many ways these gave us the most poignant moments � quiet oases among farms, villages and fields where students located family headstones and laid down crosses, while elsewhere � at Tyne Cot, at Thiepval and on the Menin gate, students and staff all identified relatives or friends of relatives on the many memorials.�

Mike also adds �I am in awe of our sensitive and intelligent Year 11 students who made the trip so worthwhile. Their interest and care alone generated a level of respect of which their ancestors would be proud. History may be about the past, but we are all in some ways a product of this, and those few days on the Western Front gave each of us another piece of our wider identity�.
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