Pupils and staff from Driffield School spent three days on a WWI battlefields tour of the Ypres Salient and Somme regions.
The trip was designed to consolidate pupils learning in the classroom and during their visit the pupils were able to learn from a wealth of important WWI historical sites and excursions and engage with the past in a tangible and emotional way. This year is particularly important as we mark the centenary years of the Great War. The visit left a lasting impression on students and gave a unique opportunity to embrace the past and remember those who gave their lives during the conflict.
The tour included visits to Ypres Salient, encompassing the In Flanders Fields Exhibition which is a state-of-the-art, interactive museum covering most aspects of the war in Flanders, and shows the war through the eyes of soldiers, nurses, refugees and children.
Then onto Essex Farm Cemetery & Dressing Station which is probably most famous because of the connection between the preserved British bunker and the Canadian poet, John McCrae. Pupils visited the cemetery and a reading of ‘In Flanders fields’ was made by student Grace Pollard.
Visits were also made to Kitchener’s wood where the first German chemical gas attack took place on 22 April 1915 and Langemarck cemetery which was especially poignant as it contained a memorial room dedicated to the dead of the German Student Battalions decimated here in 1914. On the evening pupils visited the Menin Gate, which is the largest and the most important of the British memorials to the Missing in The Salient, the memorial holds the names of 54,896 soldiers of the British Empire and marks the start of one of the main roads out of Ypres towards the Front Line. Driffield School took part in the Last Post ceremony and laid a wreath at the Menin Gate. The wreaths centre was designed by student Charlotte Smith and laid down by Simon Adams, Lucy Booth and Chloe Hill.
The next day pupils were taken back to France to explore the Somme region. A trip to Lochnagar Crater, La Boisselle which was the result of a mine explosion on 1st July 1916, and is the largest surviving crater on the Western Front, followed by a visit to Fricourt cemetery and Mametz Wood where a picnic lunch was held overlooking the woods were the Welsh division attacked the German lines on 7th July 1916.
After lunch, pupils took part in ‘Drill’ ably commanded by John, our wonderful tour guide; who marched the pupils along the route that WW1 British soldiers had once taken.
The last stop on our visit was to the Thiepval Memorial which is the largest memorial to the British and Irish missing on the Western Front, containing the names of 73,412 men who died from 1915 to 1917 and have no known graves. Student Leah Palmer was especially pleased to visit the resting place of relative Private Robert Normandale of the Royal Marine Light Infantry who died on 17 February 1917 and whose name is inscribed at Thiepval.
After a tiring day, pupils were treated to an evening in Ypres with the infamous chocolate shop visit.
On the final day of the tour, students were taken to Tyne Cot British Cemetery which is the resting place of 11,956 soldiers, and the largest British Military Cemetery in the world. The panels in the rear wall also hold the names of 34,888 missing soldiers. Pupils were given the opportunity to place crosses on soldier’s graves and many took the opportunity to quietly give their thanks.
Then it was off to Bayernwald (Croonaert Wood) were German troops occupied this strategic position from late 1914. The site consists of a preserved German trench system, within which are several large concrete emplacements and two mineshafts.
The last visit was to Sanctuary Wood Museum & Hill 62 which shows well-preserved, original British trenches and houses artefacts and photographs from World War I. Pupils were able to explore the trenches and get a real feeling for how many soldiers spent the war. The end of a wonderful trip came with a reading of ‘Aftermath’ by Siegfried Sassoon and the words ‘Have you forgotten yet? This struck an emotional response from many of the staff and students.