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Educational Visit – the Ypres Salient

On Friday 19th May the History department led a two-day trip to France and Belgium, visiting interesting and thought-provoking sites. Year 9 and 10 students had the opportunity to experience the regions on the Western Front where the most fierce and violent fighting took place during World War I.

The Danger Tree

After crossing the Channel to Calais early on Friday morning, our first stop was Vimy Ridge and Newfoundland Memorial Park. The sites commemorate the area where the Canadian Corps fought the German 5th Army for control of the German-held high ground. Tracing the steps of the Canadian Corps we walked along a preserved section of trenches and ‘over the top’ across No Man’s Land to the ‘Danger Tree’ – an exposed rallying point for Canadian troops and where Canadian divisions suffered particularly heavy casualties. The surrounding fields still hold evidence of the battle as craters and fissures still punctuate the landscape.

That evening we arrived in the town of Ypres in time for the Last Post ceremony, a tradition that has taken place every evening since 1928 as a salute to the fallen soldiers of the War. During the solemn and dignified event a notable official is invited to say the words of the Exhortation, taken from Laurence Binyon's poem, “For the Fallen”
 

Walking the trenches

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.”

 

At the end of the reading the bugle played the Last Post which marked the end of the short but poignant ceremony. 

After the ceremony students and staff had the opportunity to explore the charming and picturesque centre of Ypres before making our way back to the hotel for the night.

YpresStarting bright and early the next morning we set out for Essex Farm Cemetery. A cemetery established next to a dressing station during the Second Battle of Ypres. A monument in the cemetery commemorates the composition of the War poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ which is reported to have been written in May 1915 by Lieutenant John McCrae.


                              “We are the Dead. Short days ago
                               We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
                               Loved and were loved, and now we lie
                               In Flanders fields.” 
 

Back in the town of Ypres we visited the ‘In Flanders Fields’ museum, where students added to their knowledge and understanding of the War on the Western Front. The museum preserves a link with the past through interactive displays and an imposing focus on the human experience and personal accounts of the individuals that were affected by the conflict.

Langemark Cemetery

Our last stop was the Langemark Cemetery where 44,000 German soldiers were buried between 1916 and 1918. The nearby village is also the site of the world’s first gas attack. The cemetery provides a stark contrast to the many bright marble monuments and flower decorated military cemeteries across the region. Here the dark sculpture of mourning soldiers is steeped in the shadow of the surrounding trees, giving the site a very sombre atmosphere.

This thought-provoking visit with its full and stimulating itinerary marked the end of our exploration of the First World War sites of the Western Front.

The trip provided our students with important academic knowledge of the First World War, reinforcing, adding to, and bringing to life aspects of what is learnt in the classroom, but equally, students were able to recognise more fully the devastating and lasting effects of conflict.

 

‘I had the great pleasure of taking part in the history trip to Belgium and France. It was a privilege and a great opportunity, for me and for the rest of my peers, as it is helping us in the understanding of life conditions and medicine, during World War One. This trip was amazing and we all enjoyed ourselves. I am pleased to say that we have not only been captured by the historical context of the trip, but as well by the beauty of Ypres town, which has a spectacular architecture.’  

-Stefania Balint, Year 10