Two Year 9 students have taken part in a government-led tour of the World War One battlefields in France and Belgium to commemorate the centenary years of the Great War.
Nathan Phillips and David Bennett along with History teacher Mr Lomas joined teachers and students from around 50 other schools from the Stoke-on-Trent, Chester and Manchester areas on a four-day tour of the Ypres Salient and the Somme.
World War One cost the lives of over 10 million soldiers and millions more civilians. It signalled the start of modern warfare and changed the world dramatically. Between 2014 and 2019, HM Government is funding every state school in the UK to visit the battlefields and learn about the conflict. The tours are led by educational tour operator, Equity, as well as the Institute of Education.
The first day of the tour was devoted to preparation for the visit and was based at Grosvenor Hall in Kent. Students took part in team-building exercises whilst the teachers took part in CPD sessions and discovered ways to deliver WW1 teaching in the centenary years. The day concluded with a WW1 artefacts lesson led by the Institute of Education and the British Army.
The second day saw us head off to Ypres, a key Belgian town which saw some of the heaviest fighting in the entire war. We were given time to look round the "In Flanders Fields" museum inside the magnificent Cloth Hall building before visiting Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery where 9,901 Commonwealth war graves are located along with hundreds of other nationalities. Significantly amongst the thousands of men lies one woman, Staff Nurse Nellie Spindler, who was killed when a shell exploded at her casualty clearing station, she was just 26. We then moved on to the Death Cells Museum at Poperinge to learn about the 306 British and Commonwealth soldiers who were shot by the British Army for various offences such as cowardice or desertion.
That evening the schools took part in the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ypres, laying wreaths to honour the countless men who died in war but their bodies were never found.
On the third day we crossed the border into France and to the Somme battlefields. We visited the Ulster Memorial Tower, dedicated to the brave soldiers of the 36th (Ulster) Division who attacked the nearby Schwaben Redoubt on the first day of the infamous Battle of the Somme on 1st July 1916. The visit took in a tour of excavated British trenches. We then continued on to Sheffield Memorial Park and Danzig Alley British Cemetery before arriving at the Thiepval Memorial, a grand memorial designed by Sir Edwin Lutwens (who also designed the Cenotaph) dedicated to the men whose bodies are still missing on the Somme. In the evening the Army led workshops to show what a soldier's life is like today.
On our final day, we visited Langemark German Cemetery and Tyne Cot British Cemetery as well as a pottery studio in Ypres, where we all made clay figures which will be used as part of a memorial to all the Belgian civilians who died during the war.
It was at Tyne Cot however where we found the memorial to Trooper Harold Miles Averill of the Household Battalion, a former student of King Edward VI Grammar School (our predecessor), who died on 12th October 1917 and had lived in Middle Friars in Stafford.
The whole tour was a moving and enriching experience for all and perhaps a reminder of why and how war is a terrible thing. Our job now is to pass on our experience to others through the Legacy 110 programme.
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