It was a very early start – the students set off from Downlands at 5.45pm and an extremely long day but what a day!
With the aid of expert tour guides from Anglia Tours, Year 10 GCSE History students were transported to the World War I front line in Ypres (now called Ieper) in Flanders. They visited the German Bayernwald trench system on a slight hill above Ypres and learnt about how the German soldiers built trenches, how just the minor rise in the ground gave the German army such an advantage and how different the experience had been for the Allied soldiers. There were several ferocious battles in Ypres – the Third Battle of Ypres (31 July to 6 November 1917, also known as the Battle of Passchendaele) was devastating. The students could see the path of the Allied trenches in the landscape which now are the paths of streams – Flanders means marsh and you could certainly see how the water table is just a meter below the land surface.
The students visited Hill 60 where they learnt about the deadly and treacherous work of the miners in creating a system of tunnels under the trenches. Explosives in these tunnels were devastating for both sides and have marked the landscape with enormous craters. The students learnt about the devastating effect of war – the weapons used (including the use of gas), the devastating injuries and how disease had a huge impact on the numbers who died; they learnt about the uniform that our troops wore – how at the beginning of the war, they wore cloth caps and only later received the tin helmets, how the uniforms were not waterproof or comfortable. The students also visited the Menin Gate – the impressive memorial to the missing in action.
Finally the students had the privilege to visit a war cemetery to lay a wreath on the grave of the great, great uncle of one of the students – Jonathan Watson. Martin Featherstone (one of the ex British Army guides) played The Last Post (from his i-pad) and said a few words about Private J Carr of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment who died on 23 November 2017 aged just 21. Jonathan then laid a wreath and the students observed a minute’s silence to contemplate all that they had seen and heard about World War I that day.