21st March 2016
Writing: Rishi Shah (Year 9)
Editing: Thomas Bailey (Year 13)
Throughout March, Year 9 were privileged to be able to travel to France and Belgium to experience a first-hand view of the events of the First World War, and pay respects to the millions of soldiers who sacrificed their lives for us.
An early start on Saturday morning set us on our course for the Somme region in France, which we arrived at after a good seven hours of travelling. The Battle of the Somme took place here, which had lasted an astonishing 140 days! Our first visit was to Newfoundland Park. This was a place where 700 out of 800 Canadians (Newfoundlanders) who were fighting for the British died, after they misinterpreted a German flare in the sky and tried to attack the Germans. An attack which proved to be very unsuccessful. It was one of the most tragic moments in the Battle of the Somme. We were given a very interesting tour of the area. After, we visited Thiepval Memorial, a huge monument which contained the names of 11,000 soldiers whose bodies were never found. An Old Challoner was included on this memorial.
The second day was probably the most eventful of the three. We travelled to a town called Ypres in Belgium, where three battles in the First World War occurred. The town, as you can probably imagine, was destroyed during the First World War and has been rebuilt since. Firstly, we visited a museum in the centre of Ypres – containing some interesting facts, videos and artefacts from the war. It showed us in depth some of the true horror of the war. Secondly, we paid a visit to the preserved trenches in Sanctuary Wood. This was an exciting experience for many of us, as we got to experience what the trenches were really like and go inside a few pitch-black tunnels! This was a thrilling experience!
We then visited Tyne Cot and Langemark cemeteries to see the contrast and shock of the First World War graves. The 11,000 British graves at Tynecot amazed us all, and we were met with the huge difference in remembrance at Langemark. The Germans had 85,000 soldiers there, in about 10% of the area of Tyne Cot! They engraved multiple names on a gravestone, as they weren’t given much space to build their graves. Next, we were given some free time to explore Ypres before heading off to the Menin Gate. Since the 1920s, every evening (excluding during the Second World War) at the Menin Gate there has been a ‘Last Post’ ceremony to remember the sacrifices the soldiers made in the First World War. Some students from DCGS went up and laid a poppy wreath on the school's behalf.
The final day was a very relaxed one. We travelled to Bruges in Belgium – a city so beautiful it has been labelled a World Heritage Site. This city was a major place in terms of the war – but we didn’t look into that in too much detail. Instead, we enjoyed a brilliant boat trip around the canal – with the sunny weather making it even more enjoyable. We were given some free time to roam around Bruges – in which many of us spent a majority of our money on Belgian chocolate – a luxury we all couldn’t wait to dive into at home. A change in weather even brought us some snow! It was a perfect end to a brilliant trip and we promptly set off to Calais and back home.
The trip was extremely enjoyable; it was very beneficial to our studies of WW1 but it was also a welcome break from school. I, along with many other people, would recommend it to future Year 9 groups and massive thanks are owed to the History Team and all the staff who made it possible.