Year 9 students have spent recent months researching World War 1 in their history lessons, focusing on the impacts in Amersham, as well as looking into the drastic circumstances of the fighting itself. This topic would also involve a trip to France later in the year to look into a greater depth of the topic. After an early start, our coach arrived at the Beaumont Hamel Memorial Park. Whilst taken around the area, we were told that it was the largest battalion memorial on the Western Front, and the largest area of the Somme battlefield that has been preserved. We were lucky enough to explore the fields, whilst also being told about the soldiers’ experiences in the trenches and more.

After this, we were taken to the Thiepval Memorial, otherwise known as the “Memorial for the Missing,” as it was a way of commemorating soldiers who had no known grave. We were able to look through different booklets and browse the names of thousands of soldiers who had given their lives in the Somme. Although it was extremely sad to witness the colossal amount of men whose lives had been taken at often a young age, it was important to understand just how brutal the battles could be. Following this, our coach visited the Ulster Tower Memorial, in which we were able to look around the area where the men of the 36th Ulster Division had to capture Schwaben Redoubt. The evening was rounded off with a game of football and some of us even tried snails for our dinner!

Sunday began early, with Year 9 students visiting the Passchendaele Memorial Museum for the first part of the day. Walking around the site, we witnessed numerous artifacts from the Battle of Passchendaele, including gas masks and different tools used in warfare, such as a German artifact which was used to hear the sounds of enemy tunnels digging. It was this great detail that the Passchendaele Memorial Museum included which made it a highlight for many students on the trip. The Museum also featured some of the most accurate reconstructions of the trenches from World War 1, which students could explore later on.

We then took a walk around the huge Tyne Cot British Cemetery further on in the day. It is the resting place of 12,000 soldiers, including multiple winners of the Victoria Cross. The Memorial was grand and impressive in structure. This would prove to be extremely different to the Langemark German Cemetery which we visited immediately afterwards. In contrast, Langermark, the memorial to German soldiers, seemed far more secretive and in some ways apologetic in its appearance. Instead of tall and striking structures, we saw flat, minimalistic graves scattered across a far smaller field. One particular spot contained roughly 25,000 bodies alone within only a few metres. This example of different sites is an important demonstration of how we choose to remember certain people. Continuing on the theme of remembrance, we visited Vancouver Corner, Essex Farm, Hill 60 and Mesen for the rest of the day.

Our final destination would be the Menin Gate. Before the evening’s ceremony, however, the school had time for a visit to a chocolate shop in the centre of Ypres. Students rushed into the store, gathering in a large crowd surrounded by a collection of sweets. A charismatic salesman persuaded me to spend much more money than I had originally intended when I first entered the shop, with one of the most persuasive speeches I have ever witnessed. The idea of saving $2 on a packet of marshmallows had never appeared so exciting!

And so, later on, the Menin Gate Ceremony saw hundreds of residents visit the daily service for what would be an interesting and significant service, including many of the Challoner’s group who took part. I found it incredible to see that, despite it being a daily service, hundreds of people still turned up to commemorate the bravery and determination of many soldiers over 100 years ago. This huge focus on the First World War appeared consistent at all the places we explored, whilst all of the locations gave us a unique representation of the topic.

The final day involved a trip to Bruges, in which students were given the independence to explore the city and discover what it had to offer, including a canal journey through the heart of Bruges. An entertaining browse around different shops proved to be a highlight for many, particularly the multiple chocolate stores. Despite certain students nearly spending $50 on a 20 minute horse ride, it seemed the majority of us managed to stay reasonably sensible in our purchases across the city. The enjoyable final day was a perfect way to finish what was a hugely successful trip! Huge thanks must go to the history team for making the trip possible.