World War 1 Battlefields Trip

Posted on: 23/03/2015

As part of a government initiative to commemorate the centenary of WW1 two students from GTS and myself were given the opportunity to visit a range of WW1 battle sites and memorials. I was joined by two Year 11 pupils Oliver Mathews and Harry Lambert who had earned their place on the trip by producing outstanding pieces of writing on why it is important to remember WW1. 

The trip started from Exeter on Friday 13th March where we were joined by staff and pupils from other schools from across Devon and Cornwall. First stop on the trip was a stopover in Ashford Kent where we were involved in a pre trip briefing which involved finding out more about WW1 by investigating information about local soldiers involved in the war and by examining artefacts such as shells, barbed wire cutters and bayonets. Early on Saturday morning we headed for Belgium via Euro star. We first visited Lijssenthoek cemetery which had been originally next to a field hospital; the cemetery contains 10,800 graves covering 30 different nationalities and holds the grave of 1 of only 2 women killed in action on the Western Front, a nurse called Nellie Spindler. 

Later we visited the death cells at the town of Poperinge where men were held before being executed for charges such as desertion. Over the course of the three days spent in Belgium and France we visited a range of graves and museums which all gave a great insight into life for ordinary men and women during the war including a visit to the infamous battlefields of The Somme where 20,000 young British soldiers were slaughtered on July 1st 1916 making it the worst day ever in British military history. The ceremony  of the last post held  at the Menin Gate in the town of Ypres was especially thought provoking and memorable for the fact that this takes place every night in Ypres at 8.00pm and involves the shutting down of the main road to remember those whose bodies have not been recovered from WW1. On the final day we visited the Tyne Cot cemetery which is the largest commonwealth cemetery in the world; here we visited the memorial to John Smale a young man from Great Torrington who lived in New street. 

Being exposed to the horrors of war to such an extent did make all three of us reflect on the apparent pointlessness of this conflict and the war that would supposedly end all wars.

 
- Bill O'Donnell, History Teacher 

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