110 Legacy Trip To The WW1 Battlefields
On Friday 16th March we travelled to Kent to begin our battlefields of WW1 tour and as we hoped, it was great. On top of our previous research we hoped to discover more about those who had fallen during battles like the Somme and Passchendaele and gain a greater understanding of the scale and impact of the war to end all wars. Previous to the trip, we researched many heroes local to Woodstock and then on the trip, we were able to place British Legion crosses at their resting places.
After team building sessions at Kent where we looked at artefacts of WW1 and researched local soldiers in the ICT suite, we caught the ferry to France on Saturday morning and travelled straight to Belgium’s Lijssenthoek Cemetery. Previously the area had been a mass dressing station at which many died including nurse Nellie Spindler. Now the area is the largest cemetery in Belgium after Tyne Cot with 10,121 identified soldiers with Nellie’s being the only female amongst them.
We then continued to Passchendaele Museum at which we walked in replica trenches from 1914-1918, watched a film and looked at a range of intriguing artefacts from the period. In the evening we attended the last post ceremony at Menin Gate, in which we felt the empathy and respect to those who had made the ultimate sacrifice.
Free time of 45 minutes gave us time to marvel at the restored Cloth Hall and enter the chocolate shop, in which we got a great deal!
Sunday morning saw us heading for our first stop at the Newfoundland Memorial Park, which is run by Canadian students who give tours and look after the grounds in honour of the Newfoundland regiment. Having walked around we were surprised at the scale of loss of such a small community and the complexity of such a mass operation as the battle on which these brave men fought. Then we proceeded to Sunken Lane at which we learnt how quickly men were killed so shortly after the battle started. Who knew what they were thinking at such a traumatic and emotionally challenging time. We were shocked by the amount of debris still lying around including a lead shrapnel ball which Isabel brought home.
The café which we stopped for lunch was a museum in itself; there was an array of decorated shell cases and pictures of men who were leading a regimental goat. After lunch we stopped to see the Lochnagar mine crater which is the largest man-made mine crater created in the First World War on the Western Front - 300ft across and 90ft deep.We found this horrific that humans could cause so much damage to the surroundings and were pleased it has returned to a peaceful place after it was bought and is currently being developed as a garden of Remembrance.
We then proceeded to Caterpillar Valley Cemetery which was situated between two of the German frontline trenches. While looking at the headstones in more detail we discovered that the war lived up to its name as a World War with names and regiments from across the globe.
Finally we went to Thiepval Memorial where we placed five British Legion wooden crosses by the soldier’s names, four, who we had researched on Woodstock War Memorial. One of the crosses was laid for Isabel’s Great, Great, Uncle William Dolman. Isabel commented “I found it very emotional to see his name honoured amongst so many of his fellow soldiers. It felt like I was a small part of something huge”.
In the evening we discovered the difference between uniforms of WW1 and the modern equivalent as demonstrated by the serving soldiers who travelled with us.
Monday came around so quickly and off we went to take part in an art project called “Coming World Remember Me” which is much like the Belgium version of the poppies at the tower of London to commemorate the fallen and to make sure there legacy lives on. This project involved making a single clay figure of a crouched soldier sheltering his head on crossed arms. This represents how vulnerable the World War made people feel. We were instructed to make the figures spine particles prominent to symbolise strength and stability which made some look like dinosaurs. Once the 600,000 figures have been fired they will be placed in No Man’s Land in one of the most fought over areas of Belgium for all to see. The clay that the figures are made from was a mix of clay from Ypres and Germany to show adversity in death and that now we all stand together. Each figure will be given the identity of a soldier and we are the Godmothers of them.
After the workshop we went to Langemark German Cemetery which is one of the few in Belgium. This contained the mass grave of hundreds of young students who went into battle after just six weeks training against skilled English gunners whom were capable of firing 15 rounds a minute on a Lee Enfield rifle. This made the Germans think they were up against machine guns. In comparison to the Triple Entente cemeteries it was dull and not as well kept which made us feel sorry for them. We thought they deserved being remembered with respect because: they are people too, some mother’s son, who would have mourned their loss as we did. We learnt that the Germans are ashamed of their soldiers and they are treated as a disgrace; there are 61,000 brave soldiers crammed into a small cemetery.
Our final stop of the Battle field programme was made at Tyne Cot Memorial. As we entered we began our search for the last three local soldiers, who with a map were really easy to find. We were able to climb the Cross of Sacrifice situated in the centre of the cemetery and we could see for miles all around. What struck us was the jaw dropping enormity of and equality of all of the headstones. We had been informed previously of the Commonwealth War Grave Commission’s work in providing regularity in the graves: same size, colour and shape. We hadn’t felt anything like this at the smaller cemeteries until we saw row after row of the well maintained white stone, carrying off into all corners of our vision. To conclude the tour we had a group discussion about the question “Do you think remembrance is more or less important 100 years on?”.
What do you think?
We have now to produce a project to deliver to at least 220 people outside of school to achieve this we will be working with various local organisations including the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum.
Alice & Isabel
The 110 Legacy trip exceeded all expectations. A huge thank you to all the professional bodies who led students and adults alike to a better understanding of the war. The key questions asked of the students were relevant and thought provoking. The serving soldiers brought the past and future together. The workshops handling artefacts and clothing were a bonus and the debate asking “Was the Battle of the Somme in 1916 really a disaster for the British Army?” was lively with several changing their minds during the session. For more information on how the art project is reaching children in vulnerable situations browse http://www.cwrm.be/en/charity
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