Posted on: November 5th 2019

First World War Battlefields

On a damp and dark morning of October 16th, the annual History department trip to the First World War Battlefields departed with 43 pupils and 4 teachers. This trip was now into its 30th year and once again the trip was packed with eager Year 9 pupils, who were willing to brave the early start and the mud and rain of Northern France and Belgium. Once again, the party stayed in the excellent Youth Hostel of De Iep, which is in the town of Ypres.

Over the course of three very busy days, the battlefields party visited some of the best kept sites of the First World War, but this year there was a special focus on those soldiers who came from Woodstock, as part of the school’s project.

Day one was a very typical day in Northern France; drizzle and sharp gusts of wind that could take your hat off. Fortunately, the party spent most of their time travelling to Arras, where we would be taking a guided tour around the tunnels that were used in the Battle for Arras from 1915-1917. The tunnels revealed the conditions that the soldiers of the British Empire lived in during the run up to the main campaign of this battle. However, on the way to the tunnels, we made a quick stop, mainly due to the rain, to Vimy Ridge to witness the spectacular memorial to the Canadian soldiers. This site was given over to the people of Canada as a thank you, from France, to those who gave their lives for the defence of France.  

On the second day, the party visited the Battlefields of the Somme, taking in the simple memorials to the Devonshire regiment, who are buried in the trench that they occupied at the start of the battle of the Somme. We also visited the wonderful Beaumont Hamel commune, in which 98% of the soldiers from Nova Scotia were killed on the first day of the Somme in 1916. We finished the day visiting the Thieval memorial, the largest memorial to British soldiers on the Western Front and a German cemetery in Fricourt, where over 70,000 German soldiers are buried.

On the final day, the party spent the day in the Ypres Solent, focusing on the British battles to free Belgium from German control. We started the day by visiting the Menin Gate, which was the gateway used by the British soldiers as they went into battle in this area. We then moved on to Essex Farm, where the famous poem ‘In Flanders Field’ was penned, and then we moved on to Tyne Cot, which is the largest cemetery for Commonwealth forces in the world. The final visit of the day was Hill 62, which is a recommissioned trench system, used by the British soldiers during the war.

The trip, is and always has been an integral part of the Marlborough School calendar, enriching the lives of all those who have taken part. This year was no exception, as all the pupils gained a valuable insight into what fighting in the First World War was all about. The pupils asked inquisitive questions from start to finish and always wanted to know more. The department hopes that next years visit will be just as successful as the last thirty years.

Mr Moss

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