Photo gallery: Battlefield tour brings home reality of the First World War to high school students
- Credit: Archant
With the world marking the centenary of the Great War, the government is funding two pupils from every secondary school in England to see the battlefields for themselves. Martin George joined a coach of Norfolk and Suffolk students on a poignant trip.
For some, it was the first sight of thousands of pristine headstones at Lijssenthoek Cemetery.
For others, it was the moment they retraced the steps of the Accrington Pals as they walked towards German machine guns. And for others, it was hearing the Last Post amid the graves of 12,000 men.
All 25 high school students on a government-funded tour of First World War battlefields may have learned about the First World War in the classroom, but it was only when visiting in person that the reality of the conflict sank in. Ahead of the trip, students discussed about what they hoped to get out of it.
Alice Skippings, 15, from Broadland High School, had researched a solider who died on the Western Front aged just 17 – the same age as her sister. She said: 'I hope it's going to be life-changing. I hope it makes me live my life more and realise why I'm here today, and know the history that affects us today.'
You may also want to watch:
Pupils from Aylsham High were hoping to add to their research on the men listed on the town's war memorial, while for Connor South, 13, of Sewell Park College, the trip was the start of a journey of his own. He had came across a young soldier, Bertie George South, from Kirby Bedon, just south of Norwich, who shared his surname. He died at Passchendaele in 1917, and his body was never identified. Connor wanted to know if they were related.
The trip started with students handling artefacts: a German soldier's helmet; one of Princess Mary's 1914 Christmas cigarette tins; a spoon which would also have served as a soldier's knife and fork; shrapnel and cartridges.
- 1 'I can't carry it' - Shock as plant starts growing eight inches a day
- 2 Aldi planning four new stores in Norfolk
- 3 Body found in search for missing 87-year-old Margaret Smith
- 4 Bungling car thieves dump £92,000 Range Rover
- 5 Woman hit with £900 vet bill after dog gets 'stoned' on park cannabis stash
- 6 Two Norfolk businesses star in TV show
- 7 Potential for 30C today – but two days of thunderstorms on the way
- 8 Excitement as city pub reopens after 18-month closure
- 9 Holiday homes bid for site of former landmark hotel
- 10 Fly-tipper travelled from Welsh border to dump in Norfolk
One of the aims of the tours is to help pupils understand both the scale of the conflict, and the stories of individuals involved. At Lijssenthoek Cemetery, pupils gained an appreciation of both. Among row after row of Commonwealth graves was that of England rugby player Jack Raphael.
On a visit to the cemetery in the 1920s, his mother made a pact with the cemetery's gardener, and after her death he secretly buried her ashes with her son, in defiance of regulations.
In the evening, pupils were among the thousands who gathered at the Menin Gate in Ypres, dedicated to missing British and Commonwealth soldiers, for the daily ceremony of the Last Post. Two presented a wreath on behalf of the group.
In the Somme the following day, pupils visited the excavated and restored trenches of Thiepval Wood, from where the Ulster Division launched its attack on the first day of the Battle of Somme, with nearly 2,000 men killed in the first two days of fighting. But for many, it was at the nearby Sheffield Memorial Park where the reality of the conflict hit home.
Students lined up in the remains of the trench from which the Accrington Pals, formed of friends who signed up together to fight for their country, went over the top. At the blow of the battlefield guide's whistle, the students walked toward the German line, the guide stopping them one-by-one where they would have fallen. All would have died within 30m; none would have reached their goal. The guide stooped to pick up small orange stones from the ploughed field: shrapnel still in the ground, 98 years later.
On the journey home, Alice Skippings said: 'I think it is something that has made me view my family in a different light, so I will probably talk to them in a different way. I have been calling my parents every night, and it's weird how you realise they do actually appreciate you. I can understand what everyone has been saying about the young men who went to war.'
See tomorrow's EDP for more stories from the battlefields.
Two pupils and one teacher from every state-funded secondary school in the country are being invited on a free First World War Centenary Battlefield Tour until 2019. The four-day tours aid teaching as part of the government's commemoration of the war's centenary. Go to www.centenarybattlefieldtours.org for further information and how to register.