Video: How do teenagers on battlefields tour feel about remembering the First World War, 100 years on?
- Credit: Archant
Should we still commemorate the First World War? Martin George asks young people from Norfolk and Suffolk following their battlefield tour.
For almost a century, the First World War has held a unique place in our national consciousness. Every November, millions of people have worn their poppies, and communities have fallen silent at town and village memorials.
Today's generation of school children is the first for whom the men who fought in the trenches have fallen silent. What does remembrance mean now the soldiers of the Great War have all passed into history? Is it more or less important, 100 years on?
That is one of the questions the government-funded battlefield tours programme, jointly provided by the Institute of Education and Equity, asked students to reflect on throughout the four days.
As well as the Commonwealth graves, the tour included the daily ceremony of the Last Post at the Menin Gate, a German war cemetery, and the creation of a artist memorial to the men who died in Flanders.
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Jasmine Steward, 16, from Broadland High, said: 'I think remembrance is more important today because as time goes on, it's easier to forget. If we did forget, it would show that what they did was not worth it, and degrade what they did.
'They were heroes then, and they are heroes now.'
At the start of the tour, the students were encouraged to become ambassadors for what they learned, and tell their families, their friends and their communities.
With school assemblies, time capsules, and interactive displays already being planned, they are spreading the message to the rest of their generation.
Teenager plans commemoration for Aylsham WWI dead
For Luca Wedge-Clarke, the battlefields tour was the latest stage of a much-longer project to commemorate the war dead of his home town, Aylsham.
His interest was perked by a trip to Ypres last year, and over the last six months the 13-year-old has spent an hour a day, five days a week, researching local soldiers, and preparing an interactive display about them.
He was particularly intrigued by the three Goulder brothers - Robert, Clare and John - who died in the war. The town's original pavilion was a gift from the Goulder family, and Goulder Drive ensures the name lives on, on maps of Aylsham.
Luca said Clare and Robert both served in the 8th Battalion, Norfolk Regiment, and fought on the first day of the Battle of the Somme on July 1, 1916.
Robert was died outright, and his body was never recovered. Clare died of an infection three months later, and is buried in Aylsham. John had died at Gallipoli the year before.
Luca said: 'I had not been to the Somme before, so it was nice to look around and see how the brothers were involved in the proceedings of the area.'
He, fellow pupil Jacob Sinkins and history teacher Ben Stek, used the trip to gather more images related to local men, and record clips at the sites where men fought and were buried.
Among them was A J Horne, killed on November 3, 1917, and commemorated at the Tyne Cot memorial in Belgium.
Members of the local community have been invited to the launch of the display at Aylsham High School on November 7.
A nightly commemoration in Belgium
For more than 80 years, the citizens of Ypres have paid a nightly tribute to the men of the Commonwealth who died in the Somme, but have no known grave.
The massive Menin Gate, which records their names, stands on the route soldiers followed to the front line, and at 8pm every day it hosts the Lost Post Ceremony.
A couple of decades ago, attendance was sparse. Now, 100 years after the war broke out, thousands of people pay their respects.
Katy Battel, 15, from Hobart High, and James Oxborough, 15, from Caister High, laid a wreath on behalf of the group Norfolk and Suffolk schools on the trip.
Katy said: 'It was quite overwhelming, especially because of all the people there. I felt quite proud I was chosen to represent my school, and Norfolk schools.
'It did feel quite emotional. Even though the memorial is impressive and quite big, it feels quite intimate, because all of those people are squashed together.'
German war cemetery offers a contrast
The Commonwealth War Graves of the Western Front are a familiar sight: row after row of pristine white graves, each marking the final resting place of an individual soldier.
Less well known are the cemeteries of the German war dead. A battlefield guide explained that after the war, they were something of an embarrassment, both to Germany, and to France and Belgium, on whose soil they fell.
The German graveyards are fewer and smaller, but contain more remains. At Langemark, where the students spent a sombre 30 minutes, one mass grave contained more than 32,000 soldiers, and plaques in the ground marked graves containing up to 20 unknown men.
Laura Belt, 16, from Caister High, said: 'You come here and all of the stones are just flat on the ground, almost representing that they have fallen, and everything is grey and dark and there are no flowers and the trees block out the sun and it's dark.
'It's quite depressing. It does not feel as heroic, and as full of people who we all appreciate, like the British do.'
Art installation will commemorate war in Belgium
In London, the Tower of London is marking the centenary of the First World War with an art installation of 888,246 ceramic poppies, each representing a British military death in the conflict.
In Flanders, 600,000 clay sculptures will be placed in no-man's land near Ypres in spring 1918, representing those who lost their lives in Belgium.
Entitled Coming World Remember Me, each model is in the form of a crouched human, and will have a dog tag naming one of the dead, as well as the sculptor who made the figure.
Students from the trip decorated their own figures, which will join the commemoration.
Sam Spelling, 13, from Sprowston High, added his initials, and those of his school, to his sculpture.
He said: 'They sacrificed their today to secure our tomorrow. They sacrificed themselves to keep France, Belgium and Britain safe.'
How your school can take part in the tours
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.