Photo Gallery: Cromer students sample the trenches, tombstones and emotions of the First World War battlefields

Cromer Academy First World War battlefields tour - Phoebe Gee with Harriet Crow and Maise Ruhl-Barre

Cromer Academy First World War battlefields tour - Phoebe Gee with Harriet Crow and Maise Ruhl-Barrett in the trenches - Credit: Archant

Teenagers stand in muddy, water-filled trenches and dank pitch black tunnels in a foreign land.

Cromer Academy First World War battlefields tour - group picture

Cromer Academy First World War battlefields tour - group picture - Credit: Archant

Around them are rats, and massive craters caused by giant deadly mines.

Life in the trenches for real. Picture: PA Wire

Life in the trenches for real. Picture: PA Wire - Credit: PA

Today those young people are students learning about a bloody chapter from their First World War history books.

Cromer Academy battlefield trip students - Phoebe Gee, Jake Lomax, and Nathan Aldis recalling their

Cromer Academy battlefield trip students - Phoebe Gee, Jake Lomax, and Nathan Aldis recalling their trip with some First World War memorabilia. Picture: RICHARD BATSON - Credit: Archant

One hundred years ago teens of a similar age were fighting, and dying, for their country in their thousands to create that history.

For the Cromer Academy pupils that history was brought more vividly back to life by being there, being the same age as many of those who endured it, having lied about how old they were to join the patriotic fervour to serve.


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The echoes of young lives ended by bullets and explosives reverberated around the museums, and vast cemeteries of Belgium and France during school trips most years.

But this year there was added poignancy as the centenary milestone is reached, and the Cromer students also sought out memorials to people from their home area.

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Three of the students Phoebe Gee, and head boy Jake Lomax, both 15, and Nathan Aldis, 14, recalled the sights and emotions of the trip to household name areas including the Somme and Ypres.

All the 29 pupils were given small wooden crosses to put on a grave.

Phoebe picked a young soldier who bravely died trying to save a friend - something she found 'incredible', adding: 'most of us would not have the courage to do it.'

And when the party took a tour of some preserved trenches at Sanctuary Wood they had a brief glimpse of what life was like for young men a century ago.

Phone said: 'It was pitch black, I hit my head, Jake stood on a rat, and I ended up in water almost knee deep.'

Nathan said the size of the cemeteries was shocking and brought home the size of the losses and the number of unidentified graves - just marked to a Soldier of the Great War.

And Jake said: 'We went to a couple of German cemeteries, which were given less space and people were buried in mass graves

'As a pacifist it made me feel even more strongly about the horror of war.'

One grave, at the Essex Farm cemetery in Flanders was for a Valentine Strudwick aged just 15 - who was among those who lied about their age to serve their country despite being under the 19 year minimum age for signing up.

'It was important to feel the hate and patriotism they must have felt,' added Phoebe.

Jake and Issy Cook laid a wreath at the nightly Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate, with a tribute from the school in 'respectful and grateful memory of the' men who fought and died.

Students also saw giant craters caused by underground mines which blew up enemy trenches, and were given some mock 'drill sessions' by a tour guide.

Assistant head Rob Speck said the school did a trip to the battlefields every two years for GCSE students. This year's on the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of war was extra special as youngsters sought to find the resting places of the people named on local war memorials.

They included Private Arthur Brown who lived in Central Road in Cromer, and died near the Railway Dugouts in Belgium on October 24 1917 while serving with the Queen's Regiment .

Mr Speck said that David Leeder, a relative of the soldier, asked the school to track down his grave after seeing a press story previewing the trip.

He added: 'It is easy to read that 60,000 men ere injured or killed on first day of the Somme, but it is just a number - but when you see the graves and names it gives it extra meaning.

'You can show photos up to his knees in mud but wading through a trench yourself has a huge impact.

'When it is wet and miserable and the students are moaning about getting on and off the cost each they can realise that young men ere living there 24/7 for a month at a time.'

If they were lucky enough to live that long.

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