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Event - World War One Battlefields Tour

1 to 4 October 2017

The school is very pleased that two of our students had the opportunity to join one of the First World War Centenary Battlefield Tours in France from 1st to 4th October 2017.

The four-day tour was part of a national educational programme organised by the University College London Institute of Education which offers the opportunity completely free of charge to two students from each state funded secondary school in the country.

It provided the chance for the students to interact with a variety of historical sites, including battlefields, memorials, cemeteries and museums, and to participate in remembrance ceremonies. The itinerary is designed to build on classroom learning and to provide opportunities for students to actively pursue meaningful historical enquiries and look in greater depths at the various aspects of the war.

The following is an extract from the students’ diary of the trip:

"Up bright and early on Sunday to meet in town at 9.15am, boarded coach down to Grosvenor Hall in Kent. Sunday afternoon was spent taking part in outdoor activities - high ropes and Jacobs ladder while the teachers did some class work, learning more about the tour and WW1.

After dinner we were each given the name of a soldier from Harborne who we were able to research in preparation for our visits to the cemeteries. We then enjoyed a session looking at the equipment that WW1 soldiers used and were able to ask current serving soldiers how their equipment was different.

On the second morning we got back on the coach to take the EuroTunnel to Calais and on to our first cemetery of the trip - Lijssenthoek Cemetery. It was our first realisation of how many people were actually affected by the war - we worked out that if each of our party of 30 were a fallen soldier and our death affected 20 people (family, friends, work colleagues), that would be 600 people directly affected by the war! We saw the grave of a British nurse who was killed in the war - Nellie Spindler and also the grave of a soldier who was younger than most of us on the trip - 15 years old!

After lunch we went to the Passchendaele Museum and got to go down into some genuine WW1 dugouts. This was a fantastic opportunity as the dugouts are going to be closed and back filled in November. After a couple of days of rain the dugouts were very damp and water was up to our ankles in some places. It was a really smelly and unpleasant place! Luckily we were only there for a short time - imagine being a soldier and having to eat and sleep here for days on end!

That night we were lucky to be taken to the Menin gate in Ypres where we took part in the ceremony of the Last Post. The buglers played and wreaths were laid.

On Tuesday morning we were up really early again and went off to Neuve Chapelle, the memorial to Indian soldiers in the war. We hadn't realised how many different nationalities made up the allies and it was interesting to learn about the diversity of soldiers.

We then went on to Newfoundland Memorial Park and got to spend time in preserved trenches and saw the exact positions that soldiers fought in, saw barbed wire posts still in place and saw craters made by dropped shells. We could easily have spent a full day here but had to move on to our next memorials... and the excitement of the day when we both found fragments of shell cartridges.

On Wednesday we left the hotel at 8am and went to a small pottery studio in Ypres. We made clay figures of crouching soldiers which will be part of a big art exhibition called Coming World Remember Me. Our individual names and clay figures will be assigned to the name of a soldier who died during the war. It was a privilege to be able to be part of this project because we think it is important that the world continues to remember and pay respect to the soldiers who served in the war.

We visited two more memorials, one to German soldiers where we remembered that although they were the enemy, German soldiers were just men like any other.

Our final cemetery was Tyne Cot, the largest Commonwealth war cemetery in the world - 11,956 soldiers are buried there and there are also another 34,927 names on the Memorial to the Missing. We laid a poppy cross at the Memorial to one of the Harborne soldiers we researched on the first night.

It was a fantastic trip. We all learned so much more about WW1.

One of the students said ‘I have more respect now for the soldiers, their friends and even their enemies. You just can’t fathom the scale of World War 1.’

We all agreed that it was as important now as ever to remember the lives lost and the sacrifices that were made by the soldiers and their loved ones."

Well done to both of our students for their excellent behaviour throughout the trip, getting up early and fully engaging in all the activities. A big 'thank you' to our staff Rachel and Lucy who organised the trip for the students, ironed out issues to make sure that they could go on the trip and benefit from this unique opportunity, and supported the students all the way there and back!