Ypres visit supports study of World War I

8th February 2018

Ypres visit 2017In December a group of National students and staff headed off to Belgium to visit Ypres as part of their studies around the First World War. The three day visit is a sobering discovery of the horrors of war, and emphasises the work that students are doing in the classroom, contextualising their learning and providing an important insight into war, humanity and politics.

“After an early start of four o’clock; our group of students and staff started our journey down to Belgium. The first significant stop was at the Passchendaele War Museum. The dugouts here are maintained from the First World War, and a chance to appreciate the living conditions on the front line. In this museum, we took a look into the lives of the fighting soldiers living in the trenches and developed our knowledge from the classroom in a really practical and interesting fashion. The Battles of Passchendaele saw some of the worst fighting in the war.

For our visit to Belgium we were staying at The Peace Village in Ypres, a purpose built hostel/hotel for school groups. We were able to look around the hostel and take in some of the local culture with any free time we had.

The itinerary for the first full day in Ypres focused upon the fighting around the Ypres Salient. We were never out of sight of the Ypres church spire which gave us a clear understanding of the density of the front. We took a trip to sanctuary wood and discovered the horrors of trench warfare. This was one of the many key high points on the Salient which were bitterly fought over during the war. To really emphasise the brutality of war, we were shown images of soldiers that had inflicted wounds - these pictures cannot be seen anywhere else in the world. The preserved trenches were a real eye opener into the unique conditions of the muddy water logged battlefield.

After learning about trench warfare we then visited two contrasting cemeteries. Tyne Cot Memorial was a vital part in our trip. It really helped us appreciate the gravity and scale of loss. The attitude to mourning in this British graveyard was completely different to anything we’d ever seen before. A square mile of white headstones, most without names, resembled only angels ascending into the heavens. Many of our students where personally touched by the sight of these thousands of graves. In sharp contrast, the German cemetery at Langemark was very dark and the gravestones were smaller and less obvious as they see remembrance in a different way.

During the afternoon, we headed for the beautiful market square in Ypres, including the large chocolate shop that is visited annually as an academy tradition on this trip! The group was then split into different activities. One of the activities was creating a soldier out of clay to remember the lives of the lost, with the soldiers we created forming part of a remembrance display in the Flanders fields, much like the Tower of London poppies. The other activity was going to the ‘In Flanders Fields Museum’, which commemorated the many men that fought in the war. Hungry again, a restaurant on the main square was a good opportunity to reflect on what we had learnt today. In sombre mood, we watched the Last Post ceremony which was very touching with some of our students laying a wreath on behalf of the academy.

Our last day took us south along the old front line to the River Somme. We had studied this battle in our history lessons but to see the scale of loss in such a small area was sobering. We arrived amidst heavy rain unlike the sunny conditions of the 1st July 1916 that had greeted the ‘green’ Commonwealth soldiers. Newfoundland Park preserves a section of the battlefield as it was in 1916. It gives you a great insight into why the losses were so significant. We also stopped off at Ulster Tower and Thiepval Memorial, just two of the countless memorials we saw as we traversed the front line road.

It was a thought-provoking and interesting trip that really helped us to further understand what we have been learning about the war in the classroom. The actual locations really add a sense of context and perspective, and it is hard to imagine what soldiers felt during a brutal time in the war.”

Written by students Elizabeth, Lewis, Joseph and Alec

Thanks to all our students for their maturity and engaging with a difficult subject matter, and to our staff for their support on this important trip.