On the 28 March , 40 students from Strood Academy had the opportunity to visit Flanders Fields and the war cemeteries. We left the Academy early in the what looked to be a wet and dreary day, but nothing prepared us for the
constant wet and cold that we would experience. We crossed the channel on the shuttle and were in France and heading toward Belgium, before those still at school had ended period one. Our first stop was at the Passchendaele Museum, from which the students could learn about the Battles of Ypres and Passchendaele. There were also able to experience a trench system and handle objects which supported their understanding of the scale of the battles.
The rain continued to fall, but despite this we continued onto Tyne Cot Commonwealth War Cemetery and the vastness of the white stones that stood out in the bleakness of the day overwhelmed the students. As the knowledge dawned upon them that each stone represented a war dead and the endless list of names on the far wall, the name of a soldier missing in action whose body was not found, a quiet descended upon the students, some of which were still only twelve years of age. Their maturity and observation of a minute’s silence as a wreath was laid in remembrance of the Commonwealth troops should be recognised.
Our next stop was the German Cemetery of Langemarck. The respect shown by the students at Tyne Cot, continued and again students were shocked by the number of soldiers that were buried there. The number at Langemark is over 44000. Again, students formed two lines and despite the heavy rain and bitter cold, they were completely silent for the wreath laying and the minute observation. The weather conditions, whilst poor, helped the students appreciate the mud and cold experienced by all soldiers at the Battle of Passchendaele, something that they can now relate to in the classroom when learning about the Great War.
As the rain began to ease, we made our way to Ypres, to the Chocolate shop, where students were eager to experience how to purchase items in a country where English is not the first language. All students appeared confident in this exchange as they all left very happy with their purchases. Or it could be that their ability to shop independently in Belgium was fuelled by the need for chocolate! Our final stop was at Essex Farm cemetery and Dressing station. It was here that John McCrae wrote the poem “In Flanders Fields”.
Although comments from the students following their trip ranged from one word to just a few, each word reflected their awareness of the price that is paid through battle, even when the battle is a success.
Alfie – “Very emotional seeing what the soldiers went through.”
Phoebe – “Interesting, an amazing adventure – sad to see, glad I am home.”