Video by M Moore
Bright and early Thursday morning 29 of us boarded the coach with cheerful driver Steve for a long drive to Belgium.
After multiple card games and an entire Netflix library having been watched, we eventually arrived at the Eurotunnel, where despite what driver Steve may have said, we could in fact not see any whales out of the tunnel windows.
After having left the tunnel we then passed fields and fields (and more fields) of cows and beautiful scenery, before arriving at our hostel in the early evening.
The next day, we headed out for the day to peaceful memorials and war cemeteries. We first visited a small road side cemetery called Essex Farm Cemetery where we were guided round by a local Belgium tour guide. He described to us the uses of some of the dug outs and shelters, demonstrating how they would have been used for dressing wounds.
It was here that we also took a moment to realise just how brutal the First World War had really been, as the tour guide showed us to a small grave where a young 15 year old boy, only our age, had been killed in action.
We then went to the beautiful town of Ypres to visit interesting museums where we learnt so much more about World War 1. Going to these museums and seeing old weapons and items dug up after the war, along with photographs of soldiers smiling with each other in the trenches felt very real and very moving for everybody on the trip.
Later on in Friday afternoon we delved deep into history, well about 1 and a half metres deep anyway. With our rapid change of footwear on the coach, and a few complaints from Steve, we trudged off into the trenches, Mrs Thelwell keeping a watchful eye from above.
After dinner in Ypres on Friday evening we listened to the Last Post under the Menin Gate. We were all so overwhelmed by the huge crowd of people from all cultures and of lots of different languages that flooded in before it began. We were all also very moved by the pure emotion and peaceful silence that could be felt during and after the ceremony. Along with the sheer number of names of soldiers killed during the war that covered every single brick of the huge monument.
On Saturday we visited a memorial site in the Somme where a mine of bombs had blown up killing hundreds of soldiers. This explosion had left a huge crater that was metres and metres deep. As a group we definitely found that seeing these memorial sites where the craters from shellfire and bombs were still visibly preserved, really helped us to appreciate from a different angle how real the effects of the First World War were and still are.
However one of the most stunning parts of the trip was by far how rapid our money disappeared out of our purses after just a few words from a microphoned chocolate salesman and a free sample. It was quite chaotic, but at least now we were all easily identifiable by our matching metallic freezer bags.
After dinner on Saturday evening in the hostel, we did a (very competitive) quiz on what we’d learnt so far over the course of the trip, along with building a cardboard war memorial or presentation in competition for Jelly Babies.
This trip really helped us all to appreciate how big of a tragedy the First World War had really been, as it replaced the huge number of causalities we read in a textbook with a sea of real graves, all standing in rows just like how the soldiers would have done 100 years ago. This was a really great experience and we all had an amazing time.
J Saunders, Year 10