Another party of Frome College Year 9 students were transported to the 1st World War Battlefields of Belgium and France by the History Department, with Mr Hurrell at the helm. This being the 100th anniversary of the infamous Battle of Passchendaele which took place near the city of Ypres in Belgium, there was a real focus on that battle and its impact.

Using their detailed work booklets, students did a lot of fieldwork within the German and Commonwealth cemeteries which we visited there – Langemark and Tyne Cot. Tyne Cot is the largest Commonwealth Cemetery in the world and holds 12,000 graves and 33,000 names of soldiers who have no known grave. Initially students searched and found their ‘birthday soldier’ grave stone and place a poem they had written about the war at his side. They then investigated the ages, ranks, regiments and nationalities of the many and various soldiers who are there to try and make sense of the slaughter that took place there. They also studied the epitaphs etched into many of the gravestones and wrote down the ones they found most affecting.

Mr Hurrell read extracts from Lyn MacDonald’s seminal book ‘They Called it Passchendaele’ to provide substance and background to this horrendous three month long battle in the Flanders mud. As general Haig said when he finally viewed the battlefields…’ My God did we really send men out to fight in that?’

At the end of the day Frome College students were able to witness the spine tingling ‘Last Post’ ceremony at the Menin Gate. This is to remember the dead and missing of the Ypres salient. One of the 54,000 names of the missing etched into that famous monument was George Stanner Price Hanney of 12, The Butts, Frome.  Isabel Hanney and Rebecca Harrington both cousins, had a quiet moment to remember their great, great uncle after the ceremony. 

The trip also took students to the battlefields of the Somme in France. There they visited massive mine craters, trenchlines, dugouts and tunnels. They also visited the huge brick monument to the missing designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens which dominates the Salisbury Plain like landscape of Thiepval. It is built on top of  one of the German’s biggest Somme fortress strongholds. The Thiepval Memorial has 73,000 names of the Commonwealth’s missing men. Panels of name after name after name stand in stark testament to the brutal price of war. Whilst there the students searched the cemetery registers to find and then locate their family name.

On our return to the Belgian coast where we were all staying we visited another area of battle and a cemetery where one of our students had a relative recognised.   The battle was the 1915 Battle of Loos. The cemetery was called Dud Corner Cemetery. The soldier was called Henry Ernest Cleave. The student who was paying her respects to her great great uncle was called Iris Shulman.

 

We arrived there as the sun was going down. The sky was deep blue and flecked with oranged scudding clouds and a honeyed light resonated from the portland stone that formed the gravestones and walls of this place. Standing on high there in the setting sun surrounded by such scenery and such a beautiful formed graveyard with a warm wind willowing was one of the most moving and special experiences I have had on what must be my 25th First World War Battlefields trip.

Report by Roland Hurrell -  Leader Battlefields 2017

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