Two Year 9 students and a teacher from Bradley Stoke Community School (BSCS) have undertaken a four day trip to First World War (WW1) battlefield and cemetery sites as part of a government-funded initiative to commemorate the centenary of the 1914-19 conflict.
Under the scheme, every state funded secondary school in England is being given the opportunity to send two students on a high-quality educational tour designed to strengthen the participants’ knowledge and understanding of WW1 as well as giving them the opportunity to develop related projects in their own communities.
Last summer, BSCS students interested in taking part in the project were asked to write letters of application explaining why they would like to go on the trip and what they would do to act as ambassadors within the school. The result of the selection process was that Billy Wilde and Jade Fisher were chosen to represent the school on the trip, which took place from 10th to 14th October.
In his letter, Billy said he had relevant experience through selling poppies for the Royal British Legion, while Jade explained that she is interested in history, with war being her favourite topic.
Humanities teacher Jennifer Griffiths, who accompanied Billy and Jade, commented that the project was unique in that it had such a high teacher to student ratio, which enabled a much deeper understanding and questioning of the key issues than on a normal school trip.
Leaving on Friday morning, the BSCS contingent, along with others from schools in Bristol, Exeter and Truro drove down to Ashford (Kent) where they took part in team building workshops and were given the chance to examine various WW1 artefacts, including shells, rifles and bombs.
Saturday saw the group heading off to Belgium where they visited the memorial museum at Passchendaele, Tyne Cot Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery and the Langemark German Military Cemetery. In the evening, they attended the ceremony of the last post at the Menin Gate in Ypres, where two pupils from one of the other schools on the trip laid a wreath on behalf of the group.
Jade remarked that “there were graves as far as the eyes can see” at Tyne Cot, “giving a real glimpse into the scale of the war.” This was in stark contrast to Langemark, which she found to be smaller in scale and “eerily quiet” with dark gravestones under tall oak trees.
On Sunday, the group travelled to France to visit sites associated with the Battle of the Somme, including the Ulster Memorial Tower, Sheffield Memorial Park, the Devonshire Cemetery and the Thiepval Memorial.
At some of the sites, the students were able to view recreated and original WW1 trenches and were shown how far soldiers managed to get on leaving the trenches before being mowed down by German machine guns.
The party was accompanied throughout the trip by four current soldiers from the army, who spent time with the students highlighting the differences and similarities between then and now, both in the practicalities of life on the front line and comparing the different kit available.
Monday began with a visit to the In Flanders Museum where an interactive exhibit allows anyone to type in their surname and find out how many soldiers with that name died in the war, along with their ages and where they were from.
Billy explained that he was already aware that one of his great great grandfathers had died in WW1 and is buried in India, having fought in Turkey and Mesopotamia.
The students also visited an arts project, where each of them made a clay sculpture that will form part of an installation of 600,000 such objects, representing the total number of people who lost their lives in Flanders during WW1.
Reflecting on the visit, Ms Griffiths said she believed it had been “massively worthwhile,” adding: “I learned an awful lot and gained a great deal of detailed knowledge. It will certainly influence the way I teach the topic in the future.”
Asked to name their most prominent memories of the trip, Billy said he had been “overwhelmed” by the 12,000 graves at Tyne Cot, while Jade remarked that the “endless lists of names on memorials” had brought home to her the sheer size of the conflict.
On Monday 10th November, lessons for all students at BSCS will have a WW1 cross-curricular focus. The following day, Tuesday 11th November, every class in the school will visit a pop-up WW1 exhibition in the main hall, at which Billy and Jade will be on hand to share their experiences from the battlefields trip.
The exhibition will be also open to parents/carers and anyone in the local community on Monday 10th November, between 5pm and 7pm.
Photo (top): BSCS students Jade Fisher and Billy Wilde in the reconstructed trenches at Passchendaele.
Photo (above): Tyne Cot Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery.
[Photo credit: Jennifer Griffiths]
This article originally appeared in the November 2014 edition of the Bradley Stoke Journal news magazine, delivered FREE, EVERY MONTH, to 9,450 homes in Bradley Stoke, Little Stoke and Stoke Lodge. Phone 01454 300 400 to enquire about advertising or leaflet insertion.
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