Up with the birds, we breakfasted and departed
for Langemark cemetery, one of the few German military burial sites of the
First World War in Belgium where 44,000 bodies were laid to rest in a single
grave. Students observed the stark differences in how different countries
remembered their dead, recognising the suffering of the soldiers buried there,
irrespective of their country of origin.
We then visited a memorial known as The Brooding Soldier which marks the first use of gas in the First World War before learning about the many different types and their development by both sides in the conflict.
While on the road we made a brief observation of the Aristocrats Cemetery, final resting place for many men of the Life Guards, including numerous peers and a baron, reminding us how The First World War was almost unprecedented in that it touched all levels of British society.
From there we travelled to the famous Hill 60 and examined Caterpillar crater, the devastating result of the operation on June 7th 1917 to blow Messine ridge, resulting in 10,000 German dead and an explosion that could be heard all the way in London.
Before we left, students learned about First World War military ranks and challenged some misconceptions about ‘arm chair generals’, particularly Field Marshall Haig who History has judged rather critically, despite an overwhelming popularity amongst his contemporaries.
We visited a reconstructed First World War trench which pupils were able to physically explore before heading to Huts cemetery, where some students explored their own families connections to the battles that took place repeatedly over the ground they stood on.
Our final activity for the afternoon was a group walk to the very sombre Tyne cot cemetery where over 12,000 British casualties are buried, walking the same route that soldiers would have taken over 100 years ago.