Along with the Berlin trip, the visit to the WWI battlefields is a real highlight in the History calendar, and it proved so again this year. There were a few concerns about the somewhat inclement weather ahead of our departure, and it remained fine; truly the sun always shines on Bethany.
Our first stop was at Hill 60, a man-made ridge that saw fierce fighting throughout the war. Pupils had the opportunity to see close-up the German ‘pill-boxes’ and try to imagine what it might have been like to attack them. Further visits followed to Hooge Crater, a very interesting and well set out museum, and Sanctuary Wood, where pupils got to experience the very wet conditions that soldiers would have faced in the trenches. Visits to Tyne Cot cemetery and then to Langemarck proved an emotional end to our travels for the day, and pupils remarked upon the difference in feel between the Allied and German burial grounds.
A fleeting visit to the hostel to drop off our bags and make our beds, and then we were off for dinner at a local restaurant, before heading to the Menin Gate for the daily ceremony of remembrance. After this, pupils had the opportunity to buy Mothering Sunday gifts in Pieter de Groote’s excellent chocolate shop before some much-needed R&R time and then a (relatively) early bedtime.
Day 2 focused on the French theatres of war, and pupils found the Wellington Tunnels under Arras fascinating and moving. The tunnels – which allowed soldiers to emerge right in front of the enemy front lines – are a remarkable example of Allied ingenuity, and the eventual attack took the Germans completely by surprise, coming as it did virtually via the back door. Lunch was taken en route to Thiepval, the memorial to missing soldiers on the Somme. We gathered for a few words at the memorial, and James and Emma laid crosses of remembrance under the name of Andrew Burnham, an Old Bethanian.
Our final visit was to Notre Dame de Lorette, a museum on the site of the largest French war cemetery, at which pupils got the opportunity to see authentic trench systems and marvelled at just how close the French and German trenches were – in places, this was a matter of no more than thirty feet or so.
Striking French customs workers ensured that our time on the continent didn’t pass entirely without incident, and it took some sterling work from Mr Brinson, with the help of Google research, to pass the time with a series of riddles and truly awful jokes. After an hour and a half of largely stationary ‘progress’, we finally managed to get on the shuttle and made our way back to School.
The pupils were very positive about their experiences and will have taken a lot from the trip. Those studying GCSE History will have had their studies enhanced, and I look forward to seeing an improvement in their essays! My thanks to Mr Clough, Mr Brinson, Miss Brown and Mrs Hill for very generously giving up their time to enable the trip to go ahead.