WWI Battlefields Trip: A Pupil Reflects

Pupils in Years 9-11 traveled to northern France and Belgium to immerse themselves in World War I history and practice their French language skills. Year 10 pupil Maxim writes about his experience on the trip:

I was among the forty-two people present on the 2023 Battlefields Trip to Belgium and France. The organisers of the trip managed to fit in a very great deal, and it was fearfully interesting to see the landscape and the trenches gouged into it. 

The first day we rose before the break of day and wended our way down to the sea, under it, and out into France on the other side. We stopped first in the town of Poperinge, in Flanders, where we visited Talbot House, a charming old soldiers’ club at which men spent time between being shot at and shelled in the trenches. It was fascinating to be able to get a sort of sense of what it was to be a soldier in the Great War —I mean to say, we all know about the bombs and rats and varyingly competent commanders and things, but at this place they have gardens and music and all that sort, which is much nicer. And hats off to the designers of the exhibition. It was incredibly well done and you almost began to feel as if you were one of them. 

Over the rest of the trip we roamed up and down the Lines from the Somme to the Sea, seeing dozens of solemn cemeteries and memorials, trenches on all sides, and an ingenious tunnel by which thousands of soldiers were able to pop up right in the middle of the German positions. I was fond of the peacefulness of the memorials —particularly Tyne Cot, with its dark yew trees, its lavender and red roses blooming along the rows of white headstones. It did make one consider the nobility of fighting and risking death for the sake of one’s comrades, values, and country, and the sheer number of names gave pause for thought—“Here was a royal fellowship of death,” as Shakespeare’s Henry V says after Agincourt. The Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ypres, at which I and two of my schoolmates laid a wreath, was moving also—may it be continued as long as our nation lasts, and may we in England never forget the untold millions who fought and died for what they hoped would be a better world, nor cease to defend what they sacrificed themselves for. 

‘Take up our quarrel with the foe: 

To you from failing hands we throw 

The torch; be yours to hold it high. 

If ye break faith with us who die 

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow 

In Flanders fields.’

-Maxim, Year 10