A group of forty Year 9 History students from Richmond School stepped back in time to the First World War to experience life as a soldier during the Battle of Passchendale. Kitted out in replica WW1 uniforms, helmets and gas masks, all the students received the identity of an actual platoon soldier as they were taken back to 1917.
On a very hot day, in full kit, the students marched three kilometres along the original path of the old Ypres-Roeselare railway track to the front line that was followed by a platoon from the 3rd Australian Division during the major assault of 4th October 1917. The students were immersed in history, eating an authentic solider lunch, throwing grenades and dealing with gas attacks as well as casualties needing a stretcher. The march concluded at Tyne Cot Cemetery, the largest Commonwealth cemetery in the world, where the students were confronted with the harsh realities of war.
The day ended with a very moving ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ypres. Every evening those that fought and died in the war are honoured and the group joined hundreds of other people in silence to remember. As part of the ceremony, two students, Izzy Lundberg and Emma Scott, laid a wreath on behalf of the school. It was definitely a fitting way to end a memorable day.
Sophia Mawer, Lead Teacher for History, commented: “The students found the platoon experience very moving and were enthralled throughout the day, discovering what happened to the Australian soldiers whose last hours they had been following. The whole experience was a very interesting and different way to learn about the war and the students showed a great deal of resilience with the very hot weather and the heavy packs they carried. The Battlefields visit was an important and special trip for students and staff as we all learnt such a lot about the soldiers’ lives and experiences and we were there to remember those who died. The students’ behaviour and attitude was excellent at all times and the staff were very proud of them as they represented our school really well.”
The students were also honoured to visit sites connected to the 1916 Battle of the Somme, seeing the preparations undertaken by the British for the attack with the Lochganar crater and some of the original trenches at the Newfoundland Memorial Park. They walked the short distance across no man’s land between British and German trenches and saw the large numbers of men killed with the graveyards dotting the whole site. They also visited the memorial of the missing at the Somme at Thiepval. With 72,337 names, the students were really struck as to the scale of the fighting just in the Somme area of the western front. Some students were very moved to find their own relatives’ names and were able to remember them.
The last day of the trip was spent around Ypres visiting the Flanders Field Museum, exploring thoroughly the Menin Gate. At the final visit to Sanctuary Wood, just outside Ypres, students explored original First World War trenches complete with shell holes, mud and even a rat!