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Visit to the Battlefields of Belgium and Northern France

11 November 2015  |  Jill Lundberg  |  Posted in:

As part of the Government’s commemorations of the First World War, every secondary school in the country has been invited to take part in a visit to the battlefields of Belgium and Northern France.  Richmond School was asked to send two students and a member of staff on a visit from 25th-28th September.  All of the current Year 10 students were encouraged to write a letter of application and after much consideration Lewis Bell & Toby Holdstock were selected to represent the School. The visit started with an overnight stay in Kent, where students took part in First World War object handling and computer based research workshops and did team building exercises with other students on the visit from schools around the North East.  After a short journey via the “Chunnel”, the visit started at Ypres in Belgium, where some of the most intense fighting of the First World War took place.  The students visited the newly refurbished Flanders Fields Museum, where they gained an understanding of the impact of the War, especially on the town of Ypres.  They then visited the town hall at the nearby town of Poperinge, where soldiers were executed for desertion.  Drawings made by prisoners on the cell walls could still be seen and it led to some interesting discussions with current serving soldiers, who accompanied us on the trip.  The day ended with the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ypres.  Our students laid a wreath to commemorate the 28 students from Richmond School who died in the First World War.  After the ceremony we managed to locate the names of the three Richmond School students who are remembered on the memorial and seeing them amongst the thousands of names, really brought it home to the students the enormity of loss in this area of the battlefield. The next day, Sunday, was spent making a whole day visit to the Somme area in France, where the battle of the Somme started on 1st July 1916.  Several sites were visited including the Pals memorial near the village of Serre, Ulster Tower and Thiepval Woods (with excavated frontline trenches) and the Thiepval memorial, with the thousands of names of the missing from the Somme area.  The visit was blessed with very fine weather and we were lucky to have expert guides throughout, who readily answered questions and helped us explore the sites. The final day included a visit to Tyne Cot cemetery near Ypres, which is the largest British and Commonwealth War Cemetery in the world, and also to the German cemetery of Langemark.  As a way of actively commemorating the war dead, all the students took part in an art programme commissioned by the Flanders Government, similar to the Tower of London poppies project.  Each student made a pottery figure which will form part of a memorial to the 600,000 killed in Flanders during the First World War. The visit was incredibly interesting and moving, and a lot of places were visited in a short space of time.  The Year 10 students, Lewis and Toby are working on presentations based on their visit, which they will be sharing with all students in assemblies near to Remembrance Day and hopefully also with the wider Richmond community as part of Project 101.

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