During the October holidays, Miss Bain, and a team of four other staff took forty seven pupils to Belgium and France on a trip to follow the Cameron Highlanders during the First World War. We also visited some of the memorials and graves for the men and women who lost their lives during WW1. Over our six day trip we saw the names of at least 216,000 men whose bodies were never found!
The first place we visited was Poelkapelle British Military Cemetery. We visited a cemetery here as there were 7000 British and Commonwealth graves, 6000 of these are unidentified. One of the identified graves was Private Joe Condon, who was fourteen when he died. Private Condon was thought to be the youngest person to die in WW1.
After Poelkapelle we visited Vancouver Corner memorial. This commemorates the 13th Canadian Battalion. It was on the site of the memorial where many of the men died during the first use of chlorine gas during April 1915.
We also went to Sanctuary Wood, (Also known as Hill 62) to experience an element of what life would have been like in the trenches.
Another place visited was Langemark German Cemetery. Here we saw the differences between the British and German cemeteries in Belgium. The German cemetery was hugely different to the Commonwealth graves. All of the graves stones were flat on the ground; there was also a mass pit with 44,000 bodies in it! Even the “single” plots could have anything up to twenty one people in them.
On the third day we travelled to France. One of the memorials we visited was Thiepval Memorial which is 140ft tall and inscribed on its pillars are the names of 72,000 British and South African men who have no known grave.
We didn’t just spend the day visiting memorials we also went to the Arras and Wellington Quarry. The quarry was used throughout the First (and Second) world war. During WW1 the soldiers used it as a shelter. The exit from the tunnels was only ten metres away from the German front line; this was a huge advantage to the British as the Germans were not expecting this to happen!
While in Arras we also went to the memorial, we visited this as one of the pupils had a relative named on the memorial. Private John Bain was in the Cameron Highlanders, whom we were following the journey of. Private Bain was killed in action in May 1917; he would have been one of the soldiers to use the quarries, which we had visited.
Another memorial we visited was Vimy Ridge. This is a memorial for the Canadian Soldiers. It is situated overlooking the battlefields where many of the soldiers died. On the memorial there are 11,285 names of men who were missing in action or presumed dead after the battle.
On the Sunday of the trip, we went to a Bellewaerde theme park and zoo. This was a nice break from the history side of the trip, we spent most of the day at the theme park, which everybody thoroughly enjoyed (Especially the teachers!).
However in the evening we attended the Menin Gate Ceremony. This is held every night at 8PM for the local people and the family of the men recorded on the memorial. Four of our pupils played a part in the ceremony. Andrew McLean played “Flowers of the forest” on the bagpipes while, Cerys Davies, Hollie Buchan, and David Alexander laid a wreath on behalf of our school. The Menin Gate Memorial holds the names of 54,000 men whose lives were lost during combat, these men have no known grave. The ceremony was very moving and emotional for many of the pupils on the trip.
The next day we visited Tyne Cot; this is the largest British and Commonwealth Cemetery in the world. It has 12,000 graves and 35,000 names on the memorial panels placed around the cemetery. Also in the cemetery are the remains of three German Pill Boxes, these are where the Germans fired from. They are just like large concrete bunkers. They were meant to be taken down after the cemetery was completed however King George V decided that they should stay as a lasting memorial to the men killed.
On our last day in Belgium we went to Bruges, which is famous for its canals, Lace and Chocolate! While there we were divided up into groups and allowed to go for a walk to either do some shopping or take in some of the historical parts of the city. A lovely time was had by all in Bruges, no matter what we decided to do. After our day we headed back Zeebrugge to catch the boat home!
Our four days on the trip were remarkable and our thanks go to Miss Bain, who organised the trip and also to the four other teachers, Mr Tillman, Mr Richards, Miss Glynn, and Miss MacPherson who provided support throughout. Everyone enjoyed the trip and it will leave a forever lasting impression on all of our minds.
Scott Mackenzie (4T2) and Cerys Davies (4S2)