The trip to the WW1 battlefields is a yearly highlight for Form 3. Focusing on the Battle of the Somme, the trip involves a walk through preserved trenches at Beaumont-Hamel, visits to the extraordinary memorials at Thiepval and Vimy Ridge, and a brief service of remembrance for Jack Dewar, an Old Oakhamian buried in one of the area’s many beautiful war cemeteries. The strengths and weaknesses of British military strategy are also discussed from the commanding heights of the Newfoundland Memorial.
The visiting pupils have been divided into two groups. Group A leaves Oakham on 4 February and returns on 6 February, while Group B leaves Oakham on 6 February and returns on 8 February. Below are updates from the groups:
8 February 2018 Group B
Packed and ready to go, we left our hotel at Arras and headed for the German cemetery at Neuville-St Vaast. This provided quite a contrast to the British cemeteries, not least because of its scale being the final resting place of more than 44,000 souls – the German dead had been brought here from 110 different temporary burial places.
From there we went to Vimy Ridge and were able to experience walking in a trench and seeing just how close the two opposing front lines were. Finally we headed for the Vimy Memorial, a breath-taking edifice honouring the many Canadians who died fighting there.
Thereafter we were back on the coach heading home to Blighty.
7 February 2018 Group B
After a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast we were ready for the off. First up was a visit to the Lochnagar Mine Crater, a monstrous hole which measures more than 80m in diameter. We then made for the Newfoundland Memorial park where we were expertly guided through the events of the Battle of the Somme by Mr Roberts and Dr Shepherd. It has been another perishingly cold day but we were unperturbed! Our next stop was the Sunken Lane near Beaumont-Hamel and then a short walk to another crater at Hawthron Ridge. Lunch followed at Thiepval on the coach, thereafter we visited the impressive memorial and cemetery. Our next stop was a very moving visit to the grave of an Old Oakhamian, Jack Dewar, killed in 1916. Mr Robinson led us in a short service and Lucy laid a wreath on Oakham School’s behalf. Our last stop was at the Devonshire cemetery near Fricourt before returning to our hotel and getting ready for another delicious dinner at Le Bistrot du Boucher.
6 February 2018 Group B
Goodness 05:15 am and bitterly cold to boot! An early start for our journey to France but smiles all round.
First stop at the Loos Cemetary where a number of OOs are commemorated. We laid a wreath to honour them. Our students listened intently as Mr Roberts recounts the battle of Loos, which raged in the near surroundings in 1915. The shadow of the memorial casts onto the battlefield. Later we visited the underground tunnels in Arras and then went on to our hotel. After supper and bowling a good night’s sleep for all.
6 February 2018 Group A
This morning started with a visit to a very different cemetery from all the ones we have seen so far: the German cemetery of Neuville-Saint-Vast. This huge cemetery where 44,000 soldiers are buried all left us speechless and helped us see that these men were more than just a number or a statistic. Oakhamians then had the opportunity to discover Vimy Memorial Park where they walked around the preserved trenches, studied the impressive memorial dominating the whole park and gained an insight into the Battle of Vimy. The students were glad to end this trip visiting such a beautiful memorial and headed back to the bus, ready to return to Oakham, with their head full of memories.
5 February 2018
We started the day with a visit to the Lochnagar Mine Crater, the depth of which the students found very impressive.
We then headed to the Newfoundland Memorial Park and walked around the tranchées, which helped the students develop a sense of what life was like for the Canadian troops on the frontlines. After that we arrived at the huge Thiepval memorial and everyone was shocked by the number of soldiers whose bodies have never been identified or found. Pupils looked around the memorial, some of them searching for a relative, most of them silent taking in the beauty of this memorial. The visit became even more touching when we walked to the Ancre British cemetery to conduct a service at the graveside of OO Jack Dewar. In a reflective mood our students then headed to the restaurant to try a typical French meal, including some “marouilles” a typical cheese from Northern France. To end the day, our 3rd formers took part in a general knowledge quiz that included several categories such as history and chemistry.
4 February 2018
After an early departure at 5.30 on Sunday morning, we arrived in the cold but beautiful village of Loos. The students were eager to discover our first memorial, particularly after watching the film "My boy Jack" in the bus, which was about the battle of Loos. Our students soon felt the impact of this trip and the visit was made even more moving by laying a wreath on the Dud Corner cemetery. After visiting the cemetery and the memorial, our Oakhamians walked around the tunnels at the Wellington Quarry and gained an insight of the soldiers' lives in the tunnel.
After this touching experience, we headed to a French restaurant for dinner and ate some typical northern French food: the savoury crepes were a success! We finally ended this beautiful day with a game of bowling by teams and after this lovely evening, we headed back to the hotel for some well-deserved sleep.