February in recent years would usually have seen our third formers travel across the channel to visit the World War One battlefields of Northern Europe. However, naturally, this year things will be a little bit different and no trip will unfortunately be going ahead.
So this month, the archives thought that we would take a look back at the history of this popular school trip.
The first record we have in the archives for a Battlefields trip is in Spring 1999. Although we do not have the precise date of the trip we do know that students begrudgingly woke up at 6am to be ready to leave on the coach at 7! In subsequent years between 7 and 8 has been a common time for the coach to set off from Schanschieff’s car park. However in recent years, this time has been changed to be earlier at around 5am!
From the 1999 battlefields trip.
Throughout the years, there have been several sites that have remained a key site to visit for all pupils. Vimy Ridge and Jack Dewar’s grave at Ancre Cemetery in northern France regularly feature in the itinerary with a service being held for Jack and all of the OOs who died during the war. In the first couple of years, places like For Douamont, the Somme Battlefields, Beaumont Hammel, Verdun and Peronne were also visited. More recent additions to the trip’s stops include Wellington Quarry in Arras, Thiepval, Lochnager Mine Crater, the Devonshire Cemetery, La Boiselle and Neuville-St-Vaast German Cemetry.
The itinerary from the 2011 battlefields tour.
However, students have also visited the Belgian battlefields as well as the trenches or Northern France. In 2007 and 2008, Ypres was the main centre of the battlefield’s trip with students visiting Tyne Cot cemetery (where OO John Albrecht is buried), the Menin Gate and several war museums. Yet the tradition of a service for fallen OOs still continued with one being held for at Tyne Cot by John Albrecht’s grave.
On all of the trips, there is a real chance to study both the fighting and the people behind the names on the memorials. The students are also challenged to consider how each side commemorates their fallen with comparisons being drawn between Allied and German cemeteries.
Extracts from a pupil’s work booklet for the battlefield trip.
Bethune, Verdun and Rheims were common places to stay in the first few years of the trip to northern France. Amiens is mentioned in 2010 but since 2012, Arras has been the chosen base of operations.
It is not all work on the trips. Student are afforded some down time in the evenings with the most popular activity being… Bowling! Always a student favourite. Pupils have also had the opportunity to visit Rheims Cathedral, do a bit of shopping in hypermarkets, explore the beautiful towns of Northern France and Belgium and finally challenging each other in team quizzes. Although trying Belgian chocolate in 2008 sounds like the best leisure activity!
Did you go on a battlefields trip with the school? If so we would love for you to share your memories with us.