WWI Centenary Battlefields Visit

Tadcaster Grammar School was given a fantastic opportunity for two year 9 students to take part in a WWI centenary tour organised by UCL. After a very close and difficult decision for Mr Sibley, Will Richmond and Molly Richardson were selected to take part in this unique trip to enable them to teach others about the events and impact of WWI. Accompanying the students was Miss Hodgson teacher of History who has kindly written a diary of the events on this incredible journey.
We set off on our journey on Friday 9th February and were collected at the White Rose Centre along with other students from Yorkshire schools. After a long journey to Kent, we arrived at the Kingswood centre in Ashford, it was here we met our tour leaders and began to prepare for our trip to the battlefields.
We were up early on Saturday morning and began our journey over to Ypres in Belgium. We visited the Lijssenthoek cemetery this was very interesting as this cemetery was on the site of a casualty clearing station during the war. It is a cemetery that contains British and Commonwealth soldiers as well as French and Germans too. There is also one woman nurse buried here called Nellie Spindler who was from Wakefield in West Yorkshire. We also visited the Passendale Museum; the museum contains reconstructed underground bunkers and outside reconstructed trenches showing the poor living conditions of soldiers.
We then checked in to our hotel in Ypes called Flanders Lodge, where we had our evening meal. Molly and Will then changed in to their school uniform for the Last Post ceremony which takes place every evening in the small town of Ypres, under the Menin Gate which commemorates the missing soldiers from the Battle of Ypres. The ceremony was a very moving experience with hundreds of people falling to silence to remember the soldiers who fought and who gave their lives. Molly had the honour of laying a wreath of poppies on behalf of Tadcaster Grammar School and Will had the unique opportunity of saying the final words at the ceremony.
Saturday was a very emotional day for Molly and Will, we travelled over to the France to the Somme. It was here where Molly and Will’s relatives had lost their lives and was the first time Will had visited the Theipval Memorial. The memorial commemorates the lives of 72,000 British and South African men who lost their lives fighting in the Battle of the Somme which began at 7am on the 1st July 1916. A serving soldier travelling with our group had managed to locate where Will’s relative, Cuthbert would have been fighting on the day he died and was even able to locate the field his body was probably buried in. We then managed to locate Cuthbert on the Theipval Memorial who coincidently was commemorated on the same panel as Molly’s relative, Arthur as both fought in the West Yorkshire Regiment so would have fought together at the Somme. This part of the trip linked the past with the present and it became very real for the students who were able to understand the vast scale of the war but also how it impacted everyday lives, including their own families.
An interesting thing which we didn’t expect to do on the trip was a pottery project that people who work to protect the memory of the Somme and surrounding battles have set up. For this, we moulded out of clay a soldier all curled up looking as though he was in great emotional turmoil. The aim of this project was to create a soldier to represent all those who fought and gave their lives. We were approached by the Press and asked our opinion on this amazing project for an article to be shown in the local Belgium newspaper. It will be on show in Ypres in November to mark 100 years since the Armistice and any student is free to go and collect a soldier and take it home to remember. Everyone in our party got a card with a soldiers name on it so that, that soldier could be remembered even if there was no family left to remember him.
After that we headed to our final destination, Tyne Cot cemetery. We were amazed by sheer scale of the cemetery with 44,000 soldiers buried there. A lot of the teachers and students from the other schools were incredibly touched by this experience and one of the members felt it would be fitting to sing a folk song which came from Ireland, the country of his birth. We laid crosses on graves in the cemetery and wrote personal messages on. We were surprised by the huge number of unknown soldiers that, unfortunately, no one had been able to identify and so lie unknown in cemeteries all over Ypres and France.
The incredible thing we got out of this trip was finding a really interesting and amazing piece of information about our relatives. We had no idea, that Wills relative and Molly’s relatives, Arthur and Cuthbert were both in the West Yorkshire Regiment. They died, fought and lived together they must have known each other really well and it is very strange that 100 years later their great great grandchildren met in the place they died. Neither of their bodies were ever found but they live on in our memory as they both died extremely young so that we could live instead. This example shows you that if you look into your past you can find incredible information and ways you can link to people that you could not even imagine.
History is our past but it can also redefine our future. It can teach a lot about ourselves and others and this was something that this trip experience allowed us to explore for which we are all very grateful for.