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Third Form Battlefields Trip

Friday, 25 May 2018

On Friday May 18, seventeen Third formers and three hugely impressive members of the History Department embarked for a tour of the World War One Battlefields. After a seamless ferry crossing from Dover, during which no CLS boy managed to throw themselves overboard, the party settled into their hotel in the small Belgian town of Diksmuide, not far from Ypres. During the war itself, the hotel was the site of a particularly nasty machine gun position. The only deadly thing about the hotel now is the absurdly strong Belgian beer of 12% strength that it sells, but fortunately something CLS boys are spared going into battle with.

On the Saturday, a day was spent visiting the Somme battlefields of 1916. First up was a visit to Lochnagar crater which was blown on 1st July 1916 and threw debris over 4,000 feet into the air but was still only captured two days later. At Thiepval, the boys were able to see how the war was commemorated through the use of architecture and what it says about British perceptions of the war (that being one of victory and triumph). It is also the only cemetery in which French and British and Commonwealth soldiers are buried in the same location.

Beaumont Hamel is the best-preserved section of Somme battlefield anywhere on the former Western front and here the boys got an excellent idea of what British and Newfoundland soldiers were up against when they went "over the top". At Wellington quarry and Arras the boys experienced an excellent tunnel tour in tunnels dug by New Zealanders in their lemon squeezers. Not to be undone by former soldiers, Mr Brown and Mr Crowther sported WW1 style tommy tin helmets and looked more than the part and could easily have passed themselves off as front-line infantry.

On the Sunday, the day was spent exploring the Flanders battle sites in and around Ypres. At Essex Farm, boys could see the headstone of the youngest know British soldier to have died in the war at a mere fifteen years of age. The In Flanders Fields Museum really brings alive aspects of the war, not least the brutality of the weaponry used. At Hill 62, boys got an idea of what trench life was like. At the peace pool on the Messines Ridge, the boys were put through their paces to see how effective they would have been at clay kicking and digging out mines under German trenches. The short answer was not very. The last two sites visited were a real contrast. Langemarck German cemetery contains a mass grave (25,000 bodies in one small plot) and for very good reasons is very sombre compared with British and Commonwealth cemeteries.

After the last post at Menin gate (which is ending this year having been held every day of every year since the end of World War 1 with the exception of the German occupation during World War 2), the boys headed to Tyne Cot. With 12,500 headstones, this is the largest British and Commonwealth cemetery anywhere in the world and is a very fitting place to end the tour with a teacher-led commemoration involving readings, wreath laying and a minute’s silence. It is an incredibly powerful and poignant site and a place the boys always find very moving.

The boys equipped acquitted themselves in an excellent manner and engaged really meaningfully with the places visited. The local cereal companies cannot wait for them to return next year given how much of their produce they went through in the space of three days.

Mr Brown and Mr Crowther sported WW1 style tommy tin helmets and could easily have passed themselves off as front-line infantry.
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