Posted by: Staff | 07 March 2012
History Trip to Ypres, Belgium
I counted it a real privilege to be part of the trip to Belgium recently. The experience left a profound impression on me, and a sense of our indebtedness to those who gave their lives in World War 1. The visit to the Tyne Cot cemetery which commemorated 10,000 soldiers who died at Passchendale, was very moving, as was the service at the Menin Gate in Ypres that same evening, at which the ‘Last Post’ was sounded, and at which two of our students presented a wreath on behalf of CFS. At both Tyne Cot and Menin Gate I saw in the list of names a soldier with my surname from the South Staffordshire regiment, the county where my father’s family came from. Mr Worsley’s detailed knowledge and insights provided a very rich backdrop to the trip, and it was also very special that Mrs Durney was with us, as she was actually brought up in the Ypres area itself, being joined by Mrs Durney’s parents and family at the Menin Gate service added a unique touch to the trip and a personal connection to the land of Flanders. Above all, the trip left me with a desire to have an impact on the lives of many people for the Kingdom of God; war has a terrible impact on the lives of many people, but God has the power to use people whose lives are submitted to Him in a way which leaves an even greater legacy for the future.
The Ypres trip was great fun. The minibus journeys were often long but we always found something fun to do. The museums we went to were amazing. They gave us a great view on the tank use in 1918 and I was surprised by what it looked like close up. It was big and wide and nothing like the tanks we see today. I could see why it wasn’t very manoeuvrable and why its top speed was 4mph. Even the gas masks looked strange. Some just looked like bags that you put over your head. Some protection…. The best bit was probably when we went through the trenches. One wasn’t real and it had mannequins in them but still looked good. However, one was real. It was preserved for people to walk around and it was amazing. It was cold when we went so some of the ground was slippery with ice but this made us think how bad their conditions must have been. It was colder back then. There were obviously no trees so there’d have been a strong wind. It was a great experience and showed me what it would have been like if I were in the trenches at the time of war.
There were many good things about the trip to Ypres. One really good part was going to the real trench. The remade trenches in the museums were good to see but the real trench from the real time gave you a proper experience of what it would have been like for the soldiers. You got to feel the cold they would have had to endure for months, you got to see where they slept. You learnt how safe they felt or how unsafe they felt and realised that it really wasn’t a nice place to have to stay. You experienced the harsh living environments and realised it wasn’t an easy thing for the soldiers to do.
The part that really stuck with me on our time in Belgium was when we visited Tyne Cot, a war cemetery for British troops who fought in the Battle of Passchendale. A memorial was made there with the names of over 30,000 troops who died in the battle as well as 8,000 white gravestones lined up in front of it. Before we entered the cemetery we were told that each of the blocks of stones had the soldier’s name carved into it except for those that could not be identified or recognised to whom had been given the title, ‘known unto God’. I was totally shocked to find that as I walked through probably 75% of all the burials had been given this title. I found it a very harrowing but humbling experience.
Whilst on our Belgium trip, we travelled to Menin Gate. This was a place where Great War soldiers from practically every British and Commonwealth regiment passed over. We had previously all signed a small piece of paper to go with our CFS wreath. Joseph Duckworth and I had been chosen to represent the school at this ceremony. We lined up behind the military army representatives along with other students from other schools. After the short speech, and the army presenting their wreath, it was our turn. The small bow was only a part of the appreciation we felt for the soldiers. I felt really honoured to present the wreath on behalf of the school and was glad that we had the chance to attend the ceremony.
Spending three days in and out of a minibus doesn’t sound much fun but it was a great time. A mixture of hilarious moments and some sober ones. It was interesting to see people’s individual reactions to the horrors of war we were visiting first hand. The rows and rows of white gravestones was a moving sight, especially the unmarked ones. ‘Known unto God’ was repeated again and again on countless gravestones. They gave their lives for our country and we don’t even know their names. It made me realise how much we owe for our freedom. As you walk around one of the cemeteries, Tyne Cot, a list of names is read out of the soldiers who were missing and never found. The trip has helped me experience things you could never learn from a text book.
I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Belgium. It was packed full of things to do. It was a totally new experience for me, as many of the things I had never seen or done before. We went to the ‘Imperial War Museum’ in London, whilst in London we went to a service at St. Paul’s Cathedral. For our first night we stayed in a youth hostel in Canterbury. The next day we were headed for Belgium so we set off for Folkestone where we got the train through the channel tunnel to Calais (France) then drove through France to Belgium, where we went to another museum which had an amazing dug out experience of trench tunnels. We also visited a massive war graveyard which was so sad but eye opening. That evening we went to a remembrance service in Ypres. That night we stayed in the most amazing youth hostel, it was nice, clean and I ate very well! Next day we visited ‘Hill 62’ war museum, the only place left that still has original trenches from the war. It was great to experience a little of what it would have been like for the men. We also saw Ypres and did a little shopping there. Then it was time to head for home.
The Hill 62 trenches are real trenches that have been preserved for tourists to experience trench life. I thought the trenches were really interesting and I learnt a bit about what it must have been like. For instance, the tunnels were incredibly dark; I couldn’t see my hand in front of me. We also visited a trench experience in a museum but, for me, Hill 62 was much better as there were no restrictions or ‘Exit’ signs. This meant that it felt much more real as you could go everywhere the soldiers could have whereas in the museum I felt like I was just observing. It was strange feeling how cramped the tunnels were and seeing the barren wasteland around the trench. It was tough just standing in the damp bunkers let alone living in them. It was a good experience and a real eye opener.