Belgium and France 2018

Our history trip to Belgium and France was, without question, one that we will never forget. I can confidently say that both our hearts and minds were touched by this incredible experience and I’m sure that it will stay with us long after we leave The Purbeck School.

We set off from school at 7:00am and after a very long but entertaining coach journey to the youth hostel that we would be staying in, in Kemmel Belgium, we set off into the woods. It was the 100 year anniversary of the capture of the Kemmel hilltop that we had walked to, so many wreaths had been laid beside the extraordinary monument that commemorated the lives lost on the capture of the hillside. I think this was the first moment on our trip that we began to appreciate the monumental scale that the First World War was on and it was certainly a thought provoking experience. The walk was stunning and littered with dustings of bluebells at nearly every corner, but the main attraction was definitely the eye opening monument and its collection of wreaths.

The following day we ventured into Ypres and explored the Flanders Field Museum. It was a fascinating experience which I’m sure we all learnt something valuable from. Some of us were brave enough to climb right to the top of the museum and look out over the town of Ypres, which I hear was amazing but some of us weren’t quite so brave (yes, that might have been me!). We topped off our visit to Ypres by indulging ourselves on bags and bags of famous Belgian chocolate which was easily the best chocolate I think any of us had ever tasted.

During our trip, we visited many cemeteries honouring the fallen soldiers of the First World War and this was decidedly the most eye opening part of our trip which certainly put the losses of the Great War into perspective for us. A few of the people on the trip had been able to trace their relatives’ graves which I’m sure must have been a very surreal experience for them; almost like a newly found piece of history embedded in their identity.

Later in our trip we visited Vimy Ridge (officially Canadian soil!) which I think did the best job of both paying tribute to the fallen and putting into context just how many men had fallen in their battles. In order to get to the information museum we had to walk through a forest with what seemed like thousands of trees. It later transpired that each tree had been planted to honour an individual Canadian soldier who had died on that battlefield. Bearing the sheer amount of trees planted in mind, that was another moment that I think really opened our eyes to the reality of the war.

Whilst in Belgium, we had the privilege to attend a commemoration ceremony at Menin Gate. Menin Gate can be found in Ypres and nearly every square metre of it is covered in names of soldiers who didn’t come home and who were never found. Every day since the end of the war a choir gathers and sings, along with a fanfare of trumpets and bagpipes who play ‘The Last Post’. This will happen well into the 2050s until this practice has been repeated once for every name inscribed on the Menin Gate. Two of my classmates went up during the ceremony and laid a wreath in memory of those soldiers on behalf of the Purbeck School, which was an absolute honour for them.

Without any hesitation and with utter sincerity I can say that the experiences we had in Belgium have changed our attitude to and knowledge of the war greatly; our minds have been opened wide by what we have seen here. This truly was an incredible trip and one which we shan’t ever forget. This wonderful experience wouldn’t have happened without our amazing teachers, so thank you very much for making this trip possible!

Gemma Carlyle, Year 10



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