THE WILDLIFE OF CHRIST COLLEGE WERE GIVEN A RUDE AWAKENING ON MONDAY 27TH JUNE WHEN 48 YEAR 9 PUPILS DESCENDED ON THE QUAD AT 6.15AM, ACCOMPANIED BY THEIR TEACHERS MRS ALLEN (TRIP LEADER), MR BUSH (LOGISTICS), MR LOVERING (DEPUTY LOGISTICS), MRS MCLEAN (TRANSLATOR) AND MR MCMILLAN IN READINESS FOR THE DEPARTURE OF THE BATTLEFIELDS TRIP 2016.
A short coach ride, two sausage baps and several cups of coffee later, we arrived at Dover to board our luxury ship across the channel. After enjoying the fine boutiques and brasseries of the Spirit of Britain, we docked in the delightful town of Calais ready to head towards the battlefields. Another quick coach journey took us to the Essex Farm Cemetery in Belgium.
The pupils took some time to explore the cemetery and many were taken by the random spacing of the graves, due to the shelling that was taking place while the graves were being dug. The cemetery is also the location of two Old Breconians – Harold B Davies and Charles Piper Hazard. Wreaths were laid and a moments silence was held for each to remember their contribution to school life and sacrifice.
After the cemetery it was onto Ypres to check into the hotel, followed by a short stroll around the town and a visit to the Menin Gate. There we were reminded of C G R Hunter another Old Breconian who lost his life in 1915 and is recorded on the memorial to the missing at Menin.
The next day, and the general public were greeted by the sight of 48 hungry children clustered around a waffle machine at the all you could eat breakfast buffet. After having eaten my fair share of croissants, we set off on the coach again to the German cemetery at Langmark. Amongst the individual gravestones at the centre of the cemetery lay a mass grave for 20,000 German soldiers who lost their lives during the war.
Next, we headed to Tynecot cemetery. Due to the 100 year remembrance ceremonies taking place, the cemetery really did look fantastic, and the children were very lucky to see it like this. Roses were positioned around the cemetery so as to cast a shadow on each gravestone at some point through the day.
The children were also struck by the colour and brightness of Tynecot, compared to the subdued tones of the German cemetery.
Following a short stop in Passchendaele for lunch, we headed to the museum in Ypres. With a virtual guide, we were taken through the history of World War 1. The displays and presentations in the museum were excellent, and really helped bring alive the difficulties and harsh realities of war.
Following a brief visit to a chocolate shop and some ‘poulet et frites’, we headed to the Menin Gate to witness the Last Post. This act of remembrance has been enacted every evening at the Menin Gate at 8pm since 1928, and it was amazing how many people attended. Wreaths were layed by many divisions of the armed forces, including some cadet groups from the UK.
The following morning and 48 waffles later, we were ready to depart Ypres and head to the Canadian National Memorial at Vimy Ridge in France. The site is one of the few areas that has been left as it was during the war, so the ground is cratered from the shelling, and pedestrian access is strictly limited due to the amount of unexploded ordinance onsite. There is also a network of tunnels open to the public that were used by the soldiers to access the frontlines during battles.
Seeing how close the Allied and German frontlines were really brought home to the group how hard the battles must have been fought and the difficulties faced by both sides.
Due to the 100 year services, many parts of the Somme battlefields were closed to the public, so we headed straight to the Lochnagar crater.
The crater was created by an allied mine. It is 91m in diameter, 21m deep, and is therefore the largest crater left from the Great War.
Plaques for two old Breconians have been placed at the site, and so a short act of remembrance was held for Henry Norman Grant who lost his life on the Somme on the 1st July 1916 and Charles Boothby who was part of a tunnelling company.
It was a poignant end to the tour of the battlefields and will be remembered by the students for some time.
We then headed for Paris, and following a brief visit to the largest car park in Europe (otherwise known as the Paris ring road), we arrived at our hotel. The following day we were treated to a coach tour of Paris, hosted by Mrs McLean in her own, inimitable style. Due to the football tournament and increased terrorism threat, the students remained on the coach, but we still managed to see the important sights of Paris from very close! After Paris, we headed to the Palace of Versailles for an audio tour around King Louis XIV’s humble abode.
Inside the palace was magnificent, if a little hectic with the amount of tourists taking selfies! Out the back, Louis had done rather well for himself, with a garden that stretched as far the horizon. A short boat ride on the lake and a crepe later, we were back in the coach to return to the hotel for our final night (via the carpark of Paris).
The final day and we made our way home, with a quick detour via Europe’s most visited tourist destination, Disneyland Paris.We finally headed home, accompanied by several light sabres and Mickey Mouse ears. Thank-you to all staff and students who made the trip a great success.
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