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Posted: 19.06.15

Pupils Prepare For Their 2015 Battlefield Tour

With this year’s focus on 1915, including the first gas attack at Ypres, the early departure of two young cricketers and the Belgian advance, Forms 9A and 9P used archival material to piece together the experience of war from the point of view of very different Old Breconians: Canon A E Donaldson (Master 1902-1955), who would have known almost every one of the 447 Old Breconians who served in the First World War; M. van Emelen, a Belgian refugee who became a French and Art Master at Christ College (Master 1914-1918), and Lieutenant C G R Hunter (School House 1907-1909), a professional soldier who was killed in Ypres.

Form 9Q researched the war service of the Cricket XI of 1915, almost all of whom served in the First World War. Their researches revealed that two of the cricket XI were killed in the war, including E E Arnott (School House 1913-1915) who left school half way through the cricket season to enlist. At the end of the session 9Q strikingly re-enacted the team photograph on the steps of School House.

Mrs Allen gave pupils an overview of key moments in 1915 and focused on the significance of the areas pupils will visit. Pupils gained a deeper understanding of the German advance on Belgium through the destruction of Louvain as described in an account of in The Breconian written by M. van Emelen, whose family arrived as refugees in Hay in September 1914.

As pupils learned about ‘the race to the sea’, the importance of Hill 60 and the Battle of St. Julien, they discovered more about the use of gas and the challenges of communication through the experience of an Old Breconian whose death was commemorated at Christ College earlier this term in Remembrance Dispatch No 4 on April 26th. Lieutenant C G R Hunter, whose battalion was involved in the first German gas attack, died in the open at Ypres because the trench to which his battalion had been ordered was already over-crowded.

Mrs Hope developed a medical theme in her sessions before reflecting on McCrae’s ‘In Flanders Fields’. Focusing on the Advanced Dressing Station at Essex Farm, which will be the first stop on M9’s visit, pupils retraced the steps of an injured soldier using pictures and sources. They followed the story of Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, whose death at the age of 22 is supposed to have prompted Major John McCrae to write his famous poem.

Christ College pupils have made an annual visit to the First World War battlefields for well over a decade but the centenary commemorations at Christ College have given the visits an extra special significance. Last year’s Battlefields Preparation Day enabled pupils to gain a deeper understanding of their experience of the battlefields. There is little doubt that M9 are expecting Battlefields 2015 to be equally memorable:

Visiting the Battlefields will be a chance for me to

  • feel a connection with someone who was in the same school and walked in the same place as me
  • remember and commemorate the brave men that sacrificed their lives for my own and to thank them in my own way for the courageous acts they performed to give me freedom
  • take a moment to think about the thousands of men who were injured and died; visiting the memorials is the least I can do to thank them
  • understand more fully what the war was like
  • think about all the soldiers
  • experience what real battlefields and cemeteries are like first hand, making the subjects we’ve studied this term come to life
  • pay my respects for the people from our very school and all around. It will be something to remember for the rest of our lives.

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