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Hayesbrook gets to the Front Line on Battlefield Trip

A 6AM start on Saturday 24 March saw a group of 32 History students brave the poor weather to go on our annual Battlefields trip to Ypres.

For some of the boys this was their first time abroad so it was great that on arriving in France, they were greeted by sunshine. Based around the GCSE curriculum, the trip went to various key memorials and sites both in Ypres, Belgium and on the Somme, France. At each of the sites, Mr St John not only refreshed students memories on the key points of Medicine on the Front Line but informed everyone of a significant battle or a poignant moment at the site meaning that no one was under any illusion that the First World War was an easily fought one.

The trip was organised to ensure the boys got to see a variety of different memorials and key sites. This included Beaumont Hamel - a Canadian Memorial Park dedicated to the New Foundland Regiment where thousands of men lost their lives in one day. Mr S John talked through how the soldiers were lining up in the trench ready to attack whilst hearing the gunfire of the Germans at the bottom of the hill. Despite the fact that it became clear early on that this was essentially a suicide mission the soldiers kept going, exiting the trench at the top of the hill to become easy targets for the machine guns and the Germans below who had been hiding in a valley to avoid the British artillery.

Many war grave sites were visited, each with their own story. Some personal to the staff, others about local brave Kent soldiers. To ensure the group understood that it wasn’t just the British that suffered boys were taken to the memorial to the Indian army at Neuve Chapelle and the German memorial at Langemark.  A highlight of the trip was visiting the largest cemetery at Tyne Cot on a misty cold Sunday morning. It has a memorial wall of the 30,000 missing that didn't fit on the Menin Gate and the 3 German machine gun posts. The misty light added to the eeriness of the place which was full of graves to unknown soldiers.  Finlay, a Year 11 student commented: “It was an interesting experience and you really felt what the soldiers would have experienced during the war. It has really solidified my understanding for my GCSE.”

Other highpoints on the trip were visiting the museum at Arras and discovering the caves that were used to hide soldiers before the battle of Ypres and the opportunity to visit various remodelled trenches to really appreciate life in the First World War. Unfortunately the weather was good so the boys didn’t get the full trench foot experience!

It would have been wrong to travel all that way and not pay our respects to those soldiers who died. On Saturday evening the school attended the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate; a ceremony which has taken place ever since the war ended. Students Seb and Charlie, along with Ms Edwards lay a wreath at the gate to show our respect and appreciation. There were many hundreds there which only added to the poignancy of the evening.

As the English Teacher on the trip, Ms Edwards said: “I came away with a huge amount of new knowledge but also a real appreciation for the many people who lost their lives during the war. Each place we visited was so peaceful, birds singing, beautiful countryside, it was often hard to believe the death and carnage that had taken place a century ago. Its current setting really highlighted the previous events and it was clear that the boys were just as moved by the stories they were hearing as I was.”

Thank you to Mr St John, Mr Bosworth-Davies and Ms Edwards for accompanying the trip and to the Hayesbrook students who represented our school so brilliantly and with respect for the places we visited. It is hoped that a similar trip will run next year.