Richmond School pupils visit former battlefields of France and Belgium

Forty history students from Year 10 have returned after travelling to the First World War battlefields of northern France and Belgium.

The students had a busy programme of sites to visit in the Somme area of France and around the Belgian town of Ypres.

The students visited the the Canadian memorial at Vimy Ridge and could see from the extensive views why it was such a hard fought over area especially in 1917. They also visited Lochnagar Crater and Beaumont-Hamel which played an important role on  July 1, 1916 – the first day of the battle of the Somme.

Students were able to walk in original trenches and see the remaining evidence of no man’s land with the huge shell craters. The scale of suffering at the Somme became evident when the students visited the Thiepval monument and saw the names of the missing: over 72,000. Some students had researched their family history before going on the visit and were able to locate the names of their relatives.

For some families, it was the first time anyone had been to France and seen the memorial and it was very poignant for the students to really understand what had happened to their relatives.

Mrs Mawer, lead teacher of history, said: “It was an absolute pleasure to take year 10 students on this visit.

“They were so keen to learn, asked excellent questions and really got involved in all the activities.

“I was really impressed that so many of them had taken the time beforehand to research their family’s history and involvement in the war.

“For many of the students, it was the first school trip that they had been on since Year 6 because of Covid and for some it was the first time abroad.  The students were brilliantly well behaved and were a credit to the school and themselves.”

The remainder of the visit was spent in the Ypres area of Belgium and the students took part in an activity in Polygon Wood where they had to navigate their way while learning about the fighting that took place there.

They learnt about different communication techniques used such as semaphore and morse code as well as the role that Maoris played in the war by using their excellent tracking skills.

Each student was given the identity card of a soldier who fought in the wood in 1917 from either Britain, New Zealand and Australia and they got to find out what had happened to them.

One of the highlights of the visit was the ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ypres.

This takes place every evening at 8pm when the town stops and remembers all those killed in the fighting of the First World War.