Kibworth High School Trip to the World War One Battlefields

Early one morning in October, 43 Year 9 students from Kibworth High School set off to visit the First World War battlefields of Belgium and France. The students, having studied the causes of the war and the experience of soldiers in the trenches, felt both excitement and trepidation. They were accompanied by expert Martin Featherstone to give a former soldier’s perspective on the conflict.

At the Allied cemetery at Lijssenthoe, the sight of row upon row of pale gravestones, many inscribed ‘Known only unto God’, was overwhelming. Students were moved by the story of Nellie Spindler a nurse who died when the Casualty Clearing Station in which she cared for the wounded and dying was hit by German artillery shells. At Essex Farm Cemetery, students saw the Advanced Dressing Station at which John McCrae, a field surgeon, had written the poem ‘In Flander’s Fields’. They found the solemn atmosphere at Langemarck, the German Military Cemetery, with its dark, granite gravestones and large oak trees, very different from that of the Allied cemeteries.

During the week, the students learned about the weapons used during the war, such as hand grenades and Lee Enfield Rifles; one student donned a Great War uniform. They visited the Canadian Monument at Vancouver Corner, where gas had been used for the first time in 1915 and also investigated the preserved German trenches at Bayernwald and the Canadian and German trenches at Vimy Ridge.

Watched proudly by their friends, three pupils laid a wreath of remembrance to the fallen during the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing in Ypres. This moving ceremony has taken place at 8 o’clock every evening, except when the town fell into German hands during the Second World War.

Travelling to the Somme in France led to discussions about recruitment and the ‘Pal’s Battalions’. Silently, the students followed the path trodden on the morning of 1 July 1916 by the 1st Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers on their way to the Sunken Lane frontline and gathered near where the men received their ration of rum before being ordered over the top.

Later the students visited the Devonshire Cemetery at Mansel Copse, saw the incredible effects of mine warfare at Lochnagar Crater, and the Ulster Tower, where the 36th Ulster Division had fought. Here they learnt about Billy McFadzean who was awarded the Victoria Cross for saving his comrades by throwing himself on top of two unpinned grenades in order to prevent them from igniting explosives in the trench. The day ended with time for reflection at the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme.

Finally, the group visited Tyne Cot Cemetery, which commemorates the missing of the Battle of Passchendaele. Looking out over the fields towards Ypres, knowing that thousands of fallen soldiers still remain buried in the mud, gave a sense of the devastation and human cost of the war. It was a powerful and deeply moving experience.