After a well-needed night’s sleep, today began with a leisurely breakfast in the hotel before we left for our day out in Ypres.
Our first stop was to see the Menin Gate – the memorial to the missing British and Commonwealth soldiers who died in the Ypres Salient. The impressive arch and barrel-vaulted passage displays the names of over 54,000 missing soldiers. We would return here later for the Last Post Ceremony.
From here, we took the short walk through Ypres to the In Flanders Field museum. Modern day Ypres is unrecognisable from the place that it was between 1914-1918. What is now a bustling centre for shops, cafés and restaurants was formally the town that occupied a strategic position during the First World War, because it stood in the path of Germany’s planned sweep across the rest of Belgium and into France from the north.
Pupils really enjoyed the museum, which is set within the walls of the beautifully restored old cloth hall at the heart of Ypres. Inside, our students were able to see the personal stories of how the First World War affected the lives of individuals. The narratives of a variety of nationalities are told through the many objects on display, interactive installations and lifelike characters within the larger picture of the Great War.
From there, we paid a visit to St George’s Memorial Church. This is a very different kind of memorial, since it was built to replicate the kind of parish church that the Tommy’s would have known. Within it are many different plaques to commemorate regiments, associations, individuals and even schools. A destination that is often overlooked by school tours, our pupils took photographs and were beautifully respectful.
After plenty of free time to explore the shops and cafes of Ypres, we walked the town’s ramparts together, moving on from the Menin Gate to pass over Lille Gate. We stopped off to visit the Ramparts Cemetery which, bathed in beautiful sunshine (yes, sorry, we had heard that there might have been a spot or two of rain back home…), seemed like a good place for a group photo.
We then took the opportunity to visit a shop that sold one of Belgium’s finest exports – chocolate! Leonidas Chocolaterie allowed pupils to both sample and purchase some sweet treats. We then boarded the coach again ready to go back to the hotel to put on our evening attire ready for a meal and the Last Post ceremony.
En route, we took in Wieltje Farm cemetery which is a small, but rather beautiful battlefield cemetery where one of Anna Marshall’s relatives is buried. Here, Anna was able to visit the grave and sign the visitor’s book. Moments like these, where pupils are able to find relatives who may never have been visited before, certainly make this trip very special indeed.
Our evening meal of chicken and chips at the Utopia restaurant was well received by all and set us up for the wait at the crowded Last Post Ceremony. We had to take up our position nice and early under the Menin Gate so that we could observe the ceremony from a good vantage point and because we had some pupils taking part.
The Last Post ceremony to remember those who gave their lives during WW1, takes place every single day in Ypres at 8pm and three of our students were involved in the ceremony this evening. Anna Marshall, Beth Dengate and Mollie Allcock were our St Mary’s representatives this evening and did a splendid job.
It goes without saying that all of our pupils were a credit to themselves and the school once again here. They have been a real pleasure to be with this week.
We then returned to The Oude Abdij, ready for our beds, to rest in readiness for another busy day ahead tomorrow.