Our tour of The Somme

It was a bright and early start this morning for breakfast before we travelled down into France to where the British front line had reached for the Battle of the Somme. En route, we watched a documentary about trench warfare and the battle that would kill so many.
Our first stop was at Sheffield Memorial Park at Serre, where Miss McKay read us the story of one of the Sheffield regiment who had fought so valiantly here. Bringing the story closer to home, clearly had an effect.
IMG_5587
We then visited the first of two Canadian memorials today: Newfoundland Park. Here, we saw the giant caribou that watches over the grounds. Pupils could walk the trenches and relive the experiences up close.
IMG_5588
We had our packed lunches and visited the incredible Thiepval Memorial. Rising above and dominating the landscape, it is a memorial to the 73,000 missing at the battle of the Somme.
IMG_5590
Lucy Clark was able to find the name of her great Uncle here and lay a cross at the foot of the pillar where his name is inscribed. Mr McMullan was then able to tell us about his Great Grandfather from the Ulster regiment and Miss McKay then read a very moving section from Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong before pupils had time to take in the sheer scale of the structure.
IMG_5591
Lochnagar Crater was our next stop – the site of the explosion of a mine that was placed beneath the German lines on the British section of the Somme front. The Lochnagar mine was sprung at 7:28 a.m. on 1 July 1916, the first day on the Somme. 100 years on, the heat today was just as it had been that day.
IMG_5597
Our last stop, before going back to Langemarck, was to visit Vimy Ridge – a beautifully designed statue in memory of Canadians who fought and died in WW1, that sits in front of an incredible vista of the Arras area. This was the perfect opportunity for a group picture:
IMG_5598
We returned after a busy day in the sweltering heat to the hotel for our evening meal and a chance to relax and pack before bed.
Tomorrow we will be taking in one last stop in Poperinge before aiming to catch the 11:35 ferry. Our ETA back at St Mary’s is 18:00 but if there is any change to this we will post updates on the school website.
This has been a wonderful trip, enjoyed by all. Pupils have been excellently behaved and we have had numerous comments about the quality of their conduct from members of the public at several different locations. We are very proud of them and they have been a pleasure to spend time with.

Our day on the Ypres Salient

With some weary eyes this morning, we had a nice continental breakfast before heading out for our day on the Ypres Salient, with our first stop at the Menin Gate. The structure, which is a memorial to the missing, was to book-end our day, as we would return there tonight for the Last Post ceremony.

IMG_5567

Here, James Hatton and India Allen were able to locate the names of their relatives and leave a cross of remembrance and fill in the visitor’s book. Tonight they would be here again to take part in the ceremony. From there, we walked The Ramparts to the Lille Gate and then went on to St George’s Church – built specifically as a place where pilgrims like ourselves could go to pay their respects.

IMG_5568

Just before our next stop, Mrs Kirkland spotted this little visitor just next to the Lille Gate at the cemetery there…

IMG_5574

When the visited the hugely impressive In Flanders Fields museum which is housed inside the imposing Cloth Hall in the middle of Ypres. A very interactive and modern museum, pupils had wristbands that they could scan as they went round to reveal stories, videos and voices of the Great War.

IMG_5579

After some free time to explore the centre of what has become modern day Ypres – a gently bustling city centre with café-culture and shopping at its heart. Ice creams and even forays into the fountain (and that was just Miss McKay) were enjoyed before we boarded the coach to take us to our lunch spot at Hill 60.

Once we had devoured our packed lunches together, we ventured to Sanctuary Wood – a highlight for many. Here, we were able to walk through real trenches and tunnels that have been restored, complete with mud. There are also huge display cases of real shells, guns and military equipment that have since been harvested.

With a brief stop to discuss the role of gas attacks in WW1, at Vancouver Corner, Mr Cox read Wilfrid Owens Dulce et Decorum Est. From here we went to our last stop of the afternoon at Tyne Cot. This is the largest British cemetery in the world, with the iconic cross of sacrifice towering above the gravestones. Pupils were able to explore the names and search for relatives on the computer system.

image

The evening was spent at Utopia, a restaurant in Ypres where we tucked in to chicken and chips before going to hold a good place for the Last Post Ceremony. James, India and Lucy Clark (in their uniform in the near 30 degree heat… no non-blazer days here…) took part in the ceremony. Lucy will locate her relative tomorrow at Thiepval. It was a very moving experience and our pupils were beautifully engaged and respectful.

IMG_5585

Last stop of this packed day was the chocolate shop before returning home to the hotel for a much needed bedtime at 10pm. Tomorrow is our day on the Somme, so we’re going to need some rest!

Arrived safely in Belgium

After making excellent time down the M1 this morning, we stopped at South Mimms services to get some well-needed breakfast and to stretch our legs. On from there, we carried on to Dover where we had a very calm and enjoyable crossing to France.

After watching an excellent film by Tony Robinson (known to most as Baldrick from Blackadder) about the causes and start of WW1, Mr Franks told us about the Ypres Salient, our home for the next 3 nights. Our first stop was at Essex Farm Cemetery and Dressing Station, home to the graves of many who gave their lives on the Salient, but particularly to one John McRae.

IMG_5558

McRae was a Canadian soldier who penned the famous In Flanders Fields poem that refers to the poppies that to this day have become symbols of remembrance for the Great War. After Mr Cox read the poem next to his memorial, we explored the dressing stations and then boarded the coach that would take us to our hotel, the Munchenhof in Langemarck.

After checking in and having time to settle in and unwind (or play football, as the boys decided…) we had dinner at the hotel. Plates were piled high with vegetables chips and chicken as we enjoyed a very civilized meal together. After some free time to let our food settle (yes, more football), we embarked on a night walk to nearby the German Cemetery, in Langemarck.

IMG_5560

German cemeteries have a different look and feel – no English country garden with mown lawns and upright headstones here. Instead, the graves are flat the ground and the whole atmosphere is different and eerie. We decided to go at dusk to augment the feel. Pupils were reverend and excellently behaved as we explored the gravestones and the architecture of the site.

IMG_5562

Lights out at 10:30 tonight, as we are off to Ypres tomorrow. Breakfast is 7:30 sharp!

Concert at St Michael’s Basilica 

This afternoon we performed our concert at St Michael’s Basilica, which is where Maria and Captain Von Trapp get married in the Sound Of Music. It was an absolutely stunning church and all of the pupils performed brilliantly. Involved in the concert were upper school choir, festival choir, manflesh, string quintet, chamber choir and soloists. 

Concert at St Gilgen

This afternoon the pupils performed absolutely brilliantly at our first concert. It was a beautiful venue on Lake Wolfgang and the sun was shining!  Festival choir, upper school choir, manflesh, barbershop quartet, acapella choir, jazz band, brass band, string quintet, sax ensemble and soloists performed in our concert and were all superb!