Fifth Form History Trip to the Western Front

On Friday 20 October the History trip group convened excitedly, but sleepily, at 7:00am to embark on a long coach drive to the Continent.

We journeyed to the Dover ferry to cross to Calais and then on to our first hotel in Arras. Following a delicious dinner in a French restaurant we went to the local bowling alley for some competitive diversion. Regardless of the interesting spelling of some of our names on the overhead displays, everyone had good fun - most importantly Reverend Johnson came out top in the teachers’ competition – something he was happy to mention again and again!

On Saturday morning we left for the Beaumont Hamel Newfoundland Memorial to observe the former battlefield while listening to our captivating guides – brothers Steve and Nigel Williams – tell the story of the Newfoundland regiment who fought on that battlefield 101 years earlier. We then looked around the Musée d’Albert and other important sites including the astounding Lochnagar crater at La Boisselle and the breathtakingly grand Thiepval Monument engraved with the names of 72,246 missing servicemen with no known graves. There we searched the walls for soldiers with our surnames and had a few minutes of silence to hear the names of the Old Dauntseians who perished in WWI. The evening consisted of another great dinner followed by a lively team quiz put on by the teachers.

On Sunday we visited a huge German Cemetery at Neuville St Vaast; the remarkable Canadian memorial at Vimy Ridge; and the vast French cemetery at Notre Dame de Lorette all of which were thought provoking experiences aided by explanation from our guides. We moved to a new hotel and had a lovely dinner in Ypres before attending the Menin Gate Ceremony, which takes place each night at 8:00pm. ‘The Last Post’ was played and six Dauntsey’s students sang an arrangement of ‘Be Thou My Vision’ (Abi Baker, Sophie Hollis, Rosie Jephson, Isobel O’brien, Hermione Owen and Natalie Wu) in front of a crowd of around 3000 people, while three others (Rufus Cannon, Mabel Garton-Jones and Oliver Illingworth) laid a wreath on behalf of the school in remembrance of the former Dauntsey’s students that fought and gave their lives in the war. Next was a successful trip to the Belgian chocolate shop of Peter and Stephanie de Groote and some free time to attempt to take in the beautiful setting of the reconstructed town of Ypres before returning to the hotel.

Even on the last day we packed in the sights visiting places such as the Essex Farm with the grave of a soldier only 15 years old and the former Dressing Station where Canadian Doctor Poet John McCrae served; Tyne Cot memorial where we all placed crosses, and Zonnebeke Museum which had reconstructed trenches. We stopped for lunch and had a service at Talbot House where soldiers went before going to the front line; hymns were sung and names were read again. Afterwards we set off for Calais where an incident with a stowaway migrant found under the bus slowed us but we made it onto the ferry and journeyed home. Mr Sandell and Nigel Williams’ frequent use of John Denver’s song ‘Country Roads’ became the soundtrack of the trip, heartily sung, in the bus and while ‘fun’ is not the right word to describe visiting the former Western Front, it certainly was a valuable experience and a trip I would willing recommend to anyone.
Many thanks to all the teachers for an excellent trip.
Rosie - Fifth Form Pupil