Fifth Form Trip to the Western Front

At the start of our Autumn Half Term, the Fifth Form visited the battlefields and monuments of the former Western Front.

On the dark October morning of the 21st we emerged blinking from the cars that lined the back of the school. Our mission was to board a heavily defended Barnes coach; our staff were indifferent standing around in small groups discussing the sandwiches. We had no idea why we had signed up for this adventure.

Our guides were brothers Nigel and Steve Williams, both storytellers, who have been running trips similar to this for 12 years - this year was particularly special as it was the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. After a brief stop to take on supplies, we arrived at Dover in time for lunch on the ferry as well as a quick view of the Russian Warships sailing down the Channel – history in the making. We continued with our journey, and arrived at our hotel in Arras for the evening. After a very enjoyable meal at the ‘Café de la Paix’ we made our way to the bowling alley for an evening’s activity. It is said that both Mr Sandell and Mr Crossley were fearsomely competitive in the staff lane.

The second day was another very early start. We travelled to Beaumont Hamel, our first site relating to our coursework, at which the fledgling nation of Newfoundland (now a Canadian province) fought against the Germans. Having seen the sombre graves of the men who died in the battle, we visited the museum at Albert which related various accounts from the Battle of the Somme in 1916. We then made our way to the Lochnagar crater at La Boiselle, the site at which the infamous German Schwabenhöhe was obliterated by British mines; the crater was the largest one to be made by men in anger - it is now a unique memorial. Then we arrived at the Anglo-French memorial at Thiepval in time for a wreath laying ceremony accompanied by the Last Post - we saw the hundreds of names that lined the memorial in memory of the 72,246 missing soldiers who fought on the Somme exactly a century ago. Following an hour and a half’s journey to Ypres in Belgium to our hotel, that evening we all participated in a quiz which the teachers undoubtedly won, although they may well have cheated!

On the third day we visited the caves at Arras in which British and New Zealand forces lived in the build up to the Battle of Arras in 1917. We then explored at Neuville St Vaast, a German cemetery; its black crosses, shrouded in the autumn mist put into perspective the boundless tragedy of the war. Later that day we moved on to the many sites at the Canadian shrine that is Vimy Ridge, where after a guided tour of the underground tunnels used in the offensive and the trenches there, we visited the expansive Mother Canada memorial. After this, we again made our way back up to Ypres where we attended the nightly ceremony at the Menin Gate Memorial at 8pm. Four Dauntsey’s students laid a wreath in memory of the soldiers who had been members of the school and who had perished in the First World War. After this we had some free time to visit the beautifully reconstructed town centre of Ypres, buy chocolate, and go on the enormous Ferris wheel that stood next to the Cloth Hall.

The following morning, after visiting the magnificent In Flanders Fields museum in Ypres we spent some time at the memorial to the British soldiers who had fought and died on the Ypres salient and in the battle of Passchendaele. Here again two of our students laid a wreath to the fallen Dauntseians. Before we left for home we spent an emotional hour at Talbot House in Poperinge where so many had come before passing up the road to the front line. Mr Sandell gave a very passable impression of the Chaplain and we sang rather tunelessly but emotionally in an environment redolent with history.

We then made our journey to Calais, where in our second ‘living history’ experience we saw the migrant ‘Jungle’ being dismantled before taking the ferry back to England. An unforgettable trip.

Elliot Yates - Fifth Form