Y9/10 GREAT WAR BATTLEFIELDS TOUR
Thursday 21st to Sunday 24th April 2022
Ilkley Grammar School finally returned to their annual Belgium World War 1 Battlefields trip during the Easter break, ending the two-year absence that was forced by the COVID pandemic. The trip marks over twenty visits to the area and the first in partnership with The Skipton Academy. The trip included the Belgian and French Sectors of the Somme and the Belgian town of Ypres, overnighting in Ebblinghem on the Opal Coast in Northern France.
We set off on the 12-hour coach journey on the evening of Thursday 21st April, stopping first in the rebuilt Ypres town for a walking tour, which included the Menin Gate and Indian Forces memorial monuments where Mrs Goodyear introduced the group to the Commonwealth war effort. We then moved on to Essex Farm Cemetery, a former advanced field dressing station which is now dedicated to the soldiers of Yorkshire and the wider West Riding area. The cemetery resonated deeply with the students as they talked quietly amongst the rows of stately white crosses, each one a heartfelt remembrance of a fellow Yorkshireman. In contrast, the group later visited Langemark German Cemetery, the final resting place of over 44,000 German soldiers, where over-hanging trees shade the cemetery from public view. In passing, we saw St Julien’s Canadian Memorial at Vancouver Corner, resting place to 2,000 soldiers who were lost in the first gas attack of the war.
The visit moved on to the largest British military cemetery anywhere in the world, the Tyne Cot Cemetery, with 34,000 names engraved upon walls on the back of the cemetery. Students visited the panel bearing the name of former IGS student and master, Eric Fitzwater Wilkinson M.C. a celebrated war poet, who was killed in action aged twenty-six, leading his men into No Man’s Land at Passchendaele Ridge, Western Flanders, on the night of the 9th October 1917. A poem in response to the news of Eric’s death written by the then Headmaster, Norman Lewis Frazer (IGS 1916-1933) and simply titled ‘E.F.W.’ was read out and a quiet moment given over to Eric while the last line of the poem ‘…The School upon her heart shall carve your name.’ rang in our ears. One student commented, ‘It had a very solemn feeling to it’ and was deeply moved by the visit.
The group reached Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 in Zonnebeke, Belgium in late afternoon and enjoyed a tour of the museum, the trenches and the ‘Dugout Experience’. This is a series of interactive bunkers designed to show the students what living underground meant for those who fought in one of the most horrific battles in history, where 600,000 casualties were recorded to capture just eight kilometres of land.
The trip also included battlefields, cemeteries and memorials in France and Belgium, with the group following the frontline route of The Battles of the Somme. The group visited the trenches at Vimy Ridge, the scene of the harrowing loss of British and French lives prior to the arrival of the Canadian forces in Easter 1917. The Ridge was taken at severe cost of lives over a four-day period of intense fighting which saw them deploy the new tactic of the ‘Creeping Barrage’ to great effect.
After the customary whole-group photo opportunity at the Vimy monument, the group moved on to the 'Memorial to the Missing of the Somme' at Thiepval, ‘home’ to 72,000 missing soldiers on the Somme. Here Year 10 student Guiseppe Younger commemorated one family member and with the help of Mr Rignall and the dedicated Thiepval staff, found another previously unknown to Guiseppe’s family. The trip moved on to the impressive ‘Lochnagar Crater’, caused by an explosion so loud it was said to have been heard in London, then to the perfectly still and silent resting place of the Devonshire regiment after a solemn journey through the village of Mametz.
Three students, Verity, Hayden and Alex laid a wreath provided by the animal charity ‘Murphy’s Army’ in remembrance of the service animals used during the war at the daily Menin Gate memorial to the missing of the British Empire at the ‘Last Post’ ceremony. The charity raises funds for service animals injured in conflicts and is noticeable by their distinctive purple poppies. Our students behaved impeccably at this solemn and deeply moving place and staff were delighted to receive several comments from English, Flemish and French members of the public pointing this out. These were not the only positive comments IGS and TSA students received throughout the trip; Thiepval museum were thrilled to see students back and welcomed us with open arms.
Mrs Lister, the trip leader, stressed the importance of the trip: