Beaconsfield High School

Beaconsfield High School

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Student journal: The Battlefields Trip

By Emily Cozens, 10JXP

At 5:00 in the morning a group of excited, yet tired Year tens stumbled out of their cars with their large roller suitcases. It was the 6th of July and we were all ready to embark on our journey that would take us through the history of the trenches and many sad yet courageous stories of warfare in both France and Belgium. We boarded the coaches and knew immediately that we were in for a treat and so our journey began…

The trip was very interesting and we all learned so much about World War One. We learned how truly devastating the Battle of the Somme was and how thousands of British troops were practically mowed down by machine guns as they left their trenches; most never to return again even though many were so young and innocent, and were confident in the fact that the war would end by Christmas. But instead it lasted four very long years.

We followed the trench lines on both the German and British fronts as we travelled through Belgium and France and the sheer length of the trenches put into perspective just how many soldiers on both sides were involved with war. I just couldn’t imagine how such beautiful countryside was turned into a war zone within the blink of an eye, and how the long stretches of poppies made up the vast area of no-man’s land.

My most interesting moment was when we visited Thiepval woods and saw the old reminiscence of trenches and some exact replicas all dispersed amongst the woods. We saw the many different types of trenches and we saw how cramped they were, and we imagined lots of men packed into them rushing about or trying to get some sleep in their tiny dug-outs. It was clear that life was anything but easy for the soldiers who were truly immersed in the wilderness with no shelter. The guide told us many stories about the lives of the soldiers in the trenches, such as a man who jumped on top of a bomb to save his friends as an act of bravery. The guide also told us how the builders of the replica trenches were digging up the ground when they found a spoon with a bullet hole in it, which was later concluded that a man had his spoon with him in his pocket (as soldiers never knew when the next meal would be available) and he got shot through the spoon.

My most touching moment was when I lay my cross down at Tyne Cot cemetery. At the beginning of the trip we were all given little wooden crosses with a poppy on and told to lay them down somewhere that felt special to us. I spent the whole trip looking yet it wasn’t until the last day that I found the grave of a soldier that really touched me. It was a 15 year old boy who was part of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, which felt very personal to me as the boy was very close to my age and my family is Welsh so it put things into perspective and made me realise how traumatising this really was, especially for the young boys who thought they were signing up for adventure when really they were signing up to a death sentence. I wrote several poems on the cross, which reflected how I felt about the devastation of war and it made me feel as if I was keeping their memory alive and thanking them for my life that I owed to them.

As we walked through the Tyne Cot cemetery there were many graves of soldiers from Buckinghamshire and that was very saddening as I imagined that, if my family was alive 100 years ago, my three brothers would have all been called up for war and I may never have seen them again, which would have been the same situation for so many families.

My favourite memory was when we explored Passchendaele museum on the first day of the trip. We got to learn about World War One and it was fascinating! We got to do everything from smelling the gas that was used in the trenches, trying on soldier’s helmets and attempting to lift up a soldier’s backpack, to exploring replica trenches and even going underground to see what secret underground bases and bunkers were like!

We visited many other interesting places such as the Lochnagar crater, which was caused by a bomb placed under a trench and killed several people sitting in the trenches, the first place gas was ever used and an old stone hospital just behind the allies' front line trenches. We also visited Langemark German cemetery, which had a very different atmosphere to the British cemeteries; the cemetery was dark as many trees shaded it and the headstones were dark grey. The most fascinating bit of all was that each grave was a mass grave of about 8 people, and the one on the middle held 25,000 soldiers remains. We were also told that Hitler had delivered a speech in this cemetery which was fascinating.

The Menin gate memorial service was spectacular and it had been going on every single year since 1918, except when German forces had occupied the area. However, the service started up again on that same day that the Germans left the town. The last post was played and a poem was read out then a marching band appeared and finally our school had its moment when 4 smartly dressed students laid down a wreath from Our school which was a very proud moment.

The hotel was amazing and there was lovely food and grounds with a lake!

Our coach journeys were very fun as well. On the ‘Packer party bus’ we did lots of karaoke- of which it was clear the teachers enjoyed. 

I really enjoyed the chocolate shop as well, as I’m sure we all did, and there were many smiling faces as we walked out of the shops with cooler bags stuffed full of Belgian chocolate from a shop that supplied chocolate to the royal family of Belgium.

Overall, it was a very fun and informative trip yet there was plenty of time for personal reflection on the unimaginable sacrifice of the British troops. The teachers were very friendly and worked very hard to make the trip such a success. I have many memories that will last a lifetime and I am so glad I decided to go.