Western Front and Disney Land Paris Trip 2017

Between the 4th and 7th July a group of Serlby Parks Finest Year 7, 8 and 9 students headed out to Northern France and Belgium to explore World War 1’s Western Front with a little taste of French culture and large big eared Mouse thrown in for good measure.

The group had an early start on Tuesday morning to make their channel crossing from Dover to Calais. Once in France we headed to our first stop, Lijssenthoek casualty clearing station and cemetery. Here the students began to get a taste of how wounded soldiers were dealt with and what the conditions would have been like for these men and those treating them in 1915. We also learnt about and payed our respects at the grave of Staff Nurse Nellie Spindler one of only two women killed in action and buried in Belgium, we then headed on to our hotel for some interesting French cuisine.

Wednesday was a packed day starting early in the hot continental sunshine. We started the day at Vancouver corner to visit the Brooding Soldier and hear about the first use gas in the First World War. From here we then visited the Passchendaele Museum, where we learnt about all aspects of the life of a soldier on the Western Front from their uniform to weapons and medicine to tactics. We also had the chance to head underground into a recreated trench system. Later that morning we arrived at Tyne Cot cemetery, the largest Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in the world. Here we heard about the fighting around Ypres and many students looked for names of potential relatives amongst the 12 000 graves, laying poppies and paying their respects.

After a very French lunch in the welcome shade of a forest we then proceeded to explore the infamous Hill 60 battle ground, learning how miners and ‘mines’ became an essential weapon along the Front before heading into Ypres.  In the much fought over town of Ypres we made our first port of call the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing. The Menin gate was a real eye opener, the 54 000 names displayed on the gate are a staggering sight and difficult for anyone to comprehend the enormity of the deaths in the battles around Ypres, these are the names of some of the men that were never recovered. The students spent a good chunk of time here again searching for names they may recognise and paying their respects.

Later on during Wednesday afternoon we headed into the town of Ypres for some free time to explore and sample some of Belgium’s finest exports, handmade chocolates! This was a good opportunity to stock up, buy gifts and for some to just watch life go by and enjoy the sunshine before enjoying a meal in a local restaurant. After we had been fed we the headed back to the Menin Gate for the daily Remembrance ceremony, an act which has been carried out every single day of the year, every year since 1928 (with the exception of the German occupation during WW2) as a show of gratitude to those who gave their lives to liberate Belgium. During the ceremony the Last post is played by buglers from the local Fire service or Military and wreaths are laid. Serlby was well represented by a number of students who had the opportunity to lay wreaths. The service is always moving and highlights the lasting impact WW1 had on all involved.

Thursday brought an early start again and a trip south towards Paris. Yes it was Disney day! The students had a great day out trying to maximise the number of rides they could hit and sights that they could see. The Tower of Terror and the Rock and Roller seemed most popular but we’re sure everyone had their favourite.

After a very late night and a busy day Thursday Friday morning was a subdued affair with a few more visits before heading home. Just before we started our return to Blighty we had one last visit to the Thiepval memorial which bears the names of over 72 000 fallen soldiers. Here students again looked for names which maybe familiar to pay their respects and then take part in a private act of remembrance, laying a further two wreaths on behalf of the Academy and our local community. This seemed a very fitting end to our tour of the Western Front before beginning our eventful trip home.

The students involved all seemed to have a great time and everyone that they came into contact with them was very complimentary about our students, particularly our guide who spent the week with us. The staff thoroughly enjoyed the trip again and look forward to another adventure soon.