Soon after we arrived at Calais we stopped at our first cemetery; this one being where John McCrae had been stationed at the Advanced Dressing Station, ‘Essex farm,’ where he wrote the poem In Flanders Fields. This poem was incredibly influential and remains so to this day, and inspired the wearing of poppies on Remembrance Day. Before that we had a walking tour of Ypres, a town once levelled to the ground and which was rebuilt using German money following the Treaty of Versailles.
On the Friday we all embarked on the journey to where the bloodiest day in British military history occurred: the Somme. Here we saw the very striking Ulster Division Memorial, which is a copy of the tower that stood above the troops on their training grounds and was probably one of the last things many of them saw. We also had a tour of Thiepval Woods where, as accurately as possible, a recreation has been made of where the Ulster Divisions front line once had been.
After that we visited the Thiepval Memorial Arch where a short service was held for past Shrewsbury School pupils and where Nick Argyle read the poem To the School at War, written by Revd Cyril Alington, previous Headmaster of Shrewsbury School. This was an incredibly humbling experience to see the huge sacrifice made to keep the freedom we enjoy today.
Quickly moving on to Newfoundland Park, we were looked down upon by a great bronze caribou as we stepped on the No Man’s Land where hundreds of Canadian soldiers were mown down by machine gun fire but, as it was inscribed at the bottom of the Statue, "And gave right willingly — for you and me".
The Arras Mines were our next visit, where Allied troops camped out for eight days until the battle of Arras.
On our final day we stopped briefly at the Langemark Cemetery. This was a mass grave for 45,000 German soldiers who gave their lives for their country. Hitler once visited the memorial with his chief generals and made them all pay respect to the troops of World War One.
Everyone had a great time on the trip but also were humbled by the mass loss of life and that, as the next generation, we will remember that this must not be allowed to happen ever again.
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