Battlefields Trip to Ypres
More than 30 St Mary’s girls travelled to France last week for the annual Battlefields trip. On the first day, we toured the Ypres Salient – an area around the town of Ypres which was heavily fought over throughout the war. After a visit to Hill 62 and a walk around some actual trenches, past piles of rusting shells, we had lunch and free time in Ypres (now called Ieper), a city which was completely rebuilt after WW1.
After picking up our guide, we visited two British cemeteries – Tyne Cot, the largest British cemetery with 12,000 graves and 35,000 names of the missing at the Battle of Passchendaele, and Essex Farm where there is a dressing station where John Mccrae wrote ‘In Flanders Fields’. We also saw the German cemetery at Langemarck, where 44,000 men were buried. The sheer number of names and graves were slowly sinking in, along with individual stories, such as that connected with the grave of a 15 year-old boy.
In the evening, we attended the Menin Gate ceremony, which has taken place every single night since 1919 (except during the German occupation of 1940-1945) to commemorate the 54,000 missing men from around Ypres. This very moving ceremony was followed by a more cheerful game of bowling – won by Mr Goodwin – with Livvy Owen winning out of the girls.
On our last day, we visited Vimy Ridge and its tunnels, the scene of a great Canadian victory in Easter 1917. It was astonishing to see how close the opposing trenches were – only a few metres apart. Our next stop was the Somme and the different war memorials associated with it – a huge mine hole created by the British on the first day of Somme; Theipval the only Anglo-French cemetery/memorial where we happened to meet three old St Mary’s girls, and Beaumont Hamel, where of the 725 Newfoundland men who went over the top on 1 July 1916 only 63 were able to answer roll call in the evening.
Overall the experience was very enjoyable and educational whilst hammering home the scale of devastation and loss of life, the courage and sacrifice of men and how a century later the scars of war are still felt – and that we must never ever forget.
by Tabitha, UV