Ninety-six King’s Ely Senior students have just returned home from a fascinating trip exploring the World War One Battlefields of France and Belgium.

The four-day excursion saw the Year 9 pupils and nine members of staff visiting some of the most notorious stretches of the Western Front, and developing an understanding of the courage, sacrifice, and loss that the First World War entailed.

Mr James Foster, Early Career Teacher (History) at King’s Ely Senior, led the trip. He said: “We began at Nieuwpoort, Belgium, to look at the causes and early stages of the war, and how the initial German offensive failed. We then moved onto Diksmuide, the Trench of Death. This was a valuable opportunity to explore the only remaining original section of Belgian trenches from the war.

“The following day was based around the Battle of the Somme. In the morning, we embarked on a battlefield walk, including recorded testimony from soldiers who were part of the attack at Sunken Lane, the Hawthorn Ridge Crater, and Newfoundland Park. The context and events of the battle were brought to life as we walked, by the interesting and illuminating stories relayed by our excellent guides. They were superb at drawing out some of the most infamous spots on our route, and picking out powerful individual experiences from the headstones in the military cemeteries we visited.

“We also visited Lonsdale Cemetery, where Mr Thomas shared the story of 2nd Lt. William Orr Hampton, an Old Elean from the Norfolk Regiment, who was killed at the Somme on 1st July 1916, along with his best friend, 2nd Lt. Roland George Ingle. Hearing of their sacrifice highlighted a compelling personal connection with the war through their shared experience of King’s. We finished the day at the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing, hearing more stories of former King’s pupils whose names are on the memorial, before finishing with a superb dinner at the Ocean Villas Tea Room.

“On day three, we took in Vimy Ridge and the tunnel system at Wellington Quarry. We visited Flesquieres and Deborah the Tank in the afternoon – the only surviving tank from the Battle of Cambrai in 1917. We headed into Ypres in the evening for the Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate. Four of our pupils were given the opportunity to take part in the ceremony and lay a wreath on behalf of the school. They were also initiated as members of the Last Post Association. It was a poignant experience, and something that I am sure our pupils will remember for the rest of their lives.

“We finished the trip on Monday at Passchendaele, exploring Hill 60 and a superb museum on the conditions, equipment, and medical treatments in the trenches. The Tyne Cot Cemetery was a fitting final destination to explore the history of the war, as the largest Commonwealth war cemetery in the world. The pupils were able to end the trip with some chocolate shopping in Ypres. The free chocolate for teachers was also massively appreciated by the staff after an action-packed few days!

“Our pupils conducted themselves with decorum throughout the trip. I was particularly impressed by their maturity and solemnity at the Last Post Ceremony, but also appreciated their positive attitude and good company throughout the trip. I would also like to thank Mr Colin Currie, Mr Andy Thomas, Miss Helen Briggs, Mr Brian Taylor, Mrs Jane Thomas, Mr Patrick Carberry, Mrs Sandy Cox, and Mrs Rebecca Bradshaw for their insight, support, and good humour throughout the trip.”

Seth Harris, one of the students who went on the trip, said: “I felt the tour guides managed to install the reverence needed to respect the memorials. I can comfortably say that I enjoyed the trip, with all the stunning locations like the tunnels under Arras and the colossal Thiepval memorial, in which one of my friend’s relatives’ names were engraved upon. The trip was certainly my highlight of the year, and I have no doubt that many others feel the same.”

Another student, Julia Moretti, said: “The Battlefields Trip was a great experience for me to learn about and truly understand the impact of the First World War. Going to the cemeteries and memorials really put the war in perspective for me, and I especially liked visiting Debrah the tank and hearing about the different types of tank warfare and strategies they used. Chocolate shopping in Belgium and seeing the Last Post Ceremony were also two of my favourite things that we did.”

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