Adapted by Mrs Millar from pupil diaries.
The 5th Our Lady’s High School Pals Battalion, led by Mr Smith and Kat Brogan of Mercat Tours, and accompanied by Mr Donnachie, Miss McGhee and Mrs Millar, set off for Belgium and France on Monday 20th June. We travelled by ferry from Hull and had a comfortable crossing to Zeebrugge – great food and accommodation onboard! Our first stop in Belgium was at the Pool of Peace, followed by Messines Church, then Hooge Crater museum where we had lunch, then onwards to Sanctuary wood where we donned wellies in order to experience life in the trenches. We reached Munchenhof around 5 and checked in to our very welcoming hotel where we were again well fed!
On Tuesday we set off to France. Our first visit was to Newfoundland Park, a beautiful, tranquil place dedicated to the Canadian soldiers who fought in the war. We were privileged to walk across the battlefield and witness where the soldiers fought the Battle of the Somme: tragically, 91% of them did not make it back home. They are also remembered at Vimy Ridge, with an awe inspiring monument showing Mother Canada weeping for her lost children. We also visited Poiziers cemetery, where 14000 soldiers “Known Unto God” are remembered. This is the inscription carved on the memorial stones when soldiers who died could not be identified – or in some cases, even found. We were also proud to share a special moment with Robyn Leach, as she laid a wreath at the grave of her great great grandfather.
Thursday began at Essex Farm to visit the advanced dressing station where Lieutenant John McCrae wrote his famous poem “In Flanders Fields”. Next stop was Polkapelle Cemetery, where over 6000 of the 7400 men who lie there are only “Known Unto God”. We then visited Passchaendale, where half a million men died in 1917. We visited Tyne Cot Cemetery, the biggest Commonwealth cemetery in the world with 12,000 graves. Here, too, the lost men are remembered: 35,000 men – whose bodies were never found – are commemorated on the walls. Our next stop was at one of only four German cemeteries at Langemarck, resting place of over 40,000 German soldiers. After lunch we set foot in the Sacred City of Ypres for the first time, to visit the graves of two British soldiers shot at dawn by their own side. Lastly, we attended the Menin Gate ceremony in Ypres, where once again we were able to share the experience of finding a relative’s resting place with Lauren McCann. Our last official duty of the trip was when we then went on to Poelkapelle Cemetery to conduct our own memorial service.
Each evening, before dinner, Kat Brogan, our Tour Guide with Mercat International Tours, worked with the young people as they reflected on their experiences, writing in their daily diaries. Later, everyone enjoyed some down time, playing pool, bowling, watching TV or just chatting.
Our last day in Brugge saw a raiding of the chocolate shops and a scoffing of ice cream and delicious Belgian waffles before heading back to Scotland from Rotterdam on our second ferry – which was even more luxurious than the first one! After a fantastic meal, everyone took to the floor – even the oldies – and danced the night away, finishing the night with a rendition of “It’s A Long Way to Tipperary” which brought the house down and made us many new friends!
The trip was both a lot of fun and very thought provoking – a real life changing experience for staff and pupils. Thanks to Mr Smith for organising a truly memorable time for us!