Battlefields 2011

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Report from Mrs Letham and Mrs Fitzpatrick, with additional [more interesting] contributions from Ms O’Neill, Ms Broughton and Ms Togneri

Our Battalion was dispatched from the military base in Motherwell at precisely 2100 hours, accompanied by General Sam. After a few days capturing reconnaissance intelligence in German Occupied France, we reached our destination: Belgium.

Ms O’Neill: On the 4th June two bus loads of over-excited pupils and already tired teachers left Our Lady’s High departing for France and Belgium.

Ms Broughton: On arriving at the school, we were told that this wasn’t a holiday, it was a life changing experience. We were no longer a group of pupils, we were the 2nd Our Lady’s High School Pals Battalion. We were going to relive the tragedy of World War I. We waved goodbye to our families just the same way the soldiers of 1914 did and then we were off. We travelled during the night to Dover where we got the ferry to Calais.

Ms Togneri: Thinking back, the journey was long and excruciating, but of course no-one noticed: we were all too busy singing, laughing and generally causingĀ  a riot due to our excitement. We arrived in Paris the following day, and spent the next two days there.

Ms Broughton: As soon as we arrived in Paris we were given a moment to change and then we were off to the phenomenal Eiffel Tower.

Ms Togneri: During our time there, we visited the Sacre Coeur and the Eiffel Tower, took a boat trip down the River Seine and went shopping to buy souvenirs for loved ones. Personally going to the top of the Eiffel Tower was without a doubt my favourite. I was so scared yet fascinated.

Ms Broughton: On the same night, we were caught in a rainstorm and had to go in an underground for shelter. Eventually we arrived back at the hotel wet and cold but laughing at the experience

Ms O’Neill: On our last night in Paris we were given free time to visit some shops. They sold lots of little souvenirs and ‘I Love Paris’ memorabilia. Each shop you entered swore they could offer you the best deal, and if brave enough, you were able to haggle with the shop owner to try and get an even cheaper price. Out on the streets, artists with their canvases approach you ready to draw you your very own portrait. Each street has another handful of cafes with pastries smelling yummy.

With great honour and respect, we passed into the battlefield linked with the blackest day in British military history, The Somme. Our Company was inspiredĀ  by the bravery, courage and honour of those soldiers, over 400,00 of them, who died during that battle.

Ms Togneri: It seemed like no time at all until we were on our travels to Belgium. During this bus journey we prepared ourselves for the emotional next few days we knew we had to face before us.

Ms Broughton: In Belgium, we saw many war memorials that I will never forget and had opportunities to walk through trenches that have been in the exact same condition that they were in during the War.

We saw cemeteries of British, French and German soldiers. There were many differences between the two enemies resting places.

Ms Togneri: France and Belgium, or as we called it Frelgium was an unforgettable experience for my classmates and I. Singing war songs on our travels, getting a taste of the French lifestyle, visiting cemeteries and memorials of those who fought in World War I, I will not forget any of it.

Ms Broughton: eventually our journey came to an end and we were home with our families. However, our thoughts went to the people that never returned: the dead and missing of the Somme.

Trip to the Trenches

Report by Mr Smith

35 pupils from Our Lady’s High School travelled to Belgium and France during the final week of term to take part in a memorable World War One Battlefields Experience led by an excellent guide from Mercat Tours.

After an overnight ferry crossing from Hull to Zeebrugge, the group travelled to the southern lip of the Ypres Salient, visiting the small Belgian town of Messines and standing in the very room in which an injured Adolf Hitler was treated during the First World War. That afternoon the group donned their wellies to stand up to their knees in the mud of the trenches at Sanctuary Wood, and listened in awe to stories at the Pool of Peace, Hooge Crater and Hill 60, before travelling along the Menin Road, the scene of such bitter fighting as both sides battled for control of Ypres.

Day 3 was a full day visit to France and the Somme battlefields where drama and roleplay brought the horrors of the battles to life as the group toured Beaumont Hamel Ulster Tower, La Boiselle, Pozieres Ridge, Vimy Ridge and the Thiepval Memorial where two pupils laid poppies in memory of relatives who had been killed in action.

On Day 4 the group journeyed to the northern lip of the Ypres Salient to visit the Allied cemeteries at Essex Farm, Poelkapelle, Passchendaele and Tyne Cot, and the German cemetery at Langemarck before holding their own memorial service at the Menin Gate in Ypres. Here another pupil was able to leave a poppy as a mark of respect to a relative killed in action.

The final day was devoted to sightseeing and souvenir shopping in Bruges before the journey back to Motherwell. Throughout the week pupils also read poetry and sang songs from the period, climbed in and out of German pill-boxes and marched as soldiers, but most importantly were challenged to think, discuss and reflect on their experiences of an unforgettable week.