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On Friday 16th November, just five days after the 1918 armistice centenary, fifteen students and two members of staff from Beech House School departed for Ypres to explore the history of World War One and pay their respects to the fallen. An early start ensured that as much as possible could be crammed into just one day, and the party arrived in Belgium to begin their historical adventure before 10:30am.
Following introductions to the Flemish coach driver, Ian, the group got on the road to Ypres, or Ieper. Between 1914 and 1918, Ypres was often at the forefront of the action due to its positioning on the border between France and Belgium. Ypres was the battleground of the first, second, and third Battle of Ypres – the third more commonly known as the Battle of Passchendaele. It was here that poisonous gas was first used in 1915, signifying a devastating turning point in the war. It is for these reasons, along with the importance of the cemeteries of hundreds of thousands of soldiers, that Beech House School ran this trip, giving students the chance to experience integral historical events for themselves.
Throughout the day, students visited Langemark German Cemetery, Tyne Cot and Passchendaele Cemetery, Essex Farm Dressing Station, the Hill 62 Trenches and museum, and the Menin Gate. Tour guide Andre guided the group through each site and shared his knowledge and expertise. Interestingly, he explained how the headstones for soldiers of different religions differed; a cross for Christians, a Star of David for the Jewish, and a different shaped headstone with Urdu or Arabic inscriptions for Muslims.
Each site offered a different insight into the way in which the war was fought, and how it is now remembered. All members of the party noted the starkness of the German cemetery in contrast to the Commonwealth memorials and got a feel for trench life by wandering through the snaking passages and tunnels at Hill 62. After a long day of history and reflection, there was just about enough time to stop off in Ypres city centre to buy some Belgian chocolate before heading home.
Date online: 05 December 2018