In October two year 9 students, Jack Kerswill and Luca Bergonzini, represented Tavistock College in a visit to the Battlefields of France and Belgium. This was part of a national initiative to mark the centenary of the start of the Great War by offering all secondary schools the chance to select two participating students. Jack and Luca won a College competition by producing some commemorative poems and posters that showcased not only their historical awareness but also their creative skills.
The weekend visit took in famous landmarks such as the Thiepval Memorial, the battlefields of Flanders, Tyne Cot cemetery and an emotional visit to the Menin Gate in Ypres. This allowed our students to experience the ‘Last Post’ ceremony, an occasion marked every single night at 8pm, and on this occasion attended by hundreds of people.
One of the highlights of the visit was the presence of serving members of the armed forces. This provided a unique insight into modern warfare and army experiences and complemented the historical knowledge of the tour guides superbly. This meant that as well as providing a fitting historical commemoration for our pupils, the trip also provided a genuine real world learning experience.
Phil Ruse, Humanities Teacher
Upon arriving at the coach station, I already began to feel exited. Throughout the (7 hour) coach journey to Kent my anticipation continued to grow. Once the coach had arrived I began to realise that my excitement had a just cause! Before delving into the events and peoples of the Great War, we were all introduced to our ‘bunk mates’ as it were. I am certain Jack and I have made some fantastic friends from all around the south west. They joined us on our adventure to come. After the introductions and an attempt at ‘Jacobs ladder’ we all ate before handling some WW1 artefacts and replicas and then researching a local soldier.
The next day we set off for France and got our first real taste of the Great War in a fantastic museum showing many different uniforms and full scale replicas of underdugs and trenches. This was both informative and entertaining as it was a good way to see what it was like racing through the trenches.
We then visited the Tyne Cot cemetery. I could not believe my eyes: I was stunned by the size of what is the largest of the war cemeteries and it made me think about a great number of things. One fact I did not know was that all the gravestones are made identically to promote uniformity and the soldiers’ equality, even in death. It was truly astounding.
In the evening we observed the ceremony at the Menin gate which was a moving act of remembrance and beautiful pieces of music were played. And after we all had a wander around Ypres and Mr Ruse and I treated ourselves to some delicious Belgian waffles!
The second day we visited the Thiepval memorial among other places. This was my favourite place because of its sheer size and it’s fantastic architectural value. What I found astonishing was the amount of work and time that went in to remembering the brave dead. After a few more cemetery and battle ground visits, like the Somme itself, we returned to the hotel to compare modern military implements to those of World War 1.
It was an absolutely fantastic experience and I wouldn’t have changed a second of it!
Thank you to those involved for giving me this wonderful opportunity!
Luca Bergonzini, Year 9
This trip really meant something to me because my Great, Great Grandad took part in the “Battle of the Somme” but sadly died. He was part of the Royal Field Artillery.
The trip was truly outstanding. The cemeteries really did make me think twice about the war. The biggest cemetery we visited was called “Tyne Cot”. It was so big it really did make you think about the loss of lives. The cemetery also had three German bunkers in it. They used to hold the machine guns.
Afterwards we visited the German cemetery. These were very different to the English and French (Allies) memorials. It was very interesting to see how the memorials were set out. We also went on to see Neuve Chapelle. This memorial commemorated Indian war dead.
We then visited the trenches. They were re-created and you could walk around them and it gave you a feel as to the conditions the men lived in. Although we didn’t have bombs and bullets whizzing past us, it was still rather extraordinary!
All the memorials we visited had their own story to tell. We sadly couldn’t find my Great Great Grandads memorial. It was an emotional and educational trip that I will always remember. I can’t thank the college enough for what they have done for Luca and I!
Jack Kerswill, Year 9