Saturday, 17 November 2012


The reason I haven't been around this week is because I was in Belgium and France (I just got back last night). It's amazing how much can be packed into 2 days. I feel like I've been away for at least a week. I was accompanying the school Battlefields trip. The students were amazing and I learnt so much about the Great War. It was humbling to see all the graves at the sites we visited and to hear their stories. At each grave we stood in front of, we read the names and said thank you for everything they had done for us. As we drove around northern France and Belgium, we came across commonwealth cemeteries in so many different locations. In industrial estates, in the middle of large farms, in sparse woodland. The tears started when we read 'In Flanders Fields'.

This was the first cemetery we visited. The majority of headstones had crosses on them but I found three with a Star of David on them - I placed a stone on each one to say thank you. I really like this Jewish tradition as stones remain on the grave whereas flowers wither and die. A stone is a continuous reminder that people have visited, remembered and said thank you.

What amazed me about the whole day was the number of names we saw of the missing soldiers. Tens of thousands of names in so many different locations. In the German cemetery we visited, 24,000 unnamed soldiers buried in one location. A mass grave in a cemetery. I've never seen anything on this scale before. The students that we took with us were as shocked as I was. Anyone who says that teenagers don't care needs to spend some time with them and actually talk to them. They'll soon find different.

One of the highlights of the trip was the last post at Ypres. This has happened ever day at 8pm since 1927 (except for a break for the Second World War) and is extremely moving. Three of our students laid a wreath as part of the ceremony. There are people watching the ceremony from all corners of the globe who travel to this area to remember ancestors who fought for their freedom.

All around the gate, the names of the missing soldiers have been inscribed. Thousands of them. I'm still trying to get my head around the numbers of young men that lost their lives in the First World War and the conditions that they had to live in. Also, the impact that this had back in their countries of origin. Whole generations of men just wiped out and the women left behind who lost their sweethearts. What an impact on everyone and everything.

After all the seriousness, we also visited the local chocolate shops of Ypres. After tastings at two of the shops, it was time to part with some hard earned euros. You wouldn't know that all these chocolate shops stay open so late when all the other shops are closed. The chocolates are now home safe and sound and waiting to be eaten (I'm hoping over a long period of time as I bought a 1kg box!).

After a night in a Belgian hotel with a great continental breakfast, it was off for our second day of learning. The most thought provoking thing of the day was a visit to the Newfoundland War Memorial. The weather was really foggy through out the day which added a hint of eeriness to all the sites we visited. This was particularly the case at this war memorial where you could see where the original trenches would have been and look out over what would have been no mans land with all the shell holes.

This is a picture of the war memorial itself with a Canadian caribou on the top. From the top we were able to look out over the surrounding landscape and see things like this...

You can clearly see where the original trenches would have been.

If you ever get the chance to visit the First World War cemeteries I highly recommend it. It's thought provoking and makes me thankful for the sacrifice of all those young men. I will remember.

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