Visit To Belgium

On Saturday 17th June 2017, students from Year 10 had the privilege to travel to Belgium and visit the graves of soldiers who fought in the World Wars. It was one of the best experiences I have ever had and I’m sure everyone else enjoyed it also.

It was a struggle to arrive to school at 5:45am but we at least got to rest on the coach. Everyone seemed to thrilled to go to Belgium. About two hours later, our coach arrived at the Eurotunnel Terminal, near Folkestone. It was my first time travelling by the Eurotunnel and it was amazing. Soon after moving we arrived in Calais. It felt extraordinary to be in the fresh air of Calais, with its beautiful countrysides and stunning buildings. After adjusting to the time difference in France, we departed for Lijssenthoek Cemetery -- a large cemetery which explored the role of women in the war. The cemetery included graves of different religions and nationalities, portraying equality between each unique soldier. The cemetery was peaceful and astonishing and everyone showed deep respect for the fallen soldiers. Many of the graves had the quote 'Although gone, never forgotten', which moved all of us. There was a booklet at the entrance with the names of soldiers who were buried in the cemetery and many of us found soldiers with the same surname. At the end of our tour, we went to have lunch.

We then set off to visit the Hooge Museum and Trenches. At first the museum seemed quite small but it ended up being a lot more bigger than expected; just like the soldiers who fought for us, we don’t realise how many lives were lost until we find out that so many left us, and often at such a young age. The museum had extraordinary artifacts -- many were stunning and some were upsetting. Many items such as barbed wire, shells, gas masks were seen. Some items (such as bottles and shoes) survived the war and the remains are used to remind people of the impact the war had.

Following this, we visited the trenches. It was unimaginable to think that more than at least a thousand soldiers were crowded into a small space to avoid the attacks. To think that those narrow spaces were what they called safe. There were many different casualties, such as from sickness, shell attacks, diseases, wounds and capture, which made us all speechless. This was a great opportunity to have the perspective of what a soldier went through, and to understand what struggles they faced. We came up with endless possibilities of what may happen whilst being in the trenches, the possibilities the soldiers weren’t aware of at the time.

Our next visit was to the Passchendaele Museum. Outside of the museum is said to be where the most horrific event took place. We were walking on the terrain of the most bloodiest battle of 1917, but it was so peaceful and calm when we went. There were many artifacts that stunned us, and we experienced an underground shelter which had quite little space to move around. After, we ended up travelling through trenches with many different types of shelters that seemed to do little to protect yourself. At the end of the museum, a booklet was placed in order for people to write their regards and respect for the soldiers, and we decided to do so. We also got the chance to buy a souvenir as a remembrance for the outstanding experience.

Soon after, we headed to our hostel which we spent the night. We were lucky enough to have the hostel all to ourselves and it was very comfortable. We unloaded our luggage and transferred them to our rooms. Our next part of the trip was something everyone looked forward to. We took a visit to Leonidas, a Belgium chocolate shop. Everyone was overwhelmed when they heard the special offer Hertswood got for coming. The best part was that we got cooler bags to stop the chocolate from melting. After all the excitement, we had dinner reservations at a restaurant called Au Moroir. The food was immaculate and everyone enjoyed the service. At around 19:30 we participated in the Last Post Ceremony which took place under the Menin Gates. Although the weather was terribly hot, the ceremony took our minds off of it. Two students had the honour of laying the wreath down. The ceremony was incredible and many attended, making it quite crowded. We were told that a ceremony is held at the Menin Gates every evening to show the respect we have for the fallen soldiers. After this, we headed back to the hostel where we stayed the night.

The next morning, we were greeted with breakfast already prepared. Everyone seemed to not have slept much as we were all too excited. It was time to pack our luggage, check out, and head off as we were only staying the one night. At 8:45am we set off to another cemetery at Essex Farm. The poem ‘In Flanders Field’ can be found at Essex farm, a poem written by a man named John Mccrea. He was inspired to write this poem after attending the funeral of one of his friends (Lieutenant Alexis Helmer). The poem refers to the red poppies that grew over the graves of the fallen soldiers and their remembrance. The grave of the youngest ever casualty can be found at this cemetery, only 15 years of age: Rifleman Valentine Joe Strudwick. He and all soldiers will forever be remembered for the nobility they showed.

We then departed to Tyne Cot Cemetery. This is the largest cemetery on the western front with 11,500 grave. Most of us were shocked as to how many graves lied here. There were three V.C. winners in this cemetery. One is Canadian. Two are Australian soldiers, who were awarded the Victoria Cross for their actions during the battles to capture the ridge in 1917. Captain Clarence Smith Jeffries, Sergeant Lewis McGee and Private James Peter Robertson. At the back of the cemetery was a memorial wall which bears the names of 34,0000 soldiers who were missing. During our visit at Tyne Cot, the marching band from the previous day at the ceremony came, which should how dedicated they were to show their respect for the soldiers.

At the end of this, we headed to the Sanctuary Wood Museum where we were able to look at photographs and artifacts from the war and also explore the trenches outside and see the shattered remains of the original forest. Soon after, we had a picnic in a field which everyone enjoyed. Not only the food but also the view and fresh air. Our day ended in a wonderful environment and the experience was extraordinary. It was time to head home an everyone enjoyed themselves. We learnt so much on this trip and it is a trip we recommend going on. Not only do you gain knowledge of the World Wars but you also enjoy travelling to new places. We will forever remember the fallen soldiers and we will not forget the sacrifice they made for us. They are forever in out hearts. May they rest in peace.

by Eleeza Dorrington (Year 10)