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BATTLEFIELDS TRIP 2005

Bank Holiday Monday at the beginning of half term: an opportunity for a lie-in, a relaxing read of the papers, perhaps, and a gentle stroll into Barney to watch the procession which forms the main part of the annual Meet? Not a bit of it for twenty-five Year 10 and Year 11 pupils and two members of the History Department as we assembled at School at 5.30 in the morning. We were heading for Ypres and the Somme for our biennial Battlefields experience. With our ever accommodating coach driver, Bernard, (and, yes, he really was a saint at times) we set off on the long journey to Dover.

We made very good time on the way down – sensible people, of course, had decided to take a more relaxed approach to their long weekend, leaving the roads clear – and an earlier ferry meant that we arrived at our hostel in the early part of the evening. We were encouraged by what we saw: a rural setting, a converted barn with comfortable rooms and a games room, an outdoor trampoline and football pitch and, more surprisingly, a donkey giving birth. Throughout our stay, the food was good and the welcome extended by our hosts was polite and courteous. We responded in similar fashion.

The Hotel De Diligence

The following day we set out for Ypres. Skirting the town, initially, we visited Essex Farm Cemetery which contains the grave of Valentine Joe Strudwick, one of the youngest casualties of the Western Front at 15 years of age. It is also where the Canadian medic John McCrae wrote one of the most memorable poems from the First World War, In Flanders Field. From there we headed for the German cemetery at Langemarck. It is a much darker and more sombre resting place, difficult to find because, unlike the Allied cemeteries, it is not sign-posted. Nearly ninety years after the end of the war there is still hostility to Germany in this part of Belgium. From Langemarck we moved to the large cemetery at Tyne Cot which stands on the ridge at Passchendale, the scene of one of the bloodiest and muddiest battles of WWI.

 

Essex Farm Cemetery Langemarck Cemetery

Tyne Cot Cemetery

We had lunch at the Sanctuary Wood museum – a fascinating collection of rooms housing dusty and rusting memorabilia from the war. There are also preserved trenches here and we had an opportunity to walk through them, imagining how it would have been to shelter from the constant bombardment of enemy shelling. Even in late May, the trenches were wet and muddy and it was not difficult to see how frontline soldiers would have had to put up with the most awful of conditions.

 

Trenches at Sanctuary Wood

Leaving Sanctuary Wood, we headed for Ypres. This beautiful Flemish town was completely destroyed during the war and then rebuilt in the 1920s and 1930s. We had time to wander around, shopping for Belgian chocolate and visiting the In Flanders Field Museum. Following an evening meal back at the hotel, we returned for the Last Post ceremony which takes place at 8.00pm every evening under the Menin Gate.

Menin Gate, Ypres

The following morning, we headed for the Somme. After a lengthy coach journey we arrived at Thiepval. The massive Allied monument stands on the German front line which was continually attacked by French and British forces in July 1916. Recently a museum has also been built, providing a chilling explanation of the numbers of casualties sustained by all sides in the pursuit of so little ground. From Thiepval, we drove to Peronne, where we had lunch, and then visited L’historial de la Grande Guerre, another fascinating museum chronicling the causes and course of the war.

Group photograph in front of the Thiepval Monument on the Somme

From Peronne we headed back north, stopping at Vimy on the way. Vimy Ridge was one of the most important strategic points for Germany during WWI and in April 1917, it was stormed by the Canadian Corps. The Allies were eventually successful in their objective, although the cost in lives lost was significant. As a result of this, the area around Vimy Ridge was given to the Canadian government by the French at the end of the war and on it now stands one of the most impressive monuments in Europe. Canadians are intensely proud of this and we were fortunate to be able to arrange a tour of the underground tunnels by a young Canadian guide who, as always, was knowledgeable and eloquent. Exhausted, we returned to the hostel.

My sincere thanks go to Mr Ince who again provided invaluable support and knowledge on this trip. I would also like to thank the pupils who were a credit to the School both when visiting cemeteries and back at the hostel. In fact, it was extremely gratifying to be complimented by a complete stranger at the Menin Gate on the behaviour of our group. We have already started planning for 2007.

DSG

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BERLIN TRIP - EASTER 2004

Writing this with a stash of about fifty photos next to me, and many more happy memories besides, its not hard to cast my mind back to the week we (we being about thirty pupils doing GCSE History) travelled, along with ‘responsible adults’ Rev. Ridley, Dr Herbert, Mrs Ewart and, of course, Mr Ince, to Berlin last Easter holiday. It seems that History can indeed be fun – and if fun is not always the right word, then stimulating, thought-provoking and exciting.

Our trip began with a fortunately calm ferry crossing from Newcastle to Amsterdam, followed by a nine hour bus journey through the Netherlands and much of Germany to Berlin, which provided a much-needed opportunity to catch up on sleep and listen to Bob Dylan (me and Mr Ince at least). When we had got to Berlin and checked in to our hotel, Unter den Linden (‘Under the Lime Trees’), there was just enough time to visit the Reichstag building, which now has an enormous glass dome as a roof as a symbol of the transparency in German politics. I also tried, without much success, to trace the winding route the Berlin Wall took through Berlin. It is winding because when the Allies, during the Second World War, divided Berlin into what would become East and West they did not have a modern map of Berlin, only a pre-war telephone directory, and divided the city according to the districts. It was along this division that the Berlin Wall was later built.

The Wall was also the focus of much of the following day. It was a uniquely terrible object that sprung up practically overnight to block the free movement of citizens within their own city, and we saw what remains of the main crossing point, Checkpoint Charlie, now little more than another junction in the road. Still just on the Eastern side of the wall we visited Potsdamerplatz, a wasteland in the no-man’s land of the Wall, regenerated in the early 1990s, when Berlin was the world’s biggest building site, to a capitalist paradise where showrooms for big companies are crammed next to designer flats and trendy cafes. Next was a trip to the Tiergarten (Berlin is the greenest European city by far) and then up the Victory Column – tiring, but the view is well worth it. Oh, and there was ten-pin bowling in the evening. Well, we were on holiday.

Tuesday was a more sombre affair. It began with a visit to Sachsenhausen, the main Nazi concentration camp for Berlin. After sixty years the horror of this place remains. Birds do not land. It was a harrowing experience, but one which I’m glad I’ve had. Following this we went to see the old buildings of Berlin, not something that takes very long as most were destroyed by our bombs. Not all, however: the Communists decided to finish what we started and blew up the historic royal palace, building their own ‘Palace of the Republic’ in its place. It looks, I have to admit, like a multi-storey car park. It hasn’t been used since they found asbestos in it, and now they are planning to knock it down and re-build the previous palace in its place. Oh well, never mind. The sobriety continued with a visit to the Soviet War Memorial. While some see this as a testament to Stalin’s ego (the memorial was put in the centre of Berlin to rub in the final success of Communism over Nazism) can we really blame him for this? More than anything the memorial reminds us of how much we owe to the twelve million Russians who died fighting for us as much as themselves.

On our last day in Berlin we visited the city’s most infamous building: a house in Wannsee, a suburb of Berlin, where senior Nazis met in 1942 to discuss the so-called ‘Final Solution to the Jewish Problem’. Now a Holocaust museum, it does an excellent job of communicating the full extent of Nazi horrors. In the afternoon we returned to the former centre of West Berlin to lighten our wallets of all those Euros. This area has been a shoppers’ paradise since the early 1950s, when the Americans were trying to show the Communists a few miles away what they were missing out on. The KaDeWe department store succeeds in collecting everything anyone could ever want to buy under one roof (except, of course, disposable cameras, which I wanted to buy). Later on we visited the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, which recorded the ingenious ways people managed to escape the GDR (East Germany). This included flying a homemade aeroplane over the border and tunnelling underneath it.

On Friday there was only time for breakfast before we left the comfort of the hotel. German breakfast was itself, however, a highlight of the day for people like us, who are used to only one kind of ham and eat their sausages with mash. After it, however, it was back on the coach and the ferry, and an end to what was a very enjoyable and informative trip. Best part? Maybe it was the (so far unmentioned) trip to the TV Tower, a 368-metre high landmark, which the Communists used to spy on West Berlin, but now allows tourists to marvel at how much better modern tower blocks look when you can only see the roofs. Probably, though, it was just drinking in the strangely relaxed atmosphere in what is, after all, one of the world’s busiest cities.

Joseph Paddison, Year 10

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YEAR 9 VISIT TO BETH SHALOM 

This year a group of Year 9 students visited the Beth Shalom Centre, Britain’s premier Holocaust memorial centre. We asked one student, Lizzie Mothersill, to write down her thoughts about the trip.

The Year 9 trip to Beth Shalom was a great success. Everyone came back saying what a good experience it was to have a talk given by a survivor of the Holocaust who saw the truth. Steven Frank told his story and kept everyone glued to him with interest. It was not only what he said, but the way in which he said it. You could see the emotion, but people were surprised to hear neither anger nor bitterness in his voice. The talk was moving, and was a really good insight into what it was like living through the Holocaust.

The gardens and the museum were equally interesting. Everyone threw a stone into the pile in the garden in memory of the child victims of the Holocaust and just looking at all the memorials and lists of deaths stunned people at just how horrific it was. The short movies shown were shocking, and gave us an insight into just what these people had gone through.

In all everyone got a really good picture of what the Holocaust was really like and experienced very mixed emotions. It was not something we will forget.

Lizzie Mothersill, Year 9

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YEAR 7 VISIT TO MOUNT GRACE PRIORY & RICHMOND CASTLE

On a wet Wednesday morning, the whole of Year 7 gathered on the School drive for a 9.30 am start.   We were going to Mount Grace Priory for a joint History and Religious Studies trip.  After an hour long journey, we arrived at the Priory, looking forward to the day ahead.  Although it was raining heavily, it didn’t dampen our spirits, but it did dampen our clothes!  First of all, we visited the remains of the chapel, where a statue stood of Mary.  Our next stop was the Spring House, where water used to be collected by the monks.  Along from the Spring House were reconstructed monks’ cells.  These were made up of two floors.  On the bottom floor there was a bedroom containing a desk, bed and wardrobe, where the monks slept and carried our their daily prayers.  There was also a study in the cell, which was the centre of administration.   Upstairs there was a sewing room where clothes were repaired.  We also went to the Manor House where we leant about the daily life of the monk.  Our final stop at the Priory was the prison.  However, as the walls now only stand two feet tall, escape would be a much easier feat. At the time, the prison was used to hold monks who had run away from the Priory.

The prison at Mount Grace Priory!

Having eaten our packed lunches, which concluded our visit to Mount Grace Priory, we continued our trip with a visit to Richmond Castle.  At the Castle we visited Scolland’s Hall, which was the main living area built around 1071.  The Hall consists of a private room, a large store room and the Great Hall itself.  We then went to the Exhibition, where we leant about the Richmond Sixteen – a group of conscientious objectors from the First World War who were imprisoned in the Castle.   Our tour of the Castle then continued with us having a closer look at the Keep, the site of the barracks and the corner towers.   Finally, before leaving, we saw what would have been eaten at a medieval feast.   Not very appetising!  After this, we made our way back to School.

The Keep at Richmond Castle

We returned at 4.30 pm and gave a big thanks to Mrs le Duc and all of the members of staff who had looked after us for a very enjoyable day.

 

Owen Waldin, Year 7