In October the History Department took 61 students from Years 9-12 on a tour of the First World War Battlefields, accompanied by 6 members of staff. Dr Rees led the party with assistance from Mr Fuge, Mr Rees, Mr Thomas, Ms Heard and Mrs Evans. It was once again an outstanding success, with the students representing the school and the local community magnificently, as they always do.
The tour took place over five days and four nights, the first two days spent in the wonderful Belgian town of Ypres, the scene of four years of bitter battles between the British defenders and German attackers. Here the party visited the new Welsh memorial at Langemarck and several cemeteries, including Tyne Cot, the largest CWGC cemetery in the world, where Mr Rees was able to find the name of a relative killed and whose body was never found and Essex Farm, where the John McCrae wrote his famous ‘In Flanders Fields’ poem. It was a very special trip for Jessica Garratt and Lucy Griffiths of Year 9 and Kyla Evans and Hannah Miles of Year 11 who were able to visit the graves of relatives killed in the war. It was also a very special trip for Sian and Ffion Waters of Years 11 and 9 who were both able to visit the grave of their relative, this being the second trip for Sian.
Saturday morning was spent in the magnificent In Flanders Fields Museum at the Cloth Hall in Ypres, the afternoon at Sanctuary Wood trenches and museum. During the evening the party joined literally thousands of people at the famous Menin Gate for the last post ceremony. It was a very emotional occasional and staff who had visited before were overwhelmed by the sheer number of people present, paying their respects to the soldiers who defended Ypres during the war.
On Sunday, the party had a tour of the infamous Somme battlefields. We were guided around the Canadian memorial at Vimy Ridge, through the tunnels and trenches, with everyone marvelling at the enormous memorial on the ridge, which this year was shrouded in a cold, eerie mist. A visit to Beaumont Hamel memorial park, where the Newfoundlanders were wiped out on the first day of the battle, followed. Here, the pattern of trenches has remained unchanged since the war and many of the party found this particularly poignant. A visit to the massive Thiepval memorial to the missing of the Somme was followed by the party leaving a wreath to the Welsh who were killed capturing Mametz Wood in 1916, a ceremony that concluded the tour. We once again visited the grave of Thomas Arron Whitney, Dr Rees’ Great uncle.
Throughout the tour of the Battlefields, we were again greatly indebted to Eifion our driver who also turned out to be a superb tour guide, full of anecdotes and information that Dr Rees said he couldn’t match! The students conducted themselves superbly and the feedback from them was overwhelmingly positive. All the staff agreed that it had been a pleasure and a privilege to accompany such a fine group.
The final two days were spent at Disneyland Paris – something the students needed after such an emotional three days. Disney presents inevitably filled the bus on the way home, after a Tuesday morning trip on the River Seine and an Eifion guided tour of Paris. There is no doubt that the tour was a resounding success and Dr Rees would like to thank all his colleagues for their valuable contributions and of course great company. He intends to run a trip in October 2018 to Normandy and Paris and would welcome expressions of interest from pupils!