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Monday, 1 May 2017

Homeward bound

We're through customs and expect to arrive at school at 11:30 so please be there to collect your son. Most of them bought chocolate in Ypres yesterday so you should be pleased to see them!

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Day Two Review

Day 2 Review

Another beautiful morning announces another exciting day for Merchant Taylors' Boys' Battlefields trip. Beginning the day with a rousing breakfast at our hotel opposite the Menin Gate, we progressed to our first stop; Serre. 

Serre was the sight of many acts of heroic bravery during the early Somme offensive of 1st July. At 7:20 am on 1st July the 31st Division left their trenches, passed through the British wire and lay down in No Man's Land to await the end of the bombardment. With a massive Allied artillery bombardment, which had lasted several days, ceasing at 7.30 a.m., the men of the 31st fixed bayonets and marched in line towards the German fortifications. 

Very little remains for the boys to see of these fortifications, but the slow rise of the ridge showed how difficult the climb would have been for the Pals Battalions, who fell in droves under intense machine gun fire.

After a brief tour of the site, we headed to the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial, which commemorates the sacrifice of Newfoundland regiments. The sacrifices of soldiers from across the Commonwealth, and former British Empire territories, are commemorated at many sites along the frontline, and the boys noted that these retain great national importance for visitors from around the world.

Later, we lunched at the Ulster Tower, situated on a commanding rise above the plains surrounding Beaumont-Hamel. The Tower acts as a memorial for the men of the Ulster Division, which attacked the Schwaben Redoubt on 1st July 1916, and where nine men of the division later won the Victoria Cross for bravery.

A short journey later, we arrived at Thiepval Memorial. Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, the 140ft high monument is the largest memorial to Commonwealth missing anywhere in the world. Here, the boys spent much of their time searching the panels of the memorial for many of the lost, and their relatives. 

Next, we progressed to Lochnagar Crater. The Crater was formed as the result of undermining German trenches, and the subsequent detonation of over 60,000 of explosives, and just outside of the town of La Boiselle. Walking around the rim of the crater, the boys were able to reflect on the damage caused by these mines, and the various attempts of both sides to circumvent the stalemate of trench warfare.

Rounding off the day, we arrived at a site of special significance to one of the staff. 2/Lt Frank Heap commanded a Mark IV tank at the Battle of Cambrai, and is the grandfather of our Head of History Mr Heap. After a great deal of archaeological study, and excavation work by Philippe Gorczynski, his tank (affectionately called "Deborah") has been recovered, and will soon be placed on display in a purpose built museum. Given its special significance, we were fortunate enough to be granted a behind the scenes tour of Deborah, and Mr Heap and Philippe conducted a joint presentation on this fantastic historical artifact, to the delight of the group.

Soon after, we headed to our hotel for a delicious meal, and rounded off the days activities with a football match! 

Day 3 Report to follow!

Vimy Ridge

Beautiful weather for our last day. We're at Vimy Ridge waiting for the tour of the tunnels.

Saturday, 29 April 2017


We've spent a fascinating morning on the Somme in glorious weather.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Day 1

Day 1

The day began with a smooth journey to Ypres direct from our arrival point at Zeebrugge. After a good overnight sleep on the ferry, and full English breakfast, the boys were excited to visit our first site; Essex Farm Cemetery.

At their first glance, many of the boys were struck by the uniformity, and plain white gravestones of the cemetery. This was purposeful, as indeed Sir Frederic Kenyon summed up his vision for the Commission cemeteries in February 1918 

'the general appearance of a British cemetery will be that of an enclosure with plots of grass or flowers (or both) separated by paths of varying size, and set with orderly rows of headstones, uniform in height and width...

Exploring the site, the boys learnt that Essex Farm stands on the site of a Field Hospital staffed by the famous Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, author of the famous poem, In Flanders Fields. McCrae's words had a powerful effect on many contemporaries, and some argue his poem, and description of his experiences, led to the adoption of the poppy to symbolize the sacrifices of the First World War. 

"In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields."

Walking through the cemetery, were also able to find the grave of a Victoria Cross recipient. Reading the citation of Thomas Barrett VC, the boys learnt about the purpose of the Victoria Cross, and the great bravery that Thomas Barrett displayed during his service in July 1917. 

Proceeding soon after to Langemarck German Cemetery, the boys were introduced to the experiences of German soldiers on the front lines of Flanders. Many were struck by the utilitarian nature of the cemetery, with the dark plaques and austere metal plates of the memorials at Langemarck, in stark contrast to the clean white gravestones of Essex Farm. Indeed, some asked why there was such a difference between the two, and discovered that the events of 1918 led to separate arrangements for the dead of both sides, resulting in the pronounced differences which endure even today.

After a quick but hearty lunch prepared by the culinary duo that is Mrs Croxton and Mr Fawcett, we quickly made tracks to Tyne Cot Cemetery. This extensive War Grave contains the bodies of nearly 12,000 Allied soldiers, of whom over 8,000 are unidentified. Mr Cook explained the tactics used by the soldiers of the time, which saw horrendous casualties, and the devastating effect of artillery on massed formations of men. Some of the boys spent their time in contemplation of the sacrifice of these soldiers, and discussed with Mr O'Malley the origins of the Pals Battalions and the adversity they faced.

Later, at Hill 62, the boys were able to explore a modern recreation of First World War trenches, and learnt about the kind of tactics used in trench warfare, as well as the horrors of No Mans Land. The more adventurous of the group explored the bunkers and dark tunnels which criss-cross the site, though all managed to return to the bus in one piece!

After a long day of touring the battlefields, we repaired to our hotel in the historic town of Ypres, and enjoyed a stunning meal in the town square. Soon after, we made the short walk to the Menin Gate, to pay our respects to those lost on the Ypres Salient, including 12 old boys of the school. Having laid a wreath on behalf of the school, we headed back to the hotel for a well-deserved early night.

Further details tomorrow!

Investigating the trenches at Sanctuary Wood

Visit to Langemarck followed by lunch