PUPILS from Matravers School recently returned from a school history trip to Belgium where they visited war cemeteries and museums.
The group of 41 students and four teachers visited four cemeteries in the two days they were in Belgium; Hooge Crater, Essex Farm, Langemarck and Tyne Cot – each visit they found a moving and memorable experience.
Beth Murtie, a student who went on the trip said, “We visited the British cemetery, Hooge Crater shortly after arriving in Belgium. Here we found A.E. Dew’s grave who served in the Leicestershire regiment and was a Westbury resident. It was great to find the headstone of someone from our home town.
“On leaving Hooge Crater cemetery our next stop was a local museum. The museum had interactive displays and an underground dug-out which you could walk around to get a feel of what it was like to live in these conditions. The museum also had a reconstructed outdoor trench system which was very interesting to walk around and explore.
“We attended the Last Post Ceremony which is held at the Menin Gate every day at 8pm. This was one of the most moving parts of the trip. During the service the whole town stopped – it was an overwhelming show of respect and an experience that we were very proud to have witnessed.
“We spent some time looking around Menin Gate, which is a huge white stone monument dedicated to those whose bodies have no known resting place and that were lost at war. While exploring we found the panel dedicated to the Wiltshire regiment; amongst the many names engraved we found six names of those who had come from Westbury: W.C. Adlam, F. Hunt, W. Ingram, S.L. Newton, A.E. Poole and W.G. Randall. To have been able to find these names within the 55,000 other names carved into Menin Gate was an amazing honour because we were given the chance to thank them and to connect with them, as well as it allowed us to partially empathise with the families who lost these brave young men.
“We also visited a small cemetery called Essex Farm. Essex Farm was the frontline medical centre and some of the treatment rooms are still standing and accessible. At Essex Farm there is also another British cemetery, where we saw various headstones but a few were of particular interest because one was a headstone in memory of a 15 year old V.J. Strudwick. His grave had a plethora of wooden crosses in front of it showing how grateful people were that he gave his life for us.
“As we continued our journey we passed a Welsh memorial in honour of our fighting Welshmen. This monument was located near to Poem Ridge where the first ever gas attack took place. We also saw a plaque in honour of Harry Patch, ‘The Last fighting Tommy’ – Britain’s last surviving solider.
“The next stop was a German cemetery, Langemarck. It was very different to the British cemetery; the headstones were flat, black and square, placed on the floor in neat rows. As well as this, there were groups of three black crosses sparsely placed around the area. In the middle of the cemetery was a raised area of grass where over 40,000 bodies were buried with large stones with all the names of these men engraved on them. After wandering around and taking in the surroundings, I noticed a small wooden cross placed in front of a headstone and handwritten on it was, ‘We did see you as the enemy but now you are our friend’. I was truly moved by these kind words because it shows that some people have managed to forgive the Germans even after all the horror and destruction they caused.
“We visited one final cemetery, possibly one of the most famous WW1 cemeteries, Tyne Cot Cemetery. After passing through the large stone wall protecting the cemetery you can see rows and rows of white headstones that never seem to end. In total there are 13,000 graves at Tyne Cot, in which 8,000 thousand of them have no name and read, ‘A Solider of the Great War, known only to God’. Visiting the resting place of thousands of British soldiers was such a heartfelt experience, one that will stay with us forever and will remain in our memories.
“To end the trip we went to one last outdoor trench system which was a recreation of a real trench system in the original location. It was located on slightly higher ground and just down the road was a small resting place of those who fought here. The journey home passed quickly as we all thought back over the trip and thought of those who fought and died for us to have a future. We were very lucky that the school offered us this trip as it was a very eye opening and fantastic opportunity.”