Private Peaceful 2019
Year 7 trip to the WW1 battlefields of Belgium
On the last two days of term before the May half term holiday, 114 Year 7 pupils and 12 members of staff, led by our English Faculty, went to Belgium on the 7th Deer Park Private Peaceful trip.
This trip gives Year 7 pupils the chance to follow in the footsteps of Tommo and Charlie Peaceful, the two brothers at the heart of Michael Morpurgo’s novel Private Peaceful. The trip also compliments the study of War Poetry that all Year 7 pupils experienced in their final two weeks of Year 7 English lessons.
After a very early start on Thursday 23 May 2019, we made our way towards Dover. The crossing was calm as we headed towards Calais and our final destination: the Flanders region of Belgium. The name Flanders Fields is particularly associated with battles that took place in the Ypres Salient during World War One and the towns of Ypres and Poperinge were pivotal.
Our first stop was the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917. This interactive military history museum tells the story of WW1 in the Ypres Salient through a variety of enlightening and thought-provoking exhibits. All of our pupils were respectful and reflective during the walk through the Memorial Hall which finished with an exhibit commemorating the variety of people that were involved with and gave their lives in the "war to end all wars" (an expression coined by author HG Wells).
From the area of Passchendaele we travelled to Tyne Cot Cemetery, the largest Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery in the world. It is the resting place of more than 11,900 servicemen of the British Empire from the First World War. We conducted our own remembrance ceremony in honour of those people that have given their lives in war and conflict across the world. It was a thoughtful, poignant and reflective moment for all involved.
During our visit to Tyne Cot, pupils were given the opportunity to find any relatives that are commemorated at the cemetery. It is always a significant moment when a pupil finds that personal connection to a war that happened over a century ago.
From Tyne Cot we made our way to our hotel, where a tasty and nourishing meal was had by all, before the pupils (and, very soon afterwards, the teachers) headed off to bed for some rest before an early start on the Friday morning.
Friday was another day packed with a unique combination of excitement, reflection and tea - more of that later! Our first stop was Bedford House Cemetery, where Michael Morpurgo found the inspiration for the name of his novel. We saw the grave of Thomas S.H. Peacefull (the spelling is slightly different from the book!) and heard the story of how Morpurgo decided on the name.
We visited Ypres (Ieper in Flemish) and the Menin Gate, through which the troops marched on towards the Ypres Salient. The gate was rebuilt in the 1920s and serves as a memorial to over 54,000 soldiers from all around the Commonwealth who lost their lives between 1914 and 1918 in this region and have no known grave. The Menin Gate is one of the most well-known war memorials in the world and every evening since 1928, with the exception of the German occupation during WW2, a bugler plays The Last Post at 8pm.
Next, our three coaches made their way to Poperinge, the area where British and Allied troops spent some of their time away from front line conflict, known as ‘Pop’ to the soldiers. During the war, Poperinge was a town behind the front line where weary soldiers based in the Ypres Salient went for some respite and relaxation. It was here that our pupils and staff experienced some local culture, with a stroll through the town centre and the weekly Friday market.
Our visit culminated in a visit to Talbot House, aka Every Man's House, where we made a large donation of tea bags, heard stories from behind the front line and listened to one of our pupils playing the piano beautifully. See the Talbot House Facebook page for video of Tim's rendition of 'We're walking in the air'.
This whirlwind trip to Europe was a great success - our pupils asked many excellent questions, they were really involved in the experience and their behaviour was excellent. We hope that this is an experience that will remain with them.
"I loved the peace of the cemeteries and giving respect." Bradley
"I enjoyed learning about all the people who saved us, and what they did, whilst also having fun with my friends." Darcie
"I was so proud of our pupils - they were engaged in the stories and interested in all of the places we visited. We were complimented about their excellent behaviour on a number of occasions." Miss Charlesworth, Assistant Head
It is now more than 100 years since the end of WW1 and the deaths of an estimated 17 million people. Publishing this report 75 years since D-Day in June 1944, we are reminded once more of the importance of dialogue between nations and the need for peace.