Posted: Thursday 3 May 2018

Historians take part in poignant trip

Pupils from the High School of Dundee took part in a trip to the WW1 battlefields of France and Belgium A poignant High School of Dundee history trip has seen pupils visit the sites of some of the most devastating battles of WW1 almost 100 years after the end of the conflict.

During the Easter holidays, 24 pupils travelled to the First World War battlefields of France and Belgium to learn more about the catastrophic events which took place there and gain an insight into what those involved went through.

Over the course of six days, the pupils had the chance to visit sites such as the Black Watch Corner, the Tyne Cot Cemetery, Mesen - the site of the famous 1914 Christmas Truce –, the Loos battlefield, and many more, before ending their trip in contrasting fashion with time spent in the picturesque town of Bruges.      

Head of History Gordon Fyall, who led the trip, said, “2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War.

“The expedition to the WW1 Battlefields allowed our pupils to follow in the footsteps of the men and women who fought and died in the fields of Flanders and the Somme.

“Our visit to the site of the Battle of Loos was a powerful and moving experience as this battle in particular claimed the lives of hundreds of men from Dundee. The experience clearly had a profound impact on our group.”

Below you can read a full account of the trip, written by F6 pupil Lois Winter.     

"The History Department’s Trip for F4, F5 and F6 pupils to the WWI Battlefields in Belgium and France was undoubtedly an incredible experience for those of us fortunate enough to have taken part. To have been able to visit the Battlefields, almost exactly 100 years after the First World War ended, made it all the more poignant.

The pupils visited the Cloth Hall at Ypres

The trip, led by Mr Fyall, Miss Douglas and Mrs Craig started with a bus journey to Hull. Once we were all on the bus with our matching burgundy hoodies we headed down to Hull to catch the overnight ferry to Zeebrugge. Luckily, we had packed the bingo books so there was plenty to entertain us in the evening!

After departing the ferry, it was back on the bus for our first stop, Sanctuary Wood or Hill ’62. Mr Fyall gave us insight into the history of the war and the nature of the Western Front. Here, we saw the preserved trench network and being able to walk through them gave us a realisation of the grim life of a solider on the Western Front. We also met a woman whose grandfather had taken part in the famous Christmas Truce. She spoke emotionally about her disbelief at what the trenches were really like.

From there, we made our way to Tyne Cot Cemetery, the largest Commonwealth military cemetery in the world. This is the final resting place for over 10,000 soldiers. Everyone was shocked by its vastness and gravestones seemed to stretch back forever. It was hard to appreciate that so many people could have died and difficult to imagine that there were more cemeteries to see.

Our next stop was Black Watch Corner, which honours the 8,960 Black Watch officers who were killed, and the 20,000 wounded, during WWI. The High School raised money during Armistice Day 2013, to go towards the construction of the memorial.

The group also visited Mesen from where they observed the scene of the Christmas Truce

Our penultimate stop that day was the town of Mesen. We visited the church of Saint Nicolas and saw the crypt, which treated a young Adolf Hitler for shrapnel wounds. After climbing to the top of the church tower, we were able to look out over the site of the 1914 Christmas Truce. The museum and statue there commemorate the amazing story of the event, which occurred on Christmas Eve, when the German and British troops sang ‘Silent Night’ and played football together. Finally, we travelled to the town of Ypres – our home for the next two nights. After dinner, we attended the Last Post Ceremony within the Menin Gate. The ceremony has taken place every night since 1929. Ailsa MacDonald and Malcolm Nimmo (F5) laid a wreath on behalf of the school. It had been a long and thought-provoking day.

We woke early the next day and headed for Vimy Ridge. Many of us tried to nap en route but were cheerily woken up by Mr Fyall shouting in the tannoy system - “Morning History Trippers!’, which was to become a familiar loud greeting! We spent some time exploring the elaborate Canadian and German tunnel system before seeing the impressive Vimy Ridge memorial.

Malcolm Nimmo and Ailsa MacDonald participated in the Last Post Ceremony and laid a wreath of remembrance on behalf of the school

From here, we travelled to the Thiepval Memorial, which commemorates more than 72,000 graves of unknown British and South African soldiers. We continued our day by visiting Newfoundland Memorial Park. We climbed the small peak that sites the Newfoundland Caribou, the memorial to the missing Canadians who lost their lives in battle. We witnessed the vastness of ‘No-Man’s Land’ and the long lasting effects the war has had on the French landscape.

Our last stop that day was the Pas de Calais cemetery, formerly the Loos battlefield. It is here that three former pupils of the High School are buried. Brothers Sydney and Harvey Steven died within two weeks of each other at Loos, with Sydney’s final resting place in this cemetery alongside former pupils Ernest Campbell and Alexander Fraser. Laying a wreath for these three particular soldiers was an emotional experience for all of us. 

The following day saw us make a visit to the Langemark German Cemetery. The difference between the German graves and the Commonwealth graves was very striking. The pristine white condition of the Commonwealth graves, which we had recently visited, was nowhere to be found here. Instead, we were faced by dark, flat stones, each representing around eight soldiers instead of just one.

We then made our way to Bruges – a complete contrast from what we had experienced to date. Mr Fyall took us on an excellent guided tour of the city and was very specific when pointing out the best waffle spots! After lunch it was time to experience the chocolate making factory. The group split in half and while the first group made chocolate, the remainder enjoyed the attached museum. Although very interesting (favourite fact - Lindt was the first to fill chocolate in 1913) the highlight was seeing how many times we could pass the tester counter and try the chocolates! The chocolate making was good fun and it is fair to say that some people’s creations were not as creative as others – Caitlin for example, made a chocolate bus to give to our bus driver Ally! We walked out of the factory with enough chocolate to last us a year, although in reality we were lucky if it lasted until we were home! That evening we went out for a meal together and enjoyed an ice cream before going back to the hostel.

The group ended the trip with a visit to the picturesque town of Bruges

Our last day started with us visiting the Belfry of Bruges, a medieval bell tower, a focal point of the city as it reaches 83 metres into the sky. We climbed the 366 steps to the top of the tower and took photographs of the beautiful views. We did not fully appreciate how narrow the stairway was and going back down was significantly harder than going up was. However, Miss Douglas whistling Mamma Mia was certainly enough to calm any nerves! We then had some free time, which was perfect to go and find a waffle spot before our afternoon activity. After a delicious waffle, we enjoyed a cruise around the famous historic canals of Bruges and came to understand why it has the nickname - ‘The Venice of the North’. We heard about the city’s history and saw its stunning architecture from the river. As it was Easter Sunday some of the group thought that it would be a nice idea to buy Easter eggs for everyone. However, it turns out that Emily and Caitlin’s Flemish is quite poor because they bought banana flavoured eggs – they did not go down a treat!

We were very sad to leave Bruges and return to Zeebrugge. After getting settled in our cosy ferry cabins we gathered again to play another highly competitive game of bingo, followed by some magic tricks from Alex! The evening was a lovely way to round off our trip as a group!

The following morning (back in the UK), the rain was pouring but moods were not to be dampened because we had packed Mamma Mia and we crossed the border singing joyously along!

Overall, there is no doubt that the Battlefields Trip was a memorable experience for all of us. We were very lucky to have bonded so well together as a group, which really made the trip special. Having the opportunity as an F6 to make friends with F4 and F5 was great and by the end of the trip we had become a very close unit of friends. We are really grateful to all the teachers for creating such a friendly atmosphere and for always being up for a bit of banter! The trip was a perfect balance of the hard hitting history of the Battlefields, along with many light-hearted moments and activities. I am sure our experience that week will stay with us forever and that we will all look back on these fantastic memories with great fondness."

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