Last month, I had the absolute pleasure of joining a school group on their trip to the Battlefields of Flanders and the Somme. I was asked to take my camera to capture the essence of the trip so that the experience could be shared with the school community during their centenary commemoration.
We travelled to Belgium through the night and arrived at Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery at 10am on a crisp autumnal morning. The cemetery was built on the grounds of a military hospital and is the final resting place of over 10,000 casualties, making it the second largest Commonwealth War Grave Cemetery. The students and I were warned that we would be taken back by the sheer size of the cemetery, as this was the first one we had seen, but warnings and pictures could not have prepared us for the vastness of the place. Within a few minutes of stepping inside I was deeply moved by the sheer scale of the cemetery and the thought of the individual stories behind each stone.
This set the mood for the rest of the trip. Although there were some lighter moments, such as visiting the famous chocolate shops of Ypres, navigating trenches at Sanctuary Wood and relaxing in our beautiful hotel (Hotel De Vrede in Diksmuide), the rest of the trip was so powerful and deeply moving. It was especially lovely to see the 37 teenagers we took get so much from the trip on a personal, social and emotional level.
As we visited during the build up to the centenary of the armistice there were many poignant moments. For me though, seeing the many stones at Tyne Cot engraved with the famous Rudyard Kipling line ‘A soldier of the Great War known unto God’ will always be a humbling reminder how lucky we are to live in a time of freedom and peace.
I hope that my video captures the essence of school battlefield trips and the importance of remembrance and passing the message on to future generations as well as paying a tribute, in my own way, to the fallen of the Great War.