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History Trip To France & Belgium

On Wednesday 2nd March we embarked on a long and highly anticipated journey to France and Belgium. When we arrived at the chateau, after 12 long hours of driving, we were all exhausted.

In the early hours of Thursday the 3rd we set off to Belgium for our first destination: Sanctuary Wood. On the site was a small museum packed full of eye-opening relics and artefacts found on the very same battlefield that we would later walk on.  The trenches around the museum were left to look exactly like it would have 100 years ago. This made us feel closer to the soldiers and their emotions as we could now begin to understand the horror that they experienced.

The next historical site that we visited was Hill 60, here we learnt that the hill was originally used by the Germans but was captured by the Australians in 1918. A pillbox, which was still largely intact, was strategically placed on the top of the hill to enable the soldiers to see the invading enemy from afar. While in the area we also had the opportunity to visit the famous Caterpillar Crater. The truly enormous scale of the crater gave us a unique insight to the devastation that the bombs that created it would have caused. 

Next we travelled to France to Vimy Ridge monument. Most memorials and monuments were built right on top of the old battlefields and this one was no different. The monument represented the 60,000 Canadian troops who gave their lives in France. The overwhelming size of the monument really put in perspective the enormous scale of the lives lost.

One of the most interesting visits of day two was to Wellington Quarry, an old medieval chalk mine, given its name from the soldiers from New Zealand and other parts of the British Empire, who lived under the trenches of Arras for 6 months, tunnelling and mining. We felt as though visiting the quarry was a moving experience that portrayed the horrors and futility of World War One, The writing and drawings on the wall were still exactly as they were when drawn by the soldiers living there. The short videos projected onto the walls also gave us the feeling that we were there with the men. This opened our eyes to the harsh living conditions of each soldier.

The last visit of the day was to the Menin Gate. Written on every inch of the walls were the names of over 54,000 soldiers who were sadly never found and their bodies never laid to rest. Every night since 1927, excluding World War 2, local people and tourists gather under the bridge to pay their respects during the last post ceremony. We were privileged to not only witness this but take part in laying our very own wreath. Despite the amount of people paying their respects, when the ceremony started not a single person said a word. Each of us was deep in thought and our minds were with the families of the dead.  We left the gate with a feeling of respect for each and every soldier who sacrificed their lives for their country.

On the final day of the trip we visited two cemeteries, one German and one English, both very different in looks but alike in the sorrow they brought to us. The first was a British cemetery: Tyne cot. This was, for us, the most upsetting and thought provoking memorial of the whole visit. Surrounded by quiet countryside the memorial was all white and each headstone was engraved with a short message to remember them by. 30,000 men were commemorated on the site of which over 8,000 of them where unknown. But the most heart wrenching head stones were the ones that families had wrote messages to their loved ones on. Words like “dearly missed” “known unto god” and “never forgotten” reminded us why the war was such a tragic event.