In late June, 48 Year 10 students went to Ypres in Belgium as part of our GCSE history. We visited original reconstructed trench networks from World War I as well as cemeteries of commemoration. On the first day we visited the Belgian frontlines and the Essex Farm cemetery for British, French, Belgian and Canadian soldiers. On the second day we went to the pool of peace, a 40ft pool of water formed when the British blew up a mine under the German trenches. Afterwards, we went to the town of Ypres and visited the Flanders Field Museum, one of the top 5 museums in the world. It is a commemoration of everything related to the war and is relevant to all concerned sides. It contains a large amount of interesting original artefacts from the period and is very atmospheric throughout with eerie music and dark, enhancing lighting.
Next we had some free time in Ypres to wander around the town and to purchase chocolate - something the vast majority of us did. After this we visited the German trenches at Langemarck which they used to defend the high ground from the British. They are well built of wood as they were intended to be a long-term fortification and an original German mine and bunker remains at the site. Before lunch on the second day we went to Sanctuary Wood which harbours British trenches and tunnels in original, muddy form. You can crawl through the long, dark tunnels and then walk through the decidedly rickety trenches - Sanctuary Wood was originally intended only as a temporary, hastily-intended position.
After lunch at the museum, we visited the largest cemetery of all -Tyne Cot - with 12,000 graves arranged into a rough semblance of a cathedral. The large memorial stone at the centre is said to be just visible from England across the Channel on a clear day. Lastly on the second day, we visited a German mass site in a very different style to anything else we had seen. It had a huge mass grave in the centre and flat stones representing the bodies of 6-8 German soldiers each surrounding it under the trees.
Finally, on the last day, we somewhat unexpectedly visited Canada before returning home. Unbeknownst to us, the French formally gave the small area of land north of Lille where the Canadian memorial to their fallen lies to the nation, rendering the territory technically under Canadian control. The monument stands atop Vimy Ridge and gives a very commanding view across the entirety of the huge plains below. It is obvious why the Germans so desperately wanted to hold the land as it enabled them to see every Allied movement and also control the many vital coal mines on the plains below.
The trip as a whole was a really good experience as it let us see exactly what the soldiers of World War I would see on the frontlines and also the true scale regarding how many people died. It was very interesting to see all the trench networks from the varying sides in real life rather than just photocopied pictures.