Year 9's Trip to Somme
Early on 10 June, very sleepy Year 9s boarded their coaches and set off to experience history like never before, their destination – the Somme battlefields on the Western Front, Picardie, France. Arriving in France after a long but eventful journey, we set off to our first region of interest – a section of No Man’s Land that was heavily involved in the fighting during World War I.
This area, now serene and peaceful, witnessed years of death and destruction and, as we stood in the remains of a front line trench, or in one of the many cemeteries placed around the area, we saw a glimpse of what fighting in the First World War must have been like.
Helping us to understand the different areas of warfare and trench life were our guides who gave us background information about the trenches and cemeteries, such as which battalions fought and died there, and handed round pieces of interest including jam tin bombs and old sections of barbed wire. This gave us an insight into the true difficulties of fighting in a trench during World War I.
Our next destination was the Newfoundland Memorial Park where we followed the stories of those fighting in the Newfoundland regiment. The remains of shell holes and trenches still scar the landscape, albeit with a covering of grass. Here, the trenches are deep enough to give a real feeling of how scary trench warfare really was and the size of the area again gives insight into the scale of the war.
The Newfoundland Memorial Park has many examples of the way the natural surroundings were used to the troops’ advantage – height in the ground was fought for and claimed to aid the attack and defence of the trenches and sections of terrain formed deep in the ground, such as valleys, were used as ready-made trenches and dugouts.
Lochnagar Crater was our next and penultimate stop. This crater was formed by the explosion of underground mines, placed beneath the German trenches. Mining warfare was used frequently by both sides in World War I. It was a dangerous task, as many of the tunnels dug to place the mines were discovered by the enemy. The crater itself is huge, almost 91m wide and 21m deep, a constant reminder of the war.
Finally, we paid tribute to more than 72,000 South African and British soldiers who died at the battle of the Somme and whose bodies were never found. Their names are engraved on the Thiepval Memorial where we all took part in a remembrance service. With the laying of the wreath, the tour was officially ended.
One of the names on the Thiepval Memorial was that of my great great uncle, Joseph Samuel Humphreys who fought in the battle of the Somme and was killed on 14 July 1916. Born in 1889, he was 27 years old when he died. His body was never found. It was very kind and considerate of our guides to help me locate his name on the memorial and then to include him in the memorial service.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the school for organising and supervising this insightful, educational and moving trip and the guides who provided us with a tour that was both engaging and emotional.
Written by Claire Gordon-Brown (now in Year 10)