A trip of a lifetime around Europe

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In July, 14 Freebrough students and two staff members  travelled to France and Belgium for a trip of a lifetime. The Business & Enterprise/Modern Foreign Language  faculty have run a successful summer trip for several years and this year the faculty joined up with the Humanities faculty to offer a trip with a difference. The first part of the trip had us up bright and early to travel to Ypres in Belgium, where we would spend two days learning more about WW1, the effects that it has had on the commonwealth and finding personal links to the war. The second half of our trip involved three days in Paris; sightseeing, learning about the culture and history of the French Capital and of course enjoying the rides at Disneyland.

The students were a fantastic example of how young people are interested and passionate about our history and learning more about the world. We would like to thank them for being ambassadors for our country and Academy, and also thank their parents for their support in funding the trip.

Part 1: Reflections

Students to remember ‘in perpetuity’

After an early morning departure from Freebrough Academy students set forth on the journey to the World War 1 battlefields of Europe. For one member of the group the visit had a very special significance. Ellie Matthews, from Year 9, had a relative who became missing in action on the battlefields of France and she was determined to make the pilgrimage to the Thiepval Memorial where Lewis – her great, great grandfather was named and remembered.

All students on the visit carried a personal cross of remembrance to write a message to a soldier of their choice and to leave at one of the sites that they visited. First of all, students visited the Flanders Fields museum in Ypres. Students were able to study some of the artefacts and evidence from World War 1 that tell a story of bravery, honour, horror and loss. This provided the context for the next morning’s visit to Langemark German Cemetery and Tyne Cot British Cemetery.

At Langemark, 12 km north east of Ypres, students saw how the Germans respected their war dead. A notable feature of the cemetery was a large mass grave containing more than 32 000 soldiers and airmen. The scale of such loss in a concentrated area proved profound for students. After this experience students moved on to Tyne Cot cemetery, the largest British and Commonwealth cemetery in the world. Tyne Cot is situated in the area where the third battle of Ypres took place, known more commonly as ‘Passchendaele’. There are nearly 12 000 soldiers buried at Tyne Cot and in excess of 34 000 names written upon the memorial at the back of the cemetery. The site itself includes pill boxes which are part of a former defensive position from the conflict in 1917. From the vantage point of the stone of sacrifice in the upper part of the cemetery, students were able to look towards Ypres where soldiers would have been advancing during some of the most dangerous days of the First World War. All the students from the Academy were moved by the site of so many graves in one location at such a well-kept site.

Students then moved to a Lijssenthoek Cemetery which was 14 km behind the front line during the war. During the war there was a railway line very close to the site so a large number of military hospitals were built there to accommodate soldiers injured at the front. This is reflected in the epitaphs which tell many a story of love, loss and grief. Many soldiers buried at Tyne Cot were ‘Known Unto God’ as they were not identified at the time. A walk around Lijssenthoek would likely bring a tear to the eye of any visitor. In the evening students attended the ceremony of the last post at the Menin Gate where senior students laid a wreath in memory of the fallen.

The following day students made a final trip to the Thiepval Memorial which commemorates the Battle of the Somme. It is just over 100 years since the battle began but its impact on British and local history remains significant. It was here that Ellie Matthews reflected on the sacrifice made by her great, great, grandfather 100 years ago and who is commemorated on the memorial. All the students and staff from Freebrough placed their own cross of remembrance, with a message, at one of the sites they had visited. Some chose to leave theirs at Essex Farm Cemetery near Ypres at the grave of V J Strudwick who was killed on the 14th January 1916 by an exploding shell. He was just 15 years old.

Each year at the Academy representatives of the new Year 7 students write their own personal messages to the unknown soldier. This is added to the permanent school memorial created at the centenary of the start of WW1 in 2014 and which is at the entrance to the Academy. Students of Freebrough Academy are determined that they will remember the fallen of the Great War and other conflicts ‘in perpetuity’.

Lest We Forget.

Part 2: On we go to Paris

After our morning of reflection and personal findings at the Somme we headed a few hours on the European motorways towards Paris. As we travelled into Paris the difference between our two destinations became very apparent. Ypres was so quiet, peaceful and although bustling had a very laid back feel. As we approached the city centre it not only looked different but sounded different. The noise of the city was loud, people rushing around on their daily commute, mopeds weaving in and out of the traffic – the students knew they were now in Paris.

Our first day in Paris was busy! We were dropped off straight away right in the heart of the city at the Eiffel Tower. Stood underneath the Tower we were able to see just how huge a structure it really is and how it is as Parisians say a symbol of the countries freedom. After fighting our way through the crowds we opted for a more peaceful activity, sailing down the River Seine on a river cruise. Over the course of an hour, we sat in the sunshine and took in the major sites of the city from the river. Students were excellent in their questioning, really wanting to understand the history of buildings, their significance and how it looked so different to anything they have seen in the UK. On we went to the Trocedero, again busy and bustling after the World Cup celebrations as this was where many people watched the final game from. From here we went to one of the busiest roads in the world – the Champs Elysees for a bit of shopping and some well deserved pizza. By the amount of shopping bags that went back on the bus I think the students definitely enjoyed this part of their day!

Our second day was a day that we had all been looking forward to – Disneyland! Mr Houlgate and Mrs Newton were no so impressed that they were dragged on to all of the big rollercoasters by the students. Mrs Newton screamed at the top of her lungs on the Tower of Terror and there was a definite battle of the staff on Buzz Lightyears laser game. Students showed how independent they were, ordering their own food, planning their own day and of course doing some more shopping!

Day 3, the day we were leaving but there was a bit more time to squeeze more out of Paris so we headed to the Louvre. I think the students were more impressed by the building than its most famous piece of art – the Mona Lisa. We couldn’t possibly have seen everything in a few hours but we did see some amazing pieces of art. I think we most enjoyed ‘Napolean’s Apartements’, seeing how grand and luxurious they were from a time when much of Paris was very poor.

Before we knew it, it was time to go home. Although everyone was very much looking forward to seeing friends and family we would miss our time together on the trip. Mrs Newton and Mr Houlgate would like to say a huge thank you to all of the students who attended the trip.