28 March 2018

Two of our year 9 pupils were selected to visit the site of the Battle of Manchester Hill, which happened exactly 100 years ago. They have written about their time in France and Belgium and we are sure that you will see from their well chosen words that this experience has had a profound effect on them. We would like to share those words with you here.

Surprised, amazed, saddened, were the feelings I felt on the coach on the way back to England from the cemeteries and trenches in France and Belgium. The pure amazement and pride I felt for the boys as young as 15 who had given the ultimate sacrifice for the future of their country. It’s safe to say that this battlefield trip has deepened my understanding of The Great War.     

After a slight delay at the Eurotunnel we arrived at 'Oude Abdij', a stunning hotel in Belgium for a much needed rest ready for the next morning. On the Monday we went to a museum in Zonnebeke specialising in the history of World War 1. As we walked through the Dugout Experience, it became so clear that our perception of men walking up and down a trench was so different to the gruesome reality shown in one of these photographs. In fact, 8% of men in the trenches actually died from diseases and infections.  Being able to walk through the replica trench was incredible, just to get a feel of the conditions in which the men would work, eat, sleep and fight in.

Later that night we went to the ‘Last Post' memorial at Menin Gate in Ypres, which the locals do every single night. Every inch of the walls were lined with names of the men who had fought and died in the war. The sheer size of Menin Gate was surreal and made me feel overawed with emotion and sadness. We set off on our search to find Private Isaac Cooper. As we walked up the stairs, I was once again overcome with emotion seeing the huge lines of names which were upstairs, forgotten and alone. After searching we found I. Cooper on the very top of the line of names. After stretching up to try and get closer to the name it struck me just how many names were being forgotten about. Hopefully, with the work we are doing it will help people remember more… 

The following day we went to Newfoundland Park in Beaumont, which is a place for people to visit and remember the tragic part Newfoundland soldiers played in the action of 1 July 1916. The park preserves the memory of the men from the other regiments of the French, British and German armies who fought and died on this part of the Somme battleground from September 1914 to 1918. Newfoundland Park was built on one of the battlefields of the Somme - the fact that we were walking across some of the very places that men had walked across to fight more than 100 years ago was crazy. We were handed a map which showed the trenches that were still there today and who would have been in them. I learnt that there was a medic trench, communication trench and a reserve trench and that was before we got to the front line!  The thing that amazed me with this particular trench was the fact that it wasn't a replica; it was real. Men had actually fought in the spot where I was standing taking photos. Men had cried out for help in the place where I was standing smiling. Men had died in the spot where I was standing talking. That was extremely hard-hitting.

After lunch that same day, we went to another extremely well-known memorial for the men missing in World War 1: Thiepval. The British Union Jack and the French Tricolour are flown on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing. On the uppermost part of the memorial building, the British flag flies on the northern side and the French flag flies on the southern side.

This is representative of the British army being in action on the northern area of the 1916 Somme battlefield, north of the River Somme, and the French army being in action on the southern area of the 1916 Somme battlefield, south of the River Somme. I stood in awe, just staring at the memorial for about three minutes. Words which sprung to my mind to describe it were: majestic, inspiring, stunning... How could anything which was built for such an ugly reason look so beautiful? The names inscribed into the building were the men whose bodies haven't been found or were deemed missing. This brought my thoughts to the poor families and friends of the 72,194 missing soldiers - at least with a grave you can feel a sense of closure; you have somewhere to visit and feel a connection to. The amount of names on the wall were unbelievable and these were the names of those who hadn't been found... crazy.

The next day was the 21st March 2018, exactly 100 years since the battle of Manchester Hill and the very reason we were in France. To describe this day in one word would be impossible. I was proud, confused, mortified, and surprised, all in the space of a few hours. When researching this topic there have been many things that have struck me, for instance the words of Lt. Colonel Elstob when he briefed his battalion on the battle which was to come...“It must be impressed upon all troops...that there is only one degree of resistance, and that is to the last round and to the last man." Pointing at the blackboard showing a map of Manchester Hill he said, "This is Battalion HQ. Here we fight and here we die." Those words 'Here we fight and here we die' really made me think of the sacrifice those men gave that day, men from Greater Manchester, from places that I know. It also made me think of the families left behind and of the courage they displayed. How brave that they went out to fight for their country, even though they knew that they would die. They had been told by their colonel that they wouldn't make it back to HQ, but went regardless.

The lovely village of Francilly- Selency, welcomed us with a beautiful service to remember the fallen soldiers of Manchester Hill. We were introduced to soldiers who currently worked in the army and even met one from Wigan! They were all proud of the fact that they were in the army and of the work that they do.   A few representatives from the village were proud to talk to me about the effect the Manchester Hill battle had on their community. "The village was completely destroyed during the war and it took time to build it back up to the place it is today." When I asked about the service they replied with, “The service was very important for us as it helps the younger generation learn about the battle and about the war."

This fantastic opportunity has been the highlight of my year. I learnt so much and it really got me thinking about all different aspects of the war and just how many men gave up their lives for us. I can truthfully say that this has changed my thinking about the war. I thoroughly look forward to studying history further as a GCSE!

by Niamh, 9C

Last week on the 18th March, Niamh and I set out to embark on the adventure of a lifetime with Mrs Easton, a teacher from the history department. We set off at nine in morning and after many long hours cramped in a small coach we finally made it to the Eurotunnel terminal. After a minor delay, five hours to be exact, we finally boarded the tunnel and we made our way across the sea. On arrival, France didn’t look much different to England but after a few minutes of driving I began to notice multiple cemeteries scattered around in the nearby fields. Rows upon rows of endless names, all men who paid the ultimate price for the greater good of the country. It was mind-boggling that this many people could have died in one go, and these were just the bodies that had been found… We soon arrived at the small town where we would be staying and even there, many cemeteries could be seen. We went to our rooms, which we would be sharing with six other girls who we didn’t know and we got settled for the night. 

The following morning, we left the hotel and travelled to the city of Ypres. We visited lots of cemeteries on the first day but the one that stood out to me was Tyne Cotte. In Tyne Cotte, hundreds of pristine white graves lay among the fresh green grass. The thing that stood out to me at Tyne Cotte was that it was extremely beautiful despite it being a cemetery. There were flowers sprouting from every visible gap, birds chirping in the trees above and the sun was beaming down on us. In the middle of the cemetery was a large cross that had been built over an old hospital bunker. On one side of the bunker a panel had been left off to show the original brick of the bunker. Seeing the real bricks that were there during the Great War really helped me to understand how real the pain and suffering was. After being at this lovely memorial and cemetery, we went across to a nearby cemetery called Lagermark, which commemorates all the German soldiers who died during the war. When walking into the cemetery the weather completely changed and it began to rain. The stones on top of the graves were black and multiple names were written onto the graves. The drastic change from the white, flowery British graves was both shocking and strange. The main reason that I think the atmosphere was so dark and dull was because the Germans lost the war. This got me thinking if they did win though would it be any different? The mellowness that could be seen may just be the way the Germans like to have their cemeteries, but there is no real way of knowing this. 

On the third day of the trip we left Belgium and got on the coach and went to France. When we arrived in France, we went to a place called Sunken Lane. Sunken Lane was a little lane where the soldiers waited before attempting the walk to the German trench. A photographer took a photo of the soldiers sat in the lane and we were able to line the photo up with the lane now. When lining up the photograph to the place where the soldiers sat on the morning of the attack, we were able to feel a sense of connection to the soldiers. After this, we walked up the embankment and over the top to the field above. The man running the tour then got us to walk and he began to shout out the different school names. When your school was shouted out, you had to stop. No-one made it further than ¼ of the field. This was really eye-opening and it helped me understand how many people died and how hard it was to make it to the other side. It was also shocking to believe that soldiers had died exactly where I was standing.  In my opinion, being here at the real battleground is what really helped me see how hard it must have been and how much courage it takes to put your life on the line for future generations. I think that this experience is something that I will never forget and something that I believe everyone should experience. The soldiers fighting in the war risked everything for their country - would you be willing to? 

by Lily, 9S