Matthew Burns

SEDBERGH SCHOOL FIRST WORLD WAR BATTLEFIELDS VISIT

On Sunday 29th June, 87 Year 10 pupils travel by coach and overnight ferry to Northern France for three days, to visit the Battlefields and cemeteries of the Western Front.

From Zeebrugge, pupils and staff will then make the two-hour drive to the Somme. History Teacher and Battlefields Visit organiser Philippa Prall, says: “We will visit preserved trenches at Beaumont Hamel, the Pals’ Memorial at Serre, Thiepval, and one or two other cemeteries on the first day, and then on Day Two we will move to Ypres Salient to visit a German cemetery (Langemark).

The In Flanders Fields Museum will also feature, along with some cemeteries including Essex Farm where Bruce Long (H), a pupil’s Great Great Uncle is buried and also an OS L Atkinson (E) York & Lancaster Regt.

“We finish the trip at Tyne Cot, the largest Commonwealth war cemetery in the world, with nearly 12,000 graves and 29,000 names inscribed on the panels for those with no known grave.”

The graves of several pupils’ relatives will be visited during the visit, including Long, Bradley, Hollins, Curran, Combe, Robinson, Preston and McAneny.

Several OS graves will also be visited, including Hitchon at Queens Cemetery, Serre. Mr Harrison is accompanying the visit in order to research the Sedbergh v Rugby Memorial Rugby fixture planned for January.

The photo shows Alex Procter (E) reading a short extract from the Sedberghian obituary for James Foldys Hitchon, old Evanian, who fell in the first minute or two of the Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916.

To give a flavour of a previous visit, and what pupils can expect this year, here is an extract from Mrs Prall’s entry in The Sedberghian.

“I have always been impressed by Sedberghian Year 10 pupils’ ability to ‘get it’ on the Battlefields Trip, and this year was no exception. We had motored down the  péage towards the Somme on 1 July 2013 – 97 years ago to the very hour that the British and Empire troops left their trenches for a ‘walk over’ across No Man’s Land and on into the annals of military disaster.

We reminded our pupils of this chilling coincidence of time as they left their coaches for the first stops of the tour. The ensuing silence was palpable. The pupils’ ability to switch immediately from lighthearted chatter about nothing in particular to thoughtful, even reverential, silence was impressive indeed. To be touring the Somme battlefield on the 1 July sharpened things very much for us all.

“The quiet dignity of the Devonshires Cemetery never fails to reduce me to emotional rubble – as it did this time for several pupils. If you have never been, I urge you to go. It epitomises all that was futile and yet so unutterably courageous about the whole first day of the battle and speaks of values we still hold dear but seem to see little of these days. Again, this motley bunch of 15 year olds ‘got it’.

They were powerfully moved by the fact that all the boys whose graves we visited were brought back under cover of darkness by their comrades, to be buried in the trench they had left on that morning’s doomed attack.

“The Ypres day began with a shocking jolt for many as they stood in front of Valentine Joe Strudwick’s grave at Essex Farm, He was 15 – the same age as these pupils.”

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