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Andy Walker

Year 9 visit to Somme Battlefields

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I am currently planning a fieldtrip to the Somme Battlefields for my Year 9 class on 24/2.

My outline itinerary includes

1. German cemetary at Neuville st vaast

2. Vimy Ridge Memorial Park

3. La Boiselle mine crater

4. Albert

5. Beaumont Hamel

6. Thipeval

It is a day trip so will be pretty whistlestop!

If anyone has any comments, good ideas for activities or better still resources they are willing to share I'd be very grateful :D

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Is it your first time? I am slightly concerned by the amount you are trying to pack into a day trip.

A visit has an emotional impact on all the students (and staff). I would personalize it as much as possible. Get the students to use the online database to find soldiers who died who have the same surname as themselves. Also get them to discover if they have relatives who died in France during the First World War. Once again, they can use the online database to find out where they are buried.

Another possibility is to get them to research soldiers who were awarded a VC while in France. Again, there is a very good database online.

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Is it your first time? I am slightly concerned by the amount you are trying to pack into a day trip.

No

I used to go quite regularly and cover everything listed apart from Thiepval. I reckon I gain at least an hour because the train is that much faster than the ferry used to be so have added Thiepval. It is a day trip but the day starts at 5.00am and finishes at 11.00pm :D

Where would I find the online databases you mention? I like that idea very much.

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Andy, which tour operator are you using? I have promised my dept that I will organise a battlefields trip this year. I used to do this with my old school and it was fantastic, but if memory serves me right getting to Thiepval is a real long drive and to be honest it is not such a big deal - no disrespect intended at all here, but one more cemetary may not be that engaging for the kids. I guess you're going there as it is the only British cemetary on the list, but maybe you could find a smaller one nearer the others. Have you got the infamous 'Major and Mrs Holt's guide to the battlefields'? if not let me know and I can have a look for other British cemetaries. Vimy Ridge, however, is an absolute must - the most moving place that I have ever been too, where the hairs stand up on the back of your neck and you can feel the ghosts. Maybe you could read them extracts from Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks when you get to La Boiselle. I always remember the part about the miners fighting underground. Horrible.

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Andy, which tour operator are you using? I have promised my dept that I will organise a battlefields trip this year. I used to do this with my old school and it was fantastic, but if memory serves me right getting to Thiepval is a real long drive and to be honest it is not such a big deal - no disrespect intended at all here, but one more cemetary may not be that engaging for the kids. I guess you're going there as it is the only British cemetary on the list, but maybe you could find a smaller one nearer the others. Have you got the infamous 'Major and Mrs Holt's guide to the battlefields'? if not let me know and I can have a look for other British cemetaries. Vimy Ridge, however, is an absolute must - the most moving place that I have ever been too, where the hairs stand up on the back of your neck and you can feel the ghosts. Maybe you could read them extracts from Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks when you get to La Boiselle. I always remember the part about the miners fighting underground. Horrible.

Thanks for the ideas Dan I will use them.

I'm running the trip myself to keep costs down to a minimum - have just booked the travel through a local firm. I'm going to be the tour guide :D hence the appeal for ideas/resources.

I can piece together something of a worksheet from memory and a bit of web research and the sort of help I am getting here.. I'll write something over half term and post it up here if you want to use it for your trip.

I agree with you about Vimy - however I believe the memorial is currently being restored so we may not be able to see much.

If my memory serves me right Thiepval isn't too far from Beaumont Hamel (a real must) but I might be wrong.

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I'm running the trip myself to keep costs down to a minimum - have just booked the travel through a local firm. I'm going to be the tour guide laugh.gif hence the appeal for ideas/resources.

Great idea - how much are you charging your pupils? one of the biggest problems I had a few years ago when I tried to organise a trip was the cost.

I have had a quick look at the Major and you are right that Thiepval is close to Beaumont Hamel. I now remember that our coach driver got lost and that is why it took so much longer to get there. We also went to the french cemetary at Notre Dame de Lorette which is very impressive and close to Vimy as well as the underground tunnels in Arras which is less interesting.

I would definitely prep your coach company before hand so they know where they are going, but I guess with Sat-nav facilities it should be easier these days.

In terms of resources, I know that I was able to find out about a Fulham man who won the VC, by researching the internet and I got the initial info from the borough archives so it may be worth giving them a ring - you can read the stuff I found here and on wikipedia there is a picture of his grave. There is also stuff you can do on local war memorials as a follow up.

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Great idea - how much are you charging your pupils? one of the biggest problems I had a few years ago when I tried to organise a trip was the cost.

I am charging £25 per head. If I'd gone through one of those organised tour companies it would have been double at least!

It could be done cheaper but I have chosen quite a good coach company given we are going to be on the dammed thing for so long!

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Looks like a very comprehensive guide sir. I did notice one typo on p8, I do believe that the war finished in 1918, rather than 1919, unless there were some Japanese soldiers hiding in the woods! I have tended not to do the worksheet thing on my recent trips, why have you chosen to do so, or is it a case of being voluntary?

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Looks like a very comprehensive guide sir. I did notice one typo on p8, I do believe that the war finished in 1918, rather than 1919, unless there were some Japanese soldiers hiding in the woods! I have tended not to do the worksheet thing on my recent trips, why have you chosen to do so, or is it a case of being voluntary?

I knew your "advanced skills" would eventually come in handy :lol::lol:

I have opted for a worksheet to focus some of our overactive underachievers. I also think its important to give them time and space to investigate the sites away from their teachers.

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Some very helpful people at Beaumont Hamel have just got back to me with some information which may be of value to other schools planning a similar visit

"You are more than welcome to visit the visitor centre during your visit to Beaumont - Hamel. It is open daily from 9am to 5pm. We also have a self guided tour brochure (1 euro) which you may wish to purchase which can assist in your visit to the site. As Mary noted, we cannot unfortunately

take reservations for tours at this time due to limited staff, but please ask upon your arrival - if there is a guide available, we'd be happy to provide a tour.

The Vimy memorial itself is still under restoration and thus is not accessible to visitors. We have a temporary visitor centre situated at the tunnel parking lot which you are welcome to visit. As with Beaumont - Hamel, we do not take reservations for tunnel tours at Vimy until May 1st.

As you can appreciate, with a limited guide staff (five guides for both Beaumont - Hamel and Vimy) and with days off, sick leave, etc. it is difficult to ensure a service.

If there are sufficient guides available, they can provide your group with a tour of the trench area or a cemetery walk. When you arrive at Vimy, don't hesitate to ask the guide at the visitor centre if this is possible."

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Having just completed the day trip described above yesterday I would make the following observations which may be a help to others planning a similar visit:

1. The Vimy Ridge memorial restoration is near completed and should be complete in a few months. At present you cannot get very close to it which is a shame if you want to describe the strategic importance of the ridge to your pupils.

2. There is a new Visitors Centre at the Vimy Trenches housing an interesting exhibition on the Battle of Vimy Ridge 1917 and an interesting 10 ten minute audio visual on the same - admission is free.

3. The Newfoundland Memorial at Beaumont Hamel also has a new Visitors Centre and has the facility for guided tours by Canadian students. Both are free. These are worth booking in advance if you are going in summer months - the e-mail address follows - newfoundland_memorial@vac-acc.gc.ca. Much of the park however is currently inaccesible due to excessive mud and the staff's aversion to having muddy children transfer it all into their new visitors centre :(

4. Thiepval Memorial to the Somme missing also has a new Visitors centre, audio visual presentation, shop and computers linked up to the War Graves Commission databases. I would now strongly recommend Thiepval on any itinerary of this area.

Travelling from Kent the very busy itinerary was just about possible though we lunched on the move rather than having a specified break. I strongly recommend teachers book the train rather than the ferry as this saves at least 2 hours overall.

The worksheet I cobbled together did its job and I will be revising it in the light of the visit and republishing it here.

Finally I strongly recommend that teachers plan this vist themselves rather than rely on overpriced package tours as by doing so they can half the cost to pupils thereby bringing into the range of a lot more of them.

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Thank you for this account. Maybe we should start a whole section on school trips. Teachers could then post details of their experencies. It would be a handy resource for teachers planning trips.

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I have also just returned from a Battlefields tour. I had never been before and was a little bit nervous: I so wanted to see the sights for myself and I was worried that I would be too busy behaviour managing Year 10. Needless to say, I needn't have worried. We were there from Wednesday to Saturday, and it was just an amazing experience.

The battlefields have such an awesome power. The children responded so positively, and the longer stay allowed them to learn, reflect, and (in the evenings) relax and enjoy.

Our itinery:

Wednesday

Travel to Neuiport (sp!), evening beach football, settle in.

Thursday

Ieper - Flanders Field Museum which excellently uses small stories to make it more real, by giving each student a card with the history of one soldier.

Menin Gate - was intrigued by the presence of the separate small monument to the Indian soldiers put up more recently. Were they missed from the original? There were some Sikh names on one panel?

Langemarck German cemetry - a miserable, dark and depressing place. We asked the students to compare it to Tyne Cot and to think about why there were these differences.

Tyne Cot Cemetry - nearly 12000 British Empire dead and a striking comparison to how the German dead were treated. At both cemetries we placed wreaths and paused together as a group.

Hill 62 - This place was hideous and I would strongly advise any school party to avoid it. A building full of random memorabilia and then hundreds of children running through very considerably rebuilt trenches as if it was an adventure playground. Mercifully one of the teachers from our school asked the children to think about 'How fitting this place was as a memorial to the First World War?' This actually produced some very interesting responses from our students, and on the way back a vote was held on the bus which decided that we shouldn't go there with next year's students.

Friday

Beaumont Hamel - Unfortunately it was judged to slippery for us to be allowed past the danger tree. It is clearly a fascinating place, and the visitor centre is interesting.

Then past the Ulster tower to Thiepval - which was also half closed, but still very interesting.

Then on to Vimy Ridge.

Saturday

A visit to Bruges with a canal boat tour, followed by a trip to a big leisure centre with swimming pool, slides, bowling, etc.

Worksheets.

We provided students with a booklet with a couple of pages of information about each of the places we visited. We got them to read through them before we arrived at the different places. There was space in these booklets for them to make notes if they wanted, but we didn't ask them to take them around the places. I think it is probably better for them to look, talk and listen to their teachers/guides.

When we were at Tyne Cot one coach party arrived and the children started to rush around trying to complete some kind of quiz which involved, amongst other things I'm sure, finding particular soldier's graves. So far as I could see, it did nothing to help the students think about where they were or what it meant. One thing that I've done with other trips (to the Black Country Museum) is to give groups of students

a disposable camera, collect them in and give a prize for the best set of photographs - you could expand this into a small project if you wished.

One final point to make is that as in previous years, this trip was organised by NST. However, unlike in previous years we found the service to be very poor with a number of late changes, including extra demands for money (beyond what had been billed) within a month of travel!

Edited by Simon Ross

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