At the start of half term, 49 Year 9 boys embarked on a trip to the battlefields of France and Belgium, filled with a sense of curiosity and reverence for the past. This is the first time the annual trip has run since 2019. On Friday night we stayed at the aptly named hostel ‘The Salient’ in the town forever associated with the First World War, Ypres.
Our first stop on the Saturday was Bedford House Cemetery. Row after row of white gravestones served as a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made during the First World War. We paid our respects and then continued on to the Bayernwald trenches, where we saw traces of the trench fighting that characterised the conflict. It was a fascinating experience and we spent the morning comprehending the soldiers’ harsh conditions.
Moving from First to Second World War, we visited the elevated town of Cassel and at its approach the bunker in Hardifort, which held up the German advance for several days in 1940. Continuing our journey, we arrived at the Wormhout Memorial Site, a poignant reminder of an SS massacre – we were there on its anniversary. Then we visited the Esquelbecq Military Cemetery, where we stood before the final resting place of Piers Edgcumbe, an Etonian and Second Lieutenant, who had met his fate during the perilous evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940. We concluded the day by travelling to the coastal village of Bray-Dunes, which experienced the drama of war as it played out. The crashing waves provided a soothing backdrop, offering solace and reflection after a day filled with profound emotion.
Back in Ypres, St. George’s Church, in part funded as memorial to the 342 Etonians who died in the Salient, was our first stop. Standing before the new plaque recently put up in their memory, we held a minute of silence and offered a silent prayer to them.
To culminate our trip, we ventured to the Blockhaus d’Eperlecques, the largest bunker in northern France, built with the plan of serving as a launch site for the V2 weapon, thwarted by RAF bombing. This colossal structure served as a chilling reminder of World War Two’s immense scale and impact.
As we bade farewell to France and Belgium, our minds were filled with newfound knowledge and a profound appreciation for the sacrifices of those who came before us.
Winning photographs taken by boys on the trip in response to the brief ‘The Art of War’.
Ruzgar T: World War One gravestones in Bedford House CWGC cemetery, Ypres
Sebastian W: Launch Ramp for V1 rocket at d’Éperlecques bunker
Archer B: World War One gravestones with iris