Two students and two members of staff were fortunate to have the opportunity to visit Belgium and France this year, as part of the First World War centenary battlefields tour programme.
We travelled by coach through the Channel Tunnel and arrived in Ypres in Belgium first. We took part in educational activities including local soldier research and handling World War One artefacts, along with other students from schools across Greater Manchester. We visited Lijssenthoek military cemetery, Memorial Museum Passchendaele, Hooge Crater cemetery and Tyne Cot military cemetery. It was very thought-provoking and very cold and made us appreciate what the soldiers went through for their country.
We were following the fortunes of the 16th Battalion, The Manchester Regiment. Also, we were finding out about soldiers from our local area and many people from our group wanted to find out about members of their family. In the evening, we visited the Menin Gate and took part in a ceremony to remember the soldiers who fought and died in the First World War. Some students laid a wreath to honour those who had died.
The next day, we set off for the Somme in France. Firstly, we went to Sunken Lane, then on to Beaumont Hamel Newfoundland Memorial Park, Caterpillar Valley Cemetery, Thiepval Memorial and Pozieres Memorial. We found out more about the soldiers in the First World War and the conditions that they fought in. There were so many moving stories and we had lots to think about. Then we went to Amiens and our battlefield guides showed us some First World War equipment and uniforms.
The next morning, we travelled to ‘Manchester Hill’ to find out about the battle that had taken place there exactly one hundred years ago. Of the 168 soldiers defending the position, only 17 returned. The rest were killed, wounded or captured. We took part in a service of commemoration and wreath laying ceremony. Representatives from Manchester City Council, the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment and local French people joined us at a formal act of remembrance to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of Manchester Hill. Some students laid a wreath at the Manchester Regiment memorial. The mayor invited us to a reception at the town hall before we left to return home to Stockport.
This was a unique and moving tour and we will not forget the men of Greater Manchester who fought for our future.
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”
For the Fallen by Robert Laurence Binyon