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Video: Hackney students visit First World War battlefields to keep soldiers' stories alive

PUBLISHED: 12:35 17 February 2015 | UPDATED: 12:35 17 February 2015

The group at the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial Park in the Somme. Picture: Erica Spurrier/Equity

The group at the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial Park in the Somme. Picture: Erica Spurrier/Equity

Archant

A curtain was drawn on an era when 111-year-old Harry Patch drew his last breath in 2009.

The veteran had come to represent all his fallen comrades as Britain’s last surviving soldier of the First World War.

His death removed the conflict from living memory, placing the responsibilty of keeping the soldiers’ stories alive firmly on all of our shoulders.

And as part of this act of remembrance, a group of young people travelled to some of the sites where servicemen of all nationalities lost their lives.

Twenty-eight children and 14 teachers visited Ypres and the Somme last week through the First World War Centenary Battlefield Tours Programme, which is offering every English state-funded secondary school the opportunity to learn about the war first-hand, until March 2019.

Pupils Joy Sustituya and Mary Karayel, 16, from Our Lady's Convent High School, in Hackney, making clay figures with Ghazi Raja, 15, from Oaks Park High School, Newbury Park. Picture: Erica Spurrier/EquityPupils Joy Sustituya and Mary Karayel, 16, from Our Lady's Convent High School, in Hackney, making clay figures with Ghazi Raja, 15, from Oaks Park High School, Newbury Park. Picture: Erica Spurrier/Equity

Among them were head of history and citizenship Laura Rose and pupils Joy Sustituya and Mary Karayel, from Our Lady’s Convent High School, in Amhurst Park, Stamford Hill.

Mary, 16, said: “It was very enjoyable and insightful.

“We think we now have a much deeper understanding of the war.”

The government-funded programme is provided by the UCL Institute of Education and school tour operator Equity, part of Inspiring Learning.

(Left to right): Maj Chris Ormond-King TD HAC, Dana Bell, 15, from Islington'’s Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Language College, WO2 Mick Sharman-Davies RLC, Leon Cresto-Dina, 15, from Highgate'’s St Aloysius'’ College and Cpl John Morley-Clarke RLC at the Menin Gate prior to the ceremony. Picture: Erica Spurrier/Equity(Left to right): Maj Chris Ormond-King TD HAC, Dana Bell, 15, from Islington'’s Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Language College, WO2 Mick Sharman-Davies RLC, Leon Cresto-Dina, 15, from Highgate'’s St Aloysius'’ College and Cpl John Morley-Clarke RLC at the Menin Gate prior to the ceremony. Picture: Erica Spurrier/Equity

The students and teachers took in sights such as the Thiepval Memorial and Tyne Cot Cemetery.

They were joined on Saturday by Alison Rose, the British Ambassador to Belgium, who laid a wreath at the Menin Gate.

She said: “Both of my grandfathers fought and never talked about their experiences.

“The people who came here had stories, hopes and dreams; just like these young people.”

Teacher Juliette Henry and pupils Christina Price, 15, and Dana Bell, 15, from the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Language College, in Islington, at Lijssenthoek Cemetery, in Poperinge. Picture: Erica Spurrier/EquityTeacher Juliette Henry and pupils Christina Price, 15, and Dana Bell, 15, from the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Language College, in Islington, at Lijssenthoek Cemetery, in Poperinge. Picture: Erica Spurrier/Equity

Joy, 16, enjoyed the visits to Tyne Cot and the German Langemark Cemetery.

She said: “They were interesting as they showed a real difference in how remembrance is marked in different countries.”

Mary added: “I was shocked by the sheer number of graves and the names on memorials; it really put the figures into perspective.”

The students will share their knowledge in the form of projects for initiative Legacy 110.

Pupils and a soldier after having their faces camouflaged. Picture: Erica Spurrier/EquityPupils and a soldier after having their faces camouflaged. Picture: Erica Spurrier/Equity

They hope to give a presentation to Year 9 students and include knowledge on two local soldiers they traced on the trip; Alexander Dyall and Josiah Saunders.

Laura, 30, said: “Having been on many battlefield tours before, I expected a similar experience.

“However, I was taken aback at how much focus it had on local stories and individual sacrifices.

“I was particularly moved by the accounts given by our accompanying soldier Lee, who spoke very poignantly about the importance of remembrance.

Teacher Geraldine Rimmer, from St Aloysius' College, in Highgate, with Cpl Lee Phillips, at the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial Park, in the Somme, Picture: Erica Spurrier/EquityTeacher Geraldine Rimmer, from St Aloysius' College, in Highgate, with Cpl Lee Phillips, at the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial Park, in the Somme, Picture: Erica Spurrier/Equity

“We were so fortunate to have him with us to bring a new perspective to the war’s events.”

Visit centenarybattlefieldtours.org for more on the programme.

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