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Battlefields of WW1

Enduring questions from the Battlefields of WW1

Enduring questions from the Battlefields of WW1

In Late September, year nine students Kate Thicket and Rebecca Hoggard, accompanied by Mr Fuller, took part in the government funded World War One Centenary Battlefield tour. Over a four day period they visited key sites across the Flanders and Somme regions, learning about the nature of warfare and the sacrifices made by soldiers, non-combatants and civilians through the years of 1914 – 1918. Kate wrote a beautiful piece for her local Church newsletter of which I attach her deeply thoughtful conclusion below. In light, not just of the centenary of WW1, but of much more recent events, Kate’s thoughts and questions take on a powerful resonance with the difficulties we still face today.

‘I have just arrived back from a government funded four day trip to the memorials and battlefield of Ypres and the Somme. When I arrived back at school, I got quite a few people asking me what I’d done and if the trip had been fun, I replied to this saying that it had been enlightening but not fun as it was mostly cemeteries which we had visited. The people I was talking to then asked me why I’d gone if it wasn’t fun and I think this is quite an interesting question – Why has the government invested a few million pounds in sending two children and a teacher from each school to see some graves and a field?

As I looked out across the sea of graves in Langemark or Tyne Cot or the countless cemeteries dotted across the battlefields of the Somme, where soldiers were buried practically where they fell, my initial thought was that this is a scar. We, as people, are scarred by every name on every headstone, by every shell unearthed by farmers ploughing their fields; we are scarred by the fact that the fresh water of Ypres and the surrounding area is so polluted, even a hundred years later, by shells and gasses used in WW1 that it has to be filtered, so many times that it becomes incredibly soft and acquires an odd taste, just to make it safe to drink. In the In Flanders Field Museum, there is the cross section of a tree trunk that was 235 years old when it was cut down and in amongst its rings, there are black marks where it had been hit by shells or artillery.

There is no recovering from this, we will always be able to look at those graves, to read those names, and yet it is still happening, every day people kill one another. If you burn yourself when you’re cooking and get a scar, you don’t do it again, at least not if it can be prevented; if you fall off your bike and cut your leg, you get back up and move on, but you still try to avoid repeating the mistake. Why then, when we have so often taken to attacking each other, with artillery and guns, and have suffered the consequences of grief and loss and turmoil, why do we continue to do it?’

Kate Thickett

“They shall not grow 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 Poem – Laurence Binyon

Cross-section of a tree showing the scars of war

Langemark Cemetery

Tyne Cot Cemetery