My Visit to The Front Line
By Flower Sykes
Recently I went on a week long school history trip to Belgium to learn more about WW1 and to commemorate the soldiers who fought and died, a trip made more poignant because it was just 3 weeks before the Armistice Centenary, 100 years to the day, since The Great War ended.
We travelled Ypres, a town that was completely demolished during the battles of WW1, and were lucky enough to stay very near to the Menin Gate. Whilst here we visited the Yser Tower where they have created an art project called ‘Floating Dreams’ as a commemoration to the soldiers of the Great War.
There are also 70 sculptures of children referring to the 70 conflicts that are happening at the moment and it represents that in any of these conflicts, children are always affected. On the tower there are paintings of the children climbing up it to the white dove at the top as a representation of peace. Inside the tower, you can go to the top and look over the area and see what it looks like now compared to what it was like during the war. I found the destruction of the area overwhelming, and difficult to imagine.
We also visited the Tyne Cot cemetery which is a breathtaking, beautiful memorial to the soldiers. The cemetery has been designed to reflect an English rose garden. I thought it was an incredibly beautiful place which celebrated these brave people.
One evening we went to see the Menin Gate ceremony and were lucky enough to lay a wreath for our school. I found the ceremony very moving and was a perfect time to think about all the memorials I had seen earlier in the day, and think about the sacrifice made. I also thought it was so nice that there were people who give up their time every evening and devote their time to the memorial services. The music that was played was incredible and moving.
As part of the school trip we were were given a local Cornish soldier to find on one of the memorials we were set to visit over the week. My soldier to find was called Frederick Fincastle Campbell and he was from St Minver and fought in WW1. When I eventually found his name, it was unfortunately on the Menin Gate Wall, which means that he was one of the missing soldiers that were never found and buried. It made me so sad to think his family never got to see him again.
Another day, we went to see Vimy Ridge and the Canadian memorial there. We went into the old underground trenches that were used to send messages across to the front lines and the communication trenches which are above ground. It was incredible to see the actual trenches as it is one of the few places where they haven’t evened out the ground so it is full of holes where the shells hit the ground!
The memorial that is there is also incredible as it is so tall with all the names of the Canadian soldiers that were never found.
On the same day we visited the Thiepval memorial, where there are thousands of statues of bodies wrapped up in cloth with little signs above them. Each ‘wrapped body’ represented a day of the war, and the sign above it stated the number of fatalities on that day. The numbers were overwhelming, it was a really poignant way of visualising the huge numbers of people who perished over the four years of the war.
Also, at this memorial there was a side with all the French soldiers who were buried and a side for all the British that were buried and on the French side only three of the rows of graves had names on them. All the others were unidentified soldiers which made me feel so sorry for the people who couldn’t even be remembered personally for all that they had done.
On my final day, I went to visit Lijssenthoek Military Museum. This is where the nursing station was during WW1 and is home to the grave of Nellie Spindler, she was one of only two nurses ever buried here, and the only female I came across on any of the memorials.
I extremely enjoyed my trip to Belgium as it made me realise even more than before what these people went through and sacrificed for us to live the free life we live today. We must never forget the ravages of war… and let it always keep us on a peaceful path.
By Flower Sykes. Age 13 years.