WW1 Battlefields familiarisation trip. Ypres Salient and the Somme.

Last week three of us enjoyed a week out of the office.  We went on a familiarisation trip to Belgium and France, the main focus of the trip being to visit the locations of our WW1 Battlefields school trips, both the Ypres Salient and the Somme.Battlefield school trips are very popular at the moment, and although always sobering, they are very fulfilling to organise.Our first day was spent discovering some new and exciting trips in the Ypres Salient, organised by the Peace Village Messines, one of the best school hotels we know. The day’s itinerary was jam-packed and included visits to little hidden gems that were described as “off the beaten track”.  Our highlights were: the Passchendaele 1917 Museum, where we explored some replica trenches; and the Hooge Crater Museum, a privately owned museum that recently opened a new wing.The Peace Village also treated us to a tour based on extracts from the book “Age 14: An Irish Boy Soldier”, a novel based on the story of John Condon who was allegedly the youngest Allied soldier to lose his life. The novel’s depictions of real places on the Western Front, described in detail from the point of view of the boy soldier, really brought the events of First World War to life for me.A visit to Talbot House proved to be a welcome way to end a busy and sombre day: a guided tour of the one and only “Every Man’s Club” followed by a cup of real English tea!  The club is also now launching a new tour: Tubby’s Story Tablets, which allows students to tour the House using a tablet for a really interactive and interesting experience.Day two of the trip took us to the Somme.  There are three fantastic museums here, including Bullecourt 1917, Jean and Denise Letaille museum; the Historial de la Grande Guerre in Péronne; and Musée Somme 1916 in Albert. On the guided tours of these museums we were able to get a close-up view of an array of authentic artefacts from the many Battles of the Somme – an experience you just can’t get from textbooks or websites.The museum visits were followed by a brilliant tour of the Somme Battlefields with Myriam Thompson, an Australian Battlefields Guide, who really helped to bring the tour to life!  The main stops on this tour included the Lochnagar Crater, Thiepval Memorial, Ulster  Tower and Newfoundland Memorial. The two most memorable moments of the tour for me were seeing the Newfoundland Memorial’s “Danger Tree” and being lucky enough to witness a stunning rainbow at the Thiepval Memorial after being caught in a shower – not something we can promise to all our groups!Thiepval Memorial and the rainbowAfter a busy second day of visits we were able to unwind at the Auberge des Remparts in Péronne and also took the chance to sample some of the delicious local, er…liquid refreshments, and of course some chocolate.These were an unforgettable couple of days and it is certainly an outstanding visit for school groups.  We travelled on to Normandy and Opal Coast next – watch out for our next blog installment!Visit our website for more information about WW1 centenary battlefield tourswww.diverseschooltravel.co.ukBy Daniel Isaacs

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