Students and staff of Bishops’ Blue Coat CE High School in Boughton have just returned from their annual history visit to the battlefields of Flanders and the Somme, a particularly poignant trip this year as it marks the 100th anniversary since the outbreak of the First World War.
Party leader Terri Hull said: “What makes the visit unique is that students are tracing the resting place of their known relatives. Finding a relative’s name engraved on a Portland Stone panel or headstone provides an empathy that cannot be reproduced in any classroom and helps students to grasp the enormity and ultimate sacrifices made by their great great grandfathers, great great uncles or other relatives.”
One student, James Davies, traced the grave of his great great uncle, Private Leonard Steele of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry at Lijssenthoek Cemetery.
Terri added: “This was particularly significant in a number of ways, not least because James is the grandson of local artist Robert Gater who recently donated a copy of his book A Tribute to Heroes, together with some of his artwork, to Cheshire Military Museum. James carried a copy of that book, together with Leonard Steel’s memorial plaque, to the grave.”
Another student, Thomas Banks, had researched the details of at least four of his relatives, all of whom had died in the Great War. Tom Feeney carried a photograph of his relative, Private James Daniel Sutherberry, of the Manchester Regiment. to Tyne Cot Cemetery.
Accompanying the students on this visit was Chester musician and former Bishops’ pupil Matt Baker.
Terri said: “Pupils were wrapped in their thoughts as Matt sounded the Last Post at various cemeteries. He also had the unique privilege of playing on the portable harmonium (or Groan Box as it was known) which is housed in the chapel of Talbot House in Poperinge. This harmonium was carried back from the battlefields of the Western Front where it had been used during acts of worship, together with hymn books and a Communion case.”
Matt, whose company Theatre in the Quarter has marked the First World War centenary with a recent tour of a production of Silent Night, said: “I am more than 25 years older than these students but, having been involved in centenary commemorations this year, I couldn’t think of a more fitting way to mark the occasion. It was an honour to provide a musical dimension to the trip at my old school.”
The school visit also coincided with the Premier League Christmas Truce tournament; an international youth development competition to honour the sacrifice made by previous generations of footballers in the Great War. Students witnessed former World Cup referee Howard Webb OBE placing a wreath at the Menin Gate.
Terri said: “Many of the academy squads were, in fact, staying in the same hotel as the students. The inclusion of the Hearts of Midlothian team was of particular significance for me since my grandfather was one of the Hearts players who volunteered to fight with the Royal Scots as a rifleman.”
Several players paid the ultimate sacrifice but Terri’s grandfather survived whilst serving in Gallipoli and, following the war, captained Portsmouth FC in the 1920s.