Battlefields Trip - June 2014

“An emotional, eye opening experience (and testimony) to how many people helped defend and fight for our country” – Shannon Nicol (S6).

Over the summer of 2014, the social sciences department of Madras Collages brought interested history pupils on a unique tour of selected memorials, battle sites and grave yards in Belgium to mark the century year of the First World War. Open to years S3-S6, the trip encouraged a mix of ideas between our different age groups.

The trip aimed to inspire and enthuse us, the pupils, by showing the SQA history course in its visual context, coupled with the fantastic aid and expertise of ‘Guild of Battlefield Guides’ Mike Scott. Mike, our professional guide, not only had highly informative and interesting insight, but emotive stories of individuals in the Great War for the group to identify with.   

After the Folkstone-Calais tunnel crossing we continued to travel across Europe in the coach. Once we arrived in Belgium the visits started at once, with head boy and girl placing crosses at the grave of a fallen Madras pupil. The group then visited another grave yard, this time the site of a behind lines hospital where many people died from wounds, but with a huge 75% being saved. Here a post was erected for every day of the war with a notch for every person who had died, this we especially found emotional.

Thunder sent us to the hostel where Madras wasn’t the only school staying there. In the evenings we had the chance to play snooker or badminton with some playing football on the lawn with willing teachers. The next day was one of less education where we had a great time out in Bruges. The trip together went on a canal cruises the school had organised in Bruges’s ancient water ways. The pupils then had the sunny afternoon of free time with some shopping, wandering or visits to the city clock-tower.


Sunday found us viewing some of the extensive battle fields from the coach on our way to Sanctuary Wood – a retreat from the front line (we were told) where soldiers would go after extended periods at the front fighting – and Sanctuary Wood Collection. By far one of the most interactive days we saw the shelled ground and a superb mock-up of what a trench would have looked like. The collection featured complete uniforms, guns and weapons, graphic pictures of real front lines, photo collections and everything in between, the visual representation was so well done and greatly appreciated.

At some point we visited one of the only four German grave yards in Belgium in which the atmosphere was drastically different from running through the trenches. A headstone represented up to sixty German soldiers and they were merely flat stones on the ground. A statue erected by the Hitler Youth looked down over the graves.

During one of the rainy spells the trip went to the famed ‘Flanders Field’ – “In Flanders fields the poppies blow, Between the crosses, row on row.” And the museum near there in which we saw more personal artefacts such as letters.

“The Belgium trip was the best school trip I have been on but it was the most moving trip I have been part of. I would highly recommend it to anybody.” – Calum Whyte (S4)

On our last day we went to the vast and beautiful memorial at the Somme where the sheer number of names of the departed was highly emotional event for everyone. During an unusual sunny period the tour visited Vimy Ridge, Canadian territory where the actual front German and Allied lines are preserved. We could see how close these lines were, and how intense the fighting must have been. We went to the towering monument of the weeping father and mother to view the ridge of such importance. One of the last stops was the huge crater created by exploding mines where we viewed, in real terms the effects on the landscape of WW1. When the group visited Beaumont Hamel Memorial Park it was pouring with rain, on the path where we stood many men and boys lost their lives to hold the front lines.


The trip was highly educative, emotional, but mostly successful. A huge amount of time was invested to afford Madras pupils this opportunity and it was wholly appreciated, sized with enthusiasm, vigour and the natural Madras spirit.

by Clodagh Ryan (S6)