At the start of half term some of our Sixth Form students headed off on the History department’s WW1 trip to Ypres. This poignant visit not only augmented their learning but, it led them from battlefields to memorials and gave them the opportunity to remembered the fallen.
We began with the Ypres Salient, visiting trenches and both British and German war cemeteries. Each student had a poppy cross for a individual Old Fettesian killed in the war and placed it on his grave or memorial. We began with Captain Peter Alexander MC, a former head of school who was killed at Passchendaele in 1917 and is buried at Tyne Cot. That evening, Tom W and Sandy C, both of whom have relatives who were killed in 1914, laid a wreath at the Menin Gate Last Post ceremony.
Day two took us to the Somme, where we paid particular tribute to the six Old Fettesians who fought with the Glasgow Commercials Battalion at the Leipzig Redoubt, laying a wreath in the wood which has grown up on the site of their hand-to-hand struggle in 1916. At Thiepval, we visited the new museum and the towering Memorial to the Missing (which among its 72,000 names bears those of 18 OFs). We were lucky to be toured round the restored trenches by Somme Association expert Austin Cheevers, a mine of information not only about conditions in the war but also about how recent battlefield archaeology is carried out.
On our last day we headed south to French Flanders, where our first port of call was Dud Corner Cemetery and the Loos Memorial. Here we remembered in particular Maj. George Denis Macpherson, at 53 the oldest Old Fettesian killed in action, and another former head boy, Lt. Gilbert Robertson, who was only 19 when he died. At Arras, we laid a wreath for the ten OFs commemorated in the city, including five from the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders killed in 1917. After a tour of the tunnels of Vimy Ridge, our last visit was to the grave of Old Fettesian VC winner Donald Mackintosh, who lies in Brown’s Copse Cemetery at Roeux, within sight of the objective he was killed trying to capture in 1917.
This was our first battlefields trip in some time, and although it was a packed schedule we saw a remarkable amount. The students were complimented on their behaviour and respect showing their maturity and sensitivity with what can be a challenging subject matter.