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First World War centenary: Battlefields trip day three

PUBLISHED: 09:00 10 February 2015 | UPDATED: 11:51 10 February 2015

Teacher Joshua Alford and pupils Raul Simmons-Perez, 16, and Nico Zavrou Blackstock, 16, from East Barnet School, Barnet, with their clay figures. Picture: Erica Spurrier/Equity

Teacher Joshua Alford and pupils Raul Simmons-Perez, 16, and Nico Zavrou Blackstock, 16, from East Barnet School, Barnet, with their clay figures. Picture: Erica Spurrier/Equity

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After visiting eight cemeteries and memorials, one museum and a commemorative workshop, our tour came to an end.

Danny Swan and Leon Cresto-Dina, both 15, from St Aloysius College, Highgate, at Tyne Cot. Picture: Erica Spurrier/EquityDanny Swan and Leon Cresto-Dina, both 15, from St Aloysius College, Highgate, at Tyne Cot. Picture: Erica Spurrier/Equity

Yesterday we travelled to three sites before waving goodbye to the battlefields of Belgium and France.

After spending our time previously considering Britain’s attitude to remembrance, we stopped by at the Langemark Cemetery, in Langemark-Poelkapelle.

Here lie more than 44,000 Germans, with 25,000 of them buried in a comrades’ grave. No soldier is buried in his own plot.

The simple granite slabs and crosses are in stark contrast to the magnificence of British memorials such as Thiepval.

Jhonattan Goncalves, 15, and Zac Opere-Onguende, 16, at Tyne Cot. Picture: Erica Spurrier/EquityJhonattan Goncalves, 15, and Zac Opere-Onguende, 16, at Tyne Cot. Picture: Erica Spurrier/Equity

As well as considering the reasons behind these differences, the students also learned about the individual stories of some of the soldiers buried there.

More than 3,000 students who volunteered to fight lie in the cemetery.

They were killed in October and November 1914 during the First Battle of Ypres, where they came up against the more experienced British soldiers.

It became known as the Kindermord – the “Massacre of the Innocents at Ypres”.

Also commemorated are 6,313 soldiers who were buried in the original cemetery. The known names are inscribed on the oak panels of the “room of honour”.

With the question of the day centring on whether remembrance is more or less important 100 years on, we participated in an art project.

The Coming World Remember Me scheme sees visitors create their own clay models of a figure with its head bowed, featuring a prominent spine to symbolise the strength people can embody in times of adversity.

Our creations will be among 600,000 displayed in a land art installation in Ypres in 2018. This will recognise the 600,000 people who lost their lives in Belgium during the war,

Our final day included a visit to Tyne Cot Cemetery, in Zonnebeke, which is the largest Commonwealth war cemetery in the world in terms of burials.

The name Tyne Cot, or Tyne Cottage, was given to a barn on the Passchendaele-Broodseinde Road by the Northumberland Fusiliers.

It became the centre of five or six German pillboxes.

Between October 6 1917 and the end of March 1918, 343 graves were made on two sides of one of the pillboxes.

But the cemetery was vastly extended after the Armistice when remains were brought over from the battlefields of Passchendaele and Langemark and small burial grounds.

It now remembers 11,956 Commonwealth soldiers who were buried or commemorated in Tyne Cot, with 8,369 unidentified.

The memorial also commemorates almost 35,000 men from the UK and New Zealand, who died in the Ypres Salient after August 16 1917 and who do not have known graves.

The young people and their teachers were given time to take in the grand architecture, while some also looked for the graves of soldiers connected to their schools or areas.

Our visit to Tyne Cot ended in a few moments of reflection, befitting the sorrow and message of remembrance emitted by the cemetery.

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