Battlefields trip

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A gallery of photographs from the trip are available here:

By Lamiece Shahid

Trying to condense the boundless knowledge I gained over the intense two days is going to be really difficult, but I'll try my best...

Waking up at 3am on Wednesday was probably the only thing I disliked, but by some miracle I was wide awake as soon as I got on the coach at 04:30. The journey to Dover flew by (I probably dozed off at some point) and when we got there, the coach drove on to the ferry.

When we arrived in Calais, we had to travel a bit further and we reached our first destination - a medical graveyard called Lijssenthoek. The sun was shining and the warm weather welcomed us into the strangely peaceful place. We got split into two groups, with a guide each, and then got loaded with information that I couldn't help noting down. A few of the things I learnt were: repatriation means burying someone in their own country, the three types of graveyards are medical (built near a temporary hospital and not planned, so the graves were 'higgledy piggledy'), where a large battle took place and a concentration cemetery (built after the war and made neatly because it was planned). Also out of the 10,000 people buried there, there was only one woman.

After that, we visited some German communication trenches that were remade so people could visit them and see what they were like. Here, we learned more about the Ypres Salient and what life was really like for the men. We had studied this in school, but being there and applying what we were learning to a real life situation was a completely different experience, and one that I'm glad I got to have.

And so we got on the coach again and went to a German cemetery... the difference was very intriguing. While the Allied cemeteries were welcoming and not scary in the slightest way, this one was more sinister and dark - however, my opinion was not negative. Strangely, I liked the aesthetic and found it really sleek with the towering fir trees and the black marble gravestones. But there was something about the stones that no one really noticed until our tour guide pointed it out - one stone had six or more names on them. This inevitably meant that six or more men were crammed into a smallish space, which saddened me a bit, but it wasn’t just that. A bit further down in the graveyard there was a massive hole where countless bodies were just thrown into. Put as a number, this tiny cemetery, which was about a quarter of the size of Lijssenthoek, had four and a half times the amount of men buried in it.

In total, for the rest of the first day and the next, we had about six more places to visit. Two of the ones that stood out most to me were the Loch Nagar crater and the largest Commonwealth cemetery in the world. The cemetery's size was astonishing, and we found out that it started off as a medical one and later got turned into a concentration cemetery. One of the ways that you could tell was that 8,000 out of 12,000 men were unidentified. That is 75%.

The crater was formed by 25 tons of explosives and the scale of it really showed it. We had heard that it was big, but I didn't expect it to be that huge! And the most awe inspiring thing was that it was the product of men's tireless work. They started to make the tunnel from the British trenches leading to underneath a German field fortification; the underground mine began in November 1915 and ended on 1st July 1916.

To be completely honest, I didn't feel sad or happy to leave, because I was basically a dead person - emotions were not worth wasting precious energy on. But we did get to eat McDonald's at about 11pm………