Year 9 students, Jake Taylor and Masen Brown, visited the battlefields in Belgium and northern France over four days last weekend as part of a government programme to commemorate the centenary of the First World War (1914-18). Jake and Masen represented the school as part of a larger group from schools across the North West of England. They earned their places on the visit against stiff competition from other year 9 students by writing letters explaining what the visit would mean to them. Both boys certainly lived up to their letters and they were wonderful ambassadors for the school.

From our base at Ypres, Belgium, we visited preserved battlefield sites, recreated trenches, war memorials and cemeteries in the Ypres/Passchendaele area and in the Somme region of France. The scale of the battles was brought home by war cemeteries such as Tyne Cot at Passchendaele and the Thiepval Memorial to the missing of the Somme which has over 72,000 names engraved on its walls. The expert guides, including currently serving British soldiers, really made the terrain and the soldiers’ experience of the battles come alive for the students.

Jake and Masen were able to do some research into some of the many soldiers (from Bolton) who were involved in the war and they selected two whose grave or memorial inscription they would be able to visit. Jake and Masen are pictured at the Thiepval Memorial, leaving a memorial message by the panel showing the name of Rifleman Samuel Hardman of Bolton, killed in the Battle of the Somme in 1916 and whose remains were lost on the battlefield.

As part of the government programme, the boys are preparing projects to share their experience with the school and the wider community. They are working on art projects – inspired by their visit – and they will be delivering school assemblies in the run up to Remembrance Sunday this November. We may also be able to go into some of our local primary schools and tell younger students about our visit.

This was a one-off opportunity, provided by the government’s centenary programme, and it was an experience that Jake and Masen will never forget. However, again at Easter in 2018, around 50 Sharples History students from years 8 and 9 will be going on our annual school visit to the First World War battlefields. The spirit of commemoration is alive and strong at Sharples School.