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First World War centenary: Schoolgirl, 14, discovers relative’s name on memorial during battlefields trip

Drapers' Academy student Sian Moynihan Drapers' Academy student Sian Moynihan

Friday, March 14, 2014
9:52 AM

There may now be no living links to the war, but the memory of an ancestor can be enough to feel a connection to their suffering, as one 14-year-old from Gidea Park has found.

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Students visited the trenchesStudents visited the trenches

Sian Moynihan saw her last name on the Thiepval Memorial, France, by chance and has since discovered that a relative is commemorated there.

She said: “I was a little bit shocked. As far as we [the family] knew, we didn’t have anybody in the war.

“But it was nice to find out that we did in that sense.”

Sian, who was visiting the battlefields last month with her school Drapers’ Academy, made the startling discovery after looking through the memorial’s books, where you search for a relative and then find out where their name is placed.

Graves of soldiers who died in the First World WarGraves of soldiers who died in the First World War

Alexander Moynihan was a private from Ireland, who was killed in action on October 17, 1917, at the age of just 25.

It is not known how he is related to Sian, but he originates from her father’s Irish side of the family.

Sian said: “I think he was sent over the frontline and then shot. That’s all we know at the moment.

“But my mum’s trying to find out a little bit more and I would like to know more about what he did and which battalion he was in.”

Sian's relative's name as seen on the Thiepval MemorialSian's relative's name as seen on the Thiepval Memorial

Sian embarked on the three-day visit to France and Belgium with 27 of her fellow Year Nine students and two teachers.

Their first stop was to the trenches in Sanctuary Wood, Flanders, which were made to feel even more real by the ­relentless rain and mud.

Pupil Haroon Butt said: “I found the trenches fascinating, with their dark, small tunnels. It made me feel like I was a soldier.”

The group, who watched the Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate, Ypres, on their first evening, spent their weekend visiting the Thiepval and Tyne Cot memorials.

This was the third year in a row that the school had sent ­pupils to the battlefields.

Demi Killington said: “It was a very interesting trip, where we saw first hand the tragic loss of millions of people. I would say it is the most ­extraordinary place I have ever visited.”

Trip organiser Lisa Little, a history teacher at the school, added: “I was very keen to make sure the trip went ahead this year with it being the 100th ­anniversary.

“It is the largest number of pupils we have taken to the battlefields and they all came away with a memorable experience.

“This visit is important for the pupils in terms of their curriculum and learning the syllabus, but it is also important for them to learn the history of the conflict and have the opportunity to see first-hand the devastation of war.”

For Sian, the visit is one that she will never forget. “It was a fantastic experience; I learnt so much over the three days and loved every minute of it,” she said. “You don’t realise how bad the trenches were until you are actually there.

“It makes me feel really proud to have seen my relative’s name on the memorial.”

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