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Video: Students visit First World War battlefields to help ‘keep the legacy’

PUBLISHED: 12:22 17 February 2015

The group at the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial Park in the Somme. Picture: Erica Spurrier/Equity

The group at the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial Park in the Somme. Picture: Erica Spurrier/Equity

Archant

A curtain was drawn on an era when 111-year-old Harry Patch drew his last breath in 2009.

Teacher Sean Webber with pupils Rithik Sharma and Ghazi Raja, both 15, from Oaks Park High School, in Newbury Park, on the site of the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the SommeTeacher Sean Webber with pupils Rithik Sharma and Ghazi Raja, both 15, from Oaks Park High School, in Newbury Park, on the site of the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme

The veteran had come to represent all his fallen comrades as Britain’s last surviving soldier of the First World War.

His death removed the conflict from living memory, placing the responsibilty of keeping the soldiers’ stories alive firmly on all of our shoulders.

And as part of this act of remembrance, a group of young people travelled to some of the sites where servicemen of all nationalities lost their lives.

Twenty-eight children and 14 teachers visited Ypres and the Somme last week through the First World War Centenary Battlefield Tours Programme, which is offering every English state-funded secondary school the opportunity to learn about the war first-hand, until March 2019.

Pupils Joy Sustituya and Mary Karayel, 16, from Our Lady's Convent High School, in Hackney, making clay figures with Ghazi Raja, 15, from Oaks Park High School, Newbury Park. Picture: Erica Spurrier/EquityPupils Joy Sustituya and Mary Karayel, 16, from Our Lady's Convent High School, in Hackney, making clay figures with Ghazi Raja, 15, from Oaks Park High School, Newbury Park. Picture: Erica Spurrier/Equity

Among them were history teacher Sean Webber, 30, and pupils Rithik Sharma and Ghazi Raja, from Oaks Park High School, in Oaks Lane, Newbury Park.

Rithik, 15, said: “It was unique.

“We looked at all the headstones and each tell a different story.

“I only knew Ghazi before, and Mr Webber, but now I’ve probably made more friends than I have ever had.”

Teacher Geraldine Rimmer, from St Aloysius' College, in Highgate, with Cpl Lee Phillips, at the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial Park, in the Somme, Picture: Erica Spurrier/EquityTeacher Geraldine Rimmer, from St Aloysius' College, in Highgate, with Cpl Lee Phillips, at the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial Park, in the Somme, Picture: Erica Spurrier/Equity

The government-funded programme is provided by the UCL Institute of Education and school tour operator Equity, part of Inspiring Learning.

The students and teachers took in sights such as the Thiepval Memorial and Tyne Cot Cemetery.

They were joined on Saturday by Alison Rose, the British Ambassador to Belgium, who laid a wreath at the Menin Gate.

She said: “These are important occasions for us to remember the sacrifices we have made and help keep that memory afresh.

Teacher Sean Webber, from Oaks Park High School, in Newbury Park, with his clay figure. Picture: Erica Spurrier/EquityTeacher Sean Webber, from Oaks Park High School, in Newbury Park, with his clay figure. Picture: Erica Spurrier/Equity

“Both of my grandfathers fought on the Ypres Salient and never talked about their experiences, like so many. The people who came here were individuals who had stories, families, hopes and dreams; just like these young people.”

For Ghazi, 15, he found the visit to the London Cemetery, in Longueval, France, moving.

“There were all the unmarked graves there and they show the story behind the real story. You don’t realise how big it was.”

The students will share their knowledge in the form of projects for initiative Legacy 110.

Teacher Sam Barker and pupils Vanessa Luong, 14, and Dobromira Ilieva, 15, from Broomfield School, Enfield, with a shell. Picture: Erica Spurrier/EquityTeacher Sam Barker and pupils Vanessa Luong, 14, and Dobromira Ilieva, 15, from Broomfield School, Enfield, with a shell. Picture: Erica Spurrier/Equity

If every pupil on the whole programme delivers one to 110 people, 888, 246 people will have been reached – the number of British and Commonwealth soldiers who died during the war.

Rithik and Ghazi, who have made a video log, will also give form classes a soldier to research and hope to plant a poppy garden.

Rithik said: “We are trying to keep the legacy, remembering the people who fought for our country and other countries in the world to bring peace and harmony.”

Visit centenarybattlefieldtours.org for more on the programme.

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