Moving experience for students during trip to battlefields

Tyne Cot Cemetery.
Tyne Cot Cemetery.
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“Every grave had a story to tell and as I stood at the top of the cemetery, it was difficult to get my head around all that these men had experienced.”

This is a quote from Oliver Hawkhead, a Tadcaster Grammar School student, who was afforded a life-changing opportunity to visit the World War One Battlefields and it was an experience he will “never forget” and “cherish” for the rest of his life.

Ollie Hawkhead and Sophie Shooter in a bunker.

Ollie Hawkhead and Sophie Shooter in a bunker.

Ollie and fellow Year nine student Sophie Shooter, together with their history teacher Louise Bland, took advantage of a special programme offered by the Department of Education.

As part of the centenary commemorations of World War One, every state school across the country was given the opportunity for one staff member to accompany two students between the age of 12 to 14 years on a visit to the Battlefields, which was fully funded by the department.

The visit was designed to promote greater understanding and knowledge of the First World War, with a local emphasis, as well as a focus question for each day. The centenary team encouraged some research into particular names before setting off, knowing there would be a connection to a site during the visit.

Mrs Bland said: “We were especially fortunate to be given a copy of ‘E.E. Iredale, The Great War Diary of a Tadcaster Man’ only the day before we undertook our visit.

“This diary has been published by the family to coincide with the centenary of his death, as Edward Iredale died during the Battle of the Somme on August 29, 1916 when he was just 19 years of age.

“The three of us were able to read the diary during the visit and were then able to lay a commemorative cross at his headstone. A large part of the focus of the visit is to bring the message home that behind every headstone is an individual and this certainly proved a moving experience for us all. We were also able to locate the names of a number of other men mentioned in the diaries, including Fred Terry, Edward’s cousin, who is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.”

Following the visit each school is encouraged to undertake the Legacy 110 project.

The idea is that once you return from the visit you share the experience with at least 110 people and therefore the commemoration will reach as many people as died during the war (a bit like Paul Cummins’ poppies).

In response to a request from the television programme Newsround, students from TGS and those from schools in Leeds, Sheffield and Durham were followed around on their Battlefields visit and interviewed by the Newsround team. Apparently this programme will be shown sometime between the week of Monday, June 27 to Saturday, July 2.

“The First World War Centenary Battlefields Tour was a really worthwhile and moving experience for myself and the students and I would encourage all schools to get involved when the opportunity arises,” said Mrs Bland.

‘E.E. Iredale, The Great War Diary of a Tadcaster Man’ was produced by Mark and Jeremy Swinden.

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of the diary, books are available from the reception desk at Tadcaster Grammar School priced £8 each, or by contacting Mark Swinden at swindenmark@sky.com. They are also available from the Chocolate Box on Kirkgate and the Post Office on Stutton Road, both in Tadcaster. All proceeds will be donated to Martin House Children’s Hospice in Boston Spa.