10 school trip ideas: Flanders battlefield tours

Date Posted: 10/05/2013

Tyne Cot Cemetery, credit VisitFlanders, credit milo-profi photography

Pictured: Tyne Cot Cemetery. (Photo credit: VisitFlanders, milo-profi photography).

There’s no better way of bringing to life the stark realities of World War One than by organising a school trip to the Flanders battlefields.

With the Great War Centenary fast approaching, we travelled to Flanders to find out first-hand about the commemorative programme of special events, attraction openings and new exhibitions taking place up until 2018.

If you’re planning to organise a battlefield tour for your students during the Great War Centenary, here are ten ideas to include in your trip itinerary.

1. The Last Post Ceremony at Menin Gate

Apart from the period during World War Two, the Last Post Ceremony at Menin Gate in Ypres has been observed since 1928.

A moving experience for school groups; each evening at 8pm a hushed crowd gathers beneath the vast arch inscribing the 54,896 names of the soldiers who went missing in action, to hear the buglers perform The Last Post.

2. In Flanders Fields Museum

The newly renovated In Flanders Fields Museum, housed in Ypres’ reconstructed Cloth Hall, offers a host of interactive features designed to engage pupils, including touch screens, video projection and soundscapes.

A personalised poppy bracelet will enable students to uncover a narrative closer to home than they may initially realise, and they can also explore four personal stories through the interactive kiosks.

In Flanders Fields Museum offers an educational package for teachers, available to download from the website.

3. Tyne Cot Cemetery

A trip to Tyne Cot Cemetery - the largest Commonwealth War Graves cemetery in the world - may prove a sobering experience as school groups take in the 12,000 white tombstones amassed here.

Students can ‘march’ to the newly opened visitor’s centre at Tyne Cot Cemetery from the Memorial Museum of Passchendaele as part of an experience-orientated themed walk, ‘The Road to Passchendaele’.

Exhibition at Talbot House, Poperinge.

Pictured: Exhibition at Talbot House, Poperinge. (Photo credit: VisitFlanders).

Wearing military uniform, pupils will learn about the role of the terrain, encountering trenches and bunkers, with a serving of authentic soldier’s food for lunch.

4. The German Military Cemetery, Langemark

Pupils will be struck by the contrast between the neat lines of white headstones at Tyne Cot compared with the simplicity of the mass grave at Langemark.

Behind the monumental entrance building lies about 44,300 soldiers, half of them in a mass grave. Over 3,000 cadets and student volunteers are among the dead, which is why the cemetery is also called Studentenfriedhof.

5. Talbot House ‘Every man’s club’

Located in Poperinge, a visit to Talbot House ‘Every man’s club’ will provide pupils with a good introduction of what life was like behind the front line.

Created as a ‘home-from-home’ where all soldiers were welcome regardless of rank, school visits are supported by a range of learning activities plus worksheets and writing exercises.

View the permanent exhibition which focuses on Poperinge’s role in World War One, before exploring the house itself where you can climb up to the attic room which served as a chapel alter, and encourage a sing-song around the old piano in the canteen.

6. Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery

Follow up a visit to Talbot House with a trip to Lijssenthoek; the largest of the hospital cemeteries which grew up around the casualty clearing stations to the east and west of Poperinge.

The site’s visitor centre will offer some perspective of the large volume of war casualties, charted on a timeline and exemplified by a line-up of 1,392 rust-coloured poles indented to indicate a daily death toll.

Teachers can base their visit around the ‘story of the day’ revealed on a block calendar, showing the day’s date and revealing the name and back-story of a soldier who died on the same day.

IJzer Tower Museum, Diksmuide.

Pictured: IJzer Tower Museum, Diksmuide. (Photo credit: VisitFlanders, milo-profi photography).

7. Veurne Town Hall, Belgian Army HQ

Another town behind the Front Line, Veurne (Furnes) offers insight to the everyday life of both citizens and soldiers during WW1.

An exhibition in the old town hall, formerly used as the headquarters of the Belgian army in 1914, aims to tell the unique, personal and remarkable stories of the townspeople, divided into themes including religion, jurisdiction, diplomacy and medical care.

Of particular relevance to school groups is the section on education, where students can appreciate what it was like to be a school pupil during the war and learn about the temporary schools where they were taught.

8. Vredesmolen (The Peace Mill)

Repairs to the mill at Klerken will offer panoramic views from the top of the windmill and the opportunity for school parties to take in the former front area.

The mill stands on a 43-metre-high hill and was used by the Germans as an observation post when they occupied the village of Klerken in November 1914.

On 28th September 1918, the Belgians launched their final attack on Klerken. The Germans in the mill were surrounded but by the next morning had all disappeared. Legend has it that they made use of an underground tunnel to escape.

9. IJzer Tower Museum

The renovated IJzer Tower Museum at Diksmuide offers something of a sensory experience for schools, revealing the story of the Belgian-German confrontation including the political consequences of the war which led to the Flemish emancipation.

Groups can take in the 84-metre-high view from the top of the tower, scramble through a reconstruction of the dingy trenches, and smell the chloral and mustard gas - the scent of death.

Teachers wishing to extend their visit to Diksmuide can combine a tour of the museum with a trip to the Trench of Death and German military cemetery at Vladslo; just a short coach ride away.

Nieuwpoort Lock complex De Ganzenpoot (Goose foot) copyright milo-profi photography.

Pictured: Gazenpoot (Goose Foot) Lock Complex in Nieuwpoort. (Photo credit: VisitFlanders, milo-profi photography).

10. Gazenpoot (Goose Foot) Lock Complex

Opening in October next year, be one of the first school parties to explore the innovative visitor centre being built on the site of the King Albert Monument, next to the Ganzenpoot (Goose Foot) lock complex in Nieuwpoort

The centre will be dedicated to the flooding of the Yser plain, which stopped the German advance towards the French Channel Ports.

Groups can take in impressive views of the Yser Plain from the top of the King Albert monument, lending some perspective to this historic event.

For further information about organising a Flanders battlefield tour for your school trip, visit www.visitflanders.co.uk.

Teachers will find a host of information about the Great War Centenary - including new attractions, openings, special events and exhibitions taking place over the next four years - at www.greatwarcentenary.be.

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