Blog Familiarisation Trip – Ypres & Flanders Fields

At the end of August, my colleague Sylwia and I left the office to gain a few closer insights into activities and visits that we offer on our Belgium school trip in Flanders – and what a worthwhile experience it was.

Although Sylwia had visited the area before, it was my first time in Flanders and I must admit, World War 1 was a topic I didn’t know too much about when I left. On returning, I’d have no hesitation in recommending a trip like this to anyone, but particularly to students learning about WW1 of course!

It truly was an eye opening, educational and thoroughly fascinating experience for me. There is much to say about each and every visit, but I will do my best to keep this short and sweet.

Day 1

We were picked up early on day 1 by our brilliant drivers from Sharpes of Nottingham and headed down to Dover to catch our P&O ferry crossing to Calais.

After a long day travelling, we had a superb welcome from Simon at the Peace Village Hostel. He showed us around the accommodation which is very well set up for groups with spacious bedrooms sleeping between 4-6 people, restaurant, bar, activity/meeting room and large grounds.

There was time to meet the other guests, talk to some exhibitors about the visits they offer for groups and get plenty of useful info! Dinner was 3 courses and we also got to see a small preview of the Journey’s End play by the MESH Theatre Co. which was excellent.

Day 2

Morning:

After a buffet breakfast at the Peace Village, Simon gave us a short presentation with a number of artefacts on display for us to get a closer look. He was more than happy to talk us through what each item was used for and his knowledge and passion was immediately evident.

We jumped on the coach and headed out to visit a German trench system at Bayernwald followed by The Pool of Peace, a silent witness to the huge 40-ton explosion that occurred there. Next we were given a sample of some of the walking tours available and saw the Messines ridge Cemetery, the New Zealand Memorial Park & the Island of Ireland Peace Park, each with their own incredible stories. It was then back to the Peace Village for delicious buffet lunch!

Afternoon:

Back on the coach, we went to visit Ration Farm & Kandahar Cemetery where we learned how the medical evacuations worked, following the chain from the battlefields, back the the hospitals. Next was the Chinese Memorial Busseboom where we discovered the roles of the Chinese Labour Corps before heading to Lijssenthoek Cemetery where Simon told us a story of one of the Australian soldiers buried there.  Lastly, before our final dinner at the Peace Village, a cup of tea and walk around Talbot House – the legendary club where soldiers could take time out together, regardless of rank.

Evening:

This evening we went to Ypres for the Last Post Ceremony under the Menin Gate. I was amazed to learn this ceremony has been performed every single evening at 8pm (aside from during WW2) since 1928! On the walls were the names of around 55,000 men who were never found, to see this and know that this was not all of the missing really gave some perspective. The ceremony itself was incredibly moving and thought provoking. We followed this with a little free time exploring Ypres where we took in the beautiful buildings and of course, the chocolate shops!

DAY 3

This morning, after breakfast, we checked out of the Peace Village and headed to the Hooge Crater Museum. On display were some great collections & reconstructions of war scenes, we also had an experience of the trenches.

After this was a visit to the Memorial Museum Passchendale 1917 – where there was so much to see. It’s quite an engaging experience with video presentations, plenty of displays, an excellent walk through of a dug out and trenches.

Next, we had some time at the Tyne Cot Cemetery which is the largest British military cemetery in the world. The names of the missing were originally to be at the Menin Gate, however, they ran out of space and so at the back of Tyne Cot, you can see memorial panels listing around 35,000 more names of those missing since August 1917. This is in addition to some 11,500 graves, the majority of which are unknown.

The experiences of the last 2 days had been quite intense, so we ended the trip on a lighter note with our last visit being Bellewaerde Park. Built on the old grounds of the original Chateau at Hooge is now a hotel, theme park and zoo. We had lunch and were treated to a short tour of some of the animals with a guide. Here we were learned how the park we see today came to be and saw a few “behind the scenes” areas to get a closer look at the animals while learning about how they are looked after – a tour they can offer to school groups!

Finally it was time to board the coach for Calais and make our way home after a fantastic few days.

I can’t stress enough what a great experience this Belgium school trip would be for students and how it would bring  to life their studies!  Although our visit was pretty packed so as to see as much as possible in the short time we had, for groups it would be a little less busy so to allow more time to explore each attraction. Your itinerary can be arranged to ensure visits align with topics of study or what is of particular interest to the group -simply get in touch to plan your visit.

If you’d like some more information or for a quote for your group, please don’t hesitate to contact us! Email: info@theschooltravelcompany.com Phone: 01384398893