Collective act of remembrance as hundreds of schoolchildren pay tribute to heroes in planned mass visit to Belgium

Schools prepare for trip to Belgium.
Schools prepare for trip to Belgium.

A convoy of ten coaches will travel from the Bedford area to Belgium next week so that students, teachers and parents can pay their tribute to the war dead.

Children from Wootton Upper, Holywell Middle, Marston Vale Middle, Broadmead Lower, Church End Lower, Lakeview, Cranfield Academy and Wootton Lower will leave in the early

hours of Friday, September 26.

The 440 pupils and 46 adults from the ‘Wootton family of schools’ will visit remembrance sites around Ypres to mark the centenary of the Great War and those lost in subsequent conflicts.

The moving experience will include a visit to Tyne Cot Cemetery, which is the largest commonwealth war grave in the world. Here, 12,000 soldiers are buried there and 33,000 soldiers missing in action around Ypres are listed on a memorial.

The group will attend nearby Essex Farm Cemetery where 1,200 WW1 servicemen are buried or commemorated. Essex Farm is believed to be where, in May 1915, the Canadian Army Doctor and artillery brigade commander Major John McCrae composed his famous poem “In Flanders Fields”.

Students will also visit Hill 60. In 1917 the British tunnelled several miles under the German-held hill and blew the top off it with 450 tons of explosive. The day will end with a Last Post ceremony at Menin Gate – a magnificent archway where 54,000 soldiers missing in action are remembered.

The visit is organised with the help of the travel arm of the Royal British Legion, called Remembrance Travel and will involve children aged eight to 14.

On Tuesday, September 9, the schools gathered at Cranfield War Memorial for a combined tribute. They were joined by four representatives of the Royal British Legion, retired Royal Navy Commander and battlefield tour guide, Tim Stoneman, Mid Beds MP, Nadine Dorries, Mayor of Bedford Borough Dave Hodgson, and Central Beds Council leader, Coun James Jamieson.

Holywell head and co-ordinator of the visit, Peter Haddon, said: “The trip will be a further opportunity for the schools to make a collective act of remembrance with students reflecting on the issues, suffering, sacrifice, destruction and loss.

“Initially it was thought we’d have a small party marking the centenary, but the response from families across the Wootton area was stunning. Meetings have seen the schools packed to overflowing. The support from local politicians has been notable – all taking the time to come over and meet students from the schools.”