To organise an overseas educational visit at any time is a hugely challenging operation. To take over 500 students to the First World War battlefield just two months after the Friday the 13th bombings in Paris would seem to be reaching for the impossible.
Yet for the staff and students at The Rawlett School in Tamworth it was a challenge fulfilled and an unforgettable and resounding success. Thirteen coaches and two cars set off in the early hours of a Friday morning through the Euro Tunnel and across Northern France to Ypres, their overnight stop.
A packed itinerary included the site of John McCrae's Field Hospital, known as Essex Farm, near Ypres where 1,200 soldiers were buried of which 120 were unidentified. John McCrae was a Canadian military doctor and artillery commander who wrote 'In Flanders Fields,' one of the most moving poems to emerge from the battlefields.
It contains the lines
'We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.'
They saw the grave of Valentine Joe Strudwick who gave a false date of birth when he enlisted so that he could become an 'under aged' soldier. He was only 14 years at the time. He died in battle exactly one year later- one of the youngest military casualties of the war.
For a number of Rawlett students they had personal reasons for visiting family graves of the fallen. John and Eden Heeler paid tribute (pictured) to the grave of their uncle and great uncle, Jack Twine.
At the end of a packed Saturday visiting many sites and battle scenes the climax was the school's own 30 minute tribute to the victims of The Somme at the famous memorial at Thiepval in Picardy, northern France. Laura Sutherland sang a beautiful rendition of 'In Flanders Fields.' Students and staff laid wreaths in memory of their relatives who perished in battle.
Gracie Radford performed 'The Last Post' beautifully and the ceremony was concluded by a short address from Reverend Stella Wallace Tureen on why these memories must never be forgotten.
The weather during the tour was appalling, bitterly cold with torrential rain. This only reinforced the students' experience of how shocking life in the trenches must have been.
Director of Learning, Judith Scott, summed up the whole adventure by saying: "It was a spectacular trip - very emotional and moving and we are so proud of our students. Their behaviour was exemplary."