North Shields students pay their respects to war heroes

Norham High School Year 8 pupils Taylor McDonald and Joshua Mainland at the Thievpal Memorial.
Norham High School Year 8 pupils Taylor McDonald and Joshua Mainland at the Thievpal Memorial.

Two students took a poignant trip to pay their respects to war heroes.

Norham High School’s Year 8 pupils Taylor McDonald and Joshua Mainland visited the Western Front to mark the upcoming centenary of the end of the First World War.

Norham High School Year 8 pupils Taylor McDonald and Joshua Mainland visit the Commonwealth war graves.

Norham High School Year 8 pupils Taylor McDonald and Joshua Mainland visit the Commonwealth war graves.

The four-day visit was part of a national, government-backed project to commemorate World War I, called The First World War Centenary Battlefield Tour.

The pair got the chance to contribute to a major art project on the former No Man’s Land frontline around Ypres, which launches this April and will be similar to the Tower of London Poppies project.

It involves 600,000 sculptures, each marking a life lost in battle and each bearing a dogtag linking a lost soldier to a sculptor.

The boys were given the honour of making two sculptures, creating an everlasting link with two named soldiers lost in the Great War.

The tour allowed the pupils to take part in a moving Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ypres and visit Thiepval, the Somme battlefield and the Commonwealth war graves at Tyne Cot Cemetery.

Taylor said: “This has been an experience that will stay with me forever. The Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate was particularly moving.

“I think it is amazing that the town of Ypres has come together every single night since the end of World War I to honour the sacrifice of the British and Commonwealth soldiers, whereas we only carry out formal remembrance once a year.”

Joshua added: “The visit really brought home the scale of the sacrifices that were made and how many young men lost their lives.

“It made me realise how easy the lives of young people are now compared to those teenagers who went to fight and die when they were only a couple of years older than I am.”

Year 8 pupils at Norham High have been studying war literature this year, including poetry by Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Rupert Brooke and Robert McCrae, as well the play Journey’s End, which follows the experiences of two school friends who fight in the war together.

The trip was organised by Norham High School’s head of English David James, who joined the boys on their visit.

He said: “This has been an eye-opening and inspirational trip for us all. I was delighted to be able to accompany the boys and the trip was an exceptional experience for me too.

“We’re now working to share our learning as widely as possible, both in English lessons and in assemblies, so that everyone in school can benefit.”

David Baldwin, executive headteacher, said: “At Norham High School we work hard to bring learning to life, both in and out of the classroom.

“This has been an amazing opportunity and an experience that will enhance our pupils’ understanding of the wider world on so many levels.

“We selected Joshua and Taylor because of their excellent attitude towards learning.

“We knew they’d be great ambassadors for Norham High School overseas and I’m very proud of the dignity and respect they demonstrated throughout their visit.”

The First World War Centenary Battlefield Tour offers two chosen pupils from each state-funded secondary school in England the chance to visit battlefields, memorials and other historical sites in Belgium and northern France, as well as hear the personal stories of soldiers who lost their lives.

The project launched in 2014 to mark the centenary of the start of World War I, and includes learning geared towards the forthcoming commemoration of Armistice Day in November.

To find out more, visit www.centenarybattlefieldtours.org
For more about the Coming World Remember Me installation, visit www.comingworldrememberme.be