Senior History Trip to France and Belgium – James Enright

The Senior History Trip to Belgium began on Saturday the 14th of November, ethos running through our veins, when we left Glenstal at the unholy hour of 12:30 in the morning. We flew from Dublin to Brussels, where we then made our way to our first World War One experience, the Tyne Cot War Memorial. We were struck by the sheer expanse of graves that stretched out in front of us. 11,956 war dead commemorated at Tyne Cot. The endless rows of gravestones paid testament to the desolation caused by WW1. Leaving Tyne Cot, our group of 18 was very somber as the bus brought us to our accommodation.

The mood was soon lightened by the commentary of Eoin O’Loghlen and Luke Lynch however, who found everything in Belgium to be very “Bohemian”. After a meal in the centre of Ypres, we made our way the Menin Gate, where we watched the Last Post ceremony that takes place every evening there to commemorate the missing soldiers of the war. The walls of the memorial itself are inscribed with thousands of names, the names of those died who could be identified. The list of names stretched over the entirety of the Menin Gate, and served as another reminder of the scale of the war. After the Last Post ceremony had finished, the group retired for the evening after a very long day of travel.

The second day of our trip started with a continental breakfast, followed by a trip to the Essex Farm Cemetery. This cemetery, as with Tyne Cot, was characterised by the dignified way in which the dead are remembered. The memorials are neither over or understated, they simply capture the sadness of the loss of human life on such a huge scale. Our group began to understand more deeply the impact of the war. This understanding was then deepened further still when we visited the WW1 museum in Passchendaele. This museum had accurate reconstructions of the trenches, and this, coupled with the damp Belgium weather, allowed us to experience first hand what it would have been like in the trenches of the Western Front. Much to the groups disappointment, our tight schedule had not allowed for morning mass, however we found a compromise after we had visited the Passchendaele museum, by taking a quick visit to the local church. 

The third and final day brought us to France, where we visited the Canadian Memorial at Vimy Ridge. This was the largest of all the memorials we had seen, and it was also unique in that the battle scarred terrain around the monument had been preserved. The tunnels used for communication and operational command during the battle were also preserved. We took part in a guided tour of these tunnels that was very informative, but had to be cut short due to a national minute of silence at midday in memory of those killed and injured in the Paris terrorist attacks. After this we returned to Brussels to catch out flight back to Dublin.

The Senior History Trip to Belgium and France was an enjoyable and moving experience. It has left those who were a part of it deeply affected by the sight the War Memorials and especially the graves of the thousands of men who didn’t see the end of the war, many of them so young that if they stood before us, we would recognise them as our peers. The trip was also light hearted, with certain members of the 6th year class taking every opportunity to entertain. Hopefully, future Glenstal Senior History Trips will be equally as enjoyable and educational.

Many thanks to Ms. Foley for organizing the trip. Thanks also to Felix Ross and Declan O’Rourke for accompanying us and keeping us all on the straight and narrow.

James Enright(6th Year)20151117_6047