For Tony Wu, Conor Horrigan, Dylan Woodhouse (all Year 12) and Lucy Tustin (Year 13), travelling to Belgium to attend the Battle of Passchendaele commemorations was an eye opening and memorable experience.
“Having learnt about Passchendaele in class and the toll it had on New Zealand, this was an opportunity for us to actually visit the battlefields and cemeteries. It put into perspective that this is something which actually happened to real people,” says Lucy.
The group won the trip through a national competition run by the Ministry of Education, where they used digital technology to produce a curriculum resource for Year 7 to 10 students about Passchendaele.
Joined by two other winning groups from St Margaret’s College in Christchurch and Rotorua Girls’ High School, the students flew to Europe in October to embark on a 10-day trip that included Belgium, France and the Netherlands. They were accompanied by staff from the Ministry of Education and Student Horizons.
Starting in Paris, the group were treated to some of the city’s sights with a walking tour that included the Notre Dame and Louvre, before heading for Belgium, stopping off at the village of Somme in northern France. It was here that the students visited their first cemetery. “It was quite moving. I would look at the head stones and imagine someone standing there. It was nice to be able to pay our respects,” says Lucy.
It was then on to Belgium, where they spent the majority of their time, exploring the battlefields and bunkers, visiting museums and attending commemorations. “There were many wonderful people that we met which were incredibly knowledgeable and passionate, that helped broaden our own understandings of the war,” says Dylan.
A number of services made up the 100th anniversary commemorations of what is known as New Zealand’s darkest day, and the students had active roles in each. In particular, the opening of the New Zealand memorial gardens where they helped sprinkle water, soil and poppies. The biggest commemoration service was at Tyne Cot Cemetery, where Prince William spoke.
“The services weren’t so much sad, but more peaceful and a nice reflection time. They made everything feel a lot more real and personal, we found ourselves comparing it to our own friends and family and what it would be like if it were to happen now,” says Lucy.
The trip ended with a couple of days spent in Amsterdam.
“We loved Amsterdam. So different to anything we have ever seen before. We went on a canal cruise and a walking tour through the Jewish quarters and museums. The real highlight was visiting the Anne Frank House. It was nice to end the trip learning about other historical events like the Holocaust.
“The trip definitely fulfilled its purpose. It was so cool to be able to go over there and experience how moving it is. Now we can tell others about it and help to continue the remembrance of this significant event,” says Lucy.
“We are immensely grateful for the opportunity we had to get immersed in the history of the Great War and to see the places where that history is wrought into the landscape. Truly, every inch of Belgian soil is inscribed with a wealth of stories, of tragedy and humanity,” says Dylan.