The first government-funded school trip to World War One sites in Belgium and northern France has taken place.
Over the next five years 12,000 children will participate in the tour – one of the flagship projects of Britain’s World War One commemorations.
The first group of children were drawn from schools across east London and Essex.
They spent four days learning about the many thousands of young soldiers who lost their lives fighting in the Great War.
“I think the whole point of it is to deepen young people’s understanding of the First World War,” said Stuart Wood, executive director of the First World War Centenary Battlefield Tour Programme.
“It is really to give young people a much deeper understanding of the war, and its conduct and its significance and its legacy.
“It is not about us telling children everything there is about the war. There is an element of us telling them what happened and the significance of it, but it is for them to discover it for themselves.”
Each comprehensive school in the country may select two children to travel with a teacher on the trip.
They are encouraged to research the history of local soldiers or relatives and then follow the story to the battlefields of the Western Front.
Lucy Goodyear was one of the teachers on the inaugural trip.
She said: “It brings a whole new element to it. You can talk about battle and you can talk about the fact that trenches were close together and there was a huge loss of life over a small piece of land.
“But to actually stand there and see it, it really shows it to them in a different way – makes it much more real.
“They’ve really been amazed and staggered by everything they’ve seen, particularly the scale of the death and destruction that they’ve seen and they’ve found some really personal local stories that have really brought it home for them.”
The tour takes the children to the cemeteries of Tyne Cot and Lijssenthoek, to the nightly “Last Post Ceremony” underneath the great Menin Gate in Ypres and the huge memorial to the Battle of the Somme at Thiepval in France.
“I’ve always known that it was bad, but I’ve never really thought about it this deeply until coming here,” said 13-year-old Fatiha Chowdhray.
“Unbelievable… The amount of numbers we’re seeing at all cemeteries,” said 14-year-old Jordan Mott.
The trips will continue until 2018.
:: As part of the centenary commemorations, Sky News will be sending a daily tweet reflecting the progress of the conflict.
:: The first tweet will be published on June 28, 2014, to mark 100 years since the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo.
:: To follow the feed over the next four years, follow @SkyNewsWW1 on Twitter.
20 May 2014 | 1:42 am – Source: orange.co.uk