This year’s Frome College Battlefields of the First World War tour ran between 12 - 15 June. A report by Roland Hurrell, leader of Battlefields Trip below.

"As usual we visited sites in Flanders Belgium and The Somme France. 41 students did a whistle stop tour of significant areas of these battlefields including cemeteries, tunnels, trench lines, mine craters and memorials.  2016 marks the centenary of the infamous Battle of the Somme. On the 1 July and for a further 3 months, the British and the French armies battled to push the German forces back and end the war.

For the British army, the first day of The Battle of the Somme has gone down in history as the one with the greatest loss of life. Lions led by donkeys? 20,000 died and 60,000 were casualties….

As part of our focus on this 100 year anniversary, one of our Year 9 students, Jago Paton, visited the grave of his relation John (always known as Jack) Alexander Hellard who is buried at Serre Cemetery No2 – the largest of the Somme graveyards. He was from Stogumber in Somerset and served in the 1ST battalion Somerset Light Infantry.

The story of 2nd Lieutenant Hellard’s death will not be dissimilar to many brave men who died in that battle. The letters and reports (given to Mr Hurrell by Jago’s family) read out to the Battlefielders, tell how on 2 July this well-loved officer led his men in attack through 3 German trench lines and barbed wire fields, only to be shot dead just in front of the fourth German trench line. He was 34.

 

Jago and many other students walked through the cemetery searching for the grave of John Hellard. Once there Jago had some quiet time just alone in the graveyard beside the grave. He brought back a beautifully scented yellow rose from in front of his relation’s grave.

 

Another focus based around the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme was linked to Tamsin Thomas of the College Art department. Her family were from a very small Welsh speaking village in North Wales. As a child she was always intrigued that amongst the long line of her family’s slate gravestones in the little village graveyard was an empty grave. This grave is in memory of 21 year old Private William T. Jones 21569 of the 3rd Welsh Battalion - a great uncle of hers who never returned – nor has any known grave - Missing in action.  Tamsin showed the students photos of her family graves and talked about the small village and simple farming life of her family to help provide background to this visit. 

Mametz Wood was the site of an attack launched by the concentrated Welsh battalions on 7 July. Private Jones was lost on that day. His name appears on The Thiepval Memorial to the missing, alongside another 72,000 men there who have no known grave. Tamsin found his name on a panel there amongst the very many Jones’ (as had her two children Fin and Sol on previous battlefield tours.)

Mametz Wood was a killing field. The German machine guns did their work and wiped out the flower of Welsh youth. We visited the site of the action – the wood is still very much there - and stood on the battlefield, probably only metres away from where Private Jones died.

There is a wonderful red Welsh dragon monument down that isolated, single track, dead end country lane. It is raised above the battlefield site - a sentinel standing forever guard over its people beneath its feet. It was still and silent apart from the sweet song of the lark above. Tamsin brought a Welsh poppy from her family’s graveyard in North Wales to lay there in memory.

She returned with a blood red poppy picked there in Mametz Wood to place on Private Thomas’ empty grave in her family village."

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