Pupils tour First World War battlefields
5 Nov 2015
During half term the History Department took 60 Year 11 students on its annual tour of the First World War Battlefields.
The first two days were spent visiting key sites on the Ypres Salient in Belgium, where the British army fought between 1914 and 1918. This year the group visited Talbot House or Toc H for the first time in nine years and one of the most memorable parts of the trip was William Harmer’s superb performance on the same piano that entertained British soldiers in Poperinge during the war.
On the third day the group travelled down to the Somme, the location of the British army’s major offensive in 1916. The students visited sites that have become synonymous with 1 July 1916, the worst day in British military history, such as Newfoundland Park, Thiepval and the Lochnagar Crater. They also managed to fit in seven separate commemorations of pupils’ relatives, which is the most they have done in a single tour. This allowed the tour party to commemorate several more Old Perseans who were buried at the same cemeteries.
On the fourth day the group travelled to Verdun, the location of the titanic struggle between French and German forces in 1916. The story of Colonel Driant’s bravery at the beginning of the battle and the incredible subterranean world at the Via Butte de Vauquois will live long in pupils’ memories. On the fifth and final day they travelled back up to the Somme and were given a tour of Thiepval Woods at Ulster Tower. The elucidating talk given by the guide will have greatly helped students understand the mistakes made by the British army and the strength of their German adversaries at the beginning of the battle.
The tour finished at the Highland Cemetery at Roclincourt, where the tour party commemorated Old Persean Alwyn Macfarlane-Grieve. Alwyn was head boy at The Perse, as were his two brothers, before studying Modern History at Keble College, Oxford. Upon the declaration of war in 1914 he became adjutant of the 3/1st Cambridgeshires and in July 1916 he received a commission, serving in France from November 1916. On Saturday 17 March 1917, whilst serving with the 1/8th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, he was killed at Roclincourt, near Arras, during a trench raid. Alwyn Macfarlane-Grieve was twenty-eight years of age. The Macfarlane Grieve Pavilion at the front of school is a fitting tribute to Alwyn and his brothers, who also served in the First World War.