2 weeks ago I joined Brighton Hill School to follow them on their 3-day journey onto the Battlefields of Belgium and France.
For me at the age of 46 this was a first. Having had little interest in the subject myself in my secondary school years, I will be writing this blog honestly as I found it, what I witnessed in the kids and most importantly for me, the role the History Tour Guides played.
Understanding the reality of war…
At the start of a journey around the battlefields you witness a bunch of kids full of awe and intrigue. Their mood reflecting their age – excited and eager to explore. Day 2 sees that mood move to a more reflective one as the reality of what they are seeing and learning from the Guides starts to take its weight. The battlefield experience, seeing hundreds of graves and hearing personal stories of First World War soldiers starts to sink in.
The reality that the open fields they are trudging across were once the scene of horrific events and battles where young people, many close to their own age fought, shed blood and lost their lives. With intrigue and shock on their faces, they learned that for many the prospect of going to war had been a an exciting one. And then bewilderment when they learned of the horrific reality. How going to war had been glamorised and how most had charged into battle to only be met by their own death.
My eyes were opened.
To say Richard and Trevor’s knowledge of the landscape, the events that took place here and lives of the people who fought is exceptional would not fully do their role justice. They assume sole responsibility for taking students learning and appreciation on a trip to the Battlefields to a whole new level.
Our guides challenged our thinking in every possible way. Yes, we collectively acknowledged the fact that British Cemeteries were pristine and bright which felt like an apt and respectful remembrance of service given to our country. In stark contrast the German Cemetery, visited on a dull and wet day, with dark mass graves, couldn’t help but shift the mood somewhat.
The Guides Challenged Our Thoughts
They wanted us to bear in mind that Germans had been told for years that they were bad bad people. They weren’t. They were innocent young men who did what they were told to do by their leaders. To ultimately meet their death like ours. In mass graves the Germans believe they were buried together for a reason, to be together with their friends. A thought I will be sharing with my own children.
Seeing hundreds of graves can detract from the individuals, but Richard and Trevor always put names and stories to those young men. They make it personal, touching and give you the chance to understand the lives and experiences of those fallen soldiers. Their knowledge is next level. They know the best places to take you off the beaten track, to share tales that are less told, to open the eyes of young children in unimaginable ways.
A trusted network of friends and contacts…
It was clearly evident that Richard and Trevor were extremely well known in the region and held long friendships with business, museum and site owners. I felt privileged to witness the respect they held. In return for their commitment to bringing groups to the region for so many years, they had a built up a network of people who were openly willing to give our groups that bit more. Better access, more privileges, and a welcome you would expect from a long-term friend.
Regardless of age we learned, we changed…
Age was not a barrier on this trip, Age, 13 or 46 we all embarked on a 3-day experience that we will never forget. We learned, we changed, and we challenged our own existing thoughts.
Full credit goes to our Guides for helping us achieve this.
The reality of achieving high quality learning outcomes is that it can only be achieved when engagement levels surpass expectations. There is no doubt that this is the driving passion of a History Tour Guide. For mine and Brighton Hills experience and learning I will be forever grateful to Richard and Trevor.
There’s no doubt I came way from this trip learning more than I ever had in my school years. I travelled back with a fierce desire to revisit with my own children, but also the acknowledgement that I couldn’t even come close to pulling off a similar experience without the support of a History Tour Guide.
No Battlefields tour should be we without one.
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