20 March 2018

Year 8 pupils Taylor McDonald and Joshua Mainland were chosen to experience the moving, four-day visit as part of a national, government-backed project to commemorate World War One, called ‘The First World War Centenary Battlefield Tour.’

As part of the trip, the boys got the chance to contribute to a major art project on the former ‘No Man’s Land’ frontline around Ypres, which launches this April. The installation, called 'Coming World Remember Me' will be similar to the Tower of London Poppies project when complete.

It involves 600,000 sculptures, each marking a life lost in battle and each bearing a dogtag linking a lost soldier to a sculptor. The two boys were given the honour of making two sculptures, creating an everlasting link between themselves and two named soldiers lost in the Great War.

The First World War Centenary Battlefield Tour offers two chosen pupils from each state-funded secondary school in England the chance to visit battlefields, memorials and other historical sites in Belgium and northern France, as well as hear the personal stories of soldiers who lost their lives.

The tour allowed the Norham pupils the chance to take part in a moving Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ypres and experience poignant locations including Thiepval, The Somme battlefield and the vast expanse of Commonwealth war graves at Tyne Cot Cemetery.

The boys will now carry out follow-up work to share their experiences with as many other young people as possible, as well as deliver a community-based commemorative First World War project.

Taylor McDonald said: “This has been an experience that will stay with me forever. The Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate was particularly moving. I think it is amazing that the town of Ypres has come together every single night since the end of World War One to honour the sacrifice of the British and Commonwealth soldiers, whereas we only carry out formal remembrance once a year.”

Joshua Mainland added: “The visit really brought home the scale of the sacrifices that were made and how many young men lost their lives. It made me realise how easy the lives of young people are now, compared to those teenagers who went to fight and die when they were only a couple of years older than I am.”

Year 8 pupils at Norham High School have been studying war literature this year, including war poetry from Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Rupert Brooke and Robert McCrae, as well the play Journey's End, which follows the experiences of two school friends who fight in the war together.

The trip was organised by Norham High School’s Head of English, Mr David James, who joined the boys on their visit. He said: “This has been an eye-opening and inspirational trip for us all. I was delighted to be able to accompany the boys, and the trip was an exceptional experience for me, too.

“We’re now working to share our learning as widely as possible, both in English lessons and in assemblies, so that everyone in school can benefit.”

David Baldwin, Executive Headteacher at Norham High School, said: “At Norham High School we work hard to bring learning to life, both in and out of the classroom. This has been an amazing opportunity and an experience that will enhance our pupils’ understanding of the wider world on so many levels. We selected Joshua and Taylor because of their excellent attitude towards learning. We knew they’d be great ambassadors for Norham High School overseas and I’m very proud of the dignity and respect they demonstrated throughout their visit.”

The government-backed First World War Centenary Battlefield Tour project launched in 2014 to mark the Centenary of the start of World War One, and includes learning geared towards the forthcoming commemoration of Armistice Day in November 2018. To find out more, visit www.centenarybattlefieldtours.org

To find out more about the ‘Coming World Remember Me’ installation, visit www.comingworldrememberme.be