Peterborough pupil lays wreath at Belgian First World War memorial

The ceremony
The ceremony
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A Peterborough pupil was chosen to lay a wreath at an emotional cemermony at a Belgian war memorial.

Caitlin Brodie (14) who attends Nene Park Academy, was one of four students chosen to lay a wreath at the Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ypres on Saturday 12th March, as part of the government funded First World War National Centenary Education Programme.

The ceremony, which takes place every single night of the year, is attended by buglers from the Ypres volunteer Fire Brigade, who sound the ‘Last Post’ before a minute’s silence is held to remember those who lost their lives. Caitlin, flanked by a serving soldier, Sgt Philip Brazier, from the British Army, laid a wreath as a mark of respect on behalf of the group, which included 20 schools from across the Midlands and East Anglia who had taken up their free school tour place on the scheme which runs through to spring 2019.

“Laying a wreath at the Menin Gate was a fantastic experience that I’ll never forget,” said Caitlin. “It was an honour, “ she added.

The tribute extended to all the soldiers Caitlin and fellow Nene Park Academy student Flynn Steel (14) had learnt about during the four day tour, including Private William Mark Hillson, who was son of Mr. J. T. and Mrs. E. Hillson, of Orton Waterville, Peterborough and served in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. Private Hillson was killed on 9th October 1917 aged just 21. He is commemorated at Tyne Cot Cemetery in Belgium.

Caitlin and Flynn located Private Hillson’s name on a panel at Tyne Cot Cemetery, the largest Commonwealth war cemetery in the world, with 11,962 headstones and a further 35,000 names on the memorial which surrounds the far end of the cemetery.

The students also visited museums, battlefield sites, memorials and cemeteries including Newfoundland Memorial Park, a preserved battlefield, and the Thiepval Memorial in the Somme, France. Going out to the battlefields and seeing the landscape and the history of the war made it easier for pupils to visualise the scale of the war and the lives lost.

“My students have experienced an amazing tour which gave them opportunities to learn about the stories of individual soldiers as well as looking at the First World War as a whole. They had a chance to empathise with the soldiers who fought in the Great War, to stand on the actual battlefields and to imagine the conditions they must have endured. It was a once in a lifetime trip,” said Hannah Buckley, Head of History at Nene Park Academy.

On their return to school Caitlin and Flynn will embark on a Legacy 110 project. Through this project they will share their experiences of visiting the battlefield sites of the Western Front with the local community. Their projects could include a study of local soldier, the role played by women, the contribution of Commonwealth forces, or even the impact upon sports such as football and rugby.

Legacy 110 is designed to encourage pupils to reach out into their local communities and create a lasting legacy for the First World War Centenary.

In return pupils will receive certificates, badges and the best projects will get national recognition through the First World War Centenary Battlefield Tours Programme website and special events designed to celebrate their achievements.