In Flanders Fields

Visit Flanders offers some advice for making the most of a First World War battlefield tour

Significant investment in Flanders in the run-up to the 2014-2018 Centenary Commemorations and an ongoing programme of events and exhibitions means that the area has more to offer pupils than ever before in their experience of WWI cultural heritage.  

With the number of annual tourists visiting West Flanders almost doubling from 415,000 to 800,000 in 2014, the investment means visitors now benefit from interactive displays, improved accessibility for visitors with disabilities and access and numerous quality educational initiatives. But on time-pressured tours, typically of just two to five days, how can teachers make sure that students make the most of this often once in a lifetime opportunity? 

Emma Carney, Head of History at Kings High School, Warwick explains that the sheer volume of ‘must-visit’ sites in the area is remarkable: “I have been lucky enough to visit the wonderful and incredibly historical region of Flanders for the past eight years as a leader of numerous school visits. Both my previous students at Thomas Telford in Shropshire and my current girls at King’s High Warwick, adore these trips. They gain so much from being immersed in such an evocative landscape. From the beautiful town of Ypres to the trenches and cemeteries of Lijssenthoek, Passchendaele and Langemarck, this is a place of great warmth, yet it remains tinged with the marks of tragedy, bitter conflict and human lives lost. These fields have witnessed incredible bloodshed yet the resilience of the people and their settlements remain. It is a truly unforgettable place and I would recommend it to any teacher of History, English or indeed anyone with a great respect for the past and the determination to overcome such obstacles with great fortitude.” 

Flanders offers many historical sites to visit

With so many historical sites to consider, teachers must be selective to ensure that children are able to take full advantage of the cross-curricular learning potential on offer.  From gaining a first-hand understanding of the tragic influences of the War Poets to lessons into politics and insights into significant events in history, the landscape of Belgium has much to offer a range of subjects.  Fortunately, thanks to technology, there are many learning resources available to teachers and students these days, from websites to apps, films and touchstone, all of these tools serve to reinforce classroom studies and support the valuable experiences gained on tours to the First World War battlefields. 

The current programme of commemorative events occurring across key WWI battlefield sites in West Flanders is enabling students to understand experiences in the trenches and the sheer scale of human sacrifice at profound levels.  For instance, the ‘COMINGWORLDREMEMBERME’ art project, allows visitors to Flanders to participate in workshops where they can make one of 600,000 sculptures out of clay: one for every victim of the First World War in Belgium.  Each sculpture will be marked with the name of a soldier killed in battle and in the spring of 2018, the installation will be mounted in the frontline around Ypres, placed between two large works by the artist Koen Vanmechelen as a lasting tribute from our times. 

Gill Harvey, general manager of the School Travel Forum, says: “Our members organise over 3,500 school trips to the WW1 areas of Belgium and Northern France each year. Their local knowledge and detailed itinerary planning aligned to the current curriculum is essential to the success of a visit.” Visit https://www.schooltravelforum.com for a list of LOtC quality badged school tour operators. 

VISITFLANDERS’ new Educational Guide highlights key historical sites to consider, the educational resources available and offers general advice for all teachers planning to undertake a First World War battlefields tour with their students as part of the centenary commemoration.

In a hurry? top places to visit:

  • In Flanders Fields Museum
  • Menin Gate
  • Tyne Cot Cemetery
  • Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery
  • Veurne Town Hall, Belgian Army HQ
  • Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 (MMP 17)
  • Yser Tower Museum 

www.flandersfields1418.com 

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