VE Day and Reminiscing on the Battlefields

06 May 2020

 

by James Wild

 

Caldicott History, like many history departments, have taken trips to the WWI Battlefields, as well known and much respected educational trip by thousands of schools. As we anticipate VE Day I could not help but recall one such trip I took, along with Mr Summers; History and Music in 2012. In glorious June weather, an intrepid band of musicians and Year 8 boys, along with several of their parents (our ready-made travelling audience), we gave four performances around the Ypres Salient at Talbot House in Poperinghay, Tyne Cott Cemetery, Ypres Cathedral and finally as part of the Last Post Ceremony at Menin Gate. Tyne Cott and Menin Gate both hold the names of Old Caldicotians who lost their lives in this conflict, and to sing in tribute to them at their memorial was a very moving experience for us all.

In contemplating VE Day, it struck me that, although it is a day of celebration, as part of that we should be remembering especially those Old Caldicotians killed in WWII, which started a mere 21 years after the end of ‘The War to End All Wars’. There will be two tributes to honour them on Friday 8 May, one for our current school community at 1100, and one dedicated to our OC community at 1500. Do see these if you can.

Please read a few thoughts here from Mr Summers, or Aitch as many of us know him, as I asked him what are the equivalent cemeteries for WWII?

 

‘To my knowledge there aren’t any WWII British cemeteries in France or Belgium. There are WWII graves in what were already existing WWI cemeteries namely St Sever, Rouen and Boulogne Eastern Cemetery. The vast number of British killed were repatriated during and shortly after WWII. Of course, the Americans have some very big cemeteries in France. The one I’ve visited is at Colleville-Sur-Mer, Normandy – unsurprising really as it overlooks Omaha Beach.’

 

Captain Moore is a veteran of WWII. 75 years ago as a young man of 25 he, like all his comrades, would have been celebrating the formal acceptance by the Allies of Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender of its armed forces on 8 May 1945. What feelings must he have felt on that momentous day; feelings of joy and jubilation, but also feelings of great sorrow for comrades lost in battle. There are not many living today who will have recollections of VE Day 1945, but those who experienced that occasion will, no doubt, recall the sacrifices made then in these dangerous and dark days of the present.  

The transformation from a spotty, truculent post-CE/Scholarship pupil into a quiet and reflective individual is quite something to behold. But that is what happens to such a boy when he is amidst a mass of simple white graves in a war cemetery on the Somme. Over the centuries this pastoral idyll has been witness to some of the most vicious and notorious battles in history from the Hundred Years’ War through to WWI and on to WWII. On our visits there, Caldicott boys who have indulged in a spot of family history have been able to pay their own personal respects at the graveside of a relative who lost his life in the Great War.

To Belgium, and the medieval wool market town of Ypres which was razed to the ground between 1914 and 1917 and which saw not just one battle but three, the last – ‘they called it Passchendaele’ – being the bloodiest of them all. After the war the Cloth Hall and St Martin’s Cathedral were rebuilt and it was here at the cathedral in 2013(?) that our choir and musicians had the privilege to perform in front of the local inhabitants of Ypres. On that same trip, an impromptu unaccompanied anthem was sung in the largest of all WWI cemeteries, Tyne Cot, below the inscription of an OC, James Hargreaves. For some light relief an afternoon concert was given at Talbot House in Poperinge where, during WWI, soldiers were able to get some respite from the Front Line in the form of a proper bed and entertainment. To the delight of the visitors, our choir and musicians were able to recreate an atmosphere of merriment and relaxation. However, the most moving event was Caldicott’s active participation in the Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate. Once again the choir sang an anthem, and boys and colleagues laid wreaths on behalf of the school.

At the moment, the country, like the rest of the world, is in lockdown. What this time has given us is time to reflect and reminisce on things that have happened in the past. A time, to remember those who have played a part – great or small – in our lives. It is also a time to acknowledge those heroes on the front line in the fight against the Coronavirus. Another for whom those words ‘front line’ will have added poignancy is the centenarian Captain Tom Moore who has raised millions of pounds in aid of the NHS.

The above is a collection of memories. Every boy, member of staff and parent who undertook one of these visits between 2000 and 2019 will have his or her own memories. For those who made that first visit it is an anniversary of sorts this year, the 20th. 75 years ago, people were looking back on the preceding five years and remembering the hardships and the heartaches. During that time they no doubt hoped that, in the words of Vera Lynn, they would all meet again some sunny day.

 

Battlefields Trip