One of our most popular school trips is to Ypres, in Belgium. This is a great choice of destination for school history and English trips, because it saw some of the most terrible fighting in World War I. The devastating effects of the war inspired a number of soldiers to record their experiences in the form of poetry, one of the most recognisable being In Flanders Fields, which was written 100 years ago this weekend.
This poem was written in Ypres, Belgium, on 3rd May 1915 by Lt. Col. John McCrae, a Canadian soldier serving in the battlefields of Flanders. His friend, Alexis Helmer, was killed on 2nd May 1915. After presiding over his friend’s burial himself, McCrae wrote the poem which would later become so closely associated with remembrance and the First World War.
The first line of the poem talks about the poppies, which “blow between the crosses, row on row”. The poppy had long been associated with war, but now too became an important symbol of remembrance, as a wild flower which quickly grows on disturbed ground, such as that of a newly-dug grave, or a battlefield.
If your students are studying war poetry, why not take them on a school English trip to Ypres? Here, they will be able to visit the location of some of the fiercest fighting of the First World War and can visit Essex Farm, the former dressing station where McCrae wrote In Flanders Fields. They will also be able to visit the museum named after the poem. Housed in the famous Cloth Hall in Ypres, the In Flanders Fields Museum brings World War I to life, emphasising the futility of war.
We can also arrange some fantastic school battlefield tours for history groups. Visiting the locations that they have discussed in class will really bring this period of history to life for your students.