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News > School News > WBS Trip to the Battlefields

WBS Trip to the Battlefields

During October half-term the school’s History Department led a trip to the Western Front Battlefields of the First World War
24 Jan 2013
School News
The aim of the trip was to provide students with an insight into the horrors of the Great War, focusing on some of the Old Boys of WBS who tragically died in this conflict. West Buckland School’s community was hit hard by the war with 44 of the 357 young men who served losing their lives.

Day one focused on the Battle of the Somme. Among the officers serving on 1 July 1916 was Hamilton Watts, who found himself as acting A Company Captain within the 16th Battlalion of the Middlesex Regiment. A moving account of Watt’s death was found and read on our visit by Andy Keech, who has two daughters at the School. Andy’s impressive knowledge of the First World War made him an excellent guide during the trip. Watts body was never formally identified after his death but among the grave stones in the cemetery is one of an unknown officer, which could well be that of Watts. He is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial where our group lay the first of five poppy wreaths. Mr Chris Ponder has accompanied both trips and despite his retirement last year he was keen to return a second time and lead the acts of remembrance.

A key discovery during our previous trip was Reginald Stuart Handford, who had been killed following a gas attack in the Ypres Salient in 1916 aged just 20. He is buried at Lijssenthoek Cemetery, where an observant student pulled back the plants at the foot of the stone and discovered the words ‘West Buckland School’. It is a reflection of how dearly the school was remembered by Handford and his family that they chose such an inscription to be made on his grave stone.

The Battle of Passcendaele is another infamous battle of attrition from the First World War. The men who died in this battle are buried at the Tyne Cot Cemetery, the largest British Commonwealth Cemetery in the world with nearly 12,000 graves and the names of 34,000 men whose bodies were never recovered. Among the names on the memorials is Robert James Joint, who died in October 1917. He was a Private in the Honourable Artillery Company and served among the public schools’ pals battalions with Hamilton Watts. As a poppy wreath was laid we reflected on the tragedy of his untimely death at 24.

No trip to the battlefields is complete without a visit to the Menin Gate, where we found West Buckland School has at least two Old Boys among the names on its walls: Edward Southcomb and Sydney Trull. Both men were killed in the Ypres Salient in 1917 and 1915 respectively. During our visits West Buckland School students participated in the famous ceremony, which takes place at 8pm every evening.

In 2008 we chose the youngest two members of the party and this time, we selected two senior school prefects (Louisa Keech and Molly McKinnell), to lay two wreaths on behalf of the school. Within Ypres’ town centre stands St. George’s Church, built by the British to remember those who served.

The walls are filled with brass plaques donated by schools in memory of their past students and it would be fitting for West Buckland School to add their own plaque in the future. This is something that will be looked into as we approach the hundredth anniversary of this conflict. The History Department would like to thank the OWBA for their continued generosity in funding the poppy wreaths laid by the groups in memory of the schools’ Old Boys

Mr C J Allin (Head of History)

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