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The Calthorpe Park School Battlefields Experience


'The impact will show on students in years to come'

We spoke to Paul Edwards, Group Leader for the annual WW1 Battlefields tour which Calthorpe Park School has been running with Anglia since 2002. Each year they take around 145 year 9 students on 3 coaches for a 3 day tour around Ypres and the Somme. To pull together a tour of this scale is no mean feat and we spoke to Paul about the challenges and rewards of taking a school tour to the Battlefields.

Is this just a History tour?

No. I’m actually a Technology teacher with a passion for history and poetry. We run this as a Citizenship trip and open it up to the whole of Year 9. It’s an integral part of the school calendar and we run it as the ‘Battlefield Experience’.

Why do you choose a tour operator to organise your trip and why choose Anglia?

We were one of the first groups to travel with Anglia and we have travelled with them ever since. We use Anglia because we know they provide financial security and also their organisation is great. We also choose to travel with them because of the quality of the guides – they are just so good.

How do you plan/generate interest for this trip in the school? Is it a regular date in the school diary?

I usually present it to the students in the assembly as near to November 11th as possible for obvious reasons. As this trip runs every year the students already know a lot about it and the uptake is high, it’s usually full in 2 days. I have a reserve list too.

Do you have a consultation visit from Anglia and if so how does it help you?

Alain Chissel, Chairman of Anglia Tours, or a representative guide usually comes to parents’ evening. They will give a presentation and then field a range of questions. Parents like this.

What particular study topics does this support for you and how did the trip facilitate this?

It promotes awareness of citizenship and respect.

Have you applied any of your experiences/ knowledge gained on the trip back in the classroom?

As it’s a Citizenship tour, rather any fixed studies in the classroom, we expect to see the students use what they have learned in their life in general. I believe this trip is something all students should do – it’s bigger than school. The impact of this tour will be evident on students in years to come. 

Why do you choose a fully guided tour?

For the knowledge and enthusiasm of the guides.

Owing to the size of our group we have a number of guides and they are all outstanding. They all offer something different, depending on their respective backgrounds and experiences. The students are spellbound by their knowledge and delivery, the guides have them in the palm of their hand.

They are all experienced and are well aware of the attention span of students. They know just the right time to stop talking and give them time on their own to have a quiet look around.

How do you bring history to life on the trip?

We’ve stopped going to Menin Gate because it’s very busy and the students can’t always see what’s happening. Instead we do our own Last Post ceremony at the cemetery adjacent to our accommodation centre, the Peace Village in Messines. We also do one at Thiepval. Sometimes we take our own bugler but this year the Head of Music came with us and played his violin. Quite often other visitors stop to watch and pay their respects.

We also make a big deal about visiting relatives. The students do their research beforehand and then we send it to the guides about a week before we go so they can modify the itinerary to fit in visits to their graves or memorials. If students don’t have any relatives to research we encourage them to adopt a name from a local war memorial, so that they can find a member of the local community that they can pay their respects to.

The guides are a great help with the logistics of this and will change the itinerary even on the day to make sure we can cover these visits.

What other benefits does having guides on the tour bring?

Around the Battlefields, you never know what will happen with the weather  and Anglia’s guides will help you change your itinerary around so that the conditions don’t really impact on the tour.

Their awareness of health and safety is a big help. Also, although we look after ‘crowd control’ the guides are always keen to muck in and the 14 staff and 6 guides always work as a team.

Do you use our free resource booklet?

Yes we do. I like to give them out at parents evening so they can read up on interesting points before the tour. Also parents like to look at them as they can find out more about what they will be doing whilst they are away.

What were the highlights of the trip for you?

Thiepval is always a highlight for me. I also enjoy visiting Serre, because it’s quiet, peaceful and one of the most evocative and moving places we visit.

Have the students said what their highlights were?

The highlight for students is usually finding a relative. They tend to react in a quiet and thoughtful way. It’s interesting too when they get home and talk to family about it.

What are your top tips to other teachers thinking of taking a guided history tour?

Take an Anglia guided tour, of course! Also, go with the guides’ recommendations, their knowledge is invaluable.

Make it clear early on to students that respectful behaviour is important at cemeteries and memorials.

Talk to your guide about visiting smaller cemeteries, which are less busy.

You can experience bad weather on the battlefields, so be prepared to do a ‘drive by’ if it’s particularly bad. Your guide will help you with this.

I can recommend staying at the Messines Peace Village. The facilities here are great and there are lots of opportunities for down time for your students, which is essential in the evenings after the emotional content of the day. Calthorpe Park was their first school group back in 2006 and we’ve returned year after year. In 2015 we were happy to celebrate bringing them their 100,000th guest.

As a teacher what do you think are the benefits of taking your students on this trip?

Take a look at just some of the comments we received from parents and students from this years’ trip. You can see the real benefits here:

“Thank you so much for organising such an amazing trip. (My daughter) has been showing us pictures and talking about it all over the weekend. All the time and effort you guys and girls have put in really is appreciated. The kids really did have an amazing time. “

“Thank you for all your effort and hard work and that of the team. It's very much appreciated and it's wonderful to see how much our children enjoyed it. Such an important trip for them in so many ways.”

Amazing trip learned so much and appreciate the war a lot more great experience.”

“Thank you so much to everybody involved with this trip. Teachers, guides, coach drivers for keeping the children safe and giving them an experience of a lifetime. I went at their age and remember it clearly. What an amazing experience for our children, they have been so privileged.”

“What an experience! One to be remembered forever.”

“Just to add to the thanks, we really appreciate the time that Paul Edwards and all the other staff have given to take our children on this trip, and the quality of the guides who bring history to life. Such a valuable trip, thank you.”

“Thank you so much Mr Edwards and your incredible team for putting today such an amazing trip. (My son) came home so upbeat and said it was the best school trip ever in so many different ways. He also said the coach drivers were really nice and was blown away by the knowledge of the guides. They were truly inspiring and brought the whole experience to life that will stay with him forever.”

“Mr Edwards and staff I cannot THANKYOU enough for the time and effort you have put into the battlefields trip. James has come home completely buzzing telling us as much as he can about everything. He's has an amazing time and the fact that he found his great grandfathers memorial made it really special for him. Thank you all so much for looking after our children and bringing them home safely to us.”

“What a fabulous 3 days! Our guide was so passionate and knowledgeable, we can't thank him enough.“

“Truly an experience (she) will never forget and I'm sure will draw on as the years go by.“