Our history trip began by a visit to Brussels. We were allowed one hour to get a quick snack and visit the various sites. Most of us, if not all of us, were amazed by the wonderful architecture of the main square. We finished our tour of Brussels with a visit to a military museum where we saw army uniforms from World War I as well as tanks, aeroplanes, field guns, grenades and a torpedo from a u-boat. This was an excellent start to an excellent trip. We also saw how animals played their part in World War I: they carried messages, ammunition and medical supplies. It was fascinating to see how “man’s best friend” helped him during the war. At the end of the day, we visited the town of Ipres (previously called Ypres) which had been destroyed during the war but has since been rebuilt. Here we attended a commemoration service to remember all those who had died during the war at the three battles that had taken place at Ipres. It was a very solemn ceremony during which a wreath was laid at a commemoration plaque.
Probably one of the best experiences I had while on the trip was the platoon walk. This we did on the second day and it was great craic. It began by a visit to an old manor house which had been converted into a museum based on World War I. Part of this museum contained a replica of a bunker used during the war, which we all explored in great detail. The platoon walk began shortly after the platoon walk finished. Firstly, we dressed up like the ANZAC soldiers of World War I, carrying guns, wearing helmets, a back-pack and supplies. Two of us were medics and therefore didn’t carry any guns but a stretcher instead. We began by eating the food eaten by the ANZAC soldiers before going into battle: a half-cup of water and a bowl of corn-beef mixed in with vegetables (it tasted a bit like vegetable soup). After this we began our march. We followed the route taken by the ANZAC soldiers in 1917 on their way to the Battle of Passchendale. Along the way we practised formation, throwing grenades and carrying people on the stretcher. The march ended when we reached the battle-site. It was hard to believe that we were standing on a site where a battle was fought in 1917. Beside the battle-site was the largest Commonwealth War Grave, all we could see before was row after row of graves. There were 12,000 to be precise. It was hard to believe that there was actually a body under each grave. As well as this, there was a commemoration wall that had 55,000 names of soldiers who had died during the war but their bodies have not yet been found. The next day we returned here to place a stone, from County Monaghan, beside the grave of a soldier, from County Monaghan, who died in World War I, in accordance with a Jewish custom.
On Thursday we took a tour of the historic World War I sites of Belgium. During this tour we encountered many graveyards. Most of us were shocked at the sheer number of graveyards, as well as the number of graves in each graveyard. We visited an old trench and walked around it. Anyone that was tall had to duck so that their head didn’t stick out over the trench! Along the tour we visited numerous memorials that were built to commemorate all the dead soldiers of the war, included in this was a round tower that was built to commemorate all the Irishmen that had died during the war.
On the last day, we visited a museum that had been built around a monument that had been built to commemorate all the Flemish speaking Belgians that died during the war. This museum depicted what life was like for the Belgians during World War I.
The trip ended with a well-deserved trip to the historic city of Bruge after a long and enjoyable, yet tiring trip to Belgium. Of course this trip wouldn’t have been possible if it hadn’t been for the Peace III fund which funded the entire history trip. The whole aim of Peace III is to get people from both sides of the community to work together. This definitely happened during the project and I’m almost certain that some of us have made friends for life.