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Youngsters join forces in WW1 burial ceremonies

PUBLISHED: 13:41 11 October 2019 | UPDATED: 16:50 11 October 2019

Soldiers from the Royal Fusiliers bear the coffins at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission's Wytschaete Military Cemetery, near Ypres  Picture: GARETH FULLER / PA WIRE

Soldiers from the Royal Fusiliers bear the coffins at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission's Wytschaete Military Cemetery, near Ypres Picture: GARETH FULLER / PA WIRE

Schoolchildren from Suffolk have taken part in poignant ceremonies in Belgium that saw the burial of Commonwealth and German soldiers from the First World War.

St Joseph's College head boy Wilfred Kemsley leads the choir in singing In Flanders Field at the ceremony  Picture: ST JOSEPH'S COLLEGESt Joseph's College head boy Wilfred Kemsley leads the choir in singing In Flanders Field at the ceremony Picture: ST JOSEPH'S COLLEGE

Pupils from Mildenhall College Academy in Mildenhall and St Joseph's College in Ipswich formed a choir with youngsters from the Gymnasium Theodorianium in Paderborn for the service for the unknown soldiers.

The children sang In Flanders Fields as the remains of 13 Commonwealth servicemen were buried side by side with full military honours by soldiers from the Royal Fusiliers at Wytschaete Military Cemetery near Ypres yesterday (Thursday October 10).

Today they did the same at the reburial service for 125 German soldiers laid to rest at Langemark German war cemetery.

This evening the students from the three schools are due to take part in a special 'In Memoriam' concert at Wytschaete's church.

The students visited the German war cemetery at Langemark as part of the trip  Picture: MILDENHALL COLLEGE ACADEMYThe students visited the German war cemetery at Langemark as part of the trip Picture: MILDENHALL COLLEGE ACADEMY

The schools were invited to perform by Dig Hill 80, a major project excavating the battlefield near Wytschaete.

Daniel Todd of Mildenhall Academy said the two Suffolk schools had developed close ties with the Gymnasium over several years.

In 2014 they were all involved in creating a memorial to the famous Christmas Day Truce, which stands outside the Peace Village in Messines, Belgium.

He said: "We are excited and proud for our students to be asked to take part in such a high profile event.

Mildenhall College Academy history teacher Ed Lowis, left, with pupils Hannah Reid, Maria Buckles, Emily Stokes, and Molly Kent visit the Christmas Day Truce memorial which all of the schools helped erect in 2014.  Picture: MILDENHALL COLLEGE ACADEMYMildenhall College Academy history teacher Ed Lowis, left, with pupils Hannah Reid, Maria Buckles, Emily Stokes, and Molly Kent visit the Christmas Day Truce memorial which all of the schools helped erect in 2014. Picture: MILDENHALL COLLEGE ACADEMY

"We are pleased to continue the links we have with other schools, helping to remember the sacrifices made by soldiers from all over the world during the First World War."

St Joseph's Principal Mrs Danielle Clarke added: "This historic and symbolic event provides a dignified tribute to the fallen who made the ultimate sacrifice.

"Our students participating in this event embody one of the College's key values of respect.

"Their choral and musical involvement reflects a deep-rooted understanding of the historical context, as well as the unifying power of music across different communities and generations.

Father Patrick O'Driscoll, padre of the Royal Fusiliers, leads the burial service at Wytschaete  Military Cemetery  Picture: GARETH FULLER / PA WIREFather Patrick O'Driscoll, padre of the Royal Fusiliers, leads the burial service at Wytschaete Military Cemetery Picture: GARETH FULLER / PA WIRE

"We are proud to be associated with such a significant occasion of remembrance."

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St Joseph's Year 11 student Imogen Cerely said: "The service was the most memorably moving experience I have ever witnessed.

"To pay respect to the fallen of World War One was not only an honour, but also something which I think we owe to each and every one of them."

Soldiers prepare to bury the coffins during the service Picture: GARETH FULLER / PA WIRESoldiers prepare to bury the coffins during the service Picture: GARETH FULLER / PA WIRE

Fellow St Joseph's student Tanaquil Loy Lu added: "The event was extremely impactful in terms of reminding the 21st century of the heroism and the sacrifices of our brave ancestors.

"In an age where courage is often lacking, events such as the reburial is sobering.

"Both world wars, in my opinion, should absolutely be commemorated not only for the sake of remembrance, but also for the courage of future generations."

Hill 80 was the site of a German gun emplacement where many UK and Commonwealth soldiers fell.

Students at the service for the Commonwealth soldiers at Wytschaete Military Ceremony  Picture: ST JOSEPH'S COLLEGEStudents at the service for the Commonwealth soldiers at Wytschaete Military Ceremony Picture: ST JOSEPH'S COLLEGE

It is now due to be developed for housing but Belgian law requires that all battlefields have to be archaeologically excavated first.

Hill 80 changed hands numerous times during the war and the heavy fighting left it unusable for farming but with the benefit of leaving it archaeologically intact.

Dig Hill 80 led a 1.1 hectare crowdfunded archaeological excavation of 550 metres of trenches and 430 bomb craters, with the remains of 110 soldiers - including British, French, German and South African personnel being discovered.

It was highly publicised, attracting international media attention and celebrity patronage from comedian Al Murray and support from military historian Dan Snow.

Caskets containing the remains of German soldiers await burial at Langemark cemetery  Picture: ST JOSEPH'S COLLEGECaskets containing the remains of German soldiers await burial at Langemark cemetery Picture: ST JOSEPH'S COLLEGE

Dig Hill 80 head archaeologist Simon Verdegem said: "It is now about a year since the investigation into the soldiers of Hill 80 was completed.

"Thanks to massive international support from individuals and organisations, enough money was raised through crowdfunding to make a detailed excavation possible.

"The aim was not only to excavate the trenches but also to recover the soldiers. Now, the British and German soldiers will finally be given a definitive and dignified resting place along with their comrades.

"I dare to believe that it gives them peace, knowing that people from all over the world have joined forces to recover their mortal remains.

"In my opinion, this can count as a symbol of peace and reconciliation."

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