In the early hours of Saturday 4th August, fourteen weary eyed parents brought their young person to Hartwell Community Centre and the Young People got on a coach to go to Belgium. This was the culmination of 18 months of planning for Hartwell Scouts to visit the Flanders area and take part in the last post ceremony in its 100th Year Anniversary.
When we got to Ypres we visited a place called “In Flanders Fields Museum.” We received wrist bands which would activate any of the interactive things in the museum. There were also lots of exhibits in the museum, like model mini trenches, which showed you what it was like, videos of what it was like during the war and clothes and weapons from that time.
After this, we visited Sanctuary Wood Museum (Hill 62) which is now one of the few places on the Ypres Salient Battlefields where an original WW1 trench layout can be seen in some semblance of what it might have looked like. Bomb craters still littered the area, some of which could fit 5 Scouts standing up in them, and dark tunnels that seemed to go on forever. The most surprising thing to the Scouts was how shallow the trenches were – rather than being deep, most of the Scouts heads came above the top meaning that the soldiers would have had to spend most of the time crawling through mud.
We then moved on to the Tyne Cot Cemetery where many of the fallen soldiers from the 1st World War are buried. This was an amazing, sombre sight of thousands of pure white, impeccably clean headstones and walls covered in plaques dedicated to the fallen soldiers filled the area, with speakers whispering out the names of those buried in the cemetery. Whilst we were there we found the plaques with the fallen from Northampton and one of the Scouts also found a family members grave.
Our last stop was back to Ypres where we attended the Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate. It was amazing that on a quiet evening several thousand people gathered to pay their respects to those that had fallen and become part of an event that has been going on for 100 years. We all stood to attention as speeches were made and the bugle sounded, then wreaths where laid at the gates steps in respect and honour to those who gave their lives for freedom.
Every Scout that we took away with us behaved and acted with extreme dignity, respect and politeness during their stay in Belgium. Making new friends from other countries, doing activities in strange locations and most of all having fun. The pride I have for those that attended and the memories gained will stay with me and those that attended for a lifetime. I would like to thank all of those that supported the group in its first international trip.
Group Scout Leader