When the Last Post sounded in Ypres a century ago, the uniformed teenagers hearing it were standing in trenches, mourning dead comrades and listening to the whine of gunfire overhead.
This autumn, when the Last Post sounds in Ypres, the uniformed teenagers will be standing at a memorial site, safe in the knowledge that they will soon return home to their classmates and parents.
A new scheme has been launched this week, which will offer thousands of school students and teachers the opportunity to visit the battlefields and war-grave sites of the First World War.
From this year through until 2019, two students and one teacher from every state secondary school in England will be able to take a four-day tour of the battlefield sites of the Western Front.
“World War One is probably one of the most dynamic events in recent British history, in terms of the social change it brought about,” said Simon Bendry, national education coordinator for the First World War Centenary Battlefields Programme, which is being run jointly by London University’s Institute of Education and the experiential-learning organisation Equity.
The tours, which will be funded by a £5.3 million government grant, will visit war-grave sites at Tyne Cot, Neuve Chapelle and the Somme. There will be tours of museums and memorials, culminating in the Last Post ceremony in Ypres. Leaders will encourage students to make links with family members who fought in the war, as well as with French and Belgian soldiers.
“Virtually every family, from all ethnic backgrounds, has a connection with that conflict,” Mr Bendry added. “That takes it beyond those rows and rows of headstones that all look identical, and brings it back to the individual.”
Teachers who go on the tour will be encouraged to discuss lesson ideas with each other, and to consider organising their own tours to the area. Student participants, meanwhile, will be expected to relate their experiences to classmates and to their wider community.
Speaking in support of the scheme, communities secretary Eric Pickles said: “It is our collective duty to educate future generations about the enormous losses suffered because of the First World War, and to keep the memory alive of those who fought for our freedom.”
The launch of the scheme comes after the Warhorse author Michael Morpurgo said children should have to visit the war graves of the First World War in order to learn more about “a critical moment of our times”.
The renowned children's writer told a recent conference that the “education minister in him” would make such visits “obligatory” for all children.
For more information on how to apply, visit: www.ioe.ac.uk/ww1