Two of our pupils, Paige Rosie and Erin MacGregor, along with Miss Morrison, History Dept, have spent the last few days representing our school and their country at a series of events held in France to commemorate The Battle of Arras, which began on April 19th 1917. In the thirty-nine days which followed an average of four thousand men were either killed, wounded or went missing per day – making this an even more devastating battle to human life than the Somme.
The battle saw a huge number of Scottish soldiers involved and our pupils, along with seventy others, were chosen to represent the diverse regions of Scotland from which the men came. Our pupils were selected through a written application detailing why they should go, which was then sent to another selection panel which chose students to represent Highland; a superb achievement for our girls.
The packed itinerary for the visit sees the group visit the Somme, Arras and finally sites in Belgium before heading home to the UK. Today they met and spoke with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon who was in France to join the commemorations on behalf of The Scottish Government. You can follow their progress and see some wonderful photos of their experiences by visiting the Wick High School History Twitter account or by searching for the Twitter handle @WickHighHistory.
The girls have also been keeping a diary each day and have kindly agreed for them to be published below along with some superb photographs which they took.
Erin: When we first went to Lochnagar Crater I was shocked, surprised, and lost for words. I didn’t really know what to expect, but seeing that made me take a deep breath. Then we saw the unexplored shells and I was amazed and fascinated by them.
Paige: seeing Lochnagar today really surprised me because of how big the crater was. I didn’t expect it to be that big. It was hard to get my head around the fact that I was standing where brave soldiers stood. I felt honoured to be walking in their footsteps.
Erin: Seeing all the gravestones and hearing the different stories made me understand how devastated the soldiers’ families were when they heard about their husbands, sons, fathers or brothers dying in the war. It really opened my eyes to the different sacrifices the soldiers made, like Harry Webber who was sixty seven and fought for his country alongside his two sons, which makes me think how amazing each and every soldier was and all their unique stories.
Paige: The Dartmoor Cemetery had so many stories that I know I’ll never forget. Knowing about these individuals and what happened to them really moved me. It made me proud to know that they fought for our future. Overall it made me feel sad and sympathetic and proud about what they did and why. However, John Joseph Sweeny’s story about being executed for cowardice after suffering from shell shock and abandoning his post made our hearts break.
Erin: Going to Thiepval Memorial made my heart break. Seeing all the names up on the memorial was awful, but at the same time proud of our ancestors and how brave, fantastic and unique they were. It opened my mind as well and I was fascinated by every name.
Paige: seeing all the names on the memorial today made me realise how many brace men fought for us and we’re never found. The scale of the building was not what I expected because it was massive. I would love to find out more about amazing soldiers who won the Victoria Cross. I was really moved seeing the Thiepval Memorial.
Erin: when we went to Newfoundland Park, I did not expect to see and do what we saw and did. Going through the trenches, my hands were shaking knowing we were in the footsteps of British soldiers. Then going past Danger Tree in No Man’s Land made me realise how he soldiers acted in different situations. When we went to Y Ravine Cemetery, I felt emotional seeing so many unknown graves with the inscription, “Known Unto God”. The number of shared graves – where two or more men were buried together – was also really sad to see
Paige: here we walked along the trenches that our ancestors once walked. It was an eye opening experience to see what they stayed in and how close they were to the enemy. We listened to a breath taking speech about the 51st Division, and it brought a tear to my eye. I had never been so proud to be Scottish.
Erin: overall I enjoyed it greatly, from meeting different people my age to the stops to see the sites to singing war songs on the bus. I was really nervous at he start but I am grateful to be on this trip and excited for the next couple of days.
Paige: today was one of the most interesting days of my life. It was a day I will never forget. Today was so full of information and I can’t wait to learn more. I am so grateful for what those soldiers did to ensure a future and our freedom. Today was an amazing experience.
Arras Memorial Service
Erin: at the memorial service my first thoughts when I saw the building was “wow! Such a beautiful building”. Once we got into the building, I saw the gravestones and I was taken aback by the amount of graves there was. Hearing the minister speaking about different topics made me open my mind, all through to laying the poppies on different graves was probably the hardest part of the memorial service.
Paige: the memorial was so moving I couldn’t take my eyes off it. I felt so honoured to be part of something that amazing. It was so interesting seeing the three graves and understanding the connections to people from our bus. Everything about the memorial was perfect and the best way to commemorate our soldiers.