2018 War History Tour
During the 2018 Easter school holidays St Patrick’s College, for the first time, toured 40 students and five staff through the battlefields and memorials of the Western Front to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. This historic and emotional pilgrimage then spent its final days in the German cities of Dortmund and Dusseldorf, forging close bonds with the local youth communities there.
The German leg of the trip was in honour of Old Collegian Laurie Larmer (SPC 1935-40) who bombed these cities in World War II and has since written letters of remorse to the local mayors. After spending so many days traipsing through the sodden battlefields and cemeteries, to end the tour on a mission of peace completed a wonderful experience for all involved.
College Captain Sam Williams was one of the fortunate few who attended the tour and he offered the following summary to the College/s Anzac Day Assembly.
“Almost an entire century has passed since the conclusion of the First World War, and now our connection to its tragic events are the echoes that still endure in the history of our families, communities and our nation, which we commemorate on Anzac Day. It was this significant milestone and the shining example of the power of reconciliation provided by old boy Laurie Larmer which inspired the inaugural war history tour which visited France, Germany and Belgium over the holidays.
In Europe, as the 40 students who attended the tour discovered, vivid memories of these catastrophic conflicts still endure. Throughout the fields of Northern France and Belgium the scars of the First World War were only thinly veiled by the trappings of modern life. In various locations the ground still bore the physical evidence of intense artillery bombardments and the remnants of the trenches in which Australian and British soldiers lived, fought and died. At important historical sites such as Hill 60 and Vimy Ridge the sheer scale of the devastation was reinforced by the tortured landscape which, scarred by thousands of craters, remain as a chilling testament to the destructive capacity of the mechanised weaponry of the First World War. In such locations it was easy for the imagination to begin to reconstruct the terrifying experiences which soldiers of both sides must have endured.
Despite this, it was the dozens of cemeteries which dotted the landscape that were the more powerful reminder of the tragedy of the First World War. Within the bounds of these shrines to the fallen there was a tangible atmosphere which is difficult to describe. It was as if each cemetery was a window into another world, a world defined by an overwhelming sense of sadness, combined with a sense of peace and serenity. The tragedy of the war was no longer something which required thought or contemplation. Instead it was a something which could be felt and understood intuitively. Several members of the tour had the opportunity to visit the graves of their relatives, which provided a new and far more personal perspective on the human cost of the war.
One of the defining moments of the history tour was the opportunity to participate in a ‘Day as a Digger’ activity in which we had the opportunity to dress as an Australian soldier from the First World War. Marching past the suffocating mud of the Belgian countryside, it was a simple matter to envisage the experiences of the young Australian men who enlisted over 100 years ago. We felt the excitement of the first day in uniform to the discomfort of a sodden uniform after an icy downpour and the panic inducing scramble to equip a gas mask.
The tour’s final days were spent following in the footsteps of college legend Laurie Larmer, who as a bomber pilot in the Second World War bombed numerous German cities during the war. We had the opportunity to visit the historic cities of Dortmund and Dusseldorf, and to engage with members of their communities. These visits highlighted to all the boys that the World Wars were in no way just an Australian or even an Allied tragedy. Instead they were global tragedies in which the people on both sides suffered enormously, the consequences of which still haunt the world today.
As a whole the History Tour was both an educational and transformative experience for all participants. Each and every one of us came away from the battlefields of Europe with a new understanding of the nature of the World Wars and an altered perspective on some of the most significant events in Australian history. Above all, the tour inspired a renewed sense of the value of peace and reconciliation, as well as the importance of striving to create a future in which the horrors of war are never repeated. “
This educational History tour was created in partnership with Latitude Group Travel