Sitting at home with my feet up I can relax and look back, not just on this year’s Battlefields Trip, but on the previous 7 that I have been privileged to either attend or lead.

Mercat Tours International don’t call this a trip, It’s a Battlefields Experience, it’s certainly not a school trip nor a holiday. It’s an experience for pupils and staff alike, and no matter how many times staff members take part we learn something new each and every year. For our pupils this experience is multifaceted, there is the history of World War One, there are the personal stories of the soldiers who died, there are stories of great courage and self sacrifice, it is also made very plain that war is a madness which could and should be avoided, our young people get this message, which gives me hope for the future.
We as teachers watch 70 odd quite young pupils, many of them away from home on their own for the first time, they arrive perhaps with one friend on the trip, sometimes none, they are anxious at first then new friendships develop, they gel as a group, they become A Company or B Company, grow in confidence with each passing and often make long and lasting friendships. This is one of the most rewarding aspects of being a teacher.

The Battlefields Experience is truly Inter Disciplinary Learning, there is History naturally, Music, (by now no doubt you parents are aware of this), Technology, Poetry, Literature, Geography, Art, Languages, Mathematics, Science and Technology.

Some of you may be aware that this is my last trip with Dunblane High School as a teacher, however no one is irreplaceable and the trip will go from strength to strength under the new Commanding Officer, Mrs Smith and her second in Command, Mr Denny, there is also a very good support team of experienced teachers who return year after year.

For myself the Battlefields Experience which started with the “4th Pals” and ended with the “11th Pals” has probably been the highlight of my teaching career, I’ve been in Belgium and France with something approaching 550 pupils, each and every one of these has benefited greatly from the experience and many, now in their mid to late 20’s, still stop me in the High Street and reminisce about their trip.

I’ve many people to thank for making this experience for me what it has been, obviously Mrs Smith and Mr Denny, the Mercat Tours International Guides these wonderful people bring the dead to life, also Bibby’s coach drivers who’s driving skills are second to none, as is their route knowledge, but more importantly their interest in the subject makes them a second guide on each coach.

So 8 trips, and if you’ll pardon the pun, it’s been a blast.

Goodbye-ee! Goodbye-ee!
Wipe the tear, baby dear, from your eye-ee.
Though it’s hard to part I know, (I know)
I’ll be tickled to death to go!
Don’t cry-ee, don’t sigh-ee,
There’s a silver lining in the sky-ee!
Bonsoir old thing, cheerio, chin-chin,
Nah-poo, toodle-oo, goodbye-ee!

Day 3 Remembrance

Another early start for the Pals.

Essex Farm where Colonel John McCrae wrote the famous poem In Flanders Fields, and the final resting place of the youngest British soldier to die on the Western Front Private Valentine “Joe” Strudwick who was only 15 when he died.

Poelcappelle Cemetery where we picked the grave of an unknown soldier and tried to imagine who he was, what did he look like, was he good at football? In this cemetery 6 thousand of the 7 thousand graves the graves are unknown.

There followed a march from Crest Farm to Tyne Cott the largest British Cemetery on the Western Front in contrast was the very somber German cemetery at Langemarck where there are around 40 thousand buried in mass graves.

After this visit we had some R&R in Ypres where a vast amount of chocolate was consumed!

This evening we attended the Menin Gate Ceremony followed by two very moving private ceremonies in Perth Cemetery and Polygon Wood.

Day 2 Monumental.

What a day that was!

Reveille at 0600 and off to the Somme at 0745.

First visit was to a very busy Newfoundland Park where we learned of the tragic fate of the Newfoundland Regiment decimated in the first few hours of the battle.

At Y Ravine cemetery Murdo Glen paid his respects to his great great Uncle L/Cpl J Milne and the company piper Rory McDonald played a lament at his graveside.

We saw the very impressive 51st Highland Divisional monument and heard the story of how the Black Watch captured Y ravine after months of fighting.

Thiepval Memorial really reinforced the word of the day where over 70 thousand names of the missing of the Somme are listed.

Lochnagar Crater was immense here a huge mine was blown during the Somme battle, unfortunately the Germans got wind of this and withdrew from the area until after the explosion and many lives were lost in the ensuing fighting.

At Brown’s Copse we paid repects to the relations of Alex Brimlow of B company and Donald Sinclair of A Company

Day 1 Incredible.

Incredible is the word to describe today.

An early start 0500 BST after a very calm and relaxing North Sea crossing and fueled by a very hearty breakfast, it was straight to Messines for a very busy day.

Both companies visited Spanbroekmolen mine crater, one of 21 mines due to be exploded at the start of the Battle of Messines, we learned that on the morning only 19 of the mines were blown and one further exploded during a thunderstorm in the 1950’s one mine is still unaccounted for.

Both companies then visited Messines church where the crypt was used as a casualty clearing station during the war and we heard that Adolph Hitler was treated for his wounds at one point.

Company B visited Black Watch memorial at Polygon Wood.

Lunch at the excellent Hooge Crater Museum was followed by a trip to Hill62 and the Sanctuary Wood trenches which are probably the best preserved trenches in the Ypres salient.

Company A visited Hill 60 while Company B paid their respects to a relation of Rhys Gibb, L/Cpl J McCoubrey of the Royal Irish Rifles who died on the 2nd June 1917 who is buried in Pond Farm Cemetery.

Call to arms

The 11th Dunblane pals are ordered to report at DHS for service overseas at 0830 hrs on Monday 13th May, recruits must bring all kit with them that they will require for the duration of the deployment.

Monday departure

The coaches will be leaving school at 09:30 prompt, owing to the drivers hours and the fact that we need to be in Hull in time for the ferry we will not be able to wait for any stragglers. Please aim to be at school no later than 08:30.

Parking will be extremely limited on Monday morning therefore parents are asked to consider parking outwith the school grounds in Highfields and walking down the lane or alternatively using the over-spill at the back of the school although again spaces here are limited. Please adhere to the instructions of parking marshals who will be in attendance.

Remember your child will require three bags/cases for the trip, the main large case will contain everything they require for a week away from home this will be placed in the hold of the coach and will not be available to your child until we reach the hostel on Tuesday afternoon. A second smaller rucksack sized bag with everything they will require for the overnight ferry including any medication, this will be kept in the coach with your child, you may wish to pack a bottle of water in the rucksack for the journey, but please no sweets and fizzy drinks. A third small bag with wellies again this will be stored in the hold of the coach.

Towels are supplied on the ferry but not in the hostel so your child will need a bath-towel and hand-towel in their case. .

As we have a couple of children with severe nut allergies we ask that no nut products are packed, or purchased throughout the trip.

Bus allocation is as previously published and please note pupils have been allocated to coaches in their S1 PSR classes although there are a couple of changes and those pupils involved have been informed.

Pupils will be given a small sum of money towards a meal on the road to Hull and on the road home, but they will need a small amount of Sterling for both journeys around £15 to £20 in total.

Can we also remind you that your child should not bring expensive electronic equipment such as tablets, laptops, portable DVD players, games consoles and so on, however a mobile phone and/or a camera are highly recommended.

Pupils should arrive at school on Monday morning wearing their battlefields hoodies, there is no need for any other items of school uniform. Please ensure that footwear is suitable for walking on country roads and parks.

Don’t forget to pack your wellies!


Please note, Battlefields Hoodies should not be worn until the morning we depart, there have been a few pupils wearing these to school and also out and about in Dunblane over the last few weeks.

Hoodies MUST be worn to school on the morning of the 13th May and at all times when travelling.

Passports, EHICs and Money

Reminder that all passports and EHICs must be handed into school as soon as possible, remember if you do not produce a valid passport your child will not be allowed on the coach, your child must also have a valid EHIC card and/or travel and health insurance.

Pupils on Coach A should hand their passports into Mr Denny in Social Subjects and Coach B to Mrs Sutherland in Science.

Monies in a sealed envelope with the child’s name and full amount should also be handed in at this time, you can opt to give your child their money to take with them but staff cannot be held responsible for any loss, last year we had one pupil who left his wallet with all of his trip money at Gretna Services on the way out!


We have several pupils travelling on the trip who have severe nut allergies, and can suffer reactions even by touching nut products.

We therefore request that no nut products or food items containing nuts are either packed or purchased during the trip

Can you impress upon your daughter/son the importance of adhering to this request.

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