Video: Highgate students visit First World War battlefields to keep soldiers’ stories alive

A curtain was drawn on an era when 111-year-old Harry Patch drew his last breath in 2009.

The veteran had come to represent all his fallen comrades as Britain’s last surviving soldier of the First World War.

His death removed the conflict from living memory, placing the responsibilty of keeping the soldiers’ stories alive firmly on all of our shoulders.

And as part of this act of remembrance, a group of young people travelled to some of the sites where servicemen of all nationalities lost their lives.

Twenty-eight children and 14 teachers visited Ypres and the Somme last week through the First World War Centenary Battlefield Tours Programme, which is offering every English state-funded secondary school the opportunity to learn about the war first-hand, until March 2019.

Among them were head of history Geraldine Rimmer, 54, and pupils Danny Swan and Leon Cresto-Dina, from St Aloysius’ College, in Hornsey Lane, Highgate.

Leon, 15, said: “We’ve seen many cemeteries and graves of young people who sacrificed themselves for our country and it’s been very upsetting, but also inspiring.

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“It makes you put things in perspective and think, would you do that if you were in that position?

“In the London Cemetery, 90 per cent of the graves were unknown, anonymous. These families will never know the truth.”

The government-funded programme is provided by the UCL Institute of Education and school tour operator Equity, part of Inspiring Learning.

The students and teachers took in sights such as the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme and Tyne Cot Cemetery.

Danny, also 15, was struck by some of the stories they were told.

He said: “One guy on July 1 [1916] fired 25,000 bullets, which is two tonnes worth, and to face up against that... The bravery of everyone there was just amazing.”

The group were joined on Saturday by Alison Rose, the British Ambassador to Belgium, who laid a wreath at the Menin Gate.

Leon took part in the Last Post ceremony, saying he was “proud to represent” his school.

He and Danny will now share their knowledge through projects for initiative Legacy 110.

At Thiepval, they traced the names of Capt Bernard Ashworth James and private John Harry Ramsey, two St Aloysius pupils they had believed were killed fighting in the Somme.

Thanks to research facilities at the site’s centre, the pupils discovered a photograph of Bernard, who died aged 22, and information including details of where he lived, in Queen’s Gardens, Paddington.

They hope to create a display to share with their peers and teachers.

Geraldine said: “I think it makes it more personal.

“He would have walked where the English corridors are; he would have walked and sat in those classrooms, because they come from his period.

“It makes it more real.

“It’s a legacy to the school to realise it’s not just a name on a glass window in the school chapel, but it’s somebody.”

Visit for more on the programme.