By Miss Linsie Donegan, Hill West Primary School
Our journey to France began, very early (5.30am) on a cold, Friday morning in February, where a group of very excited Year 6 children boarded the coach (the executive standard – with a very useful toilet). With a long day of travelling ahead of us, the coach set off as the children waved goodbye to their loved ones, and we headed towards the White Cliffs of Dover, via the M1, with lots of sweets and chocolate to eat and films to watch. Unfortunately, the journey to Dover took a little longer than the expected 4 hours, as we were delayed by an accident on the M1, which led to a closure of the road between three junctions. We were not sure about the scenic route taken by the coach driver, but he later explained that Google Maps does not take into consideration roads that are not suitable for large vehicles like coaches, and miraculously we re-joined the M1 just before the M25. We were very grateful for the toilet on-board, as we didn’t stop for quite some time.
Although we missed our original ferry, the ultra-efficient Miss Clinton liaised with the coach company to ensure that we were able to queue for, and then drive straight onto, the next ferry that was to leave Dover when we arrived. The whole thing from entry to loading only took about 25 minutes. Some of us noticed that the waves outside the harbour looked a little large, but once on board, it did not seem too choppy. We had a fantastic (albeit cold) photograph outside on the deck – 34 children and 4 adults! The children were then excited to explore the ferry and they enjoyed the opportunity to spend some of their Euros on sweets and chocolate. The arcade also proved to be very popular, with Charlotte challenging Mr Lackenby to a Nitro motorbike race (and losing). After about an hour of a wet and windy crossing, the shores of Calais became visible on the horizon and the boat pulled into the harbour. We returned to our coach and watched the hydraulic system raise the front of the boat so that we could drive into France.
Once we had arrived in France, it took around 3 hours to reach Chateau du Broutel in Rue. We were not able to appreciate its true beauty on arrival as darkness had fallen. As we spilled off the coach to look at our impressive surroundings, we were greeted by the enthusiastic instructors from Manor Adventure. Cases were unloaded from the coach and the children went into the dormitories to find their rooms and choose their beds. A fire drill followed before the children walked across to the canteen, where dinner was served. Dinner was a choice of three homemade meals – the Hungarian Goulash was a big favourite. Unfortunately, it was so late that there was no time for any activities, so after dinner the children went back to Normandy, and began to settle down to sleep.
After a great first night, most of us were feeling refreshed after a good night’s sleep. Our first day entailed a tour of the grounds – where we learnt about the role that Chateau Du Broutel played during World War One. The children were able to hold old gas bomb-shells and look at shrapnel dating from WW1. We then headed into Rue, to explore some of the ancient buildings, the local market and to visit a street market, where the children could practise their French whilst buying goods from the stalls. Some children had a well-deserved warm up in the local French coffee shop, tucking into a French hot chocolate, after ordering it in French, whilst others ordered water to take away! We explored other local places. The Chapelle Du Saint Esprit (which is the resting place of some relics from the Saint) had exquisite carvings to decorate parts of the church.
We then visited the local supermarket so that the children could buy items using French money and talk to the people in the shop. We then returned to the Chateau on foot as lunch was waiting for us in the dining room. After lunch, we boarded the coach to visit the Chocolate Factory and its shop. Once there, we thoroughly enjoyed learning about how chocolate is produced and what they make with their chocolate in the factory. A trip to the shop, to treat ourselves and our families, followed. On the evening, the children enjoyed Chateau Olympics – which involved running around and laughing a lot.
Sunday was spent visiting a variety of poignant places of the Battle of the Somme. This was extremely captivating and the children were fascinated with all that they found out about World War One. The first site we visited was the Somme Museum 1916, in Albert. This is a wonderful museum that has been built in the tunnels under the town that are now filled with a huge variety of WW1 artefacts. From uniforms to gun and shells. The children were able to get a real sense of the type of warfare experience during the Somme. There is even a section of the museum that has been built to replicate trench life and how it would feel having the constant bombardment of enemy fire.
Our next stop was the Lochnagar Crater, which is the largest crater created from warfare, in the world. The children were fascinated to learn how the British army used miners to tunnel under enemy trenches in order to open the attack on the first of the Somme. They even discovered a grave of a soldier found only recently and learnt a little about this brave man’s past.
Another stop along the way was The Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial which stands as an important symbol of remembrance and a lasting tribute to all Newfoundlanders who served during the First World War. At the heart of the memorial stands a great bronze caribou (the emblem of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment). Its defiant gaze forever fixed towards its former foe, the caribou stands watch over rolling fields that still lay claim to many men with no known final resting place. Although, very thought-provoking and sombre, the children’s behaviour was exemplary and we all felt proud of them.
Our last evening at the Chateau involved a camp fire, where children sang songs and told stories. This was of course after another delicious dinner which involved snails and frog’s legs! Year 6 continued to be impeccably behaved on our journey home the following day, even as they squeezed in one last visit to the supermarket to buy their own lunch.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in France with Year 6. It was a weekend to treasure for all the children.