As we approach the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme next year, it is harder than ever for students, and indeed adults, to empathise with the events and experiences of the First World War. Yet, last weekend, 60 students from Year 11 set out to the battlefields of France and Belgium to attempt to do just that. They walked through green fields which a century ago were strewn with shell craters and bodies, visited cemeteries where they read the epitaphs of people who died before their time and considered the decisions that led to such terrible events. Our guide, Neil Matthews, shared with us his powerful stories of those who fought in the conflict – tales of loss, tragedy and suffering yet sometimes of bravery, humour and hope. The trip always serves as a powerful reminder that while empathy is a challenging skill, it is also a crucial one. It is empathy that allows us to reach a more profound understanding of the past and it is empathy that remains the best hope for a world still struggling to find alternative solutions to war in the reconciliation of human differences.
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