SECONDARY school pupils returned home with their views of the world changed forever after a First World War history trip to Belgium and France.

The students, from Gosford Hill School, Kidlington, Bartholomew School, Eynsham, and the North Oxfordshire Academy and Chenderit School, Banbury, embarked on the trip from Friday, February 27 to Monday, March 2 as part of a government-funded initiative.

The First World War Centenary Battlefield Tours Programme runs until 2019 and aims to send two pupils from each state school on a tour of the Western Front.

Forty-eight schools across Oxfordshire are eligible, with 11 signed up so far.

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Participants had an “acclimatisation session” in Kent with other schools from Slough and Twickenham, in which they were given the names of local soldiers and instructed to research them.

The pupils spent a day at memorials around Ypres in Belgium and also travelled to battlefields in France.

Martha Dodson, 13, from Kidlington, a student from Gosford Hill School, managed to track down a former Summertown soldier.

Private Thomas Finch’s name appears on a memorial in the Tyne Cot cemetery in Belgium.

The former bricklayer was born at 18 Thames Street, St Aldate’s in 1883, one of twelve children. He married Emily Hine in November 1907 and they moved to Osberton Road, Summertown.

It is believed he joined the army in 1915, fighting for the Ox and Bucks Light Infantry, 1st Battalion, and was recorded missing at the Battle of Passchendaele in August 1917.

Martha said: “We found that he had a wife as well, and it was really overwhelming. It made me really understand it all and how the soldiers did it out of fear.”

English teacher Kathryn Cooper, who also attended, said: “We found out he was missing and his body was never found but Martha was really interested to research a local soldier and find his name.

“She said that ‘you can take as many pictures as you want but it’s being here that gives you the feeling’.

“I think that is really astute for a 13-year-old girl.”

Martha competed with 50 other students to win a place on the trip.

As part of the application process she wrote a letter explaining that her mixed English and German heritage compelled her to get both sides’ perspectives.

Chenderit School student Rosie Mallory, 15, from Middleton Cheney, was reduced to tears on the trip when she discovered her great-great-grandfather’s grave.

She attended with history teacher Steve Birkett and fellow student Lily Searle, also 15.

Rosie found her relative’s name on the Plooegstert Memorial in Belgium, known to British soldiers at the time as “Plug Street”. Lance Corporal Albert Mallory was killed by sniper fire near the end of the war in September 1918.

Banbury Cake:

Chenderit School student Rosie Mallory, 15, was reduced to tears when she visited the grave of her great-great-grandfather Albert Mallory, pictured. Picture: Cliff Hide.

Rosie lives in Middleton Cheney, near Banbury, with father David and stepmother Danielle.

She is the first family member to have visited and laid a wreath.

She said: “We’d already been to quite a few places and seen thousands of names on graves.

“To see one that belongs to your family is really special. I’m lucky to have heard quite a lot about him, because I know a lot of people don’t have that. My greatgrandfather died last year – I didn’t know I would be going on the trip but I think he would be quite proud now.”

Both Chenderit girls are in Year 10 and currently studying GCSEs.

Rosie added that she is now “sure” she wants to take history A-Level.

Banbury Cake:

A copy of a letter written by Albert Mallory to be delivered only in the event of his death.

The North Oxfordshire Academy sent teacher Michelle Woollard and students Megan Benham and Amber Sumner, both 17.

They were joined by Bartholomew School’s head of history Dr Peter Ingram and students Saul Montagu and Daisy Leach, both 15.

Saul found his great-greatuncle’s grave in Tyne Cot Cemetery, Belgium.

Richard Hedley Montagu, of the Hampshire Regiment, died aged 35 in 1917.

Saul, who is of Jewish descent and placed a Star of David next to the grave, said: “It was a very emotional moment when I saw his name.”

On Saturday evening, they visited the nightly memorial service at the Menin Gate in Ypres, also attended by the British Ambassador for Belgium and serving British soldiers.

Banbury Cake:

Lily Searle, second right, with fellow students and dignitaries at the Menin Gate, Ypres.

Lily Searle was invited to lay a wreath as part of the ceremony.

She said: “It was sad. They hold it every night, and it makes you feel like they haven’t moved on.

“But I felt proud I contributed and can say I’m part of the millions of people who remember.”

For further information about First World War tours, see centenarybattlefieldtours.org

Albert Mallory.

LANCE Corporal Albert Mallory was born in Malton, North Yorkshire, to Edward and Jane Mallory, one of eight children. He worked on a North Yorkshire estate as a servants’ horseman.

When war broke out, Albert Mallory served in the East Yorkshire Regiment, 10th Battalion and was killed by sniper fire in Belgium on September 10, 1918.

He was 32 at the time and left behind a wife and two young sons, including George Mallory, who died last year at the age of 99.

A box of letters to wife Annie was preserved by family members. They reveal details of life in the trenches, including putting old doors stacked on top of shallow trenches to keep warm and the enemy shelling a hill 300 yards from his trench.

One letter, written to be delivered in the event of his death, read: “If there is a Great Beyond where the souls of beings meet again, may we do so.”