Every year, Albyn School takes their P7 pupils to the historic region of northern France to learn more about resilience, empathy and teamwork.
The trip started with a visit to Pegasus Bridge Memorial Museum, followed by touring round the remnants of the Merville Battery. These important sites were assaulted by the sixth Airborne Division and were incredibly important in securing the eastern flank of the D-Day landings. Pegasus Bridge was secured by troops that landed nearby in Horsa gliders. The Merville Battery was assigned to the ninth Parachute Battalion. However, the battalion was dispersed over a wide area during their drop, and only 150 of the 600-strong unit made it to the battery. 75 men survived the assault.
We were privileged to hear from pupil Sophie about her great-grandfather. She told us about his involvement in the assault and neutralising of the Merville Battery.
On day two, the pupils took the opportunity to expand their knowledge of French and making bread. A trip to a traditional boulangerie (bakery) allowed them to practise their language as well as their baking skills. In the afternoon they visited the new British Normandy Memorial – the first time they were able to see so many names of the fallen in one place. This was followed up by a tour of the Arromanches Invasion Museum where the pupils learnt about the astonishing feat of engineering that was the Mulberry Harbour.
Day three began by visiting the Bayeux British and Commonwealth Cemetery. The pupils learnt about Signalman Laurence Davie, an Aberdonian who was a wireless operator during the landings. Davie lost his life the day after the landings at the age of 21 and is buried at this cemetery.
The remainder of the day was spent bartering for goods at the Bayeux market, and enjoying the thrills and spills of the theme park rides at Festyland.
The final day of the trip started with a visit to the American Military Cemetery. The sheer number of graves at this site – nearly ten thousand – gave the pupils real pause for thought. They visited the grave of first Lieutenant Jimmie Monteith. Lieutenant Monteith had been posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, and the pupils heard the story of his heroic disregard for his own safety.
A poignant moment was held at the large memorial in the cemetery, as the pupils were extremely privileged to observe a group of veterans visiting the site and laying wreaths in honour of their fallen comrades.
In the afternoon, we visited Omaha Beach and the pupils were in awe of the open beach and subsequent hills that the soldiers had to climb on D-Day. In the distance they could see the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc which the US second Ranger Battalion had to scale in order to spike the huge naval assault guns stationed there. Incredibly, on reaching the top of the cliffs, they realised the artillery had been removed the previous evening and replaced with logs as decoys.
The pupils had lots of fun on the trip, getting to experience a foreign residential trip and all the excitement that brings with travel, different languages, and different customs. But more than that, the pupils gained a significant appreciation of the enormity of the D-Day landings, and the subsequent liberation of Europe.