Le retour

And so all good things must come to an end it is said.

An earlier wake up than normal (6.45am) followed by a final room inspection was precisely NOT what the doctor ordered. Nevertheless, nobody wanted to miss our train crossing. One final breakfast of croissants and baguettes was savoured; the children unanimously agreed that such delicacies should be provided at home every morning forthwith – sorry folks at home!

Before journeying to the tunnel crossing, there was one final chance to enjoy all that is wonderful in French culture: a town market. Specifically in this case, the market town of Eu. You may be wondering how to pronounce these two vowels; well several children did it perfectly the evening before when seeing the snails and frog legs for the first time.

Here at the market town, we would have time to explore traditional stalls and practise our quickly improving French.

What was the most popular buy you ask? Not French produce but instead a bouncy ball on an elastic string for the cool price of €3. “The guy selling them made a lot of money today,” observed Jonas. But, more than anything, it was lovely to see these young travellers enjoying the experience.

Luck was on our side as we sped down the motorway free of traffic and Mr Madden’s shifty looks were not dwelt upon too closely by immigration, all meaning that we were able to catch earlier trains crossing La Manche. Before we knew it, we were back at school by 3pm, slightly catching the parents’ ‘holiday’ short.

Sad to end this experience but overjoyed to see loved ones, we bid farewell to each other – until the Summer Fair tomorrow at least 😉

This is the final blog post. Thank you children for your positivity, your energy, your laughter and your love. Thank you parents for enabling this experience to happen and for reading these posts – please do share them with your children. Finally, and importantly, thank you to the staff who left their families for a week and worked very long hours to make this trip such a success – you’ve been brilliant.

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La fête finale

They went to their rooms to tidy, pack and get dressed for dinner and the party. They left as 10/11 year olds but came back as 14/15 year olds – a frightening transformation! But they did look great!

Dinner was less a dive into French cuisine and more a complete submersion! Frogs legs and snails for the starter – almost everyone gave it a try  – followed by some welcomed chicken and chips and even more welcomed ice cream. Party fuel – and it did the trick.

Forget tentative, nervous children hanging on the edge of the dance floor. St Mary’s children have confidence in abundance. They were swinging their hips, shaking their shoulders and replicating moves, like I had never seen before, within seconds of the music starting. They had a terrific time! No slow dances this time though I am afraid parents. 😉

Then the final song finished. Time to calm down and slow that resting heart beat. All the group, the St Mary’s class of 2018-19, gathered around for one final bedtime story. They heard a story of 89 incredible individuals who had been on a journey – a journey of discovery, fun, laughter, remembrance and love. A journey that was part of a bigger journey that had lasted seven years for most. They heard the sad news that both journeys were soon to come to an end. That change was on the horizon. However, they heard that change was not something to be feared but to be embraced and seen as an opportunity. They heard that there would soon be some tearful farewells but no goodbyes – true friends last forever, as do the memories of incredible weeks such as this.

Tomorrow we return, and parents, I have news: the class of 2018-19 return not as the same children that left on Monday. They are now ready for the next step. They have the confidence, wisdom and strength needed to tackle every hurdle they face in the coming months as they begin their new journey – and you are going to love them even more. They can’t wait to see you!

Updates of our return time will be posted via School Communicator tomorrow and there will one final blog tomorrow evening. Bon nuit.

Time to chill

After the busy days of Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and considerable time in the coach, today;s relaxed approach in our immediate surroundings has been much welcomed – if only the weather had been a little more sun and a little less rain. Nevertheless, everyone is smiling and having a great time.

A 15 minute walk from our base is the very British feeling coast of northern France. There is nothing children love more than the beach. Stones for throwing and skimming, sand for building with, materials for artwork – opportunities for fun are everywhere you look.

Edward’s artwork entitled ‘Plastic Beach’

Unfortunately, we did not all visit the beach at the same time…

A VERY British beach!

Back at the ranch, Team Tech. activities challenged teams to work well together, to be creative and to be problem solvers:

There were countless fun games and activities set up by the Kingswood staff to keep us all busy and enjoying ourselves: cricket, football, circus games, tug-of-war, crepe making, to name a few.

This evening it’s Party Time to finish our time here with a real celebration. I will post later to give you a flavour of things (assuming I’ve survived); in the meantime, I am off to put on some lippy and get my heels on 🙂

Rooms

The children are residing either in the Chateaux itself or one of the wings – both equally comfortable. You won’t be surprised, however, to hear that the conditions of the rooms – once the children have ‘moved in’ – can vary significantly from ‘fit for the Queen’ to relative squalor.

To avoid this, the adults have devised a points system for each living area. Each evening, every room is inspected on the following categories: floor, beds, overall arrangement and performance. The final category being the most interesting with each room challenged to present their room in a creative way. We have had songs, poems, dances and much more – I was even offered water and a ‘hot rag’ as I entered one room (I’m not sure what restaurants Rishi frequents!) They certainly have been entertaining. Prizes for overall winners.

1st July 1916

Today, we remembered.

We woke to grey skies looking increasingly ready to deposit large amounts of water on us at any moment. Luckily, fresh croissants warmed our souls and we were soon ready for a two hour coach journey to historic sites of the Battle of the Somme.

Today we would take a glimpse back in time at the first day of that battle and hear stories of how so many lost their lives on that ill-fated day – 60,000 Allied casualties, 20,000 dead, in just one day.

The 9th Devonshire Regiment

Indeed the heavens opened. Most of us listened to the key instruction to bring water-proof jackets. As the rain pelted down, a sombre and poignant mood enveloped us. On the 1st July 1916, the 9th Devonshire Regiment attempted to take the town of Mametz from the Germans. However, the introduction of the machine gun by the Germans had significant consequences despite Captain Martin’s (of the Devonshires) warning being ignored by superiors.: 160 died in just 10 minutes. The rain could not stop us – we remembered.

La Grande Mine

Just down the road we saw the impact, literally, of explosives being buried deep under enemy territory and ignited. The Lochnagar Crater sits 30m deep and 90m wide. Here, on 1st July 1916, Allied forces had dug tunnels – at a painstaking pace of 13 inches every 24 hours – under German forces, where they had packed the ground with more explosives than they had ever ignited before: 28,000kg to be precise – one and a half times the weight of our coach. Not knowing quite what the impact would be, and holding back for too long afterwards, the impact was not nearly as effective as they had hoped – the injured having time to regroup and wreak havoc on Allied forces afterwards with their machine guns. 6,000 British soldiers died. Today, we remembered them.

Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial

Having the chance to actually explore the trenches allowed us to get a feel for life in the Great War. Still manned by Canadians today, this memorial remembers a battlefield where 90% of the casualties were from the Newfoundland Regiment – Newfoundland, a country in its own right at that time. We heard how poor communication led to so many deaths. The equipment was also not of a high standard – a third of the ammunition used were duds. “Why do you think that was?” our guide questioned. “Because the British women made them,” Isaac replied. The females of our group quickly blamed the men for poor training in the factories. The battle continues!

Joking aside, in this peaceful place, there was time to find stillness and remember those lives lost – each St Mary’s child remembering one life lost in particular.

Their Name Liveth For Evermore

Sadly, many lives lost were not fortunate enough to have a burial – a resting place. Their bodies lost, never found. Their memory, however, remembered. At the impressive Thiepval Memorial, ‘The Missing of the Somme’ are recognised. Here, 72,000 British names decorate the walls. Names of those lost. Here, we sat again, looking on at the cross, and remembered.

Going Underground

The Somme 1916 Museum offered one further opportunity to appreciate how brutal life was in 1916. This unique museum is situated in former war shelters deep beneath the Earth’s surface. From bullet casings to weaponry to recreations of trench life during battle, the museum was both enlightening and harrowing at the same time. The 50 cents coffees in the shop afterwards even attempted to recreate the hideous conditions of trench warfare – où est le Costa le plus proche?!

After Year 6’s learning in the autumn term, it was powerful to return to thoughts of war and peace once more, all be it on a fun, end of year trip. “What’s the point of war?” Lilly questioned. We are all still trying to answer that one Lilly…

Back at the Chateau, despite the many heavy showers of the day, luck shined down on us before disappearing on the horizon. Time for one last play before bed time.

Tomorrow, our last full day in Normandy, we hope to relax a little, explore the local area and enjoy each other’s company more than anything else. Time in Year 6 with our friends is indeed precious.

Rouen

Pleasingly, everyone was able to rest well after Monday’s travel and even more pleasingly, we were gifted with glorious sunshine on a sunny yet brisk Tuesday morning. Baguettes, chocolat chaud and cereal were enjoyed as everyone slowly but surely woke up, ready for the day ahead.  

At 9am, we hopped onto our respective coaches and began the 1.5 hour journey through the idyllic French countryside to the historic cultural city of Rouen.

Rouen – home to the Notre Dame of Rouen and the location where Joan of Arc was so dramatically executed. Just strolling along the cobbled streets it was impossible not to soak up the French culture and beauty around us.

Joan of Arc Church

We visited to the impressive Joan of Arc Church, built in a modern nautical style and stood in the shadows of the cross that marked the point where she was so brutally burnt at the stake in 1431. Hearing of her heroism and dedication to her cause – God and France – we entered the church with a sense of awe. The inclusive layout and stunning designs inside created an air of peace as we all reflected on her role in France’s history and for women today.

Shopping

There was greatly received time to explore the consumerist elements of the city too as children, and adults, explored the creperies, cafes, ice cream parlours and much more. Parents, we hope they found room in their wallets to thank you for giving them this opportunity – they certainly found funding for some sweets at the very least!

The Cathedral Nortre Dame de Rouen

As impressive as the more famous Notre Dame of Paris, Rouen’s cathedral towers over the city with its 151 metre high spire believed to bring those who built it, and worship there, closer to God. Just looking at the outside of the building and its many stages of construction was mind-boggling to consider the architectural triumph standing in front of us. Inside, the wonder continued. Beautifully designed stain glass windows and statues of the patron saints were just two marvels to behold.

The Ossuary of Saint-Maclou

Visiting this burial ground for those whose lives were lost to the Great Plague was quite incredible. Only last year, when the last group visited, archaeologists were digging up bones of humans,and even animals, of those who died in the 14th Century. As we studied the bones and skulls on display in the building work – reminders of this gruesome past – we began to look more closely at the ground below. Low and behold, discoveries were made. “Could I get sick from holding this?” Rishi and Oscar queried, happy with their historic finds yet equally cautious about their discoveries. “Probably not,” Mrs Zawada replied.

Down Time

Despite enjoying every aspect of our cultural and historic tour of Rouen, we were all revealed to relax in the comfort of our coaches. Toy Story 3 and Paul Blart: Mall Cop soon soothed many into a well-deserved nap. Arriving back at our home for the week, it was time for showers, lie downs, games in the sun and a coffee for adults.

Dinner was another dive into French cuisine, including: turkey, potatoes, green beans and mushroom sauce followed by an apple pastry. It doesn’t take long for 11 year olds to recharge their batteries! Raring to go, we partook in those activities from last night which each group didn’t have the chance to try yet – fencing, archery and min-Olympics. At 9.30am everyone went to their rooms top prepare for the first room inspections of the week.

It has been another great day. (Please try and view the blog on a computer. The photos should look a lot better than on phones.)

Le Chateau de Criel sur Mer

The drive from the aquarium went smoothly although too much chatting on one coach and too much Baby Shark singing on the other meant DVDs were a necessity for adult sanity to be maintained. Everyone fell into a deep slumber (except the drivers thankfully) only interrupted by the occasional ‘Are we there yet?’ Finally, however, at around 7pm local time, we were indeed there and with only one person using a sick bag, it has to be considered a success.

With rumbling bellies needing tending to, we quickly found our way to the dinner hall to enjoy wonderful freshly baked pan (enjoyed by all), white fish with rice and ragu (less enjoyed by all) and some fromage and desert – Mr Madden had three servings of all courses. Before launching into evening activities, we took a moment to sing a raucous version of Happy Birthday to Jay and Daisy along with candles and cupcakes for the celebrated two.

With fuel in our bodies it was time for mini-Olympic games, archery and fencing; a great way to finish the day before a very well deserved sleep.

Finally, we congregated in front of the chateau as the light grew dim and finally, finally found out room allocations. Whilst the children were all delighted with their rooms, I think the Year 6 teachers were even happier to have avoided any tears – quite some feat!

Mr Cadman (blog author) was excited to get into rooms and wish everyone good night so he could begin this blog and let everyone know we are safe and having a terrific time; however, the Kingswood staff had other ideas with a Fire Drill (at 10pm) top of their wish list. Nevertheless, here it is everyone. Tomorrow, more adventures are install for us. The weather looks agreeable and after a good night’s rest, we will be ready to tackle anything.

See you this time, more or less, tomorrow night.