When Jordan Moss visited World War I memorials filled by gravestones, he couldn’t help but wonder ‘who were these soldiers’.
The St Patrick’s College grade 9 student is on a ten-day trip of Belgium and France after writing a winning essay for the state-wide Frank MacDonald Memorial Prize.
He is joined by other Tasmanian students, including Launceston Church Grammar School grade 9 students Molly Woolcock and Nicole Patrick, as they tour places they researched and wrote about for their essays.
They first visited German trenches at Bayernwald Wood, learning about living conditions in the trenches, what they were used for and how they were built.
“When you enter a cemetery, for me, there is a sacred and solemn feeling that snatches you instantly – you are standing on people who once were,” Jordan said.
“That is the scary yet meaningful truth, and you can’t help but wonder.”
The group will lay wreaths at Villers-Bretonneux on Anzac Day.
“We are extremely honoured for the opportunity, as we will be watched by thousands of people, and paying tribute to our much beloved fallen brothers will undeniably be a special moment,” he said.
Visiting the Western Front was like finding the final piece of a puzzle, Jordan said.
He wrote about the Battle of Passchendaele in great detail, but nothing prepared him for walking through the same fields just over a century later.
“I found myself gasping.”
Nicole Patrick recalled their trip to the German cemetery in Northern France, where more than 43,000 soldiers were buried.
“Although we hear about all the numbers of deaths in the war, actually seeing those as people lying beneath head stones is truly horrifying,” she said.
“Going to the German cemetery was quite sad as we never really talk about the war from the German perspective and seeing row upon row of dead men really made one think.”
It was scary to see the number of headstones bearing the words ‘unknown soldier’, Nicole said.
Seeing the sheer number of graves was shocking for Molly Woolcock.
“Getting told a number only gives you so much of an understanding,” Molly said.
“Seeing how involved everyone is in remembering the people who served in WWI has been an eye-opening experience.”
She researched Athelstan William Shoobridge as part of a pilgrimage each student undertook.
“Researching him was hard because I struggled to develop an emotional insight,” Molly said.
“For my pilgrimage I looked at his life as a puzzle and tried to replicate the pieces that had been lost. Some of those pieces included emotions like love.”
Department of Premier and Cabinet tour leader Sam Davis has joined the prize tour for the past three years.
“Each and every time I take this trip there is something new to learn,” Ms Davis said.
It was heartwarming to see poppies and photos placed on headstones to show soldier’s graves were still visited, she said.
“What overshadows this a little is the row upon row of men who do not have anything. You begin to ask yourself, have they been forgotten?”
She hoped the trip would not only teach the students about WWI, but also have a positive impact on their broader lives by helping them to form friendships and grow.