One hundred children from County Durham schools will travel to France for the UK’s national commemorations of the centenary of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July.
As part of an Anglo-French project, 600 pupils will take part in a special commemorative service alongside members of the Royal Family, veterans, military and community representatives, and officials from governments around the world; marking one of the bloodiest battles in history, as a sign of hope and commitment to not suffer such loss again.
And of the 300 young people chosen to represent the UK and Ireland, a third of them will come from five schools in Bishop Auckland, Chester-le-Street, Consett, Newton Aycliffe and Wolsingham.
Three of the children have unique links to the Somme. Aube Bailly is a direct descendent of the composer of ‘La Marseillaise’ Claude Joseph Rouget; Phoebe Thompson has a brother serving in the Royal Signals who has been helping to set up the Somme ceremony and Nic Cooper has recently been given the all-clear following a brain tumour but wanted to make the journey and will be accompanied by his brother Sam who has supported him and raised funds throughout his illness.
The ceremony will be the culmination of a six-month partnership project with a school from the Somme region, which has involved cross-curriculum content including the creation of pieces of artwork that will be brought together during the trip, comprising murals, photo collages, comic strips and garden sculpture.
Cllr Ossie Johnson, Durham County Council’s cabinet member for children and young people’s services said: “This provides an incredible opportunity for our young people to better understand the consequences of one of the most costly battles in terms of human life.
“It is a privilege for the county council to be so heavily involved in this national commemoration and I am delighted that one third of the young people from the UK who will take part in the event are from County Durham.
“This is testament to the strong links which the county has with our partners in the Somme and to the exceptional educational links which bind our two communities. In order to develop a lasting legacy for the centenary, we plan that these links will continue into the future.”
Durham County Council’s international relations team has been working closely with the organisers to develop the project, and secondary schools across the county were asked if they would like to be involved.
Pupils from St John’s School and Sixth Form College in Bishop Auckland, The Hermitage Academy in Chester le Street, Villa Real School in Consett, Greenfield School in Newton Aycliffe and Wolsingham School will travel to France for the 100th anniversary of the start of the battle on 1 July.
The costs of the visit are being met by central government.
Cllr Johnson, added: “As living memory of this battle dies, engagement with young people is essential to sustain awareness of the significance of World War I, and the importance of UK-France relations in continuing peace and stability in Europe.”