Pupils tribute to troops on Dreghorn trench visit

Pupils from Merchiston Castle School observe a minute's silence at the Dreghorn training trenches. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Pupils from Merchiston Castle School observe a minute's silence at the Dreghorn training trenches. Picture: Ian Rutherford

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IT is a vulnerable city monument to one of history’s bloodiest conflicts – and has just welcomed its first visitors from a city school.

Ahead of July’s centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, pupils and staff from Merchiston Castle School have become the first to visit the Dreghorn trenches after the crumbling site was saved for future generations by an Evening News-backed 
campaign.

Around 50 fourth-form pupils read poetry and held a minute’s silence to remember the men who trained at the unique trench network, which was used to familiarise troops bound for the Western Front.

And the day was enriched further thanks to original maps and other artefacts provided by historian Lynne Gladstone-Millar, a key figure in the Evening News campaign, whose father, William Ewart, trained at Dreghorn before he was sent to the Somme in 1916.

Youngsters were deeply moved by the trip, which comes ahead of a full planned revamp of the site. Sean Yuille, 13, said: “The trip linked in with what we are studying in our history lessons. Seeing the trenches helped us to visualise what life was like for the 
soldiers and just how hard it must have been for them.”

Teachers said they were able to bring history to life in a way that would not have been possible with textbooks alone.

Simon Thompson, the school’s head of history and politics, said: “I think the main thing was that we had an active remembrance, that we were there to remember the men who had trained there and then went out to the front. We read poetry and there was a moment’s silence, begun and ended by our school chaplain with an officer’s whistle from 1914.

“The Great War is a popular topic, and especially this year. It’s important to get the pupils out there and talking about it.”

The visit came after Ministry of Defence bosses, council chiefs and housing developers last year said they would work on a five-year management plan to improve the site in land known locally as Covenanters Wood.

Defence chiefs said work, including the installation of information boards and other visitor facilities, would begin in May following a successful sale of the adjacent Polo Fields to Miller Homes last month. An MoD spokeswoman said it was continuing “to work closely with the local community to keep it informed of progress”.

johnpaul.holden@edinburghnews.com