A teenager from Hartlepool has returned from an ‘emotional’ volunteering mission for the centenery commemoration of the battle of Passchendaele.
National Citizen Service (NCS) graduate Aaron Metcalfe, 18, was at the commemorations marking 100 years since the First World War battle, which led to an estimated 250,000 British and Commonwealth casualties.
Aaron, who has recently finished studying at Hartlepool Sixth Form College, was part of a group of 100 NCS graduates who were offered the opportunity to attend the UK ceremony of remembrance in Belgium.
This formed part of the commemorations for the First World War centenary, which saw over 4,000 people from the UK follow their ancestors’ journey to the Western Front.
NCS graduates took on important roles during the commemoration, and put the life skills they learned on the programme to good use.
Aaron said: “Once we were over in Belgium, there were two events that we were supporting.
“Firstly, the main commemoration ceremony took place on Sunday at Menin Gate and at the Market Square.
“We each had different roles; some of the team laid wreaths and others escorted members of the Royal Family and other important guests.
“My role was to help disabled guests make their way around the site, which I really enjoyed; it was great to chat to guests about their personal stories.
“On the Monday I was helping at the Tyne Cot Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery and Memorial to the Missing.
“I was helping to escort guests, including TV newscasters and crews around the site.”
Aaron added: “It was really quite emotional to realise the scale of what happened in the area.
“I spoke to visitors whose family members had fought and lost their lives at Passchendaele which really brought home the importance of the event.
“My parents and grandparents all served in the military, so I was also proud of them and felt a personal connection.
“I was proud of the whole NCS team that went across to Passchendaele.
“Whilst we were strangers on day one, we all became a family because of the nature, importance and impact of the trip.
“The trip has made me realise that I want to pursue a public facing career in the future.
“I really enjoyed helping the guests around the various sites.
“I have a second interview coming up to take part in International Citizen Service (ICS) – where you travel abroad for three months and volunteer.
“My involvement in the Passchendaele trip has certainly spurred me on to look into more international volunteering opportunities.”
Michael Lynas, CEO of NCS Trust, said: “I am proud of how these young people represented their generation as the met descendants, the Royal Family and the Prime Minister.
“I know that these young National Citizen Service graduates will help ensure that the sacrifice of the fallen will be remembered for generations to come.”