An educational journey to the First World War battlefields has turned into an emotional act of family remembrance for one Leeds teacher.
Having been brought up hearing the tales of his great uncle’s bravery and valour, Leeds East Academy teacher Lee Buccilli was able to finally mark the memorial site that pays tribute to Private Carmine Risi on Sunday.
The late Leeds soldier of Italian descent, who served in the Highland Light Infantry, was known by his anglicised name of Galla Rice and was among over 9,000 men killed during the advance to victory in Picardy and Artois, France, in 1918. Pte Rice, who was just 28 when he died, has no known grave.
Mr Buccilli, who lives in Wortley, became the first member of his family to lay a wreath near the site of his great uncle’s death – an act that brought up raw emotions having served five years with the Royal Corps of Signals himself before becoming a teacher.
The 44-year-old was among around 25 Yorkshire teachers travelling with two students each on a Government-funded Centenary Battlefield Tour (CBT) of France and Belgium when he realised his relative’s memorial was in reach.
He told the YEP: “I knew I had two family members that had been killed in the First World War and this was the guy I had always heard about, so I delved deeper.
“I’m quite surprised about how emotional it is because when I was in the army myself I lost mates.”
He added: “It brings it home, even though this is me and not them, I have got two students here and they know me. I just think anything as powerful as this is self evident and shows it’s not just another name.”
As part of the CBT programme two pupils and one teacher from every state-funded secondary school in the country are being invited on free First World War battlefield tours until 2019.
The £5million scheme, which is led by the Institute of Education and tour operator Equity, is part of the Government’s commitment to commemorating the victims of the conflict 100 years on.
Simon Bendry, national education coordinator for the CBT programme, led a short period of silence after reading out the Ode of Remembrance at Pte Rice’s memorial.
He said: “It’s a very moving moment when you can be somewhere with someone who is making such a personal visit.
“Any visit to the battlefields is a life experience, and for these adults and these kids it’s an opportunity to connect with those incidents of the past.
“When you see the hundreds of thousands of names of those killed, the First World War becomes real and not just something that’s been learned in a classroom.”
The battlefield tours involve students tracking down soldiers from their communities to their resting place abroad as part of tours of sites such as Somme, Ypres and Arras with teachers, guides and current British Army soldiers.
Captain Nick Vischer, of the Parachute Regiment, joined students on the trip. He said: “It’s great to be able to contribute something to the youngsters – that’s very satisfying.
“The value is in the act of remembrance, remembering what people did and understanding it.”
Visit www.centenarybattlefieldtours.org for further information.
This is the second in a four-part series on the First World War’s links to Yorkshire. See tomorrow’s YEP for more.