Barnsley Pals: Following in the Footsteps of Local Heroes

Our Head Battlefield Guide, Paul Reed has lived in the South Yorkshire former mining village of Elsecar for the past couple of years. In this blog he documents his experience of guiding a dedicated group tour, taking patrons of his local to the battlefields to discover the stories of the Barnsley Pals.


Elsecar is situated on the edge of Barnsley, close to the countryside, and near the impressive Wentworth Woodhouse stately home, whose owners built the local colliery and many of the houses here.

The Milton Arms pub, in the heart of Elsecar, is my local and I was delighted when the landlord, Phil, approached me to organise a tour to the battlefields. Having travelled with a few friends on a battlefield tour on one of our Luxuria coaches, he wanted to return and do his own thing with a group from the pub.

Leger Battlefields Tour Group

One of the great advantages of bringing a group booking to Leger is that you don’t have to book a brochure tour. With our help and advice you can discuss what you’d like to do and we offer our expertise and make it possible. Phil wanted to remember some local heroes from both World Wars, so it was decided that we would travel direct from Elsecar to the Somme, have a night in Northern France, and then move on to Normandy to look at D-Day and the battles of 1944.

We started early from Elsecar with a good supply of pork pies and plenty of drinks stock on the Luxuria coach, with drivers, Adam and Paul looking after us. Getting across to France early, we made our way down to the Somme and made our first stop at the Thiepval Memorial where several members of the group had relatives commemorated on the panels dedicated to the Missing of the Somme. From here we went on to Serre and had a gentle stroll up onto the battlefield where the Northern Pals battalions were all but wiped out on 1st July 1916: the First Day of the Somme.

Leger Holidays Luxuria Coach

Our own village had many men from the Barnsley Pals who were here that day and the group assembled around the memorial to the Barnsley lads, which was rededicated on the centenary of the battle in 2016. Elsecar to Serre in a day – so simple now, but a centenary ago, the gulf between those at home and those at the front was immeasurable.

After an excellent night staying in Arras, with its amazing main square and great restaurants and bars, we headed down to Normandy to look at the story of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy. Over the course of the next few days we visited all five D-Day beaches, saw where American and British Airborne dropped in, and for many, the highlights were seeing ‘Bloody Omaha’ where so many GIs were killed on 6th June 1944, and walking across the original Pegasus Bridge. You can see these on the screen, but there is nothing like being there and seeing it for yourself.

Pegasus Bridge

As part of the D-Day tour we made a special visit to two Elsecar men killed in Normandy: one at Ranville, who was killed as a tank crewman and another at Ryes, who was an Assault Engineer. Again, it was great to have that local connection, and we were probably the first people from the village to ever stand at their graves and remember. The highlight of the week, for many, was at Hill 112 where Phil, and Chaplain Andy, led a Service of Remembrance. A veteran of the battle here had visited Phil in the pub and asked if we could remember his mates when we came, and it was a special pleasure and honour for us all to do this.

Group tours like this are unique: from planning to visiting the battlefields, those who organise are in total control over what they do and where they go, and have our years of knowledge to fall back on to make it a tour to remember.

Enquire today about taking your own group on a visit to the battlefields of WW1 or WW2 by visiting our website or by calling our team on 01709 787 403

Paul Reed: Dunkirk

A new Second World War film has just been released by well-known director Christopher Nolan. Best known for his Batman series of films, Nolan is British and it is quite remarkable that he has been able to bring what is uniquely a British story into a Hollywood movie.

It promises to bring one of the most amazing stories of WW2 to a new generation, and perhaps help popularise interest in the conflict in much the same way as Saving Private Ryan did in the 1990s with Normandy.

Paul Reed’s Grandfather, Alex Marketis, a Dunkirk Veteran

Growing up in the 1970s my own childhood was dominated by WW2: our toys related to the war, our comics were full of war stories and the few TV channels we had often showed classic films like John Mills’ Dunkirk on repeat. But more than that, my grandfather was there, as a Corporal in the Royal Army Medical Corps.
He had originally enlisted in 1918 and then served in the regular army, coming home to my grandmother in Colchester as a reservist in September 1938. A year later he was back in uniform and off to France for the Phoney War. During the Retreat to Dunkirk he got ill, and was evacuated off the Mole. This most likely saved his life, as most medics like him remained behind with the wounded who could not be moved and ended up as Prisoners of War.
When I first started guiding for Leger Holidays in the late 1990s I often had Dunkirk veterans on tours when we stayed in Tournai, as many had been billeted there. We often made special visits for them to the graves of mates, or up to the evacuation beaches to see where they had been taken off.
Vehicle Pier on Dunkirk Beaches 1940

Many years later I found myself back at Dunkirk not only on Leger tours but with TV crews for a series of Dunkirk related documentaries and most recently for Channel 4 with Dunkirk: The New Evidence.
The appeal of the Dunkirk story is that it is truly incredible: nearly 340,000 men were evacuated under the eyes of the enemy, under continuous shell fire and aerial bombardment. Naval ships were used, Merchant ships were used and also the ‘little ships’ – small private vessels mobilised to get the boys home.
Men queued on the beaches to get off, built piers out of lorries, or marched along the Dunkirk mole to board bigger vessels via a gang plank. It should have been a costly failure, but Operation Dynamo was typically British: it turned defeat into victory, and the combined effort of the Navy to get them away, and the RAF protecting them in the skies above, saved the British Army and the lives of so many of our French Allies.
Sunken Ships at Dunkirk 1940

The new Dunkirk movie promises to cast fresh light onto all these stories, using an incredible array of well-known actors. And what better way to understand further than by joining us on a Leger battlefield tour to Dunkirk.
Our Dunkirk Fortress Europe tour looks at the Battle of France that led to the evacuation as well as taking you along the evacuation beaches and seeing the Mole. We pay our respects to the dead at the Dunkirk Town Cemetery and see the excellent war museum, which has been renovated in time for the movie release.
The veterans have grown fewer but the amazing story they lived through continues to inspire us and the new film will show that real history is better than any fiction.



 

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Paul Reed: Exploring the Secret Wehrmacht Bunker

Getting prepared for new battlefield experiences is all part of the work Battlefield Guides carry out in readiness for the tours we do for Leger Holidays.

When there are new tours we always go out on a Battlefield Recce to check the fine details and make sure it all runs smoothly for when we have the groups with us. It’s all part of the professionalism with which we all approach how we operate Leger Battlefield Tours.
I was recently in Germany on such a Battlefield Recce with fellow Battlefield Guides David McCormack and Bill McQuade for the new Peenemunde, Baltic Coast and Berlin tour, which has its first departures this summer. This promises to be an excellent tour looking at different aspects of Third Reich history from the ‘Strength through Joy’ site at Prora to the development of secret weapons at Peenemunde, which will include for the first time having access to the actual rocket test stands and launch sites.

Zossen-Wünsdorf

However, one of the highlights of this Recce was our visit to Zossen-Wünsdorf to the site of Oberkommando der Wehrmacht: the Headquarters of the German Wehrmacht. The Wehrmacht wasn’t just the German Army: it was the overall governing body of the Army (Heer), Airforce (Luftwaffe) and Navy (Kriegsmarine). All of these had personnel at Zossen in a massive series of underground bunkers and tunnels.
While some wartime planning was done here, it was in essence the wartime communications hub of the Wehrmacht, a site once buzzing with the orders, commands and information relating to every key battle in the war from Poland to Stalingrad to the final battles.
Zossen-Wünsdorf

Zossen-Wünsdorf is a ‘book village’ where there are a large number of second-hand bookshops, and we started our tour there with the group that runs the bunker site. Our guide took us in through the main gate, dating from Cold War days, but which immediately put us into the heart of the above ground bunkers.
These all resemble houses as they were used to disguise the site as a residential area; in reality they were the way into the underground structures used by the various branches of the Wehrmacht. Some had been damaged in bombing but most had been blown by the Russians. They stand as decaying monuments to the failure of the Thousand Year Reich.
Cold War entrance door at Zossen-Wünsdorf

From here we went through the woods to the entrance of the main underground section. Initially we went through some Cold War period doors, which were amazing in their own right, and then into what was the entrance area during WW2.
It was very wide and when we questioned this, it was so that small vehicles such as Kubelwagens could drive in and enter the lift to take them to the lower levels. It was at this point we began to get an idea as to how big this site was!
From here we made our way through the tunnels, rooms and corridors. Because of occupation as a Soviet Airmobile Headquarters during the Cold War, the site is in very good condition and easy to access: it is fully lit and there are easily manageable stairs. No crawling through tunnels or roping down holes! Health and safety on these visits is something we do have to think about as Battlefield Guides!
Cold War remains at Zossen-Wünsdorf

As we made our way through the bunker site we got some sense of the importance of it and also the scale, and just how modern it was. Having an integrated internal messaging system, it had the WW2 equivalent of email whereby everyone in the complex could message others through a message pod system powered by compressed air! Anyone in the complex could speak to any headquarters on any battlefield.
As you walk the corridors you just wonder what it must have been like when the surrender at Stalingrad came through or when it was clear the fronts in both East and West were collapsing.
Message pod system at Zossen-Wünsdorf

Coming back outside from the Wehrmacht Bunker we realised we had been underground for well over an hour, seeing a site not normally open to the public because of the safety issues and which we know will fascinate those who travel with us on this new tour that focuses on many areas of WW2 history we have not been able to discuss in such depth before.


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Paul Reed: The Legacy of Passchendaele

This year marks the centenary of the Battle of Passchendaele, a name that will be forever synonymous with our knowledge and understanding of the First World War, but more than that it is part of our collective consciousness of the war. When we think of that conflict we imagine endless miles of water-filled shell craters, thick glutinous mud, and everything from men, mules, guns and tanks disappearing into this mud.

All of this happened at Passchendaele; at times the landscape was as dangerous to soldiers as was the enemy shooting at them. Arguably it was the worst battlefield on which British soldiers served between 1914 and 1918; both in terms of the physical conditions and also the terrible scale of the fighting.

Hell Fire Croner 1917

What made Passchendaele such a terrible battle? It is not widely known that the first day of the battle, 31st July 1917, was a success. Most objectives were taken, and the Germans pushed off the high ground at both Pilkem and Bellewaarde. But it was a costly day, too: more than 6,000 British soldiers died at Ypres that day, one of the worst in Flanders during four long years of war.
Success, but at a cost: but another factor came into play that first day: rain. It began to rain that evening and pretty much did not stop raining for a significant period of the rest of the battle. It was the wettest summer in living memory, with huge amounts of rainfall. That in combination with the unparalleled use of artillery by both sides, the shells just destroyed the Flanders landscape.
Trenches, buildings, and the drainage systems all pulverised by warfare on an industrial scale. The water had nowhere to run except into the holes in the ground occupied by soldiers, or into the lunar landscape of shell craters. The mud became glutinous, in places almost liquid; and everything from men to every man-made object disappeared into it.
Shell Smashed Landscape at Passchendaele

Attacks failed, and the bodies of the fallen could not be recovered; with the mud and shell-fire, all trace of them was lost and Passchendaele is a battlefield that has one of the highest levels of soldiers with no known grave, now commemorated on the Menin Gate or Tyne Cot Memorial.
A century later it is easy to think that the mud, and men disappearing forever are one of the many myths of the First World War. But I have witnessed both in my work with archaeologists in Flanders.
On a dig in 2012 I saw how liquid mud, even after minimal rainfall, could drag us down and how the effort of dealing with a mud-filled landscape was almost impossible at times; and we had modern clothing, tools and no-one shooting at us!
A Century Later, Archaeologists Still Bailing Out an Old Trench

Back in 2001 I saw how the work of The Diggers at Boesinghe demonstrated that Flanders is still one large cemetery; and every year since more and more soldier’s remains are found. It will be one of the almost permanent legacies of the Great War at Ypres, along with the Iron Harvest of shells which are still being found by farmers on the old battlefields.
Archaeologists Working in the Mud of Ypres

To understand more of what Passchendaele was and what it means to us a century later you can travel to Flanders with Leger Holidays on several different tours in 2017. Join us for the actual anniversary commemorations at Tyne Cot on 31st July, or take the They Called It Passchendaele tour which looks at both Messines and Passchendaele in some depth.
You can walk the Passchendaele battlefield on Walking Ypres, and see it from ground level in some detail, and in November we commemorate the end of the battle with a special Passchendaele themed Armistice tour.
The Iron Harvest

The war poet Siegfried Sassoon wrote, ‘I died in Hell… They Called it Passchendaele’. A century on we owe to the generation which marched to Flanders in 1917 to understand that Hell and never let it happen again; and that is perhaps the real legacy in an ever changing world.
 
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Paul Reed: The Real Dunkirk

With the upcoming release of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk movie, the newly released trailer gives us an exciting insight into what the film is about.

In quite a long clip of men on the beaches, ships under fire, the little boats taking men home, it is clear that the focus is on Operation Dynamo: the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) from the beaches between Dunkirk in France and Nieuport in Belgium, in May and June 1940.
The cast looks tremendous, and the scenes depicted in the clip very convincing. There is no doubt this will generate a lot of interest in Dunkirk, but how to cut through the Hollywood take on it and really understand what happened here in 1940?

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Abandoned British equipment on the beach at Dunkirk 1940

One way is to dip into the many books on Dunkirk, but nothing beats actually going out to actual visit the ground as it is today. For 2017 we have our usual 5 Day Dunkirk & Fortress Europe tour which looks at the campaign in France, the withdrawal to the coast and the evacuation from the beaches in some detail, as well as looking at the years that followed with the building of the Atlantic Wall.
However, we have a new 4 Day version of this tour that focuses on 1940 and follows pretty much the story seen in the new film: the destruction of the British forces by the German Blitzkrieg to the point where they were taken off the Dunkirk beaches and the Mole. Along the way we see a typical battlefield area at St Venant where the Durham Light Infantry and Royal Welsh Fusiliers fought, look at the massacre of British soldiers by the SS at Wormhout, and then move on to the Dunkirk story itself.
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Wreck of the SS Devonia at Dunkirk

In Dunkirk we look at Operation Dynamo in some detail. Many do not realise that most soldiers were evacuated out via the Dunkirk Mole, the jetty that struck out from the harbour area. Here ships could dock in deep water and more quickly load up.
The beaches were then divided up according to the organisation of the BEF, and here we discuss how not just the Navy, but ships of many shapes and sizes were used to evacuate the men. One of the great things on this tour is that, low tide permitting, we are able to see the wrecks of some of these on the beach, and even after 75 years they are very impressive.
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Wreck of the Crested Eagle at Dunkirk

In the Dunkirk War Cemetery we see the graves of those who never made it off the beaches or who died in defence of the perimeter which held the Germans at bay while over 300,000 got home. Among the graves we find old, experienced soldiers, as well as young lads who had only recently joined up, medics killed aiding the wounded and even a chaplain.
The Dunkirk Memorial is also here which commemorates over 4,500 service personnel who have no known grave. Many died in ships off the coast, or were swept out to sea on the beaches: so many sad tales that will be brought alive in the film by the look of it.
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At the Dunkirk Memorial

Dunkirk has always been a special battlefield for me: my grandfather was here with the RAMC in 1940, which brought his 22 year career as a soldier to an end. I have walked all over the 1940 battlefields with our team of guides, and learned a lot about it from some of our 1940 specialists like David Warren, and in 2009 I did a lot of BBC work for the 70th Anniversary, including the Dig 1940 series where we filmed a local French group doing archaeology work on the beaches. It was amazing what was still left in the sand!
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Artifacts found on the Dunkirk beach by archaeologists in 2009

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British Gas Mask found on the beach at Dunkirk in 2009

This new film will undeniably mean that Dunkirk and the men of the BEF will suddenly be back in the public eye again, and if Hollywood can help generate interest in the Second World War that has to be a good thing. But what better way to really understand the events depicted in Nolan’s Dunkirk than join us on a Leger Dunkirk battlefield tour, in the company of one of our team of specialist guides to see, visit and understand, as well as remember a battle that changed world history.
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The German victors on the beach, showing of the ships depicted in the new film

 

Watch the Dunkirk trailer below:

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Paul Reed: Making Last Heroes of the Somme

Aside from working as Head Battlefield Guide for Leger Holidays I have also been involved as an advisor and contributor to television documentaries for the past fifteen years.

I work regularly with former BBC Producer John Hayes Fisher, and together we have made documentaries like Last Day of WW1 with Michael Palin, Dig WW2 with Dan Snow and WW1 Tunnels of Death about battlefield archaeology in Flanders.

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The crew on location

My job as part of this is make sure the history is right, find John some good locations to film, some interesting stories to tell, and source interesting contributors to work with. John then does the hard work of turning it all into a television programme, and we are also lucky to work with first class crews who also help make that possible; the hard work and professionalism of cameramen and sound crews are often overlooked.
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Filming graves on the Somme

The current project, which will be broadcast at 7pm on Channel 4 on 13th November, is entitled Last Heroes of the Somme. Much of the TV coverage of Somme100 this year focussed on the beginning of the battle and 1st July, when so many died. But we thought it would be interesting to look at the end of the battle in November 1916 especially as Remembrance Sunday fell on the centenary of the Battle of the Ancre.
We spent the first few months of working on the programme out on the battlefields; walking and driving around the area associated with the attack on 13th November; from Serre in the north to near Thiepval in the south. This gave some ideas of how it would be filmed and also valuable time to think about potential stories, which soon lead us to contact our extensive network of WW1 experts.
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Filming at Theipval

We knew tanks had been used in the battle and thanks to WW1 Tank expert Stephen Pope we were able to trace the story of a tank that helped save the day at St Pierre Divion on 13th November, and find a relative of one of the crew who died. Using modern mapping technology, we were even able to work out where the tank had come to grief having broken through the German trenches.
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Martin Miles whose ancestor died with the tanks in 1916

Back in the 1990s I had carried out a lot of research on the Hull Pals, and following some trips back to the city we quickly realised that their attack at Serre on 13th November 1916 had been as deadly for them as for the Accrington, Barnsley, Bradford, Leeds and Sheffield lads on the same spot on 1st July. Incredibly we found 100-year-old Muriel in Hull, whose father had died at Serre in that very attack; one of the last handful of children whose father had died in the Great War. Her part of the story is very moving indeed.
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Filming the graves on the Somme

We filmed the programme in some of the hottest weather this summer but it made the Somme battlefields look stunning, and the drone footage we took as part of the filming certainly does some justice to how the battlefields look today. It was good to work with so many old friends on the project too, such as contributors and researchers like Professor Peter Doyle and Rob Schaefer (who guides our Fritz and Tommy tours). I was also able to bring in the Stockdale family from Kent; Frank Stockdale is a former tank driver who I have known for many years and his great uncle was killed in the 13th November 1916 battle at Hamel. He brought his young family over and as part of the film we were able to shed new light on what had actually happened to him; showing that we still really do have new things to learn about the Great War.
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The Stockdale family at Theipval

Making television programmes is not as easy as it may appear to some (just like battlefield guiding!), but in Last Heroes of the Somme I hope we have done justice to the often-forgotten end of the Battle of the Somme and shown that you can make a family history programme involving ordinary people without having to use celebrities; after all the Great War was in essence about ordinary men in extraordinary circumstances, and honouring that legacy is as important on the screen as when we do it on battlefield tours.
 
 
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Paul Reed: Being a Battlefield Guide

In my capacity as Head Battlefield Guide for Leger, every year I get dozens of letters and emails from people asking how they can become battlefield guides, or could they come to work for us.

However, what is clear is that often few of these prospective guides have any real idea of what is involved, or what we really do. So what is a battlefield guide, and what do we do?!
I did my first paid job as a battlefield guide in April 1987 when I took members of the Henry Williamson Society around the WW1 battlefields, and I am lucky to have been working pretty much continuously ever since.

early-days-with-leger-on-the-somme
Early Days with Leger on the Somme

How did I get into it?

It was simple, living in the south-east I had been in a good position to visit battlefields since the late 1970s and I had a good knowledge of the ground. First friends asked me to take them, then groups like this.
How I guided then was very different to how I do it now but certain things never change: it is not all about baffling groups with military terminology, rattling off lists of units, dates and commander’s names… it’s about people – and as I often say, ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.
Most groups want to hear about the experience of war: what it was like, what people went through, how long they were there, what the conditions were like, what did they eat, where did they go to the toilet?
In that respect battlefield guiding is like story-telling, and that is not a bad analogy. I find that the most successful tours are ones that have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Groups like to see a logical and understandable sequence to their visits, they like to understand how they are connected, they enjoy big themes, with some micro-detail to lighten the dark corners or blurred edges.
What they generally don’t want are ‘stands’ – a military style of battlefield tour that is fine for staff-rides but not for civilians, especially when discussing World Wars when the average British soldier was a civvie in Khaki themselves.

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Paul Reed Talking to WW2 Veteran in Italy

Reading, Talking and Knowing your Roads

Reading, reading and more reading is always the best approach for battlefield guides. Read everything, read the new books because people will ask about them, read the old books, the ones by those who were there – those are very important, because they give the ground-up viewpoint. But don’t ignore the historians: battlefield tours can be a way of educating a wider public, so being aware of recent historiography, new thoughts on your period: that is very important too. It also means you can never have enough books, which is a bonus as well.
Talking, talking and more talking is also the best approach too. If you are shy, or not good at public speaking, this is not a job for you. Don’t just talk when you are on the ground, either. That is what the microphone on your vehicle is for: tell people what they are seeing as you travel, link these places with stories from the books you have read. Which means you have to know your ground: perhaps the thing new guides invest the least in, is knowledge of the battlefield as it is today.
You need to know the roads, the tracks, the best routes and the worst ones too: and more importantly how this terrain fits into the picture of the conflict you are guiding. Without that, you could just be driving around in circles and no-one would really be the wiser. And with the technology we have now, there is no excuse: a far cry from the days when I poured over paper maps and tried to re-imagine the places I had been on the last trip over.

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Guide’s Recce at Waterloo

In the end, your work as a battlefield guide should always be an evolving process. Never be afraid to change, or listen to advice from others. Most working guides are happy to share knowledge and contacts, and help people out. As guides we should have a common bond, and we have a duty to share what we have learned not just with groups but with fellow guides, too.
I often get asked do I get fed up with it: doing the same thing, visiting the same places? But how could I, when you consider what these places are and what they stand for. I consider myself blessed being able to be among them so often. Fortunate to have spent so many days in the company of veterans of both World Wars on the ground where they fought as young men. Honoured to have helped relatives visit a family grave, and shed a few tears with them over it.
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Taking a Family Back to a Wargrave in Flanders

And lucky, so lucky, that what has driven me for most of my life is also my job: a job where I have watched the ashes of a last veteran scattered across a Somme field, seen an old man weep over the grave of the man who saved his life, and experienced the comradeship of common experience as I’ve walked the ground with groups where so much took place: a landscape which in itself is a last witness that speaks to us if we care to listen.
Because, finally, the joy of battlefield guiding is not what the guide gets from it, but what the group experiences, sees and understands. None of us are bigger than the subject; perhaps one of the best mantras any perspective guide should always bear in mind. Be true to your passion, and never forget the debt we owe the men and women we discuss: with that approach, you can never go wrong.
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Leger Coach on the Battlefields

 
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Paul Reed: Arnhem and Its Forgotten Battles

This month marks the annual commemoration of Operation Market Garden, a battle fought in Holland in September 1944.

And, normally associated in most people’s mind with the Dutch city of Arnhem, where the Airborne forces battled on bravely for nine days until it was clear the ground troops would never reach them, and just over 2,000 out of 10,000 men who were dropped on Arnhem got away over the Lower Rhine, either swimming through the rapid currents or evacuated in assault boats.
But what is the Battle of Arnhem? What is it about this aspect of Operation Market Garden we should remember and are there some forgotten battles of Arnhem during the Second World War?

Veterans at Arnhem70 in 2014
Veterans at Arnhem70 in 2014

Anyone of my generation, born in the 1960s, grew up on a diet of Airfix kits, battle action comics and war movies. One of the defining war films for me was always A Bridge Too Far and I went to see it countless times at our local cinema.
From an Arnhem point of view the focus is on the bridge, the final of the road bridges that need to be reached by the ground troops of XXX Corps to allow Operation Market Garden to be a success.
Arnhem Bridge 1944
Arnhem Bridge in 1944

But, is Arnhem just about the bridge? John Frost and his party of Airborne troops, which defended the bridge, went beyond the call of duty in holding on. But, the bigger battle, and the often forgotten one was that to the west of Arnhem, in Oosterbeek.
Walking round Oosterbeek today, it is a quiet suburb just as it was on the eve of WW2. There are some nice houses and clearly some wealthy people live here.
Go back more than 70 years, and this was the real Arnhem battleground. Bitter hand-to-hand fighting took place in gardens where children play, grenades tore apart front rooms now full of books and music, but you don’t have to look far to find railings bent by shrapnel or bullet nicks in the brickwork.
Battle damaged railings Oosterbeek
Battle damaged railings Oosterbeek

Here, in some respects, was the real Battle of Arnhem: urban warfare in and around the Oosterbeek perimeter, the place where most Arnhem veterans fought and where most of the casualties in the battle occurred.
Walking just beyond the Oosterbeek Perimeter you cross a railway bridge and follow a tree lined road to what many call the Airborne Cemetery.
Airborne graves at Arnhem
Airborne graves at Arnhem

More than 1,700 British and Commonwealth soldiers lie here, in a quiet glade, the majority of them the ‘Airborne carpet’, men of 1st Airborne Division who guard the dropzones for ever more. But, to the rear are other graves, from the final and perhaps most forgotten Battle of Arnhem: the one from April 1945 when Canadians supported by British troops liberated this part of the Netherlands.
This was the moment of victory and among the blood and sacrifice of Arnhem Bridge, it should never be forgotten and no trip to the battlefields here is really complete without following in the footsteps of all those men of Arnhem who passed this way in the last year of the war.
Arnhem Drop Zone
Arnhem Drop Zone

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Paul Reed: What The Somme Means to Me

I grew up on stories of the First World War from my grandmother: in 1916 she was a young girl in Colchester and remembered the wounded at the local station still with Somme mud on their uniforms, and recalled, often with tears, her own lost generation of cousins who never came home.

On the Somme 1988After years of reading about it, one summer more than 35 years ago I found myself walking the dusty tracks out from the town of Albert onto the fields and through the woods where this momentous battle took place. Walking the ground added a new dimension to my understanding not just of the Somme, but the whole First World War.
The ridges and the woods, and how they dominated the battlefield all made perfect sense and as I visited the area more and more it was clear the Somme was like many battlefields: it was a huge jigsaw of many pieces and gradually through visiting and researching, it’s story unfolded, the pieces came together, and it all made sense.
So many places on the Somme hold special memories for me during these early years of visiting: at Gommecourt I got access to a wood where one of the Great War veterans I knew had been dropping shells from his siege guns. Incredibly I found shell holes among the trees caused by his very guns!

Serre

the killing fields of Serre
The Killing Fields of Serre

Serre was always a special place to walk the ground, as I had interviewed veterans from Accrington, Barnsley, and Sheffield who had fought there. One thing they all recalled just before the whistles blew were the sound of skylarks singing high in the summer sky above the carnage that was about to unfold: and skylarks still sing at Serre, evoking those memories even a century later.
With veterans on the Somme 1985
With Veterans on the Somme 1985

Delville Wood

The woods of the Somme are incredibly atmospheric. In Delville Wood nature has triumphed after the place known as Devil’s Wood to the troops was reduced to mere matchsticks by the bombardments.
One tree from the original wood survived, but today the wood has regrown and is alive with flowers in the spring, and deer walk the rides where once battalion after battalion was destroyed. Somehow it all seems incredibly appropriate: that the return of the land to what it once was makes the sacrifice bearable, if not worthwhile.
Delville Wood 1916Among the trees of Delville Wood today
 

Newfoundland

Few trenches remain on the Somme, but at the Newfoundland Park a whole battlefield landscape was preserved not only making it possible to understand the static nature of WW1 but it is a place where you can sit and imagine the whistles blowing and men walking into machine-gun oblivion on the black day of 1st July 1916.
Here I think of my grandmother’s brother: shot through the legs as he went Over the Top that day.

trenches Newfoundland Park
The Trenches at Newfoundland Park

I’ve walked the Somme a thousand times, and I hope to continue to walk and visit it for many years to come, whether for television, with a Leger group or just on my own. It is a place that haunts you, and along its dusty lanes, and under the trees of its many woods, the voices of a generation of men still resonate.
The Somme will stand for so much to so many: sacrifice, tragedy or sheer bloody murder. But for me, it will always be a place where I can focus on the essence of the Great War: ordinary men in extraordinary circumstances, doing their bit in something they knew was bigger than them, and which defined the deaths of those who fell and the lives of the majority who came home. The Somme changed them all, and a hundred years later it can change us.
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Coming Soon to Leger Blog

Coming soon… Paul Reed’s Battlefield Blog.

Join in and experience the battlefields from Leger Holidays’ Head Battlefield Guide’s perspective as Paul Reed takes us on his personal journey through the Battlefields of Europe.

Our new feature will include regular updates from Paul. From personal encounters to new tour updates, sharing his wealth of military knowledge and research.

 
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