The truth about the Christmas Truce

It was the war that was meant to be over by Christmas. In 1914, 5 months into WWI an end was far from in sight. However, on 24th December an unofficial temporary truce was agreed along the Western Front. Soldiers from opposing sides laid down their guns and celebrated Christmas together.

This year, possibly more than ever, the Christmas truce of 1914 has struck a chord with the nation. Featuring on TV adverts, being widely talked about in the press, even a memorial statue for the much debated game of football in Flanders Field, Belgium, was unveiled earlier this month by Michel Platini, president of UEFA.
What happened on that day has become one of the most famous and mythologised events of the war. With stories of carols, swapping of treasured items and, of course, the famous game of football between the British and the Germans, it has become a wonderful example of humanity. Whilst we may not be able to piece together an exact account of what happened on this momentous day, we do have a clear idea of specific events that make the Christmas Truce of 1914 one of the most heart-warming stories in British History.
Late on Christmas Eve 1914, following the first air raid in British History after a German aeroplane dropped a bomb on the town of Dover, the British Infantry were astonished to see Christmas trees and paper lanterns lining the German trenches. Carols were sung and eventual communication between both sides began.
Whilst ‘Silent Night’ has become synonymous with the Christmas Truce, soldiers have documented in letters home that it was in fact ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ that encouraged both sides began to sing in harmony.
Whilst a truce was largely observed, not all of the Western Front adhered, fighting was on-going in certain areas and deaths were recorded on Christmas Day. Soldier Pat Collard, for instance, wrote to his parents, describing a horrendous Christmas under fire, concluding: “Perhaps you read of the conversation on Christmas Day between us and the Germans. It’s all lies. The sniping went on just the same; in fact, our captain was wounded, so don’t believe what you see in the papers.”
At first light on Christmas Day, a number of German soldiers emerged from their trenches and began to approach their enemies calling out ‘Merry Christmas’ in their native tongue. Wary that this could be a trick, the British stayed in their trenches. Soon realising their enemies were unarmed they climbed out of their trenches to join them halfway in No Man’s Land to exchange handshakes.Christmas truce handshake
Rifleman J. Reading, writing to his wife about the truce confirmed some of the heart-warming events we remember today. “During the early part of the morning the Germans started singing and shouting, all in good English. They shouted out: “Are you the Rifle Brigade; have you a spare bottle; if so we will come half way and you come the other half.” At 4 a.m part of their band played some Christmas carols and “God save the King”, and “Home Sweet Home.” You could guess our feelings. Later on in the day they came towards us, and our chaps went out to meet them. Of course neither of us had any rifles. I shook hands with some of them, and they gave us cigarettes and cigars.”
During the festivities of the truce, there were more sobering events also taking place. Soldiers used the ceasefire to retrieve the bodies of their fallen comrades. J. Reading’s letter continued “We did not fire that day, and everything was so quiet that it seemed like a dream. We took advantage of the quiet day and brought our dead in.” As a result of the truce, some soldiers were laid to rest in No Man’s Land side by side with their opposition in joint burials.
Although it is one of the most significant stories of the truce, there is no hard evidence to suggest the football match between battlefield enemies went ahead as reported as there is no official account that mentions it. Research suggests the British played football amongst themselves as the Germans watched on. This letter, sent by Mr J. A. Farrell, a Bolton Post Office employee, indicates there was no German involvement in the game. The letter that was sent to the Post Office, published in the Bolton Chronicle 2nd January 1915, reads: ‘…In the afternoon there was a football match played beyond the trenches, right in full view of the enemy’…”
A letter sent home to a father from his son on the Front Line was relayed in the Rugby Advertiser on January 16th 1915 indicating that although there was a hope of such a game, the plans fell through.
“Walter Cooke, son of Mr H Cooke of Church Lawford has written home to thank his friends for the plum pudding and good things they sent him for Christmas. He says: ‘They wanted to play at football but that fell through. They kept their word, and did not fire a shot all Christmas Day and Boxing Day’.”
As the war continued, the truce was never repeated. The following year, the threat of disciplinary action by the officers was enough to stop any further attempts of a cease fire on Christmas Day. However, that year soldiers on the Western Front did not expect to celebrate Christmas on the battlefield, but even a world war could not destroy the Christmas spirit.
 
Find out more about WWI with our great choice of Battlefield tours.
 

Grand Explorer: Delights of the Costa Blanca, Valencia, Burgos & Cuenca

Our 2015 brochure has introduced some fantastic new tours for 2015, including Our Grand Explorer tour, Delights of the Costa Blanca, Valencia, Burgos and Cuenca. The tour combines a leisurely stay on Spain’s sun-drenched coast with an exploration of Spain’s slightly lesser known, historic towns. Here’s a rundown of some of our highlights from this spectacular tour.

The Costa Blanca, or the ‘White Coast’ in English, is a traveller’s hot spot. With over 2800 hours of sunshine every year and with 200km of coast line, it’s easy to see why it attracts 2 million tourists from the UK alone each year.
Although sounding quintessentially Spanish, the name ‘Costa Blanca’ was actually first introduced as a marketing gimmick by British European Airlines to promote their new flight route from London to Valencia in 1957.
Staying in the resort of Los Alcazares, you’ll take in the historic old town of Burgos with its stunning cathedral, a true masterpiece of Spanish Gothic architecture. Buried beneath the cathedral is Spain’s national hero, Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar. Better known as El Cid, the lovable rogue was made a legend by his remarkable military ability whilst conquering Valencia. El Cid is still idolised to this day and has been immortalised in plays, film, folk tales and even video games.
City of Burgos and the CathedralBurgos is also home to the Baby Jumping festival and, yes, you would be forgiven for being intrigued about the title. Known as the El Colacho, it has taken place every year since the 1620’s. The festival is free to join for any new born baby. Swaddled in blankets, they are laid on the ground where grown men, dressed as the devil, jump over the babies to cleanse them of evil spirits. The slightly bizarre festival is part of celebrations held nationally for the Catholic festival of Corpus Christi.
Cliff Houses of Cuenca, SpainA visit to the extraordinary settings of Cuenca where buildings seemingly cling to the rock walls is next on the itinerary. As you will notice, the most popular attraction of this fortified city is the Hanging Houses. The houses were originally built as summer houses for the Royal Family but have also been used as individual and even council houses. Built into the walls of the gorge, the houses are now largely occupied, however, one has been converted into and abstract art gallery giving you the chance to head inside one of these spectacular buildings.
How about a day spent enjoying the many cafes and tree lined boulevards of Albir, the little gem of the Costa Blanca, before heading to the Cultural Capital of the Valencian region, Altea? From there you will have time to explore beautiful Guadelest, a little village overlooking the Guadelest reservoir.
Declared a Monument of Historical and Artistic Value, Guadelest is a major tourist attraction. Take a look up to the highest point on the cliff towering over the walled town, you will find the Castle of Saint Jose. The Castle has endured two earthquakes and a bomb attack in the Succession War which have all contributed to its destruction, however, its imposing presence is still a spectacular sight.Belltower in Guadalest, Spain
We head on to Alicante, a city with a true Spanish flavour, you will have the perfect opportunity to enjoy the clean Costa Blanca air. It is said that this is one of the healthiest areas in Europe. The warm temperature and low rainfall is said to be a perfect remedy for sufferers of asthma and arthritis, a much more enjoyable treatment, we’re sure you will agree.
iStock_000017785253_LargeWhilst in Alicante, you will be drawn to the Santa Barbara Castle.  One of Europe’s largest Fortresses. Perched on the top of Mount Benacantil, it has everything you’d imagine from a medieval castle from cannons, dungeons and even a moat. Best of all it offers fabulous views across the city. Or, of course, you could savour the moment and take advantage of the beautiful sandy beaches.
Possibly saving the best ‘til last, wrapping up our tour of the Costa Blanca region is the cosmopolitan city of Valencia, regarded as one of the most beautiful cities of Mediterranean Spain and we certainly won’t disagree. Birthplace of the famous Spanish dish, paella, Valencia also stakes the somewhat controversial claim of holding the Holy Grail. You can view the chalice in all its glory as it is on show in Valencia’s opulent cathedral.
iStock_000006049446_LargeThere is plenty to do in Valencia, you will be glad to know there is plenty of time to fit it all in as the tour accommodates a one night stay in beautiful Valencia.
To see our great value Grand Explorer Holidays, please head over to our website.

My First Coach Holiday by Dave Tarbrook

My First Coach Holiday by Dave Tarbrook

Are you thinking of heading off on a tour of Italy? Or maybe you’re thinking about heading off on your first coach tour? Dave Tarbrook took his first ever coach holiday on our Rome, Pompeii and picturesque Capri tour earlier this year. Read his blog documenting his tour from the coach to the sights and how he found the experience on his first Leger holiday.

This was my first ever coach holiday and first time with Leger Holidays, but I was not disappointed!

Coach Journey & Hotel

I was unsure what to expect with regards to travelling by coach, but the silver service coach was very comfortable indeed with ample leg room, a reclining seat and superb, knowledgeable and professional driver and co-driver – Damien & Steve. From the moment I stepped on the coach I received a warm welcome and was very much looked after.
The coach journey itself was rather long, travelling through France, Switzerland and finally reaching my destination – Italy, but there were plenty of comfort stops and films were screened along the way which broke up the journey. Hot and cold drinks were served throughout which was great!
On reaching the hotel in Fiuggi, again we received a warm welcome from the owners who could not do enough for the coach party. The hotel was set in a beautiful little hill top town and was very clean, tidy with a comfortable room. This holiday offered bed and breakfast only, but guests were able to dine in the restaurant during the evening for a reasonable cost should they choose. The hotel itself was approximately a 5 – 10 minute walk away from the town, where there were ample restaurants and bars available, offering food and drink again at a very reasonable cost.

Sight Seeing

The scheduled sightseeing tours were superb! The beautiful Montecassino Monastery with its grand opulence and the fascinating trip to Pompeii was just out of this world! For a reasonable price, guests were able to opt into a guided tour around Pompeii and I am very pleased that I did, as it ensured that I got the very best out of this vast historical site. The trip to Rome had to be the highlight for me! On our 9 day tour we visited Rome twice. During the first Trip, we visited the Coliseum, The Spanish steps and Trevi Fountain, which were spectacular. On our second visit, we visited the Vatican and Sistine Chapel. Again, optional tours were offered which were very informative, ensuring that guests once again got the most from their time spent in Rome. During the tour, we were offered the opportunity to go to either the island of Capri or visit the town of Sorrento. I decided to visit the beautiful town of Sorrento, which has great shops and plenty of restaurants offering fantastic Italian cuisine! The final trip to Frascati and Castell Gondolfo was great! We went to taste the wine and had a light lunch of bread, cheese, meat and olives… Following this, we had the opportunity to buy the local Frascati wine, which of course I did!!!
All in all, this was a great holiday and I met some truly wonderful people in our coach party. I would definitely recommend this holiday to anyone who has not visited  Italy and very much recommend Ledger Tours which was extremely professional from the initial booking, right the way through the holiday itself!
Thanks for a superb and memorable holiday!
Dave

Do you have any suggestions to people taking a coach holiday for the first time? Leave your comments below.

“How lucky we are” – The Fritz and Tommy Battlefield Tour by Rob Schäfer

I have been visiting the battlefields of Flanders and the Somme for nearly 20 years, but this is the first time ever where I sincerely doubt if all the suffering was worth it.
This moving remark was made by one of our guests on the last day of the ‘Fritz and Tommy’ Battlefield Tour in October and was certainly one of my personal highlights this year.

I had the pleasure to guide two of these tours in September and October, working side by side with Leger guides Paul Reed and Marc Hope, leading the guests to German sites in Flanders, Northern France and the Somme
Visiting battlefields, cemeteries and forgotten German memorials, following in the footsteps of Ernst Jünger and the young Adolf Hitler, then a corporal in the Royal Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment No. 16, looking at German military, funeral and mourning traditions, organizational details and telling stories and anecdotes of the German army and the units that fought in the places we visited. How did Fritz, the German soldier experience the Great War and what were the joint experiences of Fritz and Tommy. What set them apart and what united them.LHRossignolWood
The first day on the battlefields was spent in Flanders. For the German men that fought in the war Flandern was a byword for sacrifice and suffering and we went out to look at how Germany commemorated her dead in that area, visiting the German cemeteries at Vladslo and Langemarck, a virtually forgotten German regimental memorial and looking at the ‘Langemarck myth’ and its importance to the propaganda of the National-Socialists.
After that we examined the pivotal fighting around Gheluvelt, the key to Ypres, on the Menin Road. Here we used letters and diary extracts of German soldiers from Württemberg and Bavaria that fought in and captured the village in November 1914 before switching our sights to the desperate and decisive counter charge of the 2nd Worcesters.
After lunch at Hooge Crater Café we visited Bayernwald to see the German trench system there, an ideal place to talk about the undying myth that German trenches were generally better than their English counterparts and to have a closer look at German and British mining techniques.
At Messines we visited William the Conqueror’s mother in law and looked at the story of Herr Hitler again, reading an account of how his battalion celebrated Christmas in the church and crypt in December 1914 before finishing the day visiting a German officer’s grave on a British cemetery to tell his sad and fascinating story.LHNeuville
Day three led us to northern France to the sad German cemetery at Wervicq before exploring the Frommelles battlefield from both sides, looking at its German defences and talking about the first clash between German and Australian troops and how that event influenced the catastrophic outcome of the Battle of Frommelles. One of my highlights of the September tour was certainly the visit to the huge mass of individual graves that forms the military cemetery of Neuville St. Vaast, where 44888 German soldiers from more than a hundred different divisions from all provinces and counties of Germany are buried. Here Paul Reed’s soulful recitation of a letter written by a German veteran to the famous British war poet Henry Williamson left everyone, including me, speechless and lost for words. A misty-eyed moment and a truly moving experience I will never forget.
Day four was spent on the Somme starting at Copse 125 or Rossignol Wood, where the famous German stormtrooper-writer Ernst Jünger fought in 1918 opposite New Zealanders including the ‘King of No Man’s Land’ Dick Travis V.C. DCM MM. Among highlights of that day were our stops at Hawthorne Ridge and Sunken Lane as here we were able to deliver a most detailed account of the slaughter that happened there on 1 July 1916.
An ideal location allowing people to immerse themselves in the story told.
Highlighting the experiences of attacker and defender alike, reading accounts from both German and English soldiers that had fought there that day and finishing the presentation off inside the bus, with lights dimmed, watching Malins’ famous footage of the explosion of the mine, Sunken Lane and the attack on Hawthorne Ridge. LHHawthornRidge2
To stand in the middle of where it all happened and to know what exactly happened there on the German side and the English side left a lasting impression on everyone. After visit to Courcelette the days on the Somme ended at Guillemont where we returned to Ernst Jünger and his harrowing descriptions of the fighting there in 1916.
I was positively surprised about amount of interest in the groups and even after the official end of each day I continued answering questions in lively debates over many a glass of Belgian beer, sometimes up until deep in the night. For me personally these tours have been commemorative events in their own right. A hundred years have passed since Fritz and Tommy fought each other in four horrible years of suffering and pain.
Now in 2014, we, their ancestors are able to travel the battlefields together, walking in their footsteps as friends. How lucky we are.

Nie wieder Krieg! Fritz and Tommy – We will remember them

 

Introducing our New Tour: Grand Scenic Austria

Snow-capped mountain peaks, luscious green hillsides and crystal blue lakes are just some of the images conjured up by the thought of Austria, however, it’s not just the natural beauty that visitors seek out. There is also a rich culture, a fascinating history and spectacular architecture to discover throughout this impressive landlocked country.

In our 2015 Brochure, we have introduced a brand new tour, Grand Scenic Austria. This Grand Explorer tour takes you through some of the country’s most spectacular delights. Here’s a few of our favorite things that you can expect to see and do whilst taking this magnificent tour.

Salzkammergut

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The Austrian Lake District, the first port of call. There’s a total of 76 lakes surrounded by picturesque villages. Our tour takes you to delightful Mondsee. Translated to Moon Lake in English, the crescent shaped lake is one of Austria’s famous bathing lakes. Its water temperature reaches up to 28⁰C and is a popular attraction to locals and tourists alike. Possibly the most renowned attraction in Mondsee is the Basilica St. Michael, situated in the middle of the town centre, the church was famously used for the wedding scene in ‘The Sound of Music’. For that reason more than 200.000 people are visiting the church every year and give it the honour of being one of the most photographed churches all over the world.

Krems and Melk

Krems an der Donau is the eastern gateway to the Wachau valley, thought to be the most picturesque stretch of the River Danube. One of the oldest cities in Austria, builders and archaeologists throughout the country have created a unique cityscape that has earned the city a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage list. If you’re a wine lover, you will be happy to know that Krems is said to have the best selection ofAustrian wine, whether this comes from its 1000 year wine making history or the perfect conditions the vineyards are set in is up for debate, however the wine taverns will certainly not disappoint.
Heading down into Melk you will make a stop off to tour the Melk Abbey, a fortified castle that is home to the Babenberg’s, Austria’s first ruling dynasty. Located on the bank of the Danube, the Abbey was originally a palace and it most certainly shows. A sight to behold with its baroque architecture, the abbey’s church is the highlight with its numerous windows and rich embellishment of marble and frescoes. The abbey contains the tomb of Saint Coloman of Stockerau, an Irish Pilgrim mistaken as a spy due to his strange appearance and was subsequently tortured and hanged.

ViennaAUST VIENNA 000037 F

The capital city and also the largest city in Austria, Vienna is home to quarter of Austria’s population. Birthplace of the waltz and hosts up to 200 balls every year, the most popular location for a ball to be held is the Hofburg Imperial Palace. The world’s largest emerald is displayed in the Imperial Treasury of the palace boasting 2860 carats. If you like to do your sightseeing from a height, head to the Prater, Vienna’s most popular fun fair. Hop on the giant Ferris wheel, featured in the James Bond film, The Living Daylight, and see it all from 200 feet up. Although born in Germany, Ludwig van Beethoven lived most of his adult life in Vienna. He battled deafness starting at the age of 26 and he composed some of his best-known works, including Symphony  No. 9 while profoundly deaf. If you are a fan of Beethoven, you can visit the Theater an der Wien where there is a Beethoven memorial room open to the public. This is where most of his compositions were premiered.

CarinthiaAUST CARIN 000010 F

Austria’s southernmost province, Carinthia boasts the most sunshine hours per year. The tour stops here for two nights so there is plenty of time to discover the beautiful scenery it has to offer. You can also see Augenquelle St. Kathrein. Known as an ‘Eye Spring’, it is thought to have beneficial healing effects. From stabilising blood circulation to aiding recovery after surgery, people have even been known to splash the 36⁰C mineral water into their eyes in order to ensure good eyesight into old age.

Salzburg

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Salzburg, where the hills are alive with ‘The Sound of Music’. The home of the von Trapp family and Mozart, from museums to palaces there’s plenty of culture to soak up in this picturesque town. Salzburg used to be an independent country, but was annexed to the Austrian Empire in 1816. Whilst in Salzburg, the Residenzplatz is well worth a visit. With its horse drawn carriages and street entertainers surrounding the most beautiful fountain in the city, it’s most definitely worth a closer look. The Sound of Music Pavillon can be found at Hellbrunn Palace today, in the movie it was still located at Leopoldskron Palace. This is where one of the most famous and romantic scenes was filmed:  ‘I am 16 going on 17’

InnsbruckAUST.INNS 000154 F

The capital of the Tyrol and hailed as the capital of the Alps, Innsbruck’s pride and joy stands tall in the old town. The German Renaissance gothic court church was commissioned in 1553 by Ferdinand I, who enlisted the help of top artists such as Peter Vischer the Elder and Alexander Colin to complete the building as a memorial to Emperor Maximillian I. Alpine skiing is a very popular sport in Austria, as are snowboarding and ski-jumping. The city of Innsbruck hosted the Winter Olympics in both 1964 and 1976. While in Innsbruck you could also pay a visit to Swarovski Crystal Worlds in Wattens, a sparkling, underground world where crystal comes to life. Take a look around the museum or treat yourself, it’s the prefect excuse.
 

Krimml Falls

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One not to miss! With a total height of 380 metres, the Krimml waterfalls are the highest in Europe and we offer you an optional excursion to visit this natural wonder. The waterfall begins at the end of the Krimml River flowing through three stages of the beautiful Hohe Tauern National Park. To make the waterfall more accessible to visitors, Ignaz von Kürsinger created a path to the upper part and is well worth a visit.
 

To see this tour in more detail and to see where else we can take you in Austria, visit the Austria Tours section of our website.