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, our Head Battlefield Guide, will publish regular blogs including personal stories, new tour updates and plenty of interesting and factual information about the Battlefields of Europe and beyond. Sign up below and receive email alerts keeping you up to date with Paul’s blogs.

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Beer and Battlefields: The Man Behind the Concept

Looking ahead into 2017, we’ve got big events coming up. From the Centenary of Passchendaele to the 75th anniversary of Dieppe, there’s an interesting year ahead on our Battlefield tours. Yet, there’s one itinerary that really stands out. New for 2017, this tour isn’t focused on a big anniversary, neither is it visiting new ground, it’s just a whole new concept that has really got people talking. Beer and Battlefields.

Mark Hope: Beer and Battlefield creator
Marc Hope

Designed by our very own Battlefield Guide Marc Hope, our Beer and Battlefields tour combines battlefield sites from both World Wars with visits to a selection of the best breweries in Belgium. And, who better to give us the inside scoop than Marc himself? In this exclusive interview, find out just why this tour is going to take 2017 by storm.
Q: Beer and Battlefields, it’s certainly an interesting concept. How did it first come about?
A: It came about several years ago when I used to do Brewery Tours around Belgium and France. Originally we concentrated on the Trappist Breweries and then onto various other establishments which took us over the Battlefields of WW1 &WW2. People then started to look at the Battlefield side of things as I used to give a running commentary as we passed through these sites. It snowballed from there with us doing the Battlefields in the morning and Breweries in the afternoon as; believe it or not, people didn’t want to spend all day in Breweries. It’s a more relaxed kind of Battlefield tour where we can digest the Battlefields over a great beer.
Q: What significance does beer have to the stories of World War I and World War II? Is it something that is often overlooked?
A:  A Medical Officer once said “Had it not been for the rum ration, I do not think we should have won the War.” Winston Churchill would acknowledge alcohol by saying “It saved more Englishmen’s lives, and minds, than all the Doctors in the Empire.” Therefore alcohol and the role it played are very much overlooked, as it played a significant part in Soldiers and Civilian lives during both Wars.
Alcohol, particularly Rum was administered as a treatment for everything from Shellshock, wounds, hypothermia, flu right through to exhaustion! Most commanders issued double rations when men were going ‘over the top.’ Alcohol was also used as a motivational tool, a reward and a cure. It was a great way for men to unwind behind the lines in the local Estaminets and cafe’s.
On the downside it led men to be Court Martialed and imprisoned for drunkenness. It could also lead to forfeit of pay up to 28 days. Officers could also be forced to give up their commission or ‘Cashiering’ as it’s known.
The British Government became very concerned that drunkenness was affecting War production back at home so they introduced the Defence of the Realm Act. This meant that licensed premises could only open between certain hours and this wasn’t overturned until 2005, so affected us up until quite recently.
Q: How did you choose the breweries that are featured in the tour? Are there any that really stand out?
A: I picked these Breweries as they represent the Battles of WW1, WW2 and what the troops, and civilians, got up to behind the Lines. These Breweries are all establishments I’ve visited in the past. They are connected to the War by either producing alcohol for the troops or being associated on the Battlefield themselves.  For instance the Kazematten Brewery in Ypres is housed in the old Ramparts where once upon a time they used to produce the ‘trench gazette’ for the troops. It still produces the Wipers Times, but now in a form of a beer. It still retains the medicinal Saint Mary’s Thistle (blessed thistle) on the label of the beer which was originally found on the front page of the newspaper. They all have something unique.
Q: Compared to the other Leger Holidays Battlefield tours you have guided, how will Beer and Battlefields stand out to you?
A: It gives a different concept to the Battlefields themselves. It gives an insight as to how alcohol, food and tobacco influenced and shaped these soldiers in their everyday lives. It’s not all about Battles but rather what the troops did to relax and how they integrated with the civilians behind the lines. It’s also a look into how alcohol got a lot of Soldiers into trouble and also how many won Bravery Awards whilst under the influence.
Q: Whilst researching the tour, did you come across any interesting stories that you can give us as a sneak peek into?
A: As with Alcohol in general, it leads to some very bizarre stories and circumstances. All I can say it led to one particular soldier nearly marrying a cow to another nearly winning the Victoria Cross! These and many more stories will be told on the tour.
Q: Do you think the premise of the tour will attract people to the battlefields, who may not have considered it previously?
A: Yes indeed as not everyone wants to do a full day Battlefield Touring. We’ve had it many a time on tours where ‘the other half’s’ have bought a Battlefield Tour, as a present, and they feel obliged to come along. This way they get the best of both worlds. Supporting their partner’s and then going for drinks and guided brewery tours after. They can even chuck in a bit of shopping! It’s far more relaxed. It will also, hopefully, attract people who like their beer but would like a bit of culture and history to go alongside it. They complement each other very nicely.
Q: What is your favourite beer sampled on the tour?
A: I can’t remember! That’s a very tough question. As Belgium alone has over a 1000 beers it’s hard to narrow it down to one particular beer. Can I just say it’s still ongoing research?
Q: You’re quite active on social media, have you had any interesting comments or questions regarding the Beer and Battlefields tour?
A: It certainly seems to be going down very well, just like beers I expect! It’s very much straight forward as the title does what it says on the tin, or bottle in this case. I think a few people were concerned how this itinerary was going to pan out. Once I told them it’s going to be Battlefields in the morning, followed by the Brewery tours in the afternoon, it seemed to put their minds at ease. We didn’t want it getting too messy doing it the other way round! You can’t go wrong with Battlefields and then beer after.
Q: What are you most looking forward to when the tour gets on the road?
A: Meeting old and new faces. It’s great to be going to new places and the Hop Museum is a fantastic place to visit. All the Breweries offer something different with their own regional beers. It certainly gives a very different aspect to the two Great Wars from both sides.
Q: What three words would you use to describe this tour?
A: ‘Hoppy’ times ahead.
Our Beer and Battlefields tour will be hitting the road from June 2017 on either a 4 or 5 day break with executive and Silver Service travel Available. Staying at the 3* Novotel in the heart of Ypres, join us from just £399pp.
Follow Marc on Twitter: @Thegr8war
 

Five Fun Festive Facts for Christmas

Are you a Christmas connoisseur or a New Year know-it-all? Why not test your elf-like skills this Christmas and indulge in a little festive trivia to impress at the dinner table…

1. Did you know that the very first Christmas market took place all the way back in 1298?

Vienna is the place where the December market first saw the light.  Little did they know that the European Christmas Markets would become a tradition that is still going strong centuries later.

2. Austrians pull out all the stops when it comes to celebrating New Year.

At the stroke of midnight all church bells throughout Austria ring and in major cities people see in the New Year by dancing in the streets to the tune of the famous Blue Danube Waltz.

3. Delicious warm Glühwein is ever present at the European Christmas markets. 

It is made using red wine, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and lemon or orange zest.  And did you know you can keep the mug as a souvenir?!

4. Turkeys are safe in Germany at Christmastime! 

A roast goose is the traditional dish served and is often filled with apples, dates, chestnuts, onions, and/or prunes.  It is also common to stuff the goose with a meat or dough filling.

5. In Italy Christmas gifts are not exchanged until the day of Epiphany on January 6th

Children hang up their stockings, so that ‘la befana’, an old lady, can bring them presents and her arrival is celebrated by eating traditional sweet Christmas cake known as panettone.
 
For a fun-filled festive experience try one of our Christmas Market or Festive Breaks.  We have a superb collection of fully escorted tours and short breaks to choose from. Visit www.leger.co.uk