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, 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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River Cruise vs Sea Cruise: What Floats Your Boat?

Looking to dip your toe into cruising? We know, there’s so much to choose from. Not least whether you want to sail the 7 seas or enjoy something a little gentler. The age old question, do I choose a sea or a river cruise?

Maybe you’re an avid sea or river cruiser and are wondering what it’s like on the other side of the water, or you’re thinking about setting sail for the first time but not sure which is more you? Here are our top 5 points to consider when making your choice.

Sea Sickness

Let’s get this one out of the way to start. If you suffer from bouts of sea sickness, don’t write cruising off just yet. River cruising could just be the answer.
It’s highly unlikely that you, or even the most motion sensitive people, will suffer any bouts of sea sickness on board a river cruise. Firstly, there are no waves and secondly, you’re always in sight of the shore, two huge triggers of the dreaded illness.
In fact, the ride is so smooth, river cruise passengers have said that they didn’t even notice the boat moving so you won’t be left worrying about where the nearest bucket is. You’re free to enjoy the benefits of cruising.

The Changing Scenery

If you’re a fan of visiting the ‘must-see’s’ and the thought of traveling to many different countries, looking for dramatically changing scenery is right up your street, then sea cruising has it all.
From Venice, to Croatia and a stop off in stunning Santorini, it’s all possible in one holiday! But that doesn’t mean that river cruises are any less scenic. In fact, we could say they’re more so.
Rolling countryside, cruising through stunning cities and even flowing through world-famous vine yard clad valleys, if sailing for days on end, through epic seas and mighty oceans, with nothing but the blue sea between you and the horizon doesn’t sound like your thing, there’s plenty to see when sailing on a river cruise.

It’s not the size of the boat…

Well, it could be. There’s the thrill of travelling on an ocean cruise ship, a floating resort, almost. There’s everything you could possibly wish for and it’s every inch as glamorous as you’d think.
From cafes to fine dining, West End worthy shows and spas. Not to mention endless shopping opportunities for those souvenirs or even a little treat for yourself, there’s plenty to keep you occupied on a cruise ship.
But on a river cruise, your vessel is a lot smaller. And that doesn’t mean you’re missing out on all the fun. The smaller ship provides a more intimate environment making it easier to make friends, and anywhere you want to go is just a short walk away from where you are.
And, you can be sure that the staff will always be on hand to make your experience as enjoyable as possible. The lesser number of passengers means the service is a lot more personal, and if that’s the sort of thing you like on a holiday, it’s well worth giving river cruising a go.

Cabin Space

As you would expect, ocean ships have a huge variety of cabins to choose from as opposed to river cruise ships.
And whilst the rooms on board a river cruise ship are comfortable and funtional, the luxury/upgrade options on board an ocean liner can be truly fantastic.
Often ranging from something more modest to impressive suites, you’ll be completely spoilt for choice, whatever your budget.

Right in the heart of the action.

Sea cruises take you to some of the most impressive destinations on earth, provided they’re on the coast. And what better way to approach a stunning destination of bucket list standard than to sail in on a magnificent vessel?
However, due to the sheer size of the ships, it’s not always possible to get into port or even close to land. Sea cruises sometimes use tenders to get you into your destination. And, there is a lot of people to get to shore on a ship of that magnitude.
On a river cruise, you sail straight into the heart of where you want to be, find your spot on the dock and off you go. Of course, there may be times a river cruise has to use a tender too, but with less passengers to ferry and less distance to travel, it’s far from a hassle to get your sight-seeing trip started.
And, as an added bonus for a river cruise? You’ll most likely find yourself ashore every day of your holiday, so your days will be fun packed and fly by…well, sail by.

Ready to hit the waters or high seas? We’ve got plenty of cruises to choose from, whether you’re floating more towards sea or river experiences. Take a look at our cruise offerings over at leger.co.uk
 

10 Facts You Did Not Know About Dunkirk


Here are 10 facts you did not know about Dunkirk…
1. The BEF were a Mix of Regulars and Territorials
Most of those who were in the Army in WW2 were conscripts, but the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in 1939/40 was unusual in that it was largely a volunteer army. Regular soldiers were predominantly volunteers, and some had served for many years. A large proportion of the BEF were Territorial Army (TA) units and these were all volunteers: often referred to as ‘Saturday Night Soldiers’ as their role in the armed forces during peacetime was part-time. The size of the BEF in 1940 was estimated at over 300,000 men.
2. The Dunkirk Perimeter was Massive and Covered Two Countries
As the Allies pulled back across Northern France, a decision was made to defend the Dunkirk area to allow men to be evacuated. The defensive perimeter set up, largely along the lines of canals and waterways, which offered a natural barrier, extended more than 10 miles inland from the beaches and across 25 miles from Dunkirk town to Nieuport, in Belgium. The thousands of men defending these were therefore spread across both French and Belgian soil, in an area as big as the Ypres Salient battlefields of WW1.
3. It Was Not All About The Beaches
Of the 338,000 Allied soldiers evacuated at Dunkirk only a third of them were taken off the famous Dunkirk Beaches. While the popular myth remembers the beaches, most men were evacuated via the less glamorous ‘Mole’. This was a stone jetty that extended along the harbour mouth. The far end was wooden. The water either side of The Mole was deep so it meant that large vessels could come in, moor up and load very quickly. Ships were sunk here by bombs from German dive bombers, but it was a very effective method in getting the majority away. The Mole survived WW2 but was lost in a storm in the 1970s, although the stone sections remain.

4. Not All the Little Ships were Little
More than 700 private vessels were requisitioned as part of Operation Dynamo. Many people believe that they were all small boats but the fleet of so-called ‘Little Ships’ included some quite large vessels. For example, the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company provided 10 of its 16 ships, which included substantial steam powered ones like the Mona’s Queen which weighed in at over 2,700 tons. This company’s ships alone rescued more than 26,000 men from Dunkirk, giving an insight into the importance of their role. Many Little Ships were lost and the wrecks of some can be seen on the Dunkirk Beaches to this day.
5. Lorry Piers Were Used to Get Men to the Boats
For the men who were evacuated off the beaches there were problems in that very few could swim. How to get them through deep water and onto a ship? An idea was developed to line up Lorries across the beach at the low tide, side by side, and put planking over the top. This turned the line of Lorries into an improvised pier at high tide, enabling those unable to swim to walk over the Lorries and board a ship out to sea. Many of the more than 100,000 men taken off the beaches used this method.
6. The Indian Army Was at Dunkirk
Britain relied heavily on the Commonwealth in WW2 but few Commonwealth troops took part in the 1940 campaign. However, several Indian Mule Companies were in France at this time, being used to re-supply the British Army. These men were evacuated via Dunkirk, but en-route passed the old Indian Army memorial at Neuve-Chapelle, from the First World War. Several Indian soldiers were killed making the sacrifice at Dunkirk truly multi-national.
7. The RAF were in the Skies Above the Beaches
Many of the soldiers at Dunkirk believed that the RAF had been pulled back to Britain to defend the mainland, and they had been ‘abandoned’ to their fate at the hands of the Luftwaffe. Recent research has shown that RAF squadrons were very active over the Dunkirk Perimeter, giving vital cover to the men on the ground. They were also flying sorties inland to attack the German’s Lines of Communication and troop movements.
8. The Medics Could Not Leave
There were many thousands of wounded at Dunkirk, some from defending the perimeter, some wounded in the evacuation, and many brought in having been wounded earlier in the Battle of France. A significant number were evacuated out via The Mole, where they could be more easily taken aboard ships on stretchers. However, some were so badly wounded that they could not be moved at all and a large number of personnel from the Royal Army Medical Corps volunteered to stay behind to care for them. This meant they were subsequently taken prisoner; most were not released until 1945, so spent five years as a prisoner of the Germans.
9. Many French Stayed Behind
One of the wartime myths of Dunkirk in occupied France was that British soldiers refused to evacuate their French Allies. This was used by the Nazi backed Vichy Government to demonise Britain. The reality was that nearly 140,000 French, Belgian and Polish troops were evacuated in Operation Dynamo. In addition over 40,000 French soldiers stayed behind at Dunkirk to keep the perimeter intact to the very last moment that the final evacuation took place. Their sacrifice helped save the British Army and should never be forgotten.

10. We Are Not Sure How Many British Soldiers Died at Dunkirk
As the British Army Retreated in May 1940, operational War Diaries and military papers were lost and destroyed. In the confusion of the retreat many soldiers got separated from their units, and when the final reckoning of casualties was made the War Office stated that 2,972 officers and 66,008 men were killed, wounded or missing from 10th May 1940 until the last day of evacuation in June 1940. This equated to about 1 in 3 of the BEF. The problem was that it was not known when many of these men died, or how many had actually died at Dunkirk. The cemeteries there have over 1,000 burials from the Dunkirk period, but many graves show dates of death as 10th May 1940 to a date in mid-June.  So we will probably never know what the true cost of the ‘Miracle of Dunkirk’ was.
Find out more about the real Dunkirk and visit the beaches yourself alongside an expert guide on our Dunkirk and Fortress Europe tour.

Formula 1 2017 – The story so far…

With ten of the twenty races of the 71st Formula 1 season complete, one point between the top two championship contenders and one race to go before the midseason break, what better time to take a look back at all of the goings on so far…

We’ve had controversy, quick cars, an array of winners and remarkable rookies in just ten races and with all that already gone, we really cannot wait to see what the rest of the season has in store for us!

Mighty machines

Let’s begin with the real stars of the sport shall we, that’s right, the cars, as although the preseason testing saw the mighty machines travelling at speeds that were a whopping five seconds faster than last years recorded times, the start of the season was plagued with doubt as to whether the wider cars would mean that we would see less of the exciting over takes that we all love.
Well put it this way, in the Chinese Grand Prix, rising star Max Verstappen climbed 13 places from 16th to third, passing nine cars in the first lap alone…
…If that’s not over taking, we don’t know what is, and the race in Shanghai featured fifty four overtakes on the whole, of which just ten were done using DRS!
And the rest of the season has seen some amazing overtakes and wheel to wheel racing, so we really don’t know what we were worrying about.

And thanks to the nature of the new cars, we now have a truly unpredictable season on our hands.

The season got underway to a great start in Australia, when the Silver Arrows were finally thrown from the top spot, as Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel took the chequered flag ahead of Lewis Hamilton.
Things then only got better in the three races that followed, which again saw Vettel but also Hamilton and Bottas claim the top spot too, making it three different winners in four races.
Add Daniel Riccardo into the mix in Azerbaijan and we now have four championship contenders, with ten races to go!
And due to the crazy British Grand Prix, which saw Vettel’s tyre burst on the last lap, there is now only one championship point between the German and Lewis, leaving us extremely hungry to see what Hungary has to offer us on the 30th of July.

With unpredictability comes an epic championship battle…

…Which leads us nicely onto what is quite possibly one of the best title fights the sport has seen in years, yep, I’m talking about the one between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton, who are currently running first and second in the standings.
Having an impressive seven championship titles between them, we knew that when the day came that these two were finally given cars that could compete with each other, we were in for some exciting, edge of the seat battles.
And the pair seemed to be enjoying the wheel to wheel racing as much as us, well up until Baku that is…
Yep, the Azerbaijan Grand Prix saw the championship battle turn a little bit nasty, when Sebastian Vettel saw red, and no we’re not talking about his Ferrari.
The German thought that Hamilton had break checked him, and retaliated by purposefully wheel bashing the Mercedes driver.
Vettel received a ten second penalty during the race but was met with an awful lot of backlash after the chequered flag, as people argued that the penalty wasn’t harsh enough.
Eventually Vettel was sent to stand before the FIA in Paris, where he received a slap on the wrist and a telling off from Jean Todt, before the matter was put to bed.
Although many people still think Sebastian deserved a harsher punishment, whatever your verdict, it certainly did get everyone talking about Formula 1 and at least the pair seem to be back on good terms, for now…
However, we really can’t wait to see what the following races hold for these two, we just hope the action is more civilised like the battle the pair had for first place in Barcelona, at the Spanish Grand Prix!

And we can’t forget about the amazing rookie performances

Force India are on course to clinch 4th place in the constructor’s championship, but it’s not just the competitive car that the team can owe their success too…
Sergio Perez continues to impress, being a consistent point scorer for the team but its new comer Esteban Ocon who’s got people talking in and out of the paddock.
The 20 year old has been putting pressure on his Mexican team mate ever since the season started in Melbourne, where he scored his first ever F1 point and obtained the first of his five straight top ten finishes.
After an unfortunate DNF in Monaco, he was back at it again in Canada, Azerbaijan Austria and now the UK, making us and his team very happy.
We’ve also been impressed by Lance Stroll, the 18 year old Canadian was brought to Williams to replace Massa and race alongside Bottas, but he actually ended up racing with Massa and replacing Bottas, confusing we know.
Anyway, at 18 years and 239 days old, Stroll become the second ever youngest podium finisher, when he came third place in Azerbaijan.
Scoring points in Montreal, Baku and Austria, it looks like the rookie is slowly but surely finding his feet and we are excited to see what’s to come for the 18 year old.

And finally, with the midseason break comes ‘Silly Season’

That’s right folks, it has quickly come back around to that time again and we are well and truly in silly season with the first driver who is up on the market, being the one and only, Fernando Alonso.
After three turbulent years with McLaren-Honda, we are not surprised that the double world champion wants to leave the team for pastures new…and a car that doesn’t breakdown almost every race… But where is the Spaniard rumoured to go?
Well we know that he wants to be in a race winning car next year, so if this season is anything to go by that just leaves Ferrari, Mercedes and Red bull as options, but all three teams seemed to have shut the door on poor Fernando at the Austrian GP weekend.
Ferrari’s ‘big boss’ Sergio Marchionne was even quoted saying that he isn’t interested in the slightest in having Fernando back at Ferrari.
Maybe he could leave the F1 scene altogether, he’s already ventured away from the sport this year, when he headed stateside to compete in the Indy 500, missing the legendary Monaco GP. Could this have been a sign of things to come?
Carloz Sainz Jnr is also another driver who is currently being discussed amid the 2018 season, after he said it was unlikely he would race with Toro Rosso for a fourth year.
And the rumour circulating at the moment is that he could be out of Red Bull’s sister team as early as the end of this month, with him set to replace Palmer at Renault in Hungary, but both Christian Horner and Renault’s Abiteboul have already quashed these rumours.
2018 is also looking uncertain for Kimi and it’s currently not looking good for the Finn, whose contract is up with Ferrari at the end of 2017.

The team feel that he is not providing the results that they are looking for, with Sergio Marchionne labelling him a ‘laggard’ just a few weeks ago.
Raikkonen has barley matched Vettel’s pace in 2017 and currently lags eighty eight points behind his team mate in the standings, with his best result being when he came 2nd place at the Monaco GP in May.
He provided an excellent drive in Silverstone though, after a random type blow out on the second to last lap, saw the Finn lose second place, he managed to bring the car home in third after an emergency pit stop.
Hopefully this will be enough for the mighty Marchionne to save his career for another year.
And, even after all that, the story of the year could still be to come, after claims that Robert Kubica could potentially be returning to the sport.
After seven years away due to a rally incident which left his right arm partially severed and led to a long rehabilitation process, is it even possible that the thirty two year old, Polish driver could make a full F1 return?
Well, he has been testing with Renault recently and has apparently clocked up some pretty impressive times, so who knows, it really would be great to see him back on the grid.
So, with 10 races still to go and by the sounds of it, a lot to look forward to next year also, make sure you don’t miss out on the action. Join Leger Holidays on one of our Formula 1 Motorsport breaks and be a part of this F1 era.
 

Born in the USA: Our Guide to the Stars of the States

In a week where our friends across the pond have been celebrating their Independence Day, we’ve been busy thinking about all the fantastic things the United States of America have on offer.

We probably don’t even need to talk about how amazing New York is and how everyone should visit the Grand Canyon at least once, you more than likely already know because America itself is just as famous as the celebrities it produces.
And in true American style, this one’s not just about the stars and stripes, it’s also about the stars themselves! And if you’re a music fan, a film buff, or like to dabble in the celebrity gossip scene, here are our top places to visit if you’re looking for the star-studded experience whilst travelling in the states.

Memphis


Memphis is not just a fantastic place to visit, it’s also the home of rock and roll royalty. From Johnny Cash and George Coleman to a rock band called Saliva (yes, really), it’s certainly got some musical merit.
But one of the big attractions is the home of possibly the most famous musician of all time. Yes, the King himself, Mr. Elvis Presley!
Elvis purchased the sprawling property, better known as Graceland, 60 years ago and luckily for us, it is now open to the public. Spreading over 17,500 square feet, it has even been voted the World’s Best Musical Attraction in USA Today 10Best Readers’ Choice awards in 2015.

It offers an exciting experience touring through Elvis’ former home. But some things are kept a little more private. The upper floor of the mansion is not open to the public, but don’t feel too bad…
Considered his private sanctuary, the place he lived and loved, only former wife Priscilla, daughter Lisa-Marie and the Graceland curator are allowed within its hallowed halls. So you can be sure to still get the fullest experience on offer when visiting the iconic home.
Graceland comes in a smooth second in the most visited homes in the USA list, attracting over 500,000 fans a year, falling just behind our next stop off…

The White House


Home to possibly the biggest star in the USA, the presidential home is the most visited house in the USA. And, it’s certainly of presidential proportions.
Despite what you may think of the man in the oval office at the time, it’s a fascinating place to visit. And, best of all? It’s free to get inside!
Each week, the White House has over 30,000 visitors. But, it doesn’t end there, they also receive 65,000 letters, 3,500 phone calls and 100,000 emails! So, they could certainly do with the extra hands, lucky there’s an extra resident on hand to help them out…
Winston Churchill reportedly saw the ghost of Abraham Lincoln whilst staying in the former president’s bedroom. It’s said he was just getting out of the bath at the time, lucky he didn’t slip!

San Francisco


The birth place of Bruce Lee, Clint Eastwood and Steve Jobs, San Francisco hasn’t just brought us the best of film and technology, it’s also one popular place to visit.
Attracting 18.9 million visitors in 2015 alone, if you’re looking for former celebrity haunts, you’re in the right place.
The impressive China Town area is actually the birth place of Bruce Lee, and it’s the largest of its kind outside of Asia. There are temples, tea houses, souvenir shops and traditional pharmacies and if you’re visiting during a Chinese holiday or event, you can expect some extravagant celebrations.

And, if you’re looking for a popular celebrity haunt, The Slanted Door in San Francisco Bay is not only one of the most popular restaurants in the city, it’s also attracted stars such as Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Quentin Tarantino!

Beverley Hills


Of course, the home of the rich and famous, Beverley Hills has not only attracted the elite for decades, but the tourists seem to love it too!
Judy Garland lived on Bel Air Road, Michael Jackson and Walt Disney on Carolwood Drive and John Lennon on Mulholland Drive, so you can see why the Hollywood Stars’ Homes tours are so popular.
But if you’re thinking less about peeking into houses and more about living the lifestyle, Rodeo Drive is a great place to visit.
Not only is it a shopper’s paradise, it’s also starred in over 50 films! From Beverley Hills Cop to Pretty Woman, you can walk in the footsteps of Julia Roberts and Eddie Murphy on the picturesque and pretty famous street.

Hollywood Walk of Fame


How could we not mention the world famous, Hollywood Walk of Fame, where any star who is a star has a star! Visiting the Walk of Fame is almost a rite of passage when in Los Angeles.
Honouring luminaries in film, television, radio, theatre and recording, the sidewalks of the famous Hollywood Boulevard have taken over tinsel town since the 1960s, and it’s still just as impressive today.
Everyone’s favourite stars from Richard Bacon, Doris Day, Aretha Franklin and the Backstreet Boys have their names adorned on the glistening footpaths. And if this isn’t the best way to reach the stars, we don’t know what is.

It’s also just a stone’s throw away from the Hollywood Madame Tussauds, meaning you can (almost) get up close and personal to the stars, too!
Thinking about heading off on a dream tour of America? With our fantastic selection of USA holidays, you can take in some of the most popular destinations worthy of anyone’s bucket list!
From New York to Miami, the West Coast or maybe a cross country journey travelling along Route 66, we’ve got it all. Fancy taking a look, they’re all available, here.