A battlefield guide in the making – Conor Reeves

A battlefield guide in the making

When 15-year old budding World War historian Conor Reeves, from Cheshire, first came on a Leger battlefield tour, little did he know where it would lead.

 
After taking the Old Front Lines tour, he contacted his battlefield guide to thank them for the experience and to ask if there was any possibility he could do some work experience on a future tour. Fully expecting a polite ‘no’, he was amazed when Leger’s head battlefield guide, Paul Reed, got in touch to make it happen. So in July 2013, Conor took the ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ tour – but this time as a trainee guide, presenting some of his extraordinary knowledge about the topic to other guests on the tour. Here he explains the experience in his own words:
 
On the 26th of July, I embarked upon my journey to the First World War battlefields of Northern France and Flanders. I had travelled with Leger on three previous occasions and, consequently, knew what to expect. This time, however, my experience would differ because I would be aiding the Battlefield Guide.
After weeks of planning and preparation, I arrived at the hotel to be greeted by the specialist guide. We discussed how the weekend would work and which ‘presentations’ I would perform.
The 27th of July saw our group head out onto the Ypres Salient, in Belgium. After visiting the recreated trenches and museum at Sanctuary Wood in the middle of an electric storm, we were bound for Tyne Cot British Cemetery. The largest British and Commonwealth war cemetery in the world, with around 12,000 burials, Tyne Cot always captures hearts and minds of visitors; whether they are first timers or regulars. This would be the setting, and what a spectacular setting it was, for my first presentation. I decided to set the scene and put the cemeteries into context with a brief overview of common traits and a brief history of Common Wealth War Grave cemeteries as, for many, it was their first time visiting the battlefields. This was a leap of faith on my part as I had to judge to what depth of detail I should go into and how much people already knew.  Although, at first, my presentation started a little quietly, I started to pick up techniques from our guide. I tried to amalgamate a selection of different techniques like facts, opinions and anecdotes.

Connor Reeves on his work experience
Conor answering questions from the group

People were soon asking questions and it was a pleasure to able to answer them; it was a thoroughly enriching experience to help people understand and enjoy the trip. Although the battlefields have a certain pull factor, insisting that many visitors return time after time, for many it would be the first and only time on the old frontlines. The thought that I was helping to forge the only memories of visiting the battlefields on which their relatives probably fought and died, really is priceless. I choose the word “is” with some conviction because it still makes me feel proud and very grateful, even to this day.
Later that day, I presented some information at the Ploegsteert Memorial, with subjects including the story of a posthumous Victoria Cross winner and a former England Rugby captain. With my confidence improving, I was receiving lots of positive feedback which would stand me in good stead and give me great amount of encouragement for our time on the Somme, the following day.
The Somme holds a very special place within the consciousness of the British nation because of its apparent embodiment of the horrors associated with the First World War.
Feeling more at home, where I one day wish to reside, I was much more confident on the battlefields of the Somme, doing presentations at La Boisselle and Beaumont-Hamel. Presenting the events of 1916 to some of the descendants of the victims of this most gargantuan of battles was an absolute dream come true. A dream which I sometimes doubted would ever come to fruition, but which has done so before my 16th year. My dream, however, would not have been achievable if the opportunity had not been provided by Leger and its guides. To talk about the disastrous first day of the battle of the Somme was an honour and a privilege; something I will forever look fondly upon, to be able to share the stories of heroism and blunder and bear witness to the sacrifices made in the name of the British Empire.
On the Somme, it was a great surprise to be met by Paul Reed; the head Leger battlefield guide. I have previously met Paul a couple of times and he arranged my work experience, so I thought it was very nice of him to take time out of his holiday to see how I was getting on. Paul has continued to support me throughout my development and education into The Great War and is always willing to give me support and advice. He inquired as to how I was finding the experience and I gleefully explained what I had done and how brilliant I was finding it all. I even got him to sign my copy of his book “Walking the Somme”. Although I could have chatted to Paul all day, the tour beckoned and I had to adhere to battlefield guide rule number one; the customer is your number one priority – another moral I learnt as a result of my time spent with the great staff at Leger holidays!
Connor and Paul
Paul and Conor

We finished the day at the Thiepval memorial to the missing of the Somme. An appropriate ending to the day, putting the size of the battle into context with its 72,000 names, each one “denied the known and honoured burial” given to their comrades.
Earlier in the day, I had agreed to help a lady find her Grandfather on the memorial. One, amongst the endless names. To aid her in finding the relative’s name, which was the sole purpose of her pilgrimage, was an experience that I will never forget.
Aside from the historical and factual information gained from the trip, I gained a great amount of experience in public speaking and presentation which will help greatly in the future. Working with Leger has made me even more set on pursuing a career in military history which I will continue to work towards over the next few years. The ultimate goal at the end of my education is to be able to submerse myself in the history of the Great War and live on the battlefields, permanently, working for a company like Leger.
Until then!
Conor Reeves

Ideas for Fathers Day From Leger Holidays

A new car cleaning kit, baking a cake or a matching shirt and tie set are all very nice ideas but are they a little predictable? Why not take a look at our ideas for Fathers Day.

Many dads across the country would be over the moon with a car cleaning kit, but I was thinking this year I’m going to look at something a little more exciting. This father’s day I’m thinking outside the box something like a Formula One Grand Prix Weekend.
If your dad is anything like mine, then there is nothing he enjoys more than a weekend packed full of sport. Especially when the Formula One season starts. A big ambition of his is to go to a Formula One Grand Prix Weekend. Around this time of year is when the annual comments like “Next year we are going to go to Monaco” or “I would love to of been there for that race” make an appearance.

Formula One Race Weekends with Leger Holidays
Formula One Race Weekends with Leger Holidays

I know not all dads are the same. If a sporting weekend is not your dads’ cup of tea, maybe a Battlefield Tour would be more suitable? Our Battlefield tours are very popular amongst Leger customers. Especially in the build up to Fathers Day, a favourite amongst our customers is the All Quiet on the western front tour.
Trenches on the All Quiet on the Western Front Tour
Trenches on the All Quiet on the Western Front Tour

The Formula One Race Weekends and Battlefield tours are just a couple of ideas we suggest as ideas for Fathers Day gifts. Our website houses a variety of alternatives that maybe more suitable. There are tours that include city breaks, cruises, and many other live events including the Andrea Bocelli in Tuscany.
For more information on any of our tours or for more ideas for Fathers Day please visit our website. Alternatively you can contact our friendly reservations team on 01709 787 463.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user: Jim, the Photographer

Adam Rees’s – All Quiet On The Western Front Tour

All Quiet On The Western Front tour

In our magazine we’re always explaining to our readers that few experiences are as moving as visiting the fields on which family members fought and finding the grave or monument where they’re commemorated if they fell. To see the value of such an expedition for myself, I took a trip of the Western Front with Leger Holidays. ‘All Quiet On The Western Front’ is a five-day introductory tour that includes meticulous visits of the Ypres Salient, Arras region and the Somme. It’s not only a must for any military history enthusiast, but also if you discover a family member who fought in these terrible battles of World War I.

Although there’s nothing stopping you visiting these places on your own, having an experienced tour guide with you makes the trip far more interesting, to add information on sites, facts and answer any questions that arise. Our expert Marc Hope gives colour to the history of the war, using maps, pointing out key positions and encouraging the attendees to take time to explore the cemeteries and monuments around every corner including going to “say hi to the Pals Battalions” who lay next to each other in Serre Road Cemetery no 2 on the Somme.

Battlefield guide Marc Hope talking to the group
Battlefield guide Marc Hope talking to the group

It’s this insight that makes a guide such an advantage. It’s easy enough to find the biggest British and Commonwealth cemetery at Tyne Cot or attend the incredibly poignant Last Post held every night at the Menin Gate, however, there are few printed tourist guides that show you the farmhouse on Ypres from where Adolf Hitler ran messages to his officers, or the café where Winston Churchill ate his breakfast while stationed on the Front – amazingly this was only a few miles away from his future adversary.
Although the tour is on a strict plan, detours can be made to accommodate personal visits to see the grave or name of a relative who was killed, giving an even more personal experience to your tour. During the trip to Arras one of the tourists took a moment to visit the grave of his great-uncle who was killed on the first day of the battle in 1917.
Tourists took a moment to visit the grave of his great-uncle
Tourists took a moment to visit the grave of his great-uncle

As well as the usual souvenirs, trips to battlefields can present a whole host of mementos. Any fan of programmes like Time Team will be aware of the priceless artefacts that can be uncovered in places such as battlefields and historic sites, in particular the Western Front with its high concentration of men taking part and unfathomable amounts of munitions used, many of which never exploded. Nearly a century later farmers on the Western Front are still digging up fragments of shells, clothes and, sadly, bodies. So it isn’t surprising when looking at the tower of the Ulster Division on the Somme that a farmer digs up two shells from WWI, undisturbed since they were fired in 1916, complete with heavy shrapnel balls that are shared out among our tour party.
Two recent discoveries
Two recent discoveries

The trip is both fascinating and incredibly moving, both for those who knew only patches of the history of the war or in my case, having read about it for 20 years. No matter how much you soak up from a book or watch in documentaries or dramatisations, the sheer scale of the loss and devastation wrought in this particular conflict is hard to fathom.
The Tyne Cot Cemetery
The Tyne Cot Cemetery

With preparations underway to commemorate the centenary of the war in 2014, with tours of the battlefields being booked up fast and events being planned across the country, there’s never been a better time to visit this scarred but fascinating corner of Europe, and discover the stories behind each name inscribed upon a wall or on a grave, for more information please visit the Battlefield Tours page
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Bringing history to life for the next generation

Connor reading Paul Reed's book at Hawthorn Ridge No.1

Bringing history to life for the next generation

…introducing Conor Reeves

 

Here at Leger we’re used to having people of all ages come along on our battlefield tours, covering everything from eight to 98. Often this can include those who may be looking at it as part of a school project or who are interested in researching something personal to them.


Let us introduce you to Conor Reeves, a 15-year old battlefield enthusiast, who decided to take it a step further and pursue his dream job for his school work experience…

My name is Conor Reeves, I’m 15 and I’m from Cheshire. In July 2013, I will be doing some work experience with Leger. This will involve me accompanying a guide on one of the battlefield tours as a kind of ‘apprentice’. During the trip I will be presenting some of the research that I have uncovered about the men from my school who died in The Great War.

Bringing History to Life for the next generation - Connor reading Paul Reed's book at Hawthorn Ridge No.1
© Mark Banning – Conor reading Paul Reed’s book at Hawthorn Ridge No.1

This fortunate situation arose when I returned from my second awe-inspiring trip to The Old Front Lines and my history teacher suggested contacting Leger about my work experience. I expected nothing more than a “we would love to, but it just wouldn’t be possible” response. As I sat at home wishing I was back in France, I emailed my Leger guide, firstly to thank him for the brilliant service we’d had on our tour, but secondly to enquire about the possibility of work experience. Within the hour he had replied, and got in touch with Paul Reed (the head Leger battlefield guide) to see what could be done. Paul was incredibly obliging and quickly responded with a “yes”. After discussing details, we decided that the best date for me to accompany a tour would be in the summer of 2013.
I have had a passion for First World War history for a long time so it was extremely important for me to walk in the footsteps of the heroes that I have read about for so long. The first tour of The Western Front that I went on, in 2011, was Leger’s most popular tour “All Quiet on the Western Front”. Being my first visit, I really did not know what to expect. I was very pleasantly surprised. Everything ran smoothly and I could absorb all of the information that was being imparted to me by the incredibly knowledgeable guide, as one by one the names of places that I had previously only seen in books and histories rolled by. On the coach, I told the driver that I would take as many photographs as possible because this would probably be my only trip to the battlefields, to which he replied: “You’ll be back with Leger. Once you have been on a tour, you will always come back”. Little did I know how right he would be.
I was in awe of my guide from the start, longing to know as much as he did, as he delivered the stories of the soldiers that had fought on the ground on which I was stood. As I wandered through the military cemeteries of Northern France and Belgium reading the beautiful epitaphs and admiring the wonderful work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Brookes’ words were flowing through my thoughts: “If I should die, think only this of me”. I ground to a stop to look at one of the portland stone graves and had a moment of disbelief when I realised where I was. I was in that “corner of a foreign field that is forever England”. I was standing in front of heroes. Men that went to war for our King, our country and our freedom. I felt honoured to be in the presence of this particular great man. Then, when I lifted my head and saw over 11,000 of these stones, you realise that all these men had interesting stories and all deserved an equally prolonged visit, which of course is sadly impossible to do.
After returning back to ‘Blighty’ my interest in The Great War increased greatly. It inspired me to do some research into the stories of my school’s old boys who had died in the First World War. I decided to set up The Peace Garden Project which will create a place of remembrance for all the men from Sandbach School who died in conflicts around the world. My interest in The Great War has not gone unnoticed from my school as I have worked with the History department to add a local aspect to the teaching of The War, using my research to try and encourage interest in the conflict.
So, what does Leger mean to me?
Leger allows The Great War to maintain its longevity as people can easily access the battlefields and the wealth of information that Leger and their guides provide. The team at Leger will always be the people that allowed me to reach the battlefields of the 1914-18 war.
Conor will be going on the “All Quiet on the Western Front” tour in July 2013. We will be posting further blogs on how he finds his work experience – good luck Conor!

Fields of Gold and Red by David Holmes

All Quiet on the Western Front

We’re always delighted to receive feedback from people who have experienced one of our excellent Battlefield Tours, and when David Holmes got in touch with us we couldn’t wait to share some of his experiences and poetry with you!
David is the author of The Peaceful Poet website and has also published two books. He has kindly shared one of his poems with us along with some of the inspiration he found whilst on Leger Holidays’ All Quiet on the Western Front tour.
‘I was lucky, I never had to fight in a War, but my Grandfather did and so did my Father. My Grandfather, had lost his life in the First World War, and as far as I could tell no one had visited his grave, nor indeed knew that much about what he had endured.All Quiet on the Western Front
I decided I owed him at least that, to find out, record for posterity, and, visit his final resting place, among the blood red poppies in those fields in France.
My journey started with a small step that is still ongoing and resulted in me visiting The Western Front on an organised Battlefields tour with Leger Holidays.
Officially or not, the trip includedThe St Leger Cemetery a lunchtime trip to a farmyard in St Leger where I was able to walk with our tour guide, Clive Harris, along a farm track. After a short walk we came to a gate, and on opening it, we entered a beautifully kept, grass covered path which lead to the entrance of the St Leger War Cemetery. The Cross of Sacrifice keeping silent vigil over the white stones that marked the final resting place of some 200 brave boys, my Grandfather included.
I had already been inspired to write a poem about my Grandfather and several others about the First War and my impression of what it must have been like during and afterwards. I share one of them with you now.’

Fields of gold and red

I stood amongst the fields of corn,

that swayed gently in the breeze,

I heard a single thrush sing,

in the far off trees

and there, amongst the golden heads,

a million poppies danced,

one for all those long dead boys, who died,

in these fields, in France.

(© david holmes 2004)

To find out more about David’s head over to his website – The Peaceful Poet