Battlefield Netherlands by Jonathan Ball

In the autumn of 1944, the Allied forces found themselves advancing on a wide front across the Netherlands. The famous Operation Market Garden, leading to Arnhem, took place but there were many forgotten battles along the eastern corridor of Holland. Find out first hand about our brand new tour, Battlefield Netherlands, from our specialist guide Jonathan Ball.


Operation Blackcock was a large scale methodical mopping up operation. It was not planned to make any deep thrust into the enemy defences or capture large numbers of Prisoners of War. It proceeded from stage to stage almost entirely as planned and was successfully completed with minimum casualties.

That was the official 21st Army Group take on the events of February 1945. Lt-Col Frank Coutts of the Kings Own Scottish Borderers held a slightly different point of view…

I would very much like to meet that staff officer from 21st Army Group sitting in his caravan or chateau outside Brussels with a large whisky and soda on his table. He had the cheek to add ‘with minimal casualties’. What in Heaven’s name is minimal? One mans life is precious and XII Corps suffered over a thousand killed and wounded.

For our BRAND NEW four-day tour, Battlefield Netherlands, we aim to take our guests very much off the beaten track in the Netherlands which to most British minds ends on the banks of the Neder Rijn at Arnhem. On the recent recce, we looked at the Battle for the towns of Overloon and Venray as the Allies pushed eastwards from Nijmegen towards the River Maas and beyond to the borders of the German Reich. First attacked by the US 7th Armored Division, the Americans found Overloon too tough a nut to crack. In 7 days they advanced little more than 2 kilometres suffering 452 casualties and having 35 Tanks destroyed, 13 of them in quick succession in just one day by a solitary German 88mm Anti Tank Gun. Following the withdrawal of the ‘Lucky 7th’ the task of taking Overloon was given to the British in the shape of the veteran 3rd Divisions’ 8th Infantry Brigade. The Battalions involved lead the British assault on D-Day in Normandy landing at 0730 hours on Sword beach and it’s their fortunes we followed. Firstly with the Suffolks on their start line north of Overloon. We looked at the story of Nelson Brown, a Dunkirk veteran and a bit of a character. The night before the attack on Overloon he shaved a swastika in his hair. By the next morning, he was dead. Scythed down by German machine gun fire literally yards from where he emerged from the trees at the beginning of the attack.

Overloon Cemetery
Overloon

We followed the Suffolks to the site of a windmill, destroyed during the fighting on the Oploo road. All around the fire-swept, flat terrain gives the visitor a first-hand impression of what it must have been like on that October day to advance under heavy fire with so little cover. George Rayson, a Suffolks veteran was later to remark of the fighting around the Windmill “It was bad enough on D-Day but this was one of the worst days of my life, why I’m still here today I don’t know”

After the Suffolks, we followed the story of the East Yorkshire Regiment from the perspective of the defending German Paratroopers. In a wood, there is what a colleague of mine described as some of the best-preserved trenches of the Second World War he’d ever seen. Amongst these trees took place bloody, hand to hand combat as the East Yorks battled through to their objective.

Suffolks start line - CWGC Cemetery in Overloon
Suffolks start line – CWGC Cemetery in Overloon

Then it was on to the beautifully maintained CWGC Cemetery in Overloon before lunch and a visit to the superb museum in the town. There’s lots of original battle damaged kit recovered from the Battlefield in there that again illustrates the ferocity of the fighting.

After lunch, we walked in the footsteps of George Eardley. A Sergeant whose actions in destroying 3 German Machine Gun Posts was to culminate in the awarding of the Victoria Cross. After that, we travelled to the crossing of what is today the peaceful Loobeek River. It was no easy objective in 1944 and for good reason did the locals later know the river as the ‘Bloodbeek’.

Loobeek River
Loobeek River

Venray CWGC cemetery visited on the Battlefields Netherlands tour

Later, after paying our respects to the boys in Venray CWGC cemetery who fell liberating the town we moved on to end the day at Ysselsteyn German Cemetery. The only statistic you really need to know here is the number of men buried, 31,598. Everything else pales into insignificance after that.

The following day took us around what was known as the Roer Triangle with Operation Blackcock, arguably one of the most interesting series of battles you’ve probably never heard of?

We started at Brunssum CWGC cemetery with Brigadier Gerald Mole, killed when 700 mines that had been lifted detonated next to his Headquarters. When Mole was buried the British guns fired in salute using live ammunition on carefully selected targets across the border in Germany, an act that Gerald Mole would no doubt of approved of and incidentally our next destination on the tour.

Brunssum CWGC cemetery with Brigadier Gerald Mole

We crossed the border to look at the Battle for Geilenkirchen and in particular the fight for the woods west of the village of Tripsrath. What took place in these woods was described by one senior officer as being akin to scenes from the First World War. The assault was made by 5/Dorsets and the wood with the trenches and dugouts which remain to this day was named in their honour as Dorset Wood.

Following our brief foray into Germany it was back across the border and to the Dutch town of Sittard for lunch. We took time at the towns CWGC cemetery to look at the posthumous award of the Victoria Cross to its youngest recipient of WW2, Fusilier Dennis Donnini, just 19 years old. Think about what you were doing at 19?

After lunch, we moved along the eastern bank of the River Maas to the town of Susteren. A superb and very original German 88mm Anti Tank gun awaited us there plus the scene of the bitter street fight for control of the town.

Leaving Susteren, we headed on to take in the site of another VC action, the only VC of WW2 awarded to a man of the Royal Army Medical Corps, Eric Harden, the Commando Medic. When men from 45 RM Commando were pinned down Eric Harden went out unarmed on at least three separate occasions to bring in the wounded. On that fateful third trip out he was shot and killed. As Derek-Mills Roberts was to write to his widow later, “it’s easier to be brave with a rifle in your hand than a stretcher”.

Eyewitness WW2 Museum visited on the Battlefield Netherlands tour
Eyewitness WW2 Museum

WW2 Museum visited on the Battlefield Netherlands tour

So those are some of the less explored Battlefields of the Netherlands. We finished with a flourish though at the simply staggering Eyewitness WW2 Museum in Beek. It’s a private collection, beautifully presented which tells the story of the war in the Netherlands and doesn’t shy away from some uncomfortable truths from those years of the German occupation.

Jonathan Ball – Specialist Battlefield Guide for Leger Holidays

If you’d like to join us on this tour, click here for more information.

The story of the Schindler Factory Memorial Aircrew Plaque by David McCormack

Many visitors to the Schindler Factory Museum in Krakow stop for a moment to read the inscription on a plaque commemorating the crew of a B24 Liberator which crashed onto the barrack area in the factory compound (other parts of the aircraft landed on the far side of the River Vistula).

The aircraft from 178 Squadron (KG933) was involved in a large-scale operation to supply Polish Home Army forces involved in the Warsaw Uprising. Very few of the visitors who stop to look at the plaque are aware of the circumstances which led to the aircraft crashing, even less the fate of the surviving crew members.

Aircrew Memorial Plaque at the Schindler Factory Museum
Aircrew Memorial Plaque

At 17.00hrs on 1 August 1944, a bomb exploded in the headquarters of the Krakow Gestapo. This explosion signalled the beginning of the uprising. Within hours, an urgent appeal for supplies was sent out to London by the Poles.
Whilst this appeal received a sympathetic hearing, the practicalities of ferrying supplies by aircraft presented serious difficulties. Warsaw lay approximately 1,500 km from London, a long and perilous journey across flak-infested skies. An additional hazard was that the aircraft involved would have to expose themselves by flying in at low speed and low altitude over the designated drop zones.
There was no other alternative as it was imperative that the precious supplies didn’t fall into German hands. Whilst the problem of distance could be solved to some degree by flying from Italy, the remaining imponderable was the vulnerability of these slow lumbering aircraft as they made their approach to the drop zones.
At approximately 19.55 hrs on 17 August, KG933 took off from Foggia in southern Italy. The designated drop zone (Nida 504) was near the city of Piotrkow (120 km north of Krakow).
There were no incidents on the outbound leg and the drop went as planned. However, as the plane was heading homewards via Krakow it was picked up by a German night fighter (Bf 110 of 1/NJG-100) piloted by Oberfeldwebel Helmut Dahms. In his subsequent report, he claimed two Lancasters shot down (one over Ratibor, the other over Krakow).
It can be said with a high degree of certainty that the Lancaster which he claimed to have shot down over Krakow was in fact KG933.
The burning aircraft was picked up by searchlights in Krakow’s factory district. It was then hit by flak which caused it to disintegrate in mid-air.
The tail section landed over on the far side of the Vistula on the old abattoir, whilst the main fuselage crashed onto the abandoned barrack area of the Schindler Factory. Three crew members were killed outright (Squadron Leader Liversidge, Flight Lieutenant Wright and Flight Sergeant Clarke). Miraculously, three others survived. Sergeant Blunt and Sergeant Helme became prisoners of war in Stalag Luft VII, their war effectively over.
B24 Liberator
B24 Liberator

As for the other survivor, landing in a field approximately twenty-four km east of Krakow was the start of an incredible six-month odyssey. Despite being wounded in his arms and legs, Flight Lieutenant Hammett managed to evade capture for two days.
Then, by a stroke of luck, he was able to make contact with a local partisan group. By late September he had fully recovered from his wounds. He then took an active part in partisan operations from a base in the woods near Slaboszov.
The following month, his group shot down a German scout plane. The German authorities then sent out a force of 100 Ukrainian auxiliaries to hunt down and destroy the partisan group. A fierce firefight ensued with heavy casualties being inflicted by both sides. Hammett survived and later took part in an attack on a barn where several of the Ukrainians were hiding out.
In November, Hammett was moved to a safe-house near to the partisan’s base. Here, he was later joined by two former British POWs. The area was finally liberated by the Red Army in mid-January.
On 23 February, the Soviet authorities placed him in charge of a large group of POWs who were to be transported by train to the port city of Odessa. On arrival, Hammett and the group boarded the SS Moreton Bay for their repatriation to England.
The plaque commemorating the three crewmen killed can be seen on the Understanding the Holocaust and Story of Anne Frank and Oscar Schindler tours at the Schindler Factory Museum.

Ten Facts About The Christmas Truce

1. It was instigated by the Germans

In the lead up to Christmas, German soldiers on various parts of the British sector of the front were seen to be placing lanterns on their Trenches, in some cases Christmas Trees, and reports of carol singing were also received. Then on Christmas Day wooden signs could be seen on the German parapet saying ‘Merry Christmas’ and then German soldiers emerged into No Man’s Land, calling for a Truce. Many British soldiers were initially suspicious of this, but gradually the Truce spread. In some cases it lasted a few hours, in others it lasted several days. Thousands and thousands of men on both sides took part.

2. It was largely on the British sector

Despite some recent films, the Truce really only took place on the British sector of the front. Whether this was because British soldiers felt some natural affinity with the Germans due to shared history and culture is difficult to say. On the French front there was little desire for fraternisation, and while there were some isolated examples of a Truce, most were related to burying the dead after recent fighting.

3. No Football was played

Again, despite cinema and a recent supermarket advert, evidence shows that there were no football matches in No Man’s Land on Christmas Day 1914, between British and German troops. The nature of the battlefield, with shell holes and barbed wire, made such a match difficult anyway, but footballs were used for physical training when out of the trenches, and it is unlikely if any were available. Letters from the time show a desire to play matches, but the only example that comes anywhere near is on the front of 1/6th Cheshires where what was described as a ‘kick about’, featuring more than 100 soldiers of both sides, took place. So no organised match, and Germany did not win!

THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE, 1914 (Q 11745) British and German soldiers fraternising at Ploegsteert, Belgium
THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE, 1914 (Q 11745) British and German soldiers fraternising at Ploegsteert, Belgium, on Christmas Day 1914, front of 11th Brigade, 4th Division. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205247304

4. Peace on Earth? It was about burying the dead

For many soldiers in the front line area there was a practical reason for a Truce: to bury the dead. On the British front in Flanders there had been some local attacks on 19th December 1914, and the unburied bodies of the dead were lying out in No Man’s Land. The smell was terrible, and soldiers wanted to bury their comrades, so one of the most common activities that day was not to share your rations with Fritz, but to find and bury your dead.

5. Did they swap gifts with each other?

In many cases soldiers did give each other gifts once the Truce was active. Opposing soldiers swapped cap badges and buttons, food and drink, and some took photographs of each other, as at this stage of the war personal cameras were not banned. The 1/6th Cheshires cooked a pig in No Man’s Land and offered to share it with their German counterparts. German soldiers brought a barrel of beer to the men of 2nd Royal Welsh Fusiliers, for which they gave plum puddings in return. But the beer was of poor quality to the hardened Welsh regulars so it was not a popular present!

6. The Truce was not universal

Not every German unit wanted a Truce, and not every British unit agreed to participate. British soldiers had witnessed many examples of the Germans implementing ‘ruse de guerre’ (tricks of war) during the campaign from Mons to Ypres, and as such they did not trust the motives for the Truce. Some units were proud of their martial reputation and did not want to be seen to fraternise, and even in sectors where there was a Truce, some soldiers did not take part: having lost mates or family members in the war, as well as the diet of anti-German propaganda that had started on the outbreak of war, they perhaps had little inclination for it.

THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE ON THE WESTERN FRONT
THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE ON THE WESTERN FRONT, 1914 (Q 50721) British and German officers meeting in No-Man’s Land during the unofficial truce. (British troops from the Northumberland Hussars, 7th Division, Bridoux-Rouge Banc Sector). Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205026891

7. Men Died on Christmas Day 1914

Along the British front on 25th December 1914 more than seventy British and Commonwealth soldiers were killed or died of wounds. Of these 32 are commemorated on the Le Touret Memorial, Ploegsteert Memorial or Menin Gate, and have no known grave. With shelling, random sniper and machine-gun fire, for many soldiers Christmas Day 1914 was a typical period of trench warfare with the usual losses.

8. There were many remarkable coincidences

Men of the London Rifle Brigade who took part in the Christmas Truce were Territorial soldiers from the City of London. Before the war many waiters in London hotels were German, and a large proportion of men’s barbers were German too. One veteran recalled meeting a German soldier who used to cut his hair, in No Man’s Land that day; a few months before he had been the man’s client, now they were enemies.

THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE ON THE WESTERN FRONT, 1914 (Q 50720) British and German troops meeting in No-Man’s Land during the unofficial truce. (British troops from the Northumberland Hussars, 7th Division, Bridoux-Rouge Banc Sector). Burying those killed in the attack of 18 December. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205025418

9. Famous people who witnessed the Christmas Truce

Among those who took part in the Christmas Truce was wartime cartoonist Bruce Bairnsfather, who drew the famous ‘Old Bill’ cartoons of the period. He was photographed by one of his men in No Man’s Land that day, and wrote about it in his best-selling book ‘Bullets and Billets’ published in 1916. Nature writer Henry Williamson, most famous for his 1928 classic ‘Tarka The Otter’ was in the Truce at Ploegsteert. Having German ancestors, he felt some kinship to the enemy he met that day, and it was a life changing moment for him: one German soldier told Williamson that he was fighting for King, Country and Freedom, something he could not square that with the fact that supposedly he was fighting with the British Army for the same thing. Later in life Williamson used to get very morose on Christmas Day, thinking back to the Truce and the terrible loss of life in the war.

10. It was a remarkable day

While aspects of the Christmas Truce have been exaggerated, and there may have been no football, it was a truly remarkable day. Soldiers who were enemies stopped fighting and met each other on the battlefield. They obeyed a basic human instinct, rather than just follow orders. As the majority involved were professional soldiers they may have seen it as a rare opportunity to have a day off. Others would have been curious to actually meet a German, as it was likely few ever had. Whatever the reason, it was an event unique to 1914. While the odd battlefield truce, and a small scale one at Cambrai in the winter of 1917/18 took place, there was nothing on this scale ever again: whatever innocence remained in 1914 was lost in the great battles of the war on the Somme and at Passchendaele.

ANZAC by Scott Brand

On the 25th April 1915, Australian and New Zealand forces stepped ashore onto the beaches of the Gallipoli Peninsular, Turkey. They were part of a large expeditionary force comprising of British, Indian, Newfoundland and French forces, with the aim of fighting their way into Turkey and capturing Constantinople (modern day Istanbul), the capital of the Ottoman Empire.

An ambitious plan, and what could have been a bold strike that might well have changed the course of the war, very quickly deteriorated into stalemate of trench warfare only a short distance inland from the landing sites. A variety of reasons contributed to this impasse, but primarily the fighting ability of the Turks was severely underestimated, putting up a fierce and unrelenting defence.

Australians in WW1

 
The end result was eight months of horrific trench warfare, which claimed the lives of thousands of men from both sides as a result of combat and disease.  When it was acknowledged that the Gallipoli campaign was untenable, the decision was made to leave the peninsular and on the 20th December 1915, The Australians and New Zealanders under secrecy and the cover of darkness were evacuated from Gallipoli. In those eight months, 28,150 Australians became casualties, which includes 8,709 killed and 7,473 New Zealanders with 2,721 killed in action.
Rewinding sixteen months to the outbreak of war in August 1914, Australia had only been a federated nation for thirteen years and New Zealand seven, and though contingents of militia from both Australia and New Zealand had been sent to fight in South Africa during the Boer War, both countries had not fought in any major conflicts as nations. Keen to play their part, both Governments went about recruiting men, and thousands of men rallied to the call. Late 1914, the first wave of Australians and New Zealanders set off destined for the Western Front in Europe, but were diverted to Egypt and subsequently Gallipoli. This contingent of antipodeans were known as the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, but more commonly ANZAC’s, and it was the 25th April 1915 that the ANZAC’s wrote themselves into history and into the psyche of the Australian and New Zealand Nations.
 
Gallipoli Battlefields

The 25th April soon became a day of remembrance, with the first ANZAC day in 1916. There were commemoration ceremonies throughout the two countries and 2000 Australian and New Zealand soldiers marched through the streets of London. However, Gallipoli would be the last time the two nations would fight side by side for some time and it wouldn’t be until June 1917 at the Battle of Messines in Belgium, before they fought alongside each other again Throughout the remainder of the war ANZAC day continued to be a day of commemoration with marches in major cities, but it was used for recruitment rallies also.
At the end of hostilities in November 1918, over 60,000 Australian and over 18,000 New Zealanders had been killed, the majority on the Western Front. ANZAC day commemorations continued after the war, though there was no formal organisation, commemorations took on many different forms throughout Australia, with a morning vigil being popular amongst veterans as they most likely found peace in the quite solitude of the dawn. It was these vigils that formed the basis of the Dawn Service, which is a regular part of the ANZAC commemorations we know today.
Dawn ANZAC Day Service on the Somme

ANZAC day continued to be popular and following Word War 2, there became a new generation of ANZAC’s to commemorate. In the 1960’s with Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War, the popularity of ANZAC Day declined with many commemoration services marred by anti-war protests. It wasn’t until the late 1970’s that they regained the popularity and attendance they had seen post World War 2.
As a young soldier in the Australian Army in the 1980’s, I participated in many ANZAC day commemorations and I have strong memories of marching along George Street in Sydney and the pavements were lined with thousands of people. As far as the eye could see along George Street it was a sea of khaki, white and blue, with the men and woman of the Army, Navy and Airforce, marching alongside veterans of three wars. The day always started with the dawn service at a war memorial local to our barracks and then it was back to the RSL (Returned Service League) for a rum with the veterans, before heading into the city for the main march. ANZAC day always ended back at an RSL for the biggest game of two-up, with the calls of “come in spinner” ringing around the room. Incidentally the only time it’s legal to play.
Villers-Bretonneux

In my younger years, I always associated ANZAC day with the remembrance of the dead and missing in the mud of France and Flanders, the beaches of Gallipoli and the sands of Mesopotamia, however as I become more involved in military history it became more than that for me.  ANZAC day for me now is not only commemorating the ultimate sacrifice so many of those men made, but it is also remembering the ones that came back. So many returned from war changed men, whether physically or mentally and the war would have a profound impact on them for the rest of their lives. It’s also reflecting on the impact war has on those left behind, whether grieving for the loss of a loved one or caring for the injured. Seeing the veterans turned out in their best bib and tucker, proudly wearing their medals, smiling and joking amongst their mates, it was easy for me to forget the painful memories so many would have had.
ANZAC day is for commemorating the fallen and celebrating the achievements of the Australian forces in all the wars it has been involved in, but also reflecting on and remembering as it has been so eloquently said to me so many times “Just ordinary men doing extraordinary things”
Join us for our Centenary of ANZAC at Villers-Bretonneaux on this 5-day tour from £399pp.

David McCormack: Playboy, businessman, saviour, spy: Oskar Schindler's lesser known career with German Military Intelligence 1936-40

Oskar Schindler’s name became known to millions following Liam Neeson’s brilliant 1993 on-screen performance as the larger-than-life character in Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. Whilst this beautifuly crafted film captured Schindler’s shrewd opportunism and supreme confidence, it did not satisfactorily explain his conversion from casual war profiteer to selfless hero.

This is entirely understandable, given that the film was based on Thomas Keneally’s book Schindler’s Ark (1982), which only briefly touched upon some of his pre-Krakow activities. Those activities included his direct involvement in espionage and undercover operations carried out by German Military intelligence (Abwehr) between 1936 and 1940.

A still from the film ‘Schindler’s List’

Given the nature of Schindler’s clandestine activities, it is hardly surprising that he remains a controversial and shadowy figure. According to Schindler’s own account, he joined Abwehr III Breslau in December 1936 after meeting the organisation’s chief, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris at a party. The unit to which he was attached principally dealt with code-breaking and radio monitoring.
Following reorganisation, his unit was redesignated as Abwehr II Breslau, tasked with carrying out espionage/counter-espionage and sabotage/counter-sabotage operations. During the fateful summer of 1938 which culminated in the Munich Crisis, he worked to provide Abwehr combat and sabotage teams with reliable maps and information on Czech troop movements and defences.
Oskar Schindler (L), Admiral Wilhelm Canaris. Head of Abwehr (R)

Schindler was a somewhat minor figure in Hitler’s plans to take over Czechoslovakia. Nevertheless, his activities did not go unnoticed by the Czech authorities. He was arrested on charges of espionage on 18 July 1938, tried and subsequently imprisoned. However, he was  released early under the terms of the Munich Agreement.
Through much of August 1939, Schindler played a more significant role in Hitler’s planned invasion of Poland. Operating with Action Commando Unit VIII around the Sillein border region in Slovakia, Schindler smuggled arms and men across the border into Poland in preparation for clandestine combat operations. Later, he participated in operations to secure the strategically important rail tunnel and tracks which ran through the Jablunkov Pass.
The railway tunnel at the Jablunkov Pass

However, Hitler’s miscalculation regarding British and French guarantees to Poland led to the operation being hastily terminated as a result of his fear of provoking a general war.  On 31 August, the carefully staged Gleiwitz Incident provided Hitler with his justification for attacking Poland. Schindler may well have had a role in procuring Polish uniforms for this SS orchestrated ruse de geurre designed to create the impression of Polish aggression along the German border. However, the evidence for his involvement is largely based on testimony from his estranged wife Emilie. As such, it needs to be treated with caution.
Following the occupation of Krakow by German forces in September 1939, Schindler moved to the city in the hope of resuming his business career. However, in reality, he never left Abwehr, as in 1940 he was sent on a mission to investigate difficulties affecting the flow of intelligence information from Turkey. It is also quite possible that his purchase of the Emalia factory was subsidised by his Abwehr controllers, who wished to use it as a front for their continued intelligence activities.
Main building, entrance to Oscar Schindler’s factory in Krakow, Poland

Working with Abwehr brought Schindler into close contact with some of the more unpleasant organs of the Nazi state. Consequently, he developed a distrust of the SS Security Service and the Secret Police, whose activities he regarded as beyond the pale. This distrust would later develop as a distaste for all aspects of Hitler’s terror state and would form the basis of the actions which led to him becoming the saviour of 1,100 Jews, who would certainly have perished without his intervention.

2017 Battlefield Anniversary Timeline – WWI

2017 marks the penultimate centenary year of the end of World War One, and whilst next year will bring a whole host of important anniversaries surrounding the end of the conflict, 2017 itself still has many prominent centenaries including the battle of Passchendaele and the battle of Arras

We’ve put together a timeline of all WWI anniversaries coming up in 2017, take a look below to see the significant dates we’ll remember this year. 

 

Take a look at our Battlefield tours covering WW1 heading out in 2017 on our website, www.visitbattlefields.co.uk or on our main website www.leger.co.uk/battlefields.

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.

paul-reed-talking-to-ww2-veteran-in-italy
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.

guides-recces-at-waterloo
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.
taking-a-family-back-to-a-wargave-in-flanders
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.
leger-coach-on-the-battlefields
Leger Coach on the Battlefields

 
[divider]

Never miss a post from Paul. Sign up to receive alerts.

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.

                           [divider]

Berlin: Delve into the History of the German Capital

Berlin. If there was ever a city that had it all, this is it. From history, to architecture. From war to peace, and from old to new.

Home to around 3.6 million people, Germany’s biggest city dates back to the 13th century. And, one thing we all know is that it has a rather tumultuous past.
Seeing the rise, and subsequent fall of Hitler, sustaining heavy damage through WWII. Divided by the Cold War and reunified with the help of none other than Baywatch legend David Hasselhoff.
And, with a varied past comes an extremely interesting present, you can see why the city is fascinating to many.
But, it’s not the sort of place you can only read about in book. It’s a city that you truly have to explore, with so much to see and do, it is one of the most exciting places to visit in Europe, that’s for sure.
So, let us take you through some of Berlin’s most historically important landmarks to visit on your trip to Berlin.

Berlin Wall

Whilst the Berlin Wall felt the fate of reunification when it officially became redundant on the 9th November, 1989, and the majority of the divisive wall was later torn to the ground. But, in the interest of history and tourism, part of it actually still stands today.
And, it has been reinvented as a rather unique art gallery. Consisting of 105 paintings by artists from all over the world, the East Side Gallery is a canvas for artistic visions of optimism, freedom and friendship.
It also holds the title of the world’s longest open air gallery, at more than 1km in length.
berlin-mel

Checkpoint Charlie

Following the East Berlin’s communist party announcing that relations had thawed with the west, citizens from both sizes of the wall greeted each other drinking beer and champagne alongside chanting of “Tor auf!”, or “open the gate”, if German isn’t your strong point.
And, it happened. The former Allied sentry post, Checkpoint Charlie, was officially closed. But, unlike the majority of the wall, Checkpoint Charlie still, sort of, exists and has become a major tourist attraction.
Where the border once sat, it is now marked with cobbles. And a replica of the guard house and sign that marked the border crossing are sat in the spot of the original Checkpoint Charlie. A great insight into the history of a divided city.
checkpoint-charlie

Brandenburg Gate

For a real look into past, Brandenburg Gate is actually the only remaining city gate that used to separate East and West Berlin.
But, despite its unsavoury past, it’s now considered a symbol of unity, signifying the exact opposite of its intended purpose.
And, interestingly, whilst the gate is an original piece of history that still stands to this day, the Quadriga, crowning the structure actually had a little stint in another European great, Paris, in 1806.
When Berlin was occupied by the French, Napoleon demanded the bronze statue to be taken to the French capital. However, following the battle of Waterloo, it was triumphantly returned to Berlin and, once again, adorned the gate.
A cross and an eagle were added upon its return to signify the victory. But, it was soon removed from the Quadriga as the cross was thought to have associations with Prussian militarism. However, if you’ve noticed it’s still there today, that’s because it was restored after reunification in 1990.
gate

Reichstag Building

Now, if you’re looking for the most visited building in the city, the Reichstag is where you need to be. Rising high above the city, and much like the rest of Berlin, it too has had a turbulent past.
Destroyed in WWII, captured by the soviet troops and abandoned during the years Berlin was divided. But, since 1991 the German parliament voted to reinstate Berlin as the capital and move parliament back to Reichstag.
The new Reichstag building, whilst keeping its historic façade, updated its looks with a fairly impressive glass dome to get a bird’s eye view of the German capital.
reichstag

Museum Island

And talking about impressive architecture, Museum Island has plenty to offer. Yes, an island of museums situated in the Spree River has actually been awarded a UNESCO World Heritage Site inscription.
Host to 5 museums, the island is unique due to its ability to illustrate the evolution of museum design throughout the 20th century. In fact, between 1824 and 1930, as each museum was built, they were done so in accordance to the art the museum would host.
So, not only are you having a cultural lesson investing in some unique art pieces, you can be sure that the buildings are a work of art, too.
museum-island
But, even with all of this, we’re still only scratching the surface of what this magnificent city has to offer. Whether you’re looking for its historic heart or simply its cosmopolitan present, there’s so much to see and do, it’s a perfect city break for everyone.
Christmas Markets, Battlefield tours and short breaks, take a look at our holidays that take in Berlin by clicking here.
 

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

[divider]

Never miss a post from Paul. Sign up to receive alerts.

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.

                           [divider]

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.

 
[divider]

Don’t miss a thing. Sign up to receive alerts.

Sign up to the form below to receive email alerts when Paul publishes a new post.

                           [divider]