GP90: The Great Pilgrimage | Leger Holidays

In August 2018, thousands of members and representatives helped The Royal British Legion recreate the 1928 Battlefields Pilgrimage to mark the centenary of the launch of the ‘Hundred Days Offensive’.

A decade after the end of WW1, the British Legion organised for 11,000 veterans and war widows to visit the battlefields of the Somme and Ypres, before marching to the Menin Gate in Ypres on 8 August 1928.
In 2018, exactly 90 years on, the Great Pilgrimage 90 saw 1,150 branches, and thousands of members and representatives from the UK and abroad, help The Royal British Legion recreate their original pilgrimage.
Here at Leger Holidays, we are immensely proud to have been a part of this magnificent event. It was an absolute honour to have helped make this happen, and not only are we thankful to our many coach crews and Battlefield Guides who took part, but also each and every person who joined us and make this one of our most memorable moments of Leger history.
To commemorate the event, we have put together a moving collection of accounts from our Battlefield Guides who joined us for GP90. Read all about their fascinating stories, below.

Terry Whenham

It all started for me one day in 2001. I was in a military cemetery on the Somme battlefield staring down at my own family name on a headstone. On a cold, blowy April day I then found myself walking, as he did, across the same field 85 years after he was mortally wounded. He was my Great Uncle Henry who had died in August 1916, leaving behind a fiancée called Dolly.

Fast forward 17 years ago and I found myself on the same Somme battlefield guiding 40 enthusiastic British Legion members as part of their GP90 commemorations. Although I had been organising and leading battlefield tours for many years, it was the first time I had been asked to guide such a large group and, being part of the Leger Group, I was determined to make the tour a success, although I was a bit apprehensive!

As we toured such iconic places such as Vimy Ridge, Delville Wood, Hill 60 and Arras, it was an exhilarating experience. I was able to share my passion and knowledge with everyone on board, many of who were veterans from recent conflicts. The impact of the stories I told the passengers was immense, and everyone shared in the shock, amazement and grief of the Victoria Cross winners, boy soldiers, shot at dawn men and ordinary soldiers who carried out incredibly brave actions.

I told the story of how 3 Victoria Crosses were won on Hill 60, in the midst of a gas attack. The group stood at the graves of 2 soldiers in Arras, buried next to each other, who were “shot at dawn”. On the Arras Memorial, they discovered Walter Tull, a professional footballer from my home town who became an officer, despite suffering dreadful racism. At the Thiepval Memorial, they learned about Private John Dewsbury who wrote a beautiful letter to his mother as he lay mortally wounded in a shell hole. I told these stories with tears in my eyes. It was an experience that nobody who was there on those very hot August days will ever forget. Or me either.

Private John Dewsbury who wrote a beautiful letter to his mother as he lay mortally wounded in a shell hole
Private John Dewsbury who wrote a beautiful letter to his mother as he lay mortally wounded in a shell hole

A GP90 group at Thiepval MemorialLeger Battlefield Guide Terry Whenham guiding his GP90 group


Ste Lingard

Being part of the Royal British Legion’s “Great Pilgrimage 90” last August was a highlight of all my time on the battlefields.  I joined more than two thousand men and women from across the United Kingdom in marking the 90th anniversary of the original “Great Pilgrimage” when 10,000 veterans and relatives made the same trip, just 10 years after the war.

On Monday we visited Ypres (now Ieper) and the surrounding area, including Hill 60, Messines, Zonnebeke and Tyne Cot Cemetery – the final resting place for almost 12,000 British and Commonwealth servicemen.

We spent Tuesday on the Somme and at Arras, visiting Delville Wood (where we found a large howitzer shell sticking out of the ground – and left it well alone), Thiepval, Vimy Ridge and the Arras Memorial.

Wednesday was the focal point of the pilgrimage.  The veterans paraded through Ypres: 1,200 standard bearers and 1,200 wreath layers, led by the Royal Marines Band. All took part in a service beneath the Menin Gate, remembering the sacrifices made throughout the war and the anniversary of the Battle of Amiens in 1918, which marked the start of the greatest series of victories in the British Army’s history.  It was an impressive and moving day.

Towards the end of the trip, one of the group asked me if I had enjoyed it.  Yes, I had, and listening to the veterans was the best part: the Guardsman who had been part of the Guard at King George VI’s funeral and Elizabeth’s coronation; the 79 year old physical training instructor – still a fine runner – who had served in the Royal Marines, Lancashire Fusiliers and Royal Air Force; and the quiet gentleman who kept himself to himself, but paraded in the sand beret and winged dagger badge of the SAS, and turned out have been a Colonel in that most elite of regiments – veterans stood as he passed, and in the pub after the parade, beer appeared in front of him as if by magic.

As a freelance historian and guide, I was fortunate to be working with Leger.  They handled the complex logistics involved in such a large operation with great professionalism and provided support to those who needed it at all hours of the day.  You can relax knowing that you are in safe hands.

I hope you find your pilgrimage rewarding and enjoyable.

Ste Lingard


Phil Arkinstall

Leger Battlefield Tour Group during GP90

As a history teacher, I have led tours to the battlefield before for my school, but when I was given the job as guide for Coach 928 for GP90 I was over the moon. This was my first tour working for Leger and I couldn’t have been more thrilled and proud. My role was to lead members from the British Legion to historic sites around Ypres and the Somme before their parade. My favourite activity was taking a series of photo cards of soldiers who had come from Wiltshire and whose bodies were never found; their names being on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing. My group loved the idea and were keen to get involved. At the end, we had a photo taken with all members holding a soldier – for so many it was powerful to see the faces of those who don’t have a known grave and helps to represent a small number of the scores of men who gave their lives.

For me though, it was parade day that I was most looking forward to. The sheer sense of determination from the Legion members who either carried a wreath or held the standard was very moving. For each person who took part they were not just representing their branch, but their county, the nation as a whole and the memory of the men and women who gave their lives for the freedoms we observe today. That is the reason so many took part and the reason why I wanted to be part of this anniversary. It will be one of the proudest moments of all our lives. The weight of responsibility each person must have felt was equalled with their own sense of pride and can be seen in photographs and on the televised screens. A special mention must go to Bill Dobson, the standard bearer from Edington was one of the oldest members of the group and his sense of duty and regard to his standard saw that he held it throughout the entire march. It is this level of respect and utter sense of duty that I will take away from GP90 and I hope that I get to pass this on to all the pupils that I teach at my school. The legacy of this event is that in another hundred years, younger generations are still paying their respects for the generation that sacrificed it all

Phil Arkinstall Leger Battlefield Guide


Shaun Coldicutt

Leger Battlefield Tour Group

From Sunday 5th August – Thursday 9th August 2018 I had the pleasure of taking and guiding a group of 47 Royal British Legion members on a tour of the Western Front for the “Great Pilgrimage”; commemorating both ninety years since 11,000 Royal British Legion members (Veterans, widows and officials) toured the battlefields in 1928 culminating in a parade in Ypres through the Menin Gate and to overall, commemorate those involved in the First World War.

Not only were the footsteps of 11,000 strong some ninety years previous retraced through the battlefields of France and Flanders, but this trip also witnessed new legacies, stronger bonds forged and lasting memories for all involved.

As one of the sixty unprecedented battlefield guides to accompany the trip, it was our job to ensure both the smooth running of such a vast logistical operation and to provide our groups with information and all-around care.

The trip was split between a two day guided tour of the major areas and battles of the Western Front visiting locations around the Battle of the Somme, Arras and the Ypres Salient. As a first time guide at 25, it was incredible to see and speak to so many people in one location for the same purpose of commemoration. Hundreds of pilgrims would make their way to a site where the mood would often be lively and vibrant both on the coach and within the vast crowds walking the ground, yet when congregating at a location the atmosphere would be one of quiet, personal reflection.

The final day before departing witnessed all pilgrims form up to march through the Belgian town of Ypres where 1 in 4 British and Commonwealth soldiers who fought during the First World War were killed in defence of. 2200 standard bearers and wreath layers; now closer friends and comrades who had shared the tides of emotions often experienced on a battlefield tour stood side by side whilst their proud guides who became more and more attached to them waved them past and wished them well. As sixty coaches departed from the town, a sense of accomplishment and pride could be felt by everyone involved. The Great Pilgrimage of 2018 had achieved all it had set out to do and more.


Tom Saunders QGM

On 8 August 2018, I had the honour, privilege and pleasure to guide one of the many Leger Coaches in Flanders and on the Somme, as The Royal British Legion commemorated the 90th Anniversary of the Great Pilgrimage of 1928. Legion Standard Bearers and Wreath layers travelled from across the commonwealth to recreate the first pilgrimage of 1928. In many cases, 1928 was the first time widowed mothers and wives had a chance to visit their loved ones’ graves. What a sad occasion it must have been when 11000 pilgrims made the long journeys to France and Belgium.

We guided the GP90 clients on a battlefield tour of France and Belgium on a strict timetable selected specifically by the Royal British Legion in conjunction with Leger Tours.  We visited iconic memorials like the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing on the Somme. It contains the names of over 72,000 soldiers whose remains were never recovered for formal burial.  It’s the largest Commonwealth War Graves Commission memorial in the world and was designed by the famous architect Sir Edwin Lutyens. It stands tall and proud on the Thiepval Ridge and can be seen from across the wide-ranging battlefield.

We visited Tyne Cot Cemetery and Tyne Cot Memorial in Flanders.  This cemetery is the largest Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in the world with almost 12000 burials and designed by eminent architect Sir Herbert Baker. On an arched stone wall at the rear of the cemetery stands one of four memorials to the missing within the Ypres Salient. The memorial contains the names of almost 34000 missing soldiers who died in Flanders.  The cemetery and memorial stand overlooking the town of Ypres on what was the gentle ridge leading up to the nearby village of Passchendaele.

The final parade in Ypres was led by Northern Ireland man, Norman Espie as the legions National Standard Bearer. What a day we had in Ypres (Wipers). The GP90 Pilgrimage and parade were amazing. The colour, music, the splendour and the dignity of the parade was outstanding. The emotion of the occasion got to many visitors and participants and many a tear was shed during the beautiful service of remembrance. The Menin Gate itself was surrounded by over a thousand wreaths.  The ghosts of Menin Gate no doubt looked on with great satisfaction and pride that their sacrifice in 1914 to 1918 was never forgotten. We will remember them.

Journey's End: The Dugout Experience

With the JOURNEY’S END film released this year, there now comes a rare chance to see it LIVE on the very battlefields which inspired it a century ago.

MESH Theatre’s 5 Star production opened at Ypres’ Gunpowder Store (Het Kruitmagazijn) in Belgium last Autumn to universal acclaim and returns to Ypres to bring Armistice events to a close, 10 October to 12 November.
Writer R C Sherriff fought on the Western Front and was wounded at Passchendaele in 1917. He sets the play in March 1918 over three days leading up to the German launch of the battle of St Quentin (Operation Michael) on the Somme.  Men he fought with in the trenches are clearly recognisable in his colourful cast of characters holed up in a dugout on the front line, anticipating the attack. Lead character Captain Stanhope, first played by a young Laurence Olivier in 1928, is troubled by the arrival of his boyhood pal 2nd Lieutenant Raleigh. The resulting story is, the Telegraph said “ever-enthralling, good-humoured and finally heart-rending.” 
Gunpowder Store (Het Kruitmagazijn) in Belgium

Audience after audience in Ypres gave it standing ovations. The play’s director Sally Woodcock discusses why it had such impact: “It’s a combination of factors. They say good directing is 90 per cent casting: we had superb actors who brought a passion for the subject which took it to a new level. It’s a much-loved play, we received  1300 submissions for just 10 parts, so favoured those who wrote to us personally and this paid off. I felt the magic happening in the rehearsal room from day one. These guys knew exactly where to hang their packs, what was in them, when to take off their helmets, so we had time to dig around in the text for every ounce of meaning.

Gunpowder Store (Het Kruitmagazijn) in Belgium

Secondly, the play is a classic for a reason: it’s a brilliantly-crafted story with characters who strike real chords for people, especially soldiers, because it was written by a soldier and that authenticity is unmistakable. One ex-serviceman who’s been Battlefield-guiding for 25 years said, ‘I’ll never walk past a 2nd Lieutenant’s headstone again without seeing what I’ve just seen in there..’  Add to that a momentous point in time – the Great War Centenary – and iconic place – the 200-year old munitions store a ten minute walk from the Menin Gate – and you have something unforgettable. But that’s what live theatre does: it gives you a direct line to lived experience – the ‘whiff of cordite’ – which has a potency like nothing else.”

Woodcock’s favourite tributes are what she calls “the sublime and the ridiculous”. “The ‘sublime’ in a hand-written letter from General Sir James Everard KCB CBE, Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe: ‘We saw Journey’s End last Saturday. It captured the atmosphere, tensions, humour and tragedies of trench life brilliantly.

Gunpowder Store (Het Kruitmagazijn) in Belgium

We teach all young officers that war is a trial or moral and physical strength, shaped by human nature and subject to the complexities, inconsistencies and peculiarities which characterise human behaviour. We also tell them – and they learn – that any view of the nature of war is incomplete without the consideration of the effects of danger, fear, exhaustion and privation on the men and women who do the fighting. For me this is what Journey’s End captures so well.’

See the Journey’s End play performed at Ypres and visit real locations connected with Journey’s End with Leger Holidays.

The ‘ridiculous’ (and delightful) was from a school girl, ‘Thank you for the amazing play. And sorry for crying so much at the end.’

But our favourite was, of course from Dominic Cavendish in The Telegraph: ‘It might sound like the height of extravagance to recommend crossing the Channel for a few hours of theatre, but it honestly feels like paying the bare-minimum tribute… See it, then, and weep.’ “  

***** THIS PRODUCTION IS WORTH A TRIP TO BELGIUM
The Daily Telegraph

Barnsley Pals: Following in the Footsteps of Local Heroes

Our Head Battlefield Guide, Paul Reed has lived in the South Yorkshire former mining village of Elsecar for the past couple of years. In this blog he documents his experience of guiding a dedicated group tour, taking patrons of his local to the battlefields to discover the stories of the Barnsley Pals.


Elsecar is situated on the edge of Barnsley, close to the countryside, and near the impressive Wentworth Woodhouse stately home, whose owners built the local colliery and many of the houses here.

The Milton Arms pub, in the heart of Elsecar, is my local and I was delighted when the landlord, Phil, approached me to organise a tour to the battlefields. Having travelled with a few friends on a battlefield tour on one of our Luxuria coaches, he wanted to return and do his own thing with a group from the pub.

Leger Battlefields Tour Group

One of the great advantages of bringing a group booking to Leger is that you don’t have to book a brochure tour. With our help and advice you can discuss what you’d like to do and we offer our expertise and make it possible. Phil wanted to remember some local heroes from both World Wars, so it was decided that we would travel direct from Elsecar to the Somme, have a night in Northern France, and then move on to Normandy to look at D-Day and the battles of 1944.

We started early from Elsecar with a good supply of pork pies and plenty of drinks stock on the Luxuria coach, with drivers, Adam and Paul looking after us. Getting across to France early, we made our way down to the Somme and made our first stop at the Thiepval Memorial where several members of the group had relatives commemorated on the panels dedicated to the Missing of the Somme. From here we went on to Serre and had a gentle stroll up onto the battlefield where the Northern Pals battalions were all but wiped out on 1st July 1916: the First Day of the Somme.

Leger Holidays Luxuria Coach

Our own village had many men from the Barnsley Pals who were here that day and the group assembled around the memorial to the Barnsley lads, which was rededicated on the centenary of the battle in 2016. Elsecar to Serre in a day – so simple now, but a centenary ago, the gulf between those at home and those at the front was immeasurable.

After an excellent night staying in Arras, with its amazing main square and great restaurants and bars, we headed down to Normandy to look at the story of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy. Over the course of the next few days we visited all five D-Day beaches, saw where American and British Airborne dropped in, and for many, the highlights were seeing ‘Bloody Omaha’ where so many GIs were killed on 6th June 1944, and walking across the original Pegasus Bridge. You can see these on the screen, but there is nothing like being there and seeing it for yourself.

Pegasus Bridge

As part of the D-Day tour we made a special visit to two Elsecar men killed in Normandy: one at Ranville, who was killed as a tank crewman and another at Ryes, who was an Assault Engineer. Again, it was great to have that local connection, and we were probably the first people from the village to ever stand at their graves and remember. The highlight of the week, for many, was at Hill 112 where Phil, and Chaplain Andy, led a Service of Remembrance. A veteran of the battle here had visited Phil in the pub and asked if we could remember his mates when we came, and it was a special pleasure and honour for us all to do this.

Group tours like this are unique: from planning to visiting the battlefields, those who organise are in total control over what they do and where they go, and have our years of knowledge to fall back on to make it a tour to remember.

Enquire today about taking your own group on a visit to the battlefields of WW1 or WW2 by visiting our website or by calling our team on 01709 787 403

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.

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: The Legacy of Passchendaele

This year marks the centenary of the Battle of Passchendaele, a name that will be forever synonymous with our knowledge and understanding of the First World War, but more than that it is part of our collective consciousness of the war. When we think of that conflict we imagine endless miles of water-filled shell craters, thick glutinous mud, and everything from men, mules, guns and tanks disappearing into this mud.

All of this happened at Passchendaele; at times the landscape was as dangerous to soldiers as was the enemy shooting at them. Arguably it was the worst battlefield on which British soldiers served between 1914 and 1918; both in terms of the physical conditions and also the terrible scale of the fighting.

Hell Fire Croner 1917

What made Passchendaele such a terrible battle? It is not widely known that the first day of the battle, 31st July 1917, was a success. Most objectives were taken, and the Germans pushed off the high ground at both Pilkem and Bellewaarde. But it was a costly day, too: more than 6,000 British soldiers died at Ypres that day, one of the worst in Flanders during four long years of war.
Success, but at a cost: but another factor came into play that first day: rain. It began to rain that evening and pretty much did not stop raining for a significant period of the rest of the battle. It was the wettest summer in living memory, with huge amounts of rainfall. That in combination with the unparalleled use of artillery by both sides, the shells just destroyed the Flanders landscape.
Trenches, buildings, and the drainage systems all pulverised by warfare on an industrial scale. The water had nowhere to run except into the holes in the ground occupied by soldiers, or into the lunar landscape of shell craters. The mud became glutinous, in places almost liquid; and everything from men to every man-made object disappeared into it.
Shell Smashed Landscape at Passchendaele

Attacks failed, and the bodies of the fallen could not be recovered; with the mud and shell-fire, all trace of them was lost and Passchendaele is a battlefield that has one of the highest levels of soldiers with no known grave, now commemorated on the Menin Gate or Tyne Cot Memorial.
A century later it is easy to think that the mud, and men disappearing forever are one of the many myths of the First World War. But I have witnessed both in my work with archaeologists in Flanders.
On a dig in 2012 I saw how liquid mud, even after minimal rainfall, could drag us down and how the effort of dealing with a mud-filled landscape was almost impossible at times; and we had modern clothing, tools and no-one shooting at us!
A Century Later, Archaeologists Still Bailing Out an Old Trench

Back in 2001 I saw how the work of The Diggers at Boesinghe demonstrated that Flanders is still one large cemetery; and every year since more and more soldier’s remains are found. It will be one of the almost permanent legacies of the Great War at Ypres, along with the Iron Harvest of shells which are still being found by farmers on the old battlefields.
Archaeologists Working in the Mud of Ypres

To understand more of what Passchendaele was and what it means to us a century later you can travel to Flanders with Leger Holidays on several different tours in 2017. Join us for the actual anniversary commemorations at Tyne Cot on 31st July, or take the They Called It Passchendaele tour which looks at both Messines and Passchendaele in some depth.
You can walk the Passchendaele battlefield on Walking Ypres, and see it from ground level in some detail, and in November we commemorate the end of the battle with a special Passchendaele themed Armistice tour.
The Iron Harvest

The war poet Siegfried Sassoon wrote, ‘I died in Hell… They Called it Passchendaele’. A century on we owe to the generation which marched to Flanders in 1917 to understand that Hell and never let it happen again; and that is perhaps the real legacy in an ever changing world.
 
[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]

 

Paul Reed: Making Last Heroes of the Somme

Aside from working as Head Battlefield Guide for Leger Holidays I have also been involved as an advisor and contributor to television documentaries for the past fifteen years.

I work regularly with former BBC Producer John Hayes Fisher, and together we have made documentaries like Last Day of WW1 with Michael Palin, Dig WW2 with Dan Snow and WW1 Tunnels of Death about battlefield archaeology in Flanders.

the-crew-on-location
The crew on location

My job as part of this is make sure the history is right, find John some good locations to film, some interesting stories to tell, and source interesting contributors to work with. John then does the hard work of turning it all into a television programme, and we are also lucky to work with first class crews who also help make that possible; the hard work and professionalism of cameramen and sound crews are often overlooked.
filming-graves-on-the-somme-2
Filming graves on the Somme

The current project, which will be broadcast at 7pm on Channel 4 on 13th November, is entitled Last Heroes of the Somme. Much of the TV coverage of Somme100 this year focussed on the beginning of the battle and 1st July, when so many died. But we thought it would be interesting to look at the end of the battle in November 1916 especially as Remembrance Sunday fell on the centenary of the Battle of the Ancre.
We spent the first few months of working on the programme out on the battlefields; walking and driving around the area associated with the attack on 13th November; from Serre in the north to near Thiepval in the south. This gave some ideas of how it would be filmed and also valuable time to think about potential stories, which soon lead us to contact our extensive network of WW1 experts.
filming-at-thiepval
Filming at Theipval

We knew tanks had been used in the battle and thanks to WW1 Tank expert Stephen Pope we were able to trace the story of a tank that helped save the day at St Pierre Divion on 13th November, and find a relative of one of the crew who died. Using modern mapping technology, we were even able to work out where the tank had come to grief having broken through the German trenches.
martin-miles-his-ancestor-died-with-the-tanks-in-1916
Martin Miles whose ancestor died with the tanks in 1916

Back in the 1990s I had carried out a lot of research on the Hull Pals, and following some trips back to the city we quickly realised that their attack at Serre on 13th November 1916 had been as deadly for them as for the Accrington, Barnsley, Bradford, Leeds and Sheffield lads on the same spot on 1st July. Incredibly we found 100-year-old Muriel in Hull, whose father had died at Serre in that very attack; one of the last handful of children whose father had died in the Great War. Her part of the story is very moving indeed.
filming-graves-on-the-somme
Filming the graves on the Somme

We filmed the programme in some of the hottest weather this summer but it made the Somme battlefields look stunning, and the drone footage we took as part of the filming certainly does some justice to how the battlefields look today. It was good to work with so many old friends on the project too, such as contributors and researchers like Professor Peter Doyle and Rob Schaefer (who guides our Fritz and Tommy tours). I was also able to bring in the Stockdale family from Kent; Frank Stockdale is a former tank driver who I have known for many years and his great uncle was killed in the 13th November 1916 battle at Hamel. He brought his young family over and as part of the film we were able to shed new light on what had actually happened to him; showing that we still really do have new things to learn about the Great War.
the-stockdale-family-at-thiepval
The Stockdale family at Theipval

Making television programmes is not as easy as it may appear to some (just like battlefield guiding!), but in Last Heroes of the Somme I hope we have done justice to the often-forgotten end of the Battle of the Somme and shown that you can make a family history programme involving ordinary people without having to use celebrities; after all the Great War was in essence about ordinary men in extraordinary circumstances, and honouring that legacy is as important on the screen as when we do it on battlefield tours.
 
 
[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]

The significance of the Battle of the Somme Centenary

One of the defining events of the First World War, and the bloodiest. On the 1st of July, we will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme. But what makes this event so significant?

Also known as the Somme Offensive, the Battle of the Somme was an operation that saw an attempt to break through German lines on the Western Front, after two years of trench warfare.
Fought between July and November 1916 by allied forces compromising of the British and French, the attack was launched upon a 3 kilometre front, from the north of the Somme River between Arras and Albert.
The battle would prove to be one the costliest of World War I.
The first day of the battle saw 20,000 soldiers killed and 40,000 wounded, the highest in British military history. Throughout the battle, British and Commonwealth casualties reached 420,000.
Many of the soldiers engaged in the battle were just average young men from close-knit communities who had signed up together on the promise they would serve alongside each other – They were known as the ‘Pals’ battalions.
Family, friends, neighbours and colleagues who volunteered with the patriotism spurred on by the campaign of posters featuring Lord Kitchener, emblazoned with the words ‘Your country needs you’.
This would ultimately lead to the complete wipe out of battalions formed entirely from small communities.
The original objective of the 1st of July, primarily as a battle of attrition to drain the German forces of their reserves, however the capture of Thiepval was imperative, and its prominence still stands strong today.
thiepval-thiepval-memorial-2947
The names of the lost are inscribed on a brooding monument, the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme.
It stands 45 metres high, is visible for miles around, and is home to 16 pillars engraved with 72,085 soldiers of the British Expeditionary Force who were killed but have no known grave.
Whilst the country may still be gripped by Euro 2016 fever, England players themselves are urging people to never forget the sacrifice and bravery of the lost men during this offensive.
There are 37 footballers commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial including Donald Bell. Bell was a defender playing for Bradford Park Avenue in the top flight of English football. Having secured a release from his professional contract, he was commissioned to the Yorkshire Regiment.
The name, Donald Bell, is just one of many who portrayed outstanding bravery during this battle, on the 5th July 1916, he single-handedly charged a German machine gun position, an act of bravery that he was awarded the highest military decoration, the Victoria Cross.
In fact, 41 Victoria Crosses were won during the Battle of the Somme, 6 on the 1st of July alone, an indication of the ferocity of the fighting and the bravery of the soldiers involved.
The Somme campaign was the first great offensive of World War 1 for the British and it produced a more critical attitude towards the war.
It symbolised the true horrors of warfare. For many years, those who led the British campaign received plenty of criticism for the way the battle was fought, in particular, Douglas Haig.
The huge casualties inflicted on the first day convinced most people that General Haig should have called off the rest of the assault, this refusal to do so created an idea of an ‘armchair general’ –cut off from reality. Directing a battle from a chateau, 30 miles behind the front lines.
However, the offensive also became an unfortunate learning curve, maybe not so apparent at the time.
Following the Battle, the Germans moved away from defending linear trenches and adopted a much looser and more flexible system. This saw them defend strongpoints and abandoning their policy of automatically counterattacking every allied gain. Ultimately, this would prove to be disastrous.
Alongside tactical developments from the British – including the standardisation of the training and procedures of junior officers and allowing officers on the ground to use more initiative – it is said to have had created an important step forward and resulted in developments that would ultimately lead to the defeat of a weakened Germany defence.
The 100th anniversary delivers an opportunity to commemorate the service and sacrifice of those who lost their lives during the Battle of the Somme. To reflect upon the human cost of conflict and to have hope for a more peaceful world. Along with our dedicated Somme Battlefield tours, we will continue to keep the memory alive.
Click here to find out more about our Keep the Memories Alive initiative.
dinsey-ad