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

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.
 
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Beer and Battlefields: The Man Behind the Concept

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

Mark Hope: Beer and Battlefield creator
Marc Hope

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

Paul Reed: What The Somme Means to Me

I grew up on stories of the First World War from my grandmother: in 1916 she was a young girl in Colchester and remembered the wounded at the local station still with Somme mud on their uniforms, and recalled, often with tears, her own lost generation of cousins who never came home.

On the Somme 1988After years of reading about it, one summer more than 35 years ago I found myself walking the dusty tracks out from the town of Albert onto the fields and through the woods where this momentous battle took place. Walking the ground added a new dimension to my understanding not just of the Somme, but the whole First World War.
The ridges and the woods, and how they dominated the battlefield all made perfect sense and as I visited the area more and more it was clear the Somme was like many battlefields: it was a huge jigsaw of many pieces and gradually through visiting and researching, it’s story unfolded, the pieces came together, and it all made sense.
So many places on the Somme hold special memories for me during these early years of visiting: at Gommecourt I got access to a wood where one of the Great War veterans I knew had been dropping shells from his siege guns. Incredibly I found shell holes among the trees caused by his very guns!

Serre

the killing fields of Serre
The Killing Fields of Serre

Serre was always a special place to walk the ground, as I had interviewed veterans from Accrington, Barnsley, and Sheffield who had fought there. One thing they all recalled just before the whistles blew were the sound of skylarks singing high in the summer sky above the carnage that was about to unfold: and skylarks still sing at Serre, evoking those memories even a century later.
With veterans on the Somme 1985
With Veterans on the Somme 1985

Delville Wood

The woods of the Somme are incredibly atmospheric. In Delville Wood nature has triumphed after the place known as Devil’s Wood to the troops was reduced to mere matchsticks by the bombardments.
One tree from the original wood survived, but today the wood has regrown and is alive with flowers in the spring, and deer walk the rides where once battalion after battalion was destroyed. Somehow it all seems incredibly appropriate: that the return of the land to what it once was makes the sacrifice bearable, if not worthwhile.
Delville Wood 1916Among the trees of Delville Wood today
 

Newfoundland

Few trenches remain on the Somme, but at the Newfoundland Park a whole battlefield landscape was preserved not only making it possible to understand the static nature of WW1 but it is a place where you can sit and imagine the whistles blowing and men walking into machine-gun oblivion on the black day of 1st July 1916.
Here I think of my grandmother’s brother: shot through the legs as he went Over the Top that day.

trenches Newfoundland Park
The Trenches at Newfoundland Park

I’ve walked the Somme a thousand times, and I hope to continue to walk and visit it for many years to come, whether for television, with a Leger group or just on my own. It is a place that haunts you, and along its dusty lanes, and under the trees of its many woods, the voices of a generation of men still resonate.
The Somme will stand for so much to so many: sacrifice, tragedy or sheer bloody murder. But for me, it will always be a place where I can focus on the essence of the Great War: ordinary men in extraordinary circumstances, doing their bit in something they knew was bigger than them, and which defined the deaths of those who fell and the lives of the majority who came home. The Somme changed them all, and a hundred years later it can change us.
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WW1: The Barnsley Pals by Edward Slater and Jill Morrison

A century ago, in August 1914, Great Britain plummeted into war. Involved in the battle were millions of soldiers and by 1916, conscripts. More than ¾ million men were never to return home. Hundreds of thousands more wounded or damaged mentally by what they had witnessed on the battlefield. Having been a professional soldier, and experienced active service, I can only comprehend in a minuscule way what these brave men must have endured.

My grandfather was a volunteer in the 14th Battalion York and Lancaster Regiment – “The Barnsley Pals”. The “Pals” Battalions were a phenomenon of the Great War. The volunteers consisted of men from different social backgrounds, coal miners, office workers, young professional gentlemen. Mostly from the Barnsley area, designed to give them a common bond. Once recruited, they were trained and welded together to form a close knit
supportive unit called the 13th and 14th Battalions of the York and Lancaster Regiment and adopted the identity of the “Barnsley Pals”. They went into action for the first time at “Serre on the Somme” on the 1st of July 1916.
The only way for me to gain an insight into the conditions under which this war was waged in 1914/1918, was to take a specialised battlefield tour, using the expertise of a tour guide. Therefore, we chose Leger and we were fortunate in having available to us a well-known military historian, Paul Reed.
In both areas of conflict – Flanders and the Somme – battle conditions were almost identical. The futility of lives wasted in capturing a few yards of territory, at times costing hundreds of lives, sometimes only to be lost later in a counter attack. Existing in trenches, with constant shelling and sniper fire, sometimes knee deep in water and mud, with vermin ever present. Winter temperatures could be as low as -25â—¦C so keeping their circulation going to be able to fire their weapons was a constant problem. It is amazing how morale was maintained, they were also expected to go “over the top” when the order was given, knowing they faced near certain death. I can only assume that the comradeship of the “Pals” Battalion made this possible.
In Flanders, I could not see anything other than the stark reality of war; even in the villages which have been rebuilt there was an emptiness and chill in the atmosphere. The many military cemeteries maintained the aura and futility of war on both battlefronts. Because of this, I fear there can be no feeling of peace in either place.
The high point of the tour for me was when Paul Reed made an unexpected detour enabling me to visit my Grandfather’s grave at Hebuterne Communal Cemetery on the Somme, which fulfilled my desire of many years. A beautiful village cemetery with only twelve military headstones, my Grandfather’s head stone flanked on either side with two of his “Barnsley Pals”. The tribute to my Grandfather is written in the Book of Remembrance at Rotherham Minster. It reads as follows:
“ A Tribute to a Gallant Soldier and Leader of Men 14/396 L/CDL Edward Slater, 14th Battalion York and Lancaster Regiment. On the 2nd of November 2014, I was privileged to visit your grave at Hebuterne Communal Cemetery, France, one day before the anniversary of your death on the 3rd of November 1916.
 Mr-Slater
On that day you led your Section into action, knowing that you were facing near certain death. Fearful, but determined, you paid the ultimate price with others of the “Barnsley Pals” who are buried either side of you. Grandad, I salute and admire your bravery. Your Grandson and proud bearer of your name – Edward James Slater – Army Veteran of 24 years’ service.”
I am most grateful to our Battlefield Guide Paul Reed for making the tour such a memorable and emotional experience.
 
 
Written by Edward Slater and Jill Morrison from Rotherham 
 
Do you have a story you’d like to share with Leger Blog? Contact us at blog@leger.co.uk.
 

“How lucky we are” – The Fritz and Tommy Battlefield Tour by Rob Schäfer

I have been visiting the battlefields of Flanders and the Somme for nearly 20 years, but this is the first time ever where I sincerely doubt if all the suffering was worth it.
This moving remark was made by one of our guests on the last day of the ‘Fritz and Tommy’ Battlefield Tour in October and was certainly one of my personal highlights this year.

I had the pleasure to guide two of these tours in September and October, working side by side with Leger guides Paul Reed and Marc Hope, leading the guests to German sites in Flanders, Northern France and the Somme
Visiting battlefields, cemeteries and forgotten German memorials, following in the footsteps of Ernst Jünger and the young Adolf Hitler, then a corporal in the Royal Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment No. 16, looking at German military, funeral and mourning traditions, organizational details and telling stories and anecdotes of the German army and the units that fought in the places we visited. How did Fritz, the German soldier experience the Great War and what were the joint experiences of Fritz and Tommy. What set them apart and what united them.LHRossignolWood
The first day on the battlefields was spent in Flanders. For the German men that fought in the war Flandern was a byword for sacrifice and suffering and we went out to look at how Germany commemorated her dead in that area, visiting the German cemeteries at Vladslo and Langemarck, a virtually forgotten German regimental memorial and looking at the ‘Langemarck myth’ and its importance to the propaganda of the National-Socialists.
After that we examined the pivotal fighting around Gheluvelt, the key to Ypres, on the Menin Road. Here we used letters and diary extracts of German soldiers from Württemberg and Bavaria that fought in and captured the village in November 1914 before switching our sights to the desperate and decisive counter charge of the 2nd Worcesters.
After lunch at Hooge Crater Café we visited Bayernwald to see the German trench system there, an ideal place to talk about the undying myth that German trenches were generally better than their English counterparts and to have a closer look at German and British mining techniques.
At Messines we visited William the Conqueror’s mother in law and looked at the story of Herr Hitler again, reading an account of how his battalion celebrated Christmas in the church and crypt in December 1914 before finishing the day visiting a German officer’s grave on a British cemetery to tell his sad and fascinating story.LHNeuville
Day three led us to northern France to the sad German cemetery at Wervicq before exploring the Frommelles battlefield from both sides, looking at its German defences and talking about the first clash between German and Australian troops and how that event influenced the catastrophic outcome of the Battle of Frommelles. One of my highlights of the September tour was certainly the visit to the huge mass of individual graves that forms the military cemetery of Neuville St. Vaast, where 44888 German soldiers from more than a hundred different divisions from all provinces and counties of Germany are buried. Here Paul Reed’s soulful recitation of a letter written by a German veteran to the famous British war poet Henry Williamson left everyone, including me, speechless and lost for words. A misty-eyed moment and a truly moving experience I will never forget.
Day four was spent on the Somme starting at Copse 125 or Rossignol Wood, where the famous German stormtrooper-writer Ernst Jünger fought in 1918 opposite New Zealanders including the ‘King of No Man’s Land’ Dick Travis V.C. DCM MM. Among highlights of that day were our stops at Hawthorne Ridge and Sunken Lane as here we were able to deliver a most detailed account of the slaughter that happened there on 1 July 1916.
An ideal location allowing people to immerse themselves in the story told.
Highlighting the experiences of attacker and defender alike, reading accounts from both German and English soldiers that had fought there that day and finishing the presentation off inside the bus, with lights dimmed, watching Malins’ famous footage of the explosion of the mine, Sunken Lane and the attack on Hawthorne Ridge. LHHawthornRidge2
To stand in the middle of where it all happened and to know what exactly happened there on the German side and the English side left a lasting impression on everyone. After visit to Courcelette the days on the Somme ended at Guillemont where we returned to Ernst Jünger and his harrowing descriptions of the fighting there in 1916.
I was positively surprised about amount of interest in the groups and even after the official end of each day I continued answering questions in lively debates over many a glass of Belgian beer, sometimes up until deep in the night. For me personally these tours have been commemorative events in their own right. A hundred years have passed since Fritz and Tommy fought each other in four horrible years of suffering and pain.
Now in 2014, we, their ancestors are able to travel the battlefields together, walking in their footsteps as friends. How lucky we are.

Nie wieder Krieg! Fritz and Tommy – We will remember them

 

Both Sides Now – A look at the Fritz and Tommy tour by Paul Dimery

Exploring war from the perspectives of opposing sides can be an engrossing and enlightening experience. Giving you the opportunity to do just that is a new battlefield tour – Fritz and Tommy. Paul Dimery decided to take a look…

When it comes to learning military history in school, there is often a problem of impartiality – or, rather, a lack of it. Here in Britain, it’s rare to study war accounts from anything other than our own side’s perspective (whether this is down to ignorance on the part of the teaching staff or a lack of knowledge is open to debate). And some US schools have gone one step further, bending the truth entirely – I remember meeting a student from Kansas City who was adamant that the Second World War began with the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941!
iStock_000047763776_LargeThe downside to this bias, of course, is that we miss the opportunity to garner a well-rounded appraisal of certain conflicts: the tactical approaches of Britain’s foes; the cultural impact war had on those countries; not to mention the personalities of the soldiers fighting for the other side, who are often demonised as cold, emotionless killers, when many – like our own men and women – were thrust into the field of combat against their will and better judgement.
The battlefield visit we are looking at this month goes some way to correcting the balance. Called Fritz and Tommy (the nicknames German and British soldiers gave to each other during the First and Second World Wars), this brand-new tour is at once poignant and fascinating. It takes in three key First World War sites on the Western Front – Flanders, northern France and the Somme – and explores how the conflict evolved on both sides of no man’s land. In this, the centenary of the start of the war, there’s no better time to expand your knowledge while paying tribute to those who lost their lives in a conflict that seemed to never end.
Departing Britain by coach, the five-day tour begins in Flanders in northern Belgium. This area saw some of the greatest loss of life during the First World War, and the “Flandern” operations are still a byword for sacrifice in Germany today. The excursion explores how the nation commemorated its dead here, with visits to the German cemeteries at Vladslo and Langemarck. There will be time to appreciate the moving “Grieving Parents” statues by German sculptor Käthe Kollwitz, and also learn about the “Langemarck myth”. This was a story published in German newspapers to raise morale in the country, at a time when many citizens were opposed to the war effort. According to their reports – which were later “corroborated” by Adolf Hitler in his 1925
book Mein Kampf – “young regiments broke forward with the song Deutschland Uber Alles against the frontline of enemy positions, and took them. Approximately 2,000 men of the French infantry line were captured, along with six machine guns.” This has since been widely dismissed, however. For a start, Deutschland Uber Alles did not become the recognised German national anthem until 1922. And besides, it’s unlikely that soldiers charging through a battlefield with fixed bayonets would have been in any position to break into song.
From here, the tour continues along the Menin Road, examining the pivotal skirmishes around Gheluvelt, where future führer Adolf Hitler fought in 1914 and may have been taken prisoner by a British Victoria Cross hero! After lunch at Hooge, it takes in German bunkers on the Ypres battlefield, their trench system at Bayernwald and their mining operations on the Messines Ridge. Then the focus returns to Hitler with a visit to the crypt where he sheltered and the farm he visited after his armies had conquered Europe in 1914. The day ends with an in-depth look at the story of the infamous Christmas truce, exploring some of the myths from both sides, as well as a visit to the grave of a German officer buried in a British cemetery. His story is a fascinating one, and ties together much of Germany’s history from the 20th Century.
Day two sees the tour veer into northern France. You’ll get to see the ground near Wervicq-Sud where Adolf Hitler was gassed in October 1918, before exploring the Fromelles battlefield from both sides – the German defences as well as the Australian quarters. Following lunch in Bethune, there’s time to pay respects at the grave of First World War British fighter pilot Albert Ball VC, who crashed behind German lines and was buried by his foe with full military honours, with many senior German officers in attendance. The day ends with a recollection of the fighting that took place near Arras and Vimy Ridge, as well as a visit to the vast German cemetery at La Targette.
iStock_000047758910_LargeThe final full day takes in the Somme, where some of the bloodiest battles of the war took place (during the initial Battle of the Somme – fought between July and November 1916 – it’s estimated that more than a million men were wounded or killed). The tour starts at Copse 125, a wood where German soldier-writer Ernst Jünger (see right) fought in 1918 opposite a force of New Zealanders. These included “the King of No Man’s Land”, Dick Travis – so named because he was said to know the neutral territory (“every sap and shell-hole”) better than he knew his own trenches. On Hawthorn Ridge, the tour looks at how Württemberg troops repulsed the British attack from this position in the early stages of the Battle of the Somme. Following lunch at Thiepval and a look at the German 180th Regiment that resided there in 1916, it’s on to Poziéres to visit the German “Gibraltar” bunker, captured by the Australians that same year. At Courcelette, the tour looks at the use of British tanks against the Germans, and there’s a visit to a forgotten German headstone. Then it’s a drive to Guillemont, where the focus returns to Ernest Jünger, contrasting his experience of the fighting there in 1916 with British soldier-writer Francis Hitchcock (who immortalised his recollections of the war in Stand To – A Diary of the Trenches 1915-1918. The day – and the tour – finishes with a visit to the Museum of the Great War in Peronne, paying particular attention to the German side of its collection.
The Fritz and Tommy tour can be an intense, emotional experience. It’s one thing reading about the devastation that occurred in places like Flanders and the Somme; it’s another to actually stand where those brave men fell, with the sound of bullets and the screams of their comrades ringing in their ears. Whatever the weather, it’s an all-encompassing experience – in the heat, one can imagine what it must have been like to lay wounded in a shell-hole in the baking sun, not knowing which would come first: help or death. In a downpour, you can almost hear the sound of raindrops pinging off the soldiers’ steel helmets. Then there’s the story of the Hawthorn Ridge mine – 40,000lb- worth of explosives detonated by the Royal Engineers on 1 July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme. You may have seen the film footage, but what that doesn’t reveal is the Germans’ experience of the explosion: how those who survived reacted, and the physical and psychological impact they suffered. This is something the tour explores in detail using eye-witness accounts and contemporary findings.
Helping out with this is German historian Rob Schafer, whose expertise – not to mention his collection of rare First World War photographs and other objects – is combined with that of Head Battlefield Guide Paul Reed to present a colourful and balanced depiction of what happened during those few fateful years.
Says Reed, “If you want to use the centenary period to discover new angles to the Great War, the Fritz and Tommy tour is for you. It presents the conflict from both angles, giving us the chance to bring in lesser-known battlefield locations
and examine existing ones in a fresh light.”
Visit History of War at https://www.historyofwar.co.uk/ or check out their facebook page https://www.facebook.com/HistoryofWarMag
All content Copyright Anthem Publishing Ltd 2014, all rights reserved
 

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Photo courtesy of Rob Schafer, to see more follow our hashtag on Twitter #FritzandTommy

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

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!

Road to Remembrance for UK Youngsters

It’s been a hot topic in and around Leger Holidays HQ. As battlefield touring specialists, we were delighted to hear that around £50 million has been set aside to mark the WW1 Centenary across the UK. Having toured with thousands of Brits over the last 30 years, we know that this moment in history is as close to the nation’s heart now as it ever has been.

Remembrance Day and the sea of red poppies displayed on lapels across the country demonstrate that better than anything.

We’ve seen first-hand the impact that battlefields and memorials, so steeped in history and sacrifice, can have on a person. And, whether it’s a personal pilgrimage or an educational expedition, we’re not sure there’s anything quite as powerful as taking a trip back in time with a battlefield tour.
We’ve seen customers respond in all manner of ways to a battlefield tour. One thing you can be sure of, however, is that they will walk away with a deeper understanding of our history and a greater appreciation for those that lived through the wars.
For those of us who are slightly more mature (ahem), we may well have heard tales passed down through our families that help to make the wars feel more relevant, or personal, or just bring home that these were real. But, with each generation, those stories become fewer and farther between.
On the initiative, Paul Reed – head specialist battlefield guide – said: “I’m delighted about the government’s promise to help the next generation learn about the Great War by experiencing the awe of visiting the battlefields for themselves.
“Learning about our ancestors in the classroom or through a text book is essential, but to bring history to life there needs to be another dimension to that study, so that students really grasp what the past was all about.
“During my 15 years at Leger it has been amazing to see how great an impact the experience can be; iPads and state of the art graphics all have their place, but when it comes to real interactive learning, nothing beats walking the ground where these battles took place, guided by someone who can help you appreciate what it was like to be an ordinary person in extraordinary times.”
All of us at Leger can’t wait to see how this initiative unfolds.
For more information about our battlefield holidays visit our website