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

Paul Reed: The Real Dunkirk

With the upcoming release of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk movie, the newly released trailer gives us an exciting insight into what the film is about.

In quite a long clip of men on the beaches, ships under fire, the little boats taking men home, it is clear that the focus is on Operation Dynamo: the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) from the beaches between Dunkirk in France and Nieuport in Belgium, in May and June 1940.
The cast looks tremendous, and the scenes depicted in the clip very convincing. There is no doubt this will generate a lot of interest in Dunkirk, but how to cut through the Hollywood take on it and really understand what happened here in 1940?

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Abandoned British equipment on the beach at Dunkirk 1940

One way is to dip into the many books on Dunkirk, but nothing beats actually going out to actual visit the ground as it is today. For 2017 we have our usual 5 Day Dunkirk & Fortress Europe tour which looks at the campaign in France, the withdrawal to the coast and the evacuation from the beaches in some detail, as well as looking at the years that followed with the building of the Atlantic Wall.
However, we have a new 4 Day version of this tour that focuses on 1940 and follows pretty much the story seen in the new film: the destruction of the British forces by the German Blitzkrieg to the point where they were taken off the Dunkirk beaches and the Mole. Along the way we see a typical battlefield area at St Venant where the Durham Light Infantry and Royal Welsh Fusiliers fought, look at the massacre of British soldiers by the SS at Wormhout, and then move on to the Dunkirk story itself.
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Wreck of the SS Devonia at Dunkirk

In Dunkirk we look at Operation Dynamo in some detail. Many do not realise that most soldiers were evacuated out via the Dunkirk Mole, the jetty that struck out from the harbour area. Here ships could dock in deep water and more quickly load up.
The beaches were then divided up according to the organisation of the BEF, and here we discuss how not just the Navy, but ships of many shapes and sizes were used to evacuate the men. One of the great things on this tour is that, low tide permitting, we are able to see the wrecks of some of these on the beach, and even after 75 years they are very impressive.
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Wreck of the Crested Eagle at Dunkirk

In the Dunkirk War Cemetery we see the graves of those who never made it off the beaches or who died in defence of the perimeter which held the Germans at bay while over 300,000 got home. Among the graves we find old, experienced soldiers, as well as young lads who had only recently joined up, medics killed aiding the wounded and even a chaplain.
The Dunkirk Memorial is also here which commemorates over 4,500 service personnel who have no known grave. Many died in ships off the coast, or were swept out to sea on the beaches: so many sad tales that will be brought alive in the film by the look of it.
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At the Dunkirk Memorial

Dunkirk has always been a special battlefield for me: my grandfather was here with the RAMC in 1940, which brought his 22 year career as a soldier to an end. I have walked all over the 1940 battlefields with our team of guides, and learned a lot about it from some of our 1940 specialists like David Warren, and in 2009 I did a lot of BBC work for the 70th Anniversary, including the Dig 1940 series where we filmed a local French group doing archaeology work on the beaches. It was amazing what was still left in the sand!
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Artifacts found on the Dunkirk beach by archaeologists in 2009

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British Gas Mask found on the beach at Dunkirk in 2009

This new film will undeniably mean that Dunkirk and the men of the BEF will suddenly be back in the public eye again, and if Hollywood can help generate interest in the Second World War that has to be a good thing. But what better way to really understand the events depicted in Nolan’s Dunkirk than join us on a Leger Dunkirk battlefield tour, in the company of one of our team of specialist guides to see, visit and understand, as well as remember a battle that changed world history.
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The German victors on the beach, showing of the ships depicted in the new film

 

Watch the Dunkirk trailer below:

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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.

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
 
 
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.
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Leger Coach on the Battlefields

 
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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

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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

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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.

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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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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.

 
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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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