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

Remembering Sgt Vic Bettle: A Story From the Battlefields

On a Battlefield tour, it’s not unusual to come across group members with personal connections to the tour they are on. Whether it be through a distant relative, great-grandparents or even a parent.

On one of our recent Battlefield tours, D-Day Landings in Normandy, a passenger of ours had set out on a truly personal trip. Ruth Bettle was on the tour following the footsteps of her late husband, Sergeant Vic Bettle.
Sgt Vic Bettleimg044
Sergeant Bettle was part of the 7th Parachute Battalion, would have jumped in or around the Pegasus Bridge area of Normandy on D-Day, 6th June, 1944, as part of Operation Tonga. The Parachute Battalion were tasked with giving support to the D Coy of 2nd (Airborne) Battalion Ox & Bucks Light Infantry led by Major John Howard.
What we know is that 7 Para Bn advanced to the area of Putot-en-Auge in August 1944.
Ruth had received correspondence from a French national several years ago who had been staying in a château in the town of Putot-en-Auge. The grounds of the château played host to a barn, it was in this barn that he had come across something special.
Ruth Bettle at the Barn
He had found an inscription signed ‘Sgt Vic Bettle, 7th parachute Batallion, 19 August 1944’. The inscription simply read ‘We chased them out this morning’.
The tour was led by our Battlefield Guide, Fred Greenhow, who after speaking to Ruth, arranged for our drivers, Chris and Brenda, to take a drive out to the château in the early evening of Sunday 5th April.
The owners were away at the time, however, with much persuasion and the use of Fred’s ‘Geordie Charm’, the young girl who lived in the ‘gate-keepers’ house allowed them access to the barn.
Ruth Bettle_The Inscription_5 Apr 2015The Inscription_19 Aug 1944
“It was an absolute ‘Condor Moment’” Said Fred. “When I was able to take the wife (Ruth Bettle) of a Veteran back to the place where her late husband wrote an inscription on the wall of a barn in the grounds of a Chateau / Manor House, and the inscription is still there and as clear as the day it was written over 70 years ago.”
“Ruth was absolutely overwhelmed when we found the Chateau in the village of Putot-en-Auge, approximately 30 km’s to the East of Caen. Her husband Sgt Vic Bettle who served with 7 Para Bn, wrote his message on the 19th August 1944, it was discovered by a Frenchman in 1998, who tracked down Vic by writing to Gen Napier Crockenden, 6 Airborne Division Association.”
On a Battlefield tour, you’re heading off on a journey of learning, understanding and appreciation, when we can reunite family and friends with a sense of their past, it’s something we are very proud of. Thanks to Fred, and to Ruth and her daughter Karen, we can share this story and keep the memory of Sgt Vic Bettle alive.
Sgt Vic Bettle on a previous trip to Pegasus Bridge after Operation Tongaimg047
 
Interesting Fact: ‘The Longest Day’, a war film from 1962 featuring John Wayne, Richard Burton and Sean Connery, covers Operation Tonga.  The actor Richard Todd OBE, who appeared in the film, served alongside Sgt Bettle in the 7 Para Bn and also played the role of Major John Howard. Another actor played Richard in the film.
 
 

Heroes Return – Ray Wilton

Heroes Return

There are a few National Lottery syndicates here at Leger HQ, as I’m sure there are at workplaces across the country. There’s many a happy conversation about what we’d do if we won, the trips we’d take and who would and who wouldn’t give up work.

Even though week after week we never hit the jackpot (£10 doesn’t go far between eight of you), one of the best things about the lottery is all the worthwhile causes it helps to support. A staggering £29bn has been raised since it launched almost 20 years ago.
One of the activities it helps to fund is particularly close to our heart the Heroes Return Grant, taking veterans back to the places where they fought during the Second World War.
On one of our February D-Day Landings battlefield tours we were joined by a film crew from the BBC’s National Lottery Saturday night TV programme. They were following a lovely veteran called Ray Wilton, along with his daughter Debbie Cox and grandson Alex. Ray was a member of the Royal Navy in WWII, joining as a telegraphist in 1943. He took part in the D-Day landings at Gold Beach on 6th June 1944, where he served on a motor launch, leading the 50th Northumbrian Division on initial landing. This visit was the first time Ray had returned in almost 70 years. As well as Gold Beach he also visited Pegasus Bridge and other key sites in Normandy linked to the landings.
Ray explains what it was like returning. “It was very emotional,” he said. “Although it looked very different – it was a crisp, sunny February day as opposed to the fierce storm of June 1944 – the memories soon came flooding back. I could remember vividly those brave young men who died on that memorable day.
“The highlight of the tour for me was visiting the Arromanches Museum and signing their visitor book, being presented with a veteran’s medal and having a wonderful welcome from the French curator there. She was in tears as she gave me the medal and thanked me for ‘liberating her country’.”
Debbie Cox, Ray’s daughter, added: “It was an emotional but uplifting experience. With my son there too, it was wonderful to have the three generations sharing the experience together. It was a privilege to pay our respects to the fallen. The film crew were very sensitive and extremely professional and we thoroughly enjoyed their company, along with that of the coach drivers, tour guide and fellow passengers, who were a varied group of all ages. The tour guide was extremely knowledgeable and planned an excellent and varied tour which appealed to dad as a veteran, as well as people with an interest in the war.”
Tony Lea was the specialist battlefield guide on the tour. He commented: “It was obviously very emotional for Ray and his family, but something they felt it was extremely important to do. What people often don’t realise is that for those who fought, this visit back so many decades later can be like finding the final piece of a jigsaw puzzle. My experience is that veterans often don’t know how the roles they played fit into the bigger picture of the war or the battle. They can be left with questions on why they were there and as part of a visit I will explain to them the wider story which can bring about a new understanding for them.
“Whenever we have a veteran on a tour, we will try and work around their personal experience, helping them to visit places which were important to them and weaving it into everything else that was happening at the same time. It’s fascinating to have the opportunity to speak to someone who was actually there and other visitors on the tour often find it invaluable and extremely moving to share their experience with someone who has that personal perspective.”
Ray’s story as shown on the ‘National Lottery: In it to win it’ programme can be seen on Youtube  Part 1 and Part 2 .