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 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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In search of Great Uncle Sidney by Catherine Miles

A battlefield tour can mean many different things to many different people, whether they’re on a journey of discovery, or something slightly more personal, what you take from an emotive experiences such as these tours will differ from person to person.

Catherine Miles recently published an article on her blog following her visit to Tyne Cot cemetery, on our All Quiet on the Western Front tour, in which she writes to her Great Uncle Sidney, who was sadly lost during one the Ypres salient of World War I . Catherine has kindly let us share with you on our blog.

In Search Of Great Uncle Sidney

It’s a beautiful summer Sunday afternoon in the late 1970s and I’m about 8 years old. I’m standing in the back garden of my Grandmother’s house in Dagenham. I can hear the whirring of hand pushed lawnmowers as neighbours cut their grass. My Great Uncle Frank is with me and has just handed me a bronze medallion, about 5 inches in diameter.
The medallion has a relief of Britannia with a lion at her feet on one side. There is also a rectangular box with an embossed inscription. I trace my fingers over the letters.
Private Sidney Greaves
“He was my brother. He was killed in the First World War”. I look up. Great Uncle Frank is looking intently at me with his piercing blue eyes. The same eyes of my Grandmother and Dad.
“He was very young. Never forget him, Cath. It’s important. Never forget.”
Dear Great Uncle Sidney (can I call you Sid?)
We never knew each other, and this may seem a bizarre letter to write. I’m your Great Niece – your little sister Winnie was my Grandmother. I’m writing this in Belgium, just outside Ypres, in an area I guess you came to know all too well. I’ve come to see where you and your mates fought.
There’s lots we don’t know about you but we’ve pieced together the bald facts of your story. You were born in 1898, the fourth of 7 surviving children of Mary and Herbert Greaves. You lived in extreme poverty in Birmingham. Your Dad was an electrical light switch maker, then a labourer and the family lived in two rooms at the back of a shared house in Bacchus Road. I’d imagine it was a tough existence, which only became tougher as you grew up.
By the outbreak of war in 1914 both of your parents had died, along with the step-father who your mother married after your father’s death. Your elder brother Wallace had died aged 8. There clearly wasn’t a lot of money around as your mother died in the workhouse hospital. Your sister Winnie had been placed in an orphanage, and from there she went into service from the age of 14. Your youngest brother Frank had been adopted by a caring local couple who set him on a very different path in life: education, a decent job, a family. Your two older brothers, William and Herbert, had both joined the Army and were fighting in France.
We know you enlisted in your local regiment, the Warwickshires, in Birmingham. We don’t know exactly when. Did you join up under age in the surge of patriotic enlistment in 1914? Or were you conscripted in 1916, when compulsory military service was controversially introduced? This looks more likely – you’d have been 18 and eligible for service. We know that after you joined the Warwickshire Regiment you were transferred into the 6th Battalion, Royal Wiltshire Regiment. This suggests you were conscripted in 1916 – it was after this point the Army started to re-allocate new soldiers from their local Regiments to Regiments they had no geographical connection to. This was prompted by the horrendous losses on the Somme, particularly amongst Kitchener’s Pals Battalions. The huge losses incurred by full frontal infantry attacks against machine guns meant that entire communities were decimated when their local Battalions suffered severe casualties.
So let’s assume you were conscripted in 1916 and sent out to France to join the Wiltshires a few months later. How did you feel? Scared? A sense of patriotic duty to do your bit? Excited for the adventure? Was it better than the alternative of fending for yourself in Birmingham living a hand to mouth existence?
It’s October 1988. I’m 17 and on a 6th form trip to the World War One battlefields. I’m standing at a windswept Tyne Cot Cemetery under leaden skies, looking at the rows and rows of neat white gravestones. I scan name after name of the missing on the stone tablets arcing round one side of the cemetery. I try to imagine what it was like for these lads, many my own age, to stand in those trenches then climb out over the top when the whistle went at dawn. And I can’t imagine the mix of fear, adrenalin and dread they must have felt.
I turn to join my classmates getting back on our coach as the rain starts to fall, raindrops streaking the names on the stone. What I don’t realise is the significance of one of those names.
The Wiltshire Regiment you joined had seen significant fighting during the War. The 6th Battalion was formed in 1915 from the rush of volunteers responding to Kitchener’s call to join the Army. It fought at the Battle of Loos and at the Somme, taking large numbers of casualties each time. By 1917 when you were likely to have joined it, the Battalion was in Belgium preparing to take part in the next great Battle.
So now we come to the part of your story where we know a little bit more. In summer 1917 the British Army launched a new offensive against the Germans around Ypres in northern Belgium, aiming to push them back from the salient and away from their strategically important ports. The offensive was led by General Plumer, one of the more innovative WW1 Generals, and started in 7th June 1917 with the detonation of 19 massive mines under the German lines at Messiness ridge. The simultaneous explosion of the mines was so loud it was heard in England. As General Plumer told the Press before the mines detonated ‘Gentlemen, we may not make history tomorrow, but we shall certainly change the geography’.
God knows how loud it was for you Sid – it must have sounded as if the world was exploding.sidney-battlefield
The mines were a success, and the British gained ground, with your Battalion (including you, most likely) fighting in the thick of the action. There was then a pause before what became the Third Battle of Ypres began. During this time there was unseasonably high rainfall, turning the clay-based ground into a water-logged quagmire. Trenches flooded, the shell holes that pockmarked the landscape filled with water and if you fell in you could drown in them.
This was the battlefield which you were to fight in. After three years of total war the landscape was totally desolate, without a building and barely a tree left standing. Ypres and the fields around it had repeatedly been fought over since 1914, the ground being gained and lost by either side. Trenches snaked through the very slight inclines of the land.
It was in one of these trenches that you were standing on the morning of 20th September 1917, waiting for the order to attack. You would have looked out onto a wasteland of mud, shattered tree stumps, jumbles of barbed wire, and the remains of unburied men and horses. Your Battalion was to take part in what became known as the Battle of Menin Road Ridge, attacking parallel to the ridge line.
You were exactly here, about to attack up this slope.
I can’t imagine what you were feeling, standing in that trench with your mates. What I do know is that, according to the Battalion War Diary, at 5.40am the whistle blew and you climbed out of that trench and attacked the German lines. With artillery shells falling around you, machine guns firing in front of you and snipers taking aim at you. The Battalion war diary records:
At zero hour 5.40a.m Battalion advanced to the attack under a heavy creeping barrage by our artillery. Left front Company met with little opposition except for continuous Machine Gun Fire from the direction of CEMETERY EMBANKMENT. The machine guns appear to be located beyond the objective line and to fire through the Barrage. The dugouts in the wood at about O 6 a 7.7. were dealt with 3 Germans being killed and 19 taken prisoner. As ‘D’ Coy on the right seemed to meet with considerable resistance Capt. Williams (O.C. ‘C’ Coy) ordered his right front Lewis Gun to open a brisk fire on the dugouts in front of that Company.
The Company reached its objective O 6a 75.65 – O 6a 3.7 within 37 minutes of Zero and flares were lit in response to aeroplane calls at Zero plus 42. The consolidation was covered by Lewis Guns and the Company Snipers who were busily engaged endeavouring to pick off Germans moving down the railway embankment and also keeping down enemy sniping on the immediate front – one platoon sniper remained isolated in a forward position from the morning of the 20th until relieved on the night 21/22. Left Support Company consolidated its section of the intermediate line, several casualties were caused by sniping. The ground was very wet and water logged in places but firesteps were formed with sandbags.

And then at some point on that day you were killed. You were 19 years old. Your body was never found or identified.
Ironically, the action you were killed in was one of the more successful ones of the war. However, the battle that followed was one of the most attritional and horrific the British Army has fought. It’s name – Passchendaele – continues to epitomise the suffering, sacrifice and for some, the futility of the First World War. In your battle the British Army advanced five miles at a cost of 100,000 men killed. 1 man for every 35 metres gained. 1 of them being you.
It’s May 2016 and I’m standing again at Tyne Cot Cemetery. It’s a peaceful and beautiful place where 12,000 British servicemen are buried, the largest British Cemetery in the world. This time, however, I know who I’m looking for. I walk round the stone curved wall containing the names of 33,000 servicemen who were killed but their bodies never found or identified. These names are only those of servicemen killed after August 1917 in the Ypres salient. The original intention was for all of the missing to be inscribed on the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres. But despite its enormous size it could only take 55,000 names – which wasn’t enough. So Tyne Cot was expanded to take the rest.
The curved wall is a striking feature but within it are two circular rotundas with carved panels containing more names. I walk towards the left hand one. It’s a peaceful tranquil space.
And there you are Sid, on panel 120. The Royal Wiltshire Regiment, Private Greaves, S.
I stare at the panel for a long time. I read the names around you. Were any of these lads were your particular mates? Which of the 5 NCOs listed was the toughest on you? Lieutenant Adam Shapland appears and he was killed on the same day as you, aged 22. Was he one of your officers?
I place a remembrance cross at the bottom of your tablet. On it I’ve listed the names of your brothers and sister. Will and Herbert survived the war, but Will was gassed and never really recovered. He died in 1944 from the effects of the gas nearly 30 years earlier. It must have been tough knowing they survived the war but their younger brother didn’t.
Your little sister Winnie married a sailor from East London (a cockney, news which may not please you) and had two sons. One of them is my Dad. I call him now and tell him I’m standing in front of your name. He’s glad we’ve found you.
And I think of my Great Uncle Frank, who made sure we knew about you and inspired me to come and find you.
So why do thousands of British people visit the WW1 battlefields every year to find the names or graves of relatives they never knew? There are 34 people on my trip and many are searching for relatives. One has come to see her Uncle, Harry Anderson of the Staffordshire Regiment. It turns out Harry is on a plaque just two down from you so I go to see him as well. Another lays a wreath in remembrance of the grandfather she never met at the mighty Thiepval Memorial which has the names of a further 72,000 missing from the Somme. The losses of the First World War were so great they touched every family in the country. There were over 730,000 British servicemen killed – sons, fathers, brothers, uncles and friends.
I came to Tyne Cot because I wanted to honour your memory and pay tribute to the incredible bravery and sacrifice of you and your generation. I’m acutely aware and grateful that I have a life of comfort and opportunity which would have been unthinkable to you. I wanted to keep my promise to your brother Frank to remember you.
And I wanted to let you know that your family loved you, and cared enough to make sure that your great nieces and great nephews knew your story.
You have never been forgotten, Sid. For me, it’s so important that all of us who came after you remember you and remain eternally grateful that we have never found ourselves on the front line, being ordered to climb out of the trench.
With love from your great niece
Catherine

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

 

Part Two: A Personal Account of Visiting Battlefields in the Centenary Year

Part two of Paul Prendergast’s personal account of his emotional experience on the Battlefields Flanders Fields – Britain’s Bastion on the Western Front tour.

We started off at 8.30am, our first stop was Hill 60. This was my first personal call of the day so when we got there I left the main group for about 10 minutes. This was due to me wanting to place a Cross of Remembrance at the Queen Victoria Rifles Memorial on the hill.
This was in remembrance of Percy Kimmons, 6655 1/9 London Regiment, aged just 34 when he died on the on 09/10/1914. The significance behind this is that I have his Death Plaque and his medals at home. He was a Postman when he joined the Army. I was very proud to lay this small token in his memory.
On hill 60 we went to see the bunker on top of the hill and also you can walk round the craters on the hill which is a very odd feeling.
 
We then went on to the visit the Passchendaele Museum which has got some great exhibits, but also has a series of underground dugouts and trench systems that just give you a very small idea of how the trenches would have been but without the Death Blood Lice and Rats. We can never contemplate what actually happened to those men who walked through these to their deaths, fighting for our freedom today.
During the weekend we stopped at Ploegsteert or Plug Street to the British this is where Winston Churchill served during the War, also the place of the Xmas Truce. The weekend also included a visit to Bayernwald a series of German trenches and Bunkers that you can walk round, it is said that Hitler won his Iron Cross here.

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Cross of Sacrifice at Tynecot

We also visited Langemark German War Cemetery where there are 45,000 men buried this includes a mass grave containing 24.000 men buried together this includes some British men and the enemy, but now at rest with each other.
We then went on to visit Tyne cot cemetery which is the biggest CWGC cemetery in the World it contains, 12.000 men buried and 34.000 names on the memorial wall the scale of this makes you think what a waste it was .
When we got back on the coach it was mentioned that our cemeteries are better than the Germans, I could only say that ALL Men Are Equal in Death, and every headstone and name had a family and a story.
All the tours were fantastic and our guide Peter Williams, was without doubt a very good guide.
Now, at the start of this second part of my blog, it was said the tour was going to be a very personal and emotive trip for me. When we got back to the hotel, I had to shower shave, put on a shirt, tie and suit. The reason? I had the honour to be laying two wreaths at the Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate at 8pm on the 05/10/2014.
The wreaths that I was laying were for the 1/10 Service Btn Queens Royal West Surrey Reg (Battersea Pals). The reason for this is that I was born and raised in Battersea, London, SW11. I wanted to pay my respect to all the local men who fought so that I could have my freedom today.
The second wreath that I would be laying was for the 1/2 8th Btn London Reg Post Office Rifles. A very personal tribute this because I worked for Royal Mail for 38 years before I took early retirement this year.
Every sorting office that I have ever managed, and in the country, has a plaque dedicated to the men who fought and died in WW1 and WW2.
When I left Royal Mail my last office was Stockwell London SW9, the plaque in there has got 6 names of men that went to fight. None came back. This is where I got my interest in WW1.I was also wearing my Granddads’ medal for his RAF service in WW2 and my Great Uncles medal bar from WW1, I will also be wearing this when I march pass the Cenotaph on the 09/11/2014.
The Mennin Gate, Ypres
The Menin Gate, Ypres

I arrived at the Gate around 7.15pm, it was packed already so I took my place in the line behind other people. There was 9 wreaths to be laid I was third in line for my first.
My first wreath was for the Battersea Pals. I started to walk and was struggling to find my thought at the honour that I had to lay the wreaths at the Gate. I reached the top of the stairs, laid the wreath, bowed my head and turned back.
Then I realised that I still had one more to lay for the Post Office Rifles, so I took my place at the back of the line. I had to walk alone to the other side to lay the wreath, a large crowd people waiting for me to do so.
I reached the top of the stairs laid the wreath and then turned and thinking about what these men did for us, I bowed and then started to shed tears the emotion was just too much.
I walked back and got myself back together, I was told by people on the tour that I did really well and assured that anyone would have gotten upset thinking about what these heroes went through.
I have now been on 4 Leger tours in the last 12 months and already have 3 booked for 2015.
This is by far for me my best trip yet and would recommend this Flanders Field Bastion on the Western Front to all people who want to visit.
The morning we left Ypres I walked down to the gate the sun was rising and I looked down on my wreaths with PRIDE and EMOTION. I thought, when I was at the gate, I was alone with 54.000 heroes. Not many people can say that.
Some people might read this and say that my account of this is very emotive, but however many times I visit these places, I will always remember the two wreaths laid at the gate and every time I visit a cemetery or memorial. That every name carved on a wall, headstone or cross, gave their lives for our today.
The 11th November will be here within the week so please wear your poppy with PRIDE, show our living Soldiers that they are not forgotten and remember, without them giving their lives you would not be here today.

LEST WE FORGET

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If you would like hear more from Paul on and read more about his experiences, follow him on Twitter: @paulthedom
 

9 of the Spookiest Places in Europe – Happy Halloween

Ever wondered where the scariest, spookiest and most haunted places are in Europe? Does the idea of chasing ghost and ghouls sound like the perfect holiday? This Halloween let us take you around the continent to set the scene for the perfect ghost stories to share this All Hallows’ Eve.

1.

tower-of-london

The Tower of London

Regarded one of the most haunted places in Europe, the tower of London has a history going back 900 years of torture and execution. The most famous of spirits said to be wandering within the walls of this iconic building is the Ghost of Anne Boleyn. One of the fated wives of Henry the VIII, her headless body is said to have been spotted close the scene of her demise.
 

2.

chateau

Chateau de Brissac, France

Built in the 11th century, this castle has spooked many a visitor. A gruesome double murder in the 15th century has left a lasting spirit roaming the halls of this magnificent castle. ‘The Green Lady’ as she is known, is said to have terrified guests with her ghoulish groan echoing around the corridors in the early hours. More terrifyingly, the guests who claim to have seen her have said her corpse-like face features holes where her eyes and nose should be.
 

3.

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Babenhausen Barracks, Germany

Used during multiple wars to house German soldiers whose spirits have never left. It has been claimed the ghosts of World War 2 soldiers in full military gear have been spotted as lights turn on and off by themselves and voices have been heard coming from the basement. Now a museum, soldiers that have visited have picked up a ringing telephone are said to have heard a lady talking backwards. In the town of Babenhausen rumours of a witch was burned at the stake are prominent with her ghost said to have seduced and killed several German Soldiers.
 

4.

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Poveglia Island, Italy

Sat in the Venetian lagoon is the small island of Poveglia. The island became populated when mainlanders fled to escape invaders. By the 14th Century the island was completely deserted, however, when the plague hit, the island was used as a quarantine colony with Venetians sent there to die. Their bodies were said to subsequently be burned on giant pyres. The site was also said to be used as a mental asylum in the 1800’s with stories of experimental procedures with stories of ill treatment and suicide rife in the city. Today, the island sits abandoned with locals daring not to set foot on the island for fear of being cursed. The ghosts of past patients are said to haunt the island with screams and voices often being heard, there has also been stories of violent possessions by evil spirits.
 

5.

Edinburgh Castle, Scotland, UK, illuminated at night in the winter snow

Edinburgh Castle

An outstanding landmark, situated overlooking the city of Edinburgh. Once again the scene of many battles and tortures, it is thought to be one of the most haunted castles in the world. Visitors claim to have been touched and pulled and sightings of ghoulish figures include a headless drummer boy and a piper who had apparently got lost in the tunnels below the castle and subsequently lost his life.
 

6.

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Corvin Castle, Transylvania

Best known to be the home of Count Dracula but also Vlad the Impaler. Vlad was known for his excessive cruelty and his nickname ‘The Impaler’ came about as he was notorious for his practice of impaling his enemies. The Corvin Castle is said to have been where historical figure was held in captivity as strange sightings have been reported of vampire-like figures appearing in flickering candle-light.
 

7.

Leap Castle

Leap Castle, Ireland

Widely regarded the most haunted castle in Ireland, it boasts a history of murders and massacres. It is said to be haunted by spirits seeking vengeance for their untimely murders. The castle is thought to have been built by the O’Carrol family who apparently had a habit of murdering people and dumping the bodies down a hole in the castle wall. Hauntings are said to take place in the ‘Bloody Chapel’ where it’s thought the murders took place.
 

8.

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Convent of St Agnes, Prague

Prague is said to be one of the most haunted cities in Europe and the Convent of St Agnes, situated in the world famous city, does not disappoint. Apparently haunted by the ‘Murdered Nun’, her legacy began when, as a girl, was said to be ordered to the convent by her noble father after falling in love with a poor knight. The night before she was due to leave she decided to follow her heart and met with her love. She was also met there by her father who, in a fit of rage, fatally stabbed her for shaming him. She is said to be seen in her ghostly form covered in blood and weeping bitterly.
 

9.

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Nidaros Cathedral, Norway

This imposing cathedral in the town of Trondheim is said to house the spirit of a Monk who has been described as a tall figure with a dark habit, a monks tonsure, glowing eyes and blood dripping from a cut in his throat. He reveals himself to church goers and is said to often sever his head from his body and walk straight through church goers.
Happy Halloween!
Fancy seeing some ghoulishly gorgeous scenery for yourself? Take a look through our European tours for a fangtastic time.
 

A Great War Journey

Tyne Cot Cemetary, First world War

We love to receive feedback from our customers when they’re back from their trips. We always take the time to read through everything we receive, however, we have recently received a wonderful letter from Ralph Ellis who had attended one of our Battlefield tours that we thought was too special not to share.

Ralph has sent us a collection of poems after being inspired whilst on our Battlefield tours. He states he does not profess to be a poet but we think they are fantastic.
He has kindly given us permission to publish his work and we would love to share them with you.

A Great War Journey

I spent my days in Flanders fields,
I passed through heroes graves that yield,
“What brings you here?” I hear them say,
To Flanders field so far away.
You gave your lives through strife and pain,
That I might live my life and gain,
To witness truth that knows no lie,
Why mothers weep and children sigh.
The poppies sway from breezes by,
They seem to whisper “Not Goodbye”,
Blood red their colour, black their eye,
As mothers weep and children sigh.
And though my journey now must end,
The memories I will append,
Of futile waste I know not why,
Make mothers weep and children sigh.
I know no glory, only lies,
Of glories past as glory dies,
Farewell my brothers, not goodbye,
Your mothers weep, your children sigh.
-11.11.2010

An Ode to Tommy Atkins

(Missing – 1914-18)
Where have all the Tommies gone?
Long time passing …..
Where have all the Tommies gone?
Long time ago ……
Where have all the Tommies gone?
Gone to ‘Glory’ everyone.
When will we ever learn?
When will we ever learn?
-12.04.2014
(Adapted from ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone?’ by Pete Serger)
Our Battlefield tours are avaiable to view online, click here for more information.

We Cannot Lord, Thy Purpose See

We cannot Lord, thy purpose see
The price we pay for victory.
A battle won, a battle lost,
Won’t countenance against the cost.
When strife is left the only course,
And sets mankind upon a cause.
Lives are lost for freedom gained
Yet new lives grow but feel not pain.
The sacrifice of those we lose,
Gives new life a chance to learn and choose.
Will our future live or die,
Upon a deed, upon a lie?
I am a soldier, and tho’ I’m free,
I cannot Lord, thy purpose see.
 01.07.2013

Sleep, Sleep, The Battle Ends

Sleep, sleep, the battle ends,
The sleep that some will not transcend,
The weary time that comes but next,
When fear will sometimes conquer rest.
Sleep, sleep the battle ends,
But who will wake to face again,
The light of day, the fear of dark,
Return again the songbird lark.
Sleep, sleep the soldiers cry,
For those who weep or those who die.
Whilst fear is constant, sleep is a lie,
Some will wish their last goodbye.
For some to sleep, a last bequest,
For some to wake to fear the test.
A battle won, a battle lost,
We sleep whilst others count the cost.
And now to sleep, perhaps goodbye,
But sleep I must before I die.
– 11.11.2011