GP90: The Great Pilgrimage | Leger Holidays

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

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

Terry Whenham

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ste Lingard

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope you find your pilgrimage rewarding and enjoyable.

Ste Lingard


Phil Arkinstall

Leger Battlefield Tour Group during GP90

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

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

Phil Arkinstall Leger Battlefield Guide


Shaun Coldicutt

Leger Battlefield Tour Group

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

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

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

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

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


Tom Saunders QGM

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

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

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

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

Ten Facts About The Christmas Truce

1. It was instigated by the Germans

In the lead up to Christmas, German soldiers on various parts of the British sector of the front were seen to be placing lanterns on their Trenches, in some cases Christmas Trees, and reports of carol singing were also received. Then on Christmas Day wooden signs could be seen on the German parapet saying ‘Merry Christmas’ and then German soldiers emerged into No Man’s Land, calling for a Truce. Many British soldiers were initially suspicious of this, but gradually the Truce spread. In some cases it lasted a few hours, in others it lasted several days. Thousands and thousands of men on both sides took part.

2. It was largely on the British sector

Despite some recent films, the Truce really only took place on the British sector of the front. Whether this was because British soldiers felt some natural affinity with the Germans due to shared history and culture is difficult to say. On the French front there was little desire for fraternisation, and while there were some isolated examples of a Truce, most were related to burying the dead after recent fighting.

3. No Football was played

Again, despite cinema and a recent supermarket advert, evidence shows that there were no football matches in No Man’s Land on Christmas Day 1914, between British and German troops. The nature of the battlefield, with shell holes and barbed wire, made such a match difficult anyway, but footballs were used for physical training when out of the trenches, and it is unlikely if any were available. Letters from the time show a desire to play matches, but the only example that comes anywhere near is on the front of 1/6th Cheshires where what was described as a ‘kick about’, featuring more than 100 soldiers of both sides, took place. So no organised match, and Germany did not win!

THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE, 1914 (Q 11745) British and German soldiers fraternising at Ploegsteert, Belgium
THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE, 1914 (Q 11745) British and German soldiers fraternising at Ploegsteert, Belgium, on Christmas Day 1914, front of 11th Brigade, 4th Division. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205247304

4. Peace on Earth? It was about burying the dead

For many soldiers in the front line area there was a practical reason for a Truce: to bury the dead. On the British front in Flanders there had been some local attacks on 19th December 1914, and the unburied bodies of the dead were lying out in No Man’s Land. The smell was terrible, and soldiers wanted to bury their comrades, so one of the most common activities that day was not to share your rations with Fritz, but to find and bury your dead.

5. Did they swap gifts with each other?

In many cases soldiers did give each other gifts once the Truce was active. Opposing soldiers swapped cap badges and buttons, food and drink, and some took photographs of each other, as at this stage of the war personal cameras were not banned. The 1/6th Cheshires cooked a pig in No Man’s Land and offered to share it with their German counterparts. German soldiers brought a barrel of beer to the men of 2nd Royal Welsh Fusiliers, for which they gave plum puddings in return. But the beer was of poor quality to the hardened Welsh regulars so it was not a popular present!

6. The Truce was not universal

Not every German unit wanted a Truce, and not every British unit agreed to participate. British soldiers had witnessed many examples of the Germans implementing ‘ruse de guerre’ (tricks of war) during the campaign from Mons to Ypres, and as such they did not trust the motives for the Truce. Some units were proud of their martial reputation and did not want to be seen to fraternise, and even in sectors where there was a Truce, some soldiers did not take part: having lost mates or family members in the war, as well as the diet of anti-German propaganda that had started on the outbreak of war, they perhaps had little inclination for it.

THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE ON THE WESTERN FRONT
THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE ON THE WESTERN FRONT, 1914 (Q 50721) British and German officers meeting in No-Man’s Land during the unofficial truce. (British troops from the Northumberland Hussars, 7th Division, Bridoux-Rouge Banc Sector). Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205026891

7. Men Died on Christmas Day 1914

Along the British front on 25th December 1914 more than seventy British and Commonwealth soldiers were killed or died of wounds. Of these 32 are commemorated on the Le Touret Memorial, Ploegsteert Memorial or Menin Gate, and have no known grave. With shelling, random sniper and machine-gun fire, for many soldiers Christmas Day 1914 was a typical period of trench warfare with the usual losses.

8. There were many remarkable coincidences

Men of the London Rifle Brigade who took part in the Christmas Truce were Territorial soldiers from the City of London. Before the war many waiters in London hotels were German, and a large proportion of men’s barbers were German too. One veteran recalled meeting a German soldier who used to cut his hair, in No Man’s Land that day; a few months before he had been the man’s client, now they were enemies.

THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE ON THE WESTERN FRONT, 1914 (Q 50720) British and German troops meeting in No-Man’s Land during the unofficial truce. (British troops from the Northumberland Hussars, 7th Division, Bridoux-Rouge Banc Sector). Burying those killed in the attack of 18 December. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205025418

9. Famous people who witnessed the Christmas Truce

Among those who took part in the Christmas Truce was wartime cartoonist Bruce Bairnsfather, who drew the famous ‘Old Bill’ cartoons of the period. He was photographed by one of his men in No Man’s Land that day, and wrote about it in his best-selling book ‘Bullets and Billets’ published in 1916. Nature writer Henry Williamson, most famous for his 1928 classic ‘Tarka The Otter’ was in the Truce at Ploegsteert. Having German ancestors, he felt some kinship to the enemy he met that day, and it was a life changing moment for him: one German soldier told Williamson that he was fighting for King, Country and Freedom, something he could not square that with the fact that supposedly he was fighting with the British Army for the same thing. Later in life Williamson used to get very morose on Christmas Day, thinking back to the Truce and the terrible loss of life in the war.

10. It was a remarkable day

While aspects of the Christmas Truce have been exaggerated, and there may have been no football, it was a truly remarkable day. Soldiers who were enemies stopped fighting and met each other on the battlefield. They obeyed a basic human instinct, rather than just follow orders. As the majority involved were professional soldiers they may have seen it as a rare opportunity to have a day off. Others would have been curious to actually meet a German, as it was likely few ever had. Whatever the reason, it was an event unique to 1914. While the odd battlefield truce, and a small scale one at Cambrai in the winter of 1917/18 took place, there was nothing on this scale ever again: whatever innocence remained in 1914 was lost in the great battles of the war on the Somme and at Passchendaele.

ANZAC by Scott Brand

On the 25th April 1915, Australian and New Zealand forces stepped ashore onto the beaches of the Gallipoli Peninsular, Turkey. They were part of a large expeditionary force comprising of British, Indian, Newfoundland and French forces, with the aim of fighting their way into Turkey and capturing Constantinople (modern day Istanbul), the capital of the Ottoman Empire.

An ambitious plan, and what could have been a bold strike that might well have changed the course of the war, very quickly deteriorated into stalemate of trench warfare only a short distance inland from the landing sites. A variety of reasons contributed to this impasse, but primarily the fighting ability of the Turks was severely underestimated, putting up a fierce and unrelenting defence.

Australians in WW1

 
The end result was eight months of horrific trench warfare, which claimed the lives of thousands of men from both sides as a result of combat and disease.  When it was acknowledged that the Gallipoli campaign was untenable, the decision was made to leave the peninsular and on the 20th December 1915, The Australians and New Zealanders under secrecy and the cover of darkness were evacuated from Gallipoli. In those eight months, 28,150 Australians became casualties, which includes 8,709 killed and 7,473 New Zealanders with 2,721 killed in action.
Rewinding sixteen months to the outbreak of war in August 1914, Australia had only been a federated nation for thirteen years and New Zealand seven, and though contingents of militia from both Australia and New Zealand had been sent to fight in South Africa during the Boer War, both countries had not fought in any major conflicts as nations. Keen to play their part, both Governments went about recruiting men, and thousands of men rallied to the call. Late 1914, the first wave of Australians and New Zealanders set off destined for the Western Front in Europe, but were diverted to Egypt and subsequently Gallipoli. This contingent of antipodeans were known as the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, but more commonly ANZAC’s, and it was the 25th April 1915 that the ANZAC’s wrote themselves into history and into the psyche of the Australian and New Zealand Nations.
 
Gallipoli Battlefields

The 25th April soon became a day of remembrance, with the first ANZAC day in 1916. There were commemoration ceremonies throughout the two countries and 2000 Australian and New Zealand soldiers marched through the streets of London. However, Gallipoli would be the last time the two nations would fight side by side for some time and it wouldn’t be until June 1917 at the Battle of Messines in Belgium, before they fought alongside each other again Throughout the remainder of the war ANZAC day continued to be a day of commemoration with marches in major cities, but it was used for recruitment rallies also.
At the end of hostilities in November 1918, over 60,000 Australian and over 18,000 New Zealanders had been killed, the majority on the Western Front. ANZAC day commemorations continued after the war, though there was no formal organisation, commemorations took on many different forms throughout Australia, with a morning vigil being popular amongst veterans as they most likely found peace in the quite solitude of the dawn. It was these vigils that formed the basis of the Dawn Service, which is a regular part of the ANZAC commemorations we know today.
Dawn ANZAC Day Service on the Somme

ANZAC day continued to be popular and following Word War 2, there became a new generation of ANZAC’s to commemorate. In the 1960’s with Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War, the popularity of ANZAC Day declined with many commemoration services marred by anti-war protests. It wasn’t until the late 1970’s that they regained the popularity and attendance they had seen post World War 2.
As a young soldier in the Australian Army in the 1980’s, I participated in many ANZAC day commemorations and I have strong memories of marching along George Street in Sydney and the pavements were lined with thousands of people. As far as the eye could see along George Street it was a sea of khaki, white and blue, with the men and woman of the Army, Navy and Airforce, marching alongside veterans of three wars. The day always started with the dawn service at a war memorial local to our barracks and then it was back to the RSL (Returned Service League) for a rum with the veterans, before heading into the city for the main march. ANZAC day always ended back at an RSL for the biggest game of two-up, with the calls of “come in spinner” ringing around the room. Incidentally the only time it’s legal to play.
Villers-Bretonneux

In my younger years, I always associated ANZAC day with the remembrance of the dead and missing in the mud of France and Flanders, the beaches of Gallipoli and the sands of Mesopotamia, however as I become more involved in military history it became more than that for me.  ANZAC day for me now is not only commemorating the ultimate sacrifice so many of those men made, but it is also remembering the ones that came back. So many returned from war changed men, whether physically or mentally and the war would have a profound impact on them for the rest of their lives. It’s also reflecting on the impact war has on those left behind, whether grieving for the loss of a loved one or caring for the injured. Seeing the veterans turned out in their best bib and tucker, proudly wearing their medals, smiling and joking amongst their mates, it was easy for me to forget the painful memories so many would have had.
ANZAC day is for commemorating the fallen and celebrating the achievements of the Australian forces in all the wars it has been involved in, but also reflecting on and remembering as it has been so eloquently said to me so many times “Just ordinary men doing extraordinary things”
Join us for our Centenary of ANZAC at Villers-Bretonneaux on this 5-day tour from £399pp.

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

The truth about the Christmas Truce

It was the war that was meant to be over by Christmas. In 1914, 5 months into WWI an end was far from in sight. However, on 24th December an unofficial temporary truce was agreed along the Western Front. Soldiers from opposing sides laid down their guns and celebrated Christmas together.

This year, possibly more than ever, the Christmas truce of 1914 has struck a chord with the nation. Featuring on TV adverts, being widely talked about in the press, even a memorial statue for the much debated game of football in Flanders Field, Belgium, was unveiled earlier this month by Michel Platini, president of UEFA.
What happened on that day has become one of the most famous and mythologised events of the war. With stories of carols, swapping of treasured items and, of course, the famous game of football between the British and the Germans, it has become a wonderful example of humanity. Whilst we may not be able to piece together an exact account of what happened on this momentous day, we do have a clear idea of specific events that make the Christmas Truce of 1914 one of the most heart-warming stories in British History.
Late on Christmas Eve 1914, following the first air raid in British History after a German aeroplane dropped a bomb on the town of Dover, the British Infantry were astonished to see Christmas trees and paper lanterns lining the German trenches. Carols were sung and eventual communication between both sides began.
Whilst ‘Silent Night’ has become synonymous with the Christmas Truce, soldiers have documented in letters home that it was in fact ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ that encouraged both sides began to sing in harmony.
Whilst a truce was largely observed, not all of the Western Front adhered, fighting was on-going in certain areas and deaths were recorded on Christmas Day. Soldier Pat Collard, for instance, wrote to his parents, describing a horrendous Christmas under fire, concluding: “Perhaps you read of the conversation on Christmas Day between us and the Germans. It’s all lies. The sniping went on just the same; in fact, our captain was wounded, so don’t believe what you see in the papers.”
At first light on Christmas Day, a number of German soldiers emerged from their trenches and began to approach their enemies calling out ‘Merry Christmas’ in their native tongue. Wary that this could be a trick, the British stayed in their trenches. Soon realising their enemies were unarmed they climbed out of their trenches to join them halfway in No Man’s Land to exchange handshakes.Christmas truce handshake
Rifleman J. Reading, writing to his wife about the truce confirmed some of the heart-warming events we remember today. “During the early part of the morning the Germans started singing and shouting, all in good English. They shouted out: “Are you the Rifle Brigade; have you a spare bottle; if so we will come half way and you come the other half.” At 4 a.m part of their band played some Christmas carols and “God save the King”, and “Home Sweet Home.” You could guess our feelings. Later on in the day they came towards us, and our chaps went out to meet them. Of course neither of us had any rifles. I shook hands with some of them, and they gave us cigarettes and cigars.”
During the festivities of the truce, there were more sobering events also taking place. Soldiers used the ceasefire to retrieve the bodies of their fallen comrades. J. Reading’s letter continued “We did not fire that day, and everything was so quiet that it seemed like a dream. We took advantage of the quiet day and brought our dead in.” As a result of the truce, some soldiers were laid to rest in No Man’s Land side by side with their opposition in joint burials.
Although it is one of the most significant stories of the truce, there is no hard evidence to suggest the football match between battlefield enemies went ahead as reported as there is no official account that mentions it. Research suggests the British played football amongst themselves as the Germans watched on. This letter, sent by Mr J. A. Farrell, a Bolton Post Office employee, indicates there was no German involvement in the game. The letter that was sent to the Post Office, published in the Bolton Chronicle 2nd January 1915, reads: ‘…In the afternoon there was a football match played beyond the trenches, right in full view of the enemy’…”
A letter sent home to a father from his son on the Front Line was relayed in the Rugby Advertiser on January 16th 1915 indicating that although there was a hope of such a game, the plans fell through.
“Walter Cooke, son of Mr H Cooke of Church Lawford has written home to thank his friends for the plum pudding and good things they sent him for Christmas. He says: ‘They wanted to play at football but that fell through. They kept their word, and did not fire a shot all Christmas Day and Boxing Day’.”
As the war continued, the truce was never repeated. The following year, the threat of disciplinary action by the officers was enough to stop any further attempts of a cease fire on Christmas Day. However, that year soldiers on the Western Front did not expect to celebrate Christmas on the battlefield, but even a world war could not destroy the Christmas spirit.
 
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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
 

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

Paul Prendergast is a valued customer of ours who recently embarked on a personally significant Battlefields tour to Flanders Fields – Britain’s Bastion on the Western Front with Leger. Commemorating this significant year, he set out with the intent of remembering heroes close to his heart. Read more about his emotional experience in his own words in this special two part blog.

The journey started with my coach pick up at Pease Pottage in West Sussex, the driver asked me how long I was going away for I told him just the weekend, he joked that I had enough bags to last 2 weeks. (I will explain about this I had a suitcase and 2 bags plus a cardboard box which will come into play later)

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Sunset over Menin Gate

We headed down to Dover to pick the ferry up and then headed over to France to begin our journey to Ypres. We arrived in Ypres about 7.30 pm too late to attend the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate so I decided to unpack and go to the Market Sq. for something to eat.
There are lots of places to choose from and all of the places are affordable and family friendly. The first day of the tour began with myself taking a moment to walk down the road to the Menin Gate whilst it was nice and quiet at around 7.00 am. It brings home to you when there is no one about that the names of 54,000 heroes are inscribed on the gate, this is all the families have to show as their bodies were never found during the conflict.
The group met at 9.00am and went on to the Flanders Fields Museum it was a fantastic place to visit, you are given a wristband and you can interact with certain items in the museum. It has some great displays also that opened my eyes to how these men survived the War. We then visited St Georges Church, this is another must visit place I have never been there but it was fantastic, all the Kneelers in the church are covered with the regiments that fought at Arras and Ypres during the War.
I took some pictures of them Post Office Rifles RAMC and Queens Royal West Surrey regiments, I will explain about these in the second part of my blog and why they are the reason for my trip.
I also then visited St Martins Cathedral which is a vast and beautiful place I walked in there and I had the place to myself and took a moment to reflect, I thought about what these people went through during the conflict and can only imagine, on the way out I lighted a candle for all of the fallen during the war.
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54,000 heroes remembered on the walls of The Menin Gate

We then went down to the Menin Gate and where our guide Peter Williams explained about the gate when and why it was built, I listened with intent due to the fact that I would like to become a Battlefield Guide and was taking lots of notes, also Peter lives in Ypres so his local knowledge was also quite useful.
We then went to Lunch at Hodge Creater Museum which for me is the best Museum to visit and I never get bored of looking round at the fantastic collection that is there. I also visited which in my view is one of the best Cemeteries to visit and I never forget to look round at has many Headstones as possible because people forget that every solider at rest there and their headstone tell a person’s history and storey so I take the time to visit and read all I can.
Our last visit on Day 1 was to Essex Farm cemetery, this is another place that I have never visited and was amazed as to what was there. The cemetery has buried in it a VC winner Pte T Barratt of the Staffordshire regiment he was 22 when he died on the 27-07-1917. Among the buried there is another person, V. Strudwick of the Rifle Brigade died on the 15-01-1916, aged 15, a boy who wanted to fight for his country.
The buildings that were used by the RAMC are still intact it was used as a Casualty clearing station it was quite a emotional place because knowing that thousands of people had passed and treated and died here so that put a few things in perspective.
The place is also well known for the poem IN FLANDERS FIELDS.

In Flanders fields the poppies blowrotate 1
Between the crosses row on row
That mark our place and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing, fly
Scare heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead, short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie In Flanders fields.
Take our quarrel with the foe
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch, be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, through poppies grow IN Flanders fields to you

 
 

Tomorrow, we will post the second part of Paul’s blog, in it he will give his account of the special occasion in which he placed wreaths at the Last Post Ceremony taking place at the Menin Gate on the 5th October, 2014.

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

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

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

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

A 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)
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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

A Thought Provoking Trip for Paul Prendergast

Paul Prendergast had a couple of very special reasons for joining Leger’s 5-day All Quiet on the Western Front tour.
My interest in WW1 goes back a few years and was kicked off again by some research that I started at work.
I work for Royal Mail in Stockwell London SW9 where I am a Delivery Office Manager. Every office has a plaque dedicated to the dead of both wars. The plaque above my office has 6 names on it (I’ll come back to this later).
On the morning of our tour, we were met at Peace Pottage by our feeder coach and then travelled to Dover where we all boarded the ferry to head to Calais. On arrival in France we changed to our tour coach where we met Andy and Barbara who were our drivers/hosts on the Silver Service coach. We also met Iain McHenry, our Specialist Battlefield Guide who spoke about our tour.
Day 2
We set off at 09.00am to Tyne Cot Cemetery, where the graves of 12,000 men are buried and remembered. It makes you realise how senseless war is when you see that. I’m a member of the Victoria Cross Trust, and I also got to see the graves of three Victoria Cross holders.
We also visited then Sanctuary Wood and some trenches that have been preserved by the owner, and on arrival we heard a guy playing the bagpipes.
We then went onto Hooge Crater and Cemetery. The place was kept in beautiful condition by the CWGC, and I also found another VC grave.
After lunch we headed towards the Messines Ridge and we stopped at the Ulster Peace Tower, where our guide pointed out the German Front lines and spoke about the famous Christmas Day truce. He also pointed out that past the tower, a house/farm still has 50,000 tonnes of explosive under it!
We then stopped at another cemetery where there was a Jewish grave. I placed a stone on top the headstone – this is Jewish custom and there was no stone on there. This was the least I could do.
The final and most moving part of the day was the Menin Gate Last Post Ceremony. On the Menin Gate are the names of 55,000 men killed or missing. I was nearly in tears when I saw this monument to the people who gave their lives for our freedom. On the wall I found the names of the people from The Post Office Rifles… this is where the story about my reason for going unfolds. I placed a small cross of remembrance there for the six men killed from my workplace.
somme 2
Day 3
This was going to be a day of very mixed emotions for me. When we were on the way to Wellington Quarry it gave you a real idea of the people who lived, slept, ate and dug themselves into no man’s land.
We then went to Arras. There is a wall with the names of 36,000 men missing or killed in action there, and this is when it became very personal for me. The reason for this is that there was a name on the wall: rifleman John Williams 371151, died 16/06/17 2/, Post Office Rifles LONDON 2/8 BTN. Postman, Stockwell Delivery Office… The place where I now work.
I placed a cross of remembrance on the wall.
Cross
While sitting there, trying to imagine what he went through, a thought crossed my mind. All I could think was how honoured I am that I could say to him: “We have not forgotten”. I felt a mixture of pride – that I now work where he worked; honour – placing a cross by his name; and sorrow – knowing that his family could not bury him.
It was a very thought-provoking day for me.
Day 4
We had a long drive to La Boisselle, which is the biggest man-made crater on the Western Front. It was made by placing tonnes of explosive under the German front lines, then exploding them all at once. You cannot imagine what the scene of carnage must have been when this happened.
Our last visit of the day was to the Thiepval Memorial. It is the biggest memorial, with the names of 77,000 men missing or killed. I was looking for one: Sgt George Ryder 2512, died 07/10/13, Post Office Rifles LONDON 1/8 BT. He is the second of the two men that I traced, and the reason for my trip to the Western Front. Sgt George Ryder died 97 years ago on the week of my visit, so to finish the tour in this way, and by placing a cross by his name on the panel, again I can only feel proud. I just wish that, in some way or another, these people who fought for us could see that we still care about what they did for us 100 years ago.
The All Quiet on the Western Front five-day tour is the best way to see all the sites, and the guide, Iain McHenry was first-class. He helped me to find the names of the people that I came to remember on the walls, and also pointed out the VC winners to me. His knowledge of the subject was tremendous. The coach staff, Andy and Barbara were polite and very friendly throughout.
I will be going back – not just yet, but I still have four more names to find.