Barnsley Pals: Following in the Footsteps of Local Heroes

Our Head Battlefield Guide, Paul Reed has lived in the South Yorkshire former mining village of Elsecar for the past couple of years. In this blog he documents his experience of guiding a dedicated group tour, taking patrons of his local to the battlefields to discover the stories of the Barnsley Pals.


Elsecar is situated on the edge of Barnsley, close to the countryside, and near the impressive Wentworth Woodhouse stately home, whose owners built the local colliery and many of the houses here.

The Milton Arms pub, in the heart of Elsecar, is my local and I was delighted when the landlord, Phil, approached me to organise a tour to the battlefields. Having travelled with a few friends on a battlefield tour on one of our Luxuria coaches, he wanted to return and do his own thing with a group from the pub.

Leger Battlefields Tour Group

One of the great advantages of bringing a group booking to Leger is that you don’t have to book a brochure tour. With our help and advice you can discuss what you’d like to do and we offer our expertise and make it possible. Phil wanted to remember some local heroes from both World Wars, so it was decided that we would travel direct from Elsecar to the Somme, have a night in Northern France, and then move on to Normandy to look at D-Day and the battles of 1944.

We started early from Elsecar with a good supply of pork pies and plenty of drinks stock on the Luxuria coach, with drivers, Adam and Paul looking after us. Getting across to France early, we made our way down to the Somme and made our first stop at the Thiepval Memorial where several members of the group had relatives commemorated on the panels dedicated to the Missing of the Somme. From here we went on to Serre and had a gentle stroll up onto the battlefield where the Northern Pals battalions were all but wiped out on 1st July 1916: the First Day of the Somme.

Leger Holidays Luxuria Coach

Our own village had many men from the Barnsley Pals who were here that day and the group assembled around the memorial to the Barnsley lads, which was rededicated on the centenary of the battle in 2016. Elsecar to Serre in a day – so simple now, but a centenary ago, the gulf between those at home and those at the front was immeasurable.

After an excellent night staying in Arras, with its amazing main square and great restaurants and bars, we headed down to Normandy to look at the story of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy. Over the course of the next few days we visited all five D-Day beaches, saw where American and British Airborne dropped in, and for many, the highlights were seeing ‘Bloody Omaha’ where so many GIs were killed on 6th June 1944, and walking across the original Pegasus Bridge. You can see these on the screen, but there is nothing like being there and seeing it for yourself.

Pegasus Bridge

As part of the D-Day tour we made a special visit to two Elsecar men killed in Normandy: one at Ranville, who was killed as a tank crewman and another at Ryes, who was an Assault Engineer. Again, it was great to have that local connection, and we were probably the first people from the village to ever stand at their graves and remember. The highlight of the week, for many, was at Hill 112 where Phil, and Chaplain Andy, led a Service of Remembrance. A veteran of the battle here had visited Phil in the pub and asked if we could remember his mates when we came, and it was a special pleasure and honour for us all to do this.

Group tours like this are unique: from planning to visiting the battlefields, those who organise are in total control over what they do and where they go, and have our years of knowledge to fall back on to make it a tour to remember.

Enquire today about taking your own group on a visit to the battlefields of WW1 or WW2 by visiting our website or by calling our team on 01709 787 403

The 60 year search – Jonathan and Douglas Ford

My great great uncle, Ernest Edward Ford, a Rifleman in the Kings Royal Rifle Corps, was killed at Passchendaele on 31st July 1917. For his efforts in the war, he was awarded the Military Medal for bravery in the field. In December 2011, I tracked down his campaign medals and the military medal. This brought to an end to the 60 year search involving both my father and I. Here is the full story.

 
The 60 year search started in the early 1950’s. My father, Douglas Ford was taken to Bawdsey Parish Church near Woodbridge in Suffolk, by his father, my grandfather. Whilst at the church he was shown a plaque on the wall commemorating those from the village who were killed in the First World War. One of those names was Ernest Edward Ford. My grandfather told my father that Ernest was his great uncle. My father was fascinated by this and wanted to find out more, so he talked to his Uncle, his father’s brother who had some information on the family history. He explained to my father that Ernest Edward had been awarded the Military Medal, however he did not know the whereabouts of the medals. He said to my father “perhaps you will find out one day what happened to the medals”.
My father was also interested to know whether Ernest Edward had a grave, and where it was. However, nobody in the family seemed to know. My father’s uncle did, however, state that he believed Ernest Edward had moved to Goole, and it was there where he had enlisted.
In the mid 1950’s, dad started training as a carpenter and joiner, and finished his apprenticeship in 1960. He began to travel in the UK and overseas in the construction industry. He had never lost his curiosity about the medals, and everywhere he travelled with work, he would put notices in shop windows, enquiring on the off chance that somebody might read them, who knew of their whereabouts. He also never walked past an antiques shop without going in to see if they had any medals, and would always inspect any medals they had in stock to see if they were Ernest Edward’s.
In the late 60’s, Dad moved to Wakefield in West Yorkshire and settled there. He continued to search for the medals over the coming years. He also wrote to the war office however they did not seem very forthcoming in those days with giving information out.
The search continued, and in the 1980’s, dad was told that, if he knew Ernest Edward’s service number, he might be able to obtain more information from the war office on the whereabouts of the grave and the medals. He also found out that Military Medal recipients were mentioned in the London Gazette. By this time, I had joined my dad in the research of his family history. We went to the reference library in Leeds, where we were shown a collection of London Gazettes that had been catalogued into books. The series from 1914 to 1918 filled a shelf. We were told that, somewhere in those books, Ernest Edward would be cited, along with his service number, however there was no way of knowing which book it would be in. We set about the daunting task of going through each book in turn. Dad started at one end of the shelf, and I started at the other, to see if we could find the information. Luckily, I found the citation in the second book I picked up. This was our first real breakthrough, as we now had Ernest Edward’s service number.
Dad then wrote to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, they confirmed that Ernest Edward had enlisted in Goole, and they told us that Ernest Edward was commemorated on the Menin Gate at Ypres. At last we knew where his memorial was and that he didn’t have a known grave. However we still didn’t know what had become of the medals, and even with the additional information, the War Office would not shed any more light on it, saying only that the medals would have been released to the next of kin. But there was no sign of the medals in the family.
 

The Mennin Gate, Ypres
The Menin Gate, Ypres

Now that we knew the whereabouts of the grave, we decided to visit Ypres, and hoped that we might find out some more about the medals. Our first visit to Ypres was for Armistice Day 2001. We visited the Menin Gate, and also spoke to lots of people to see if we could get any more tips on how we might continue the search for the medals, however we didn’t really get any further.
In around 2005, there was another breakthrough. One of dad’s cousins gave him a death plaque that had been issued to Ernest Edward’s mother . She had been in possession of it for some time and decided to give it to dad when she found out about his search for the medals. Dad decided to write to the war office again, stating that he was now in possession of the death plaque. He asked again if there was a record of who had received the medals after the war. The war office wrote back and said they would have been issued with the death plaque to the same person. We wondered if the medals had been in the family but maybe sold on.
At around the same time, we became aware that Leger Holidays ran trips to the Ypres Salient and heard of very good things about their battlefield tour guides. In 2006 we decided to return to Ypres, this time on a Leger Battlefield tour. It was then that we met Paul Reed and Keith Quibbell, who gave us lots of good advice on how we might move our search along, and also did some research on our behalf.
We continued searching for the medals over the next few years, but still could not find any trace.
In 2011, we visited Ypres again on a Leger tour, and one of the things that we learnt from that trip was how many war records were now being catalogued on the internet. On our return, I visited Ancestry.co.uk where I found some limited records for Ernest Edward. These records did not give us any more information though.
However, only a few weeks later, in December 2011, we had another big breakthrough. Another wave of war records had been loaded onto the internet site, including Ernest Edward’s. From those, we found lots more information, and, crucially, there was a document that stated that the beneficiary of Ernest Edward’s will was a Mrs Jackson in Goole. Not only that, but also there was a copy of a receipt, that confirmed these medals had been sent to Mrs Jackson, and not to the Ford family as the War Office had indicated. At last we knew where the medals had gone. My father and I discussed our next move, and decided that, in the New Year we would visit Goole, to see if we could track the Jackson family down, and to see if they had the medals.
Before that happened though, the last breakthrough came, and this one was the most astonishing. Over that preceding two years, I had periodically been doing internet searches on Ernest Edward Ford and Military Medals, to see if anything came up. Nothing ever had. However, just before Christmas I repeated the search, and there in front of me, on the computer screen, was a copy of an auction catalogue from Warwick and Warwick auction house. Within that catalogue was one lot, for E E Ford – Military Medal, Victory Medal and British War Medal. I had finally found the medals. There was one snag though, the auction had taken place that day, it seemed the medals had most probably been sold, and maybe lost forever. I spoke to dad about it, and undeterred, dad then phoned the auction house the next day. The auction house told us that the medals had been in a private collection for some 50 years; however the collection had recently been opened up, to be auctioned. They also told us that Ernest Edward’s medals had been sold to a dealer, Dixons medals in Bridlington. Dad then phoned Dixons, and spoke to the proprietor, Chris Dixon. On finding out that the medals had been awarded to our ancestor, and hearing the story of our search, Chris immediately agreed to sell them to us, for a discounted price, and without offering them to the open market. We were so relieved and so grateful at how sympathetic Chris had been towards us. On December 21st 2011, dad and I travelled to Bridlington, where we picked up the medals from Chris Dixon. Finally, the search had come to an end, and for the first time ever, the medals were in the possession of the family.
We could not believe that we had the medals, but what astonished us more, was some of the coincidences in the story. Firstly, Ernest Edward had grown up in East Anglia, and moved to Yorkshire before the war where he settled. Dad commented on how he had also grown up in East Anglia and settled in Yorkshire. Secondly, the medals had also made their way to Yorkshire after the auction. They seemed destined to come to us.
If there’s one message that we would like to give to other people who might be in the same position of not knowing where their ancestor’s medals are – that message would be to never give up. After nearly 60 years of a search which seemed like a search for a needle in a haystack, we have the medals back where we feel they belong.
If you are interested in any of the battlefield tours we offer, please visit our website Leger Battlefield Tours.
 

Yorkshire Christmas Markets

It’s that time of year again when towns and cities play host to the colourful Christmas markets, welcoming visitors from near and far to join in the festive celebrations and soak up the unique atmosphere. I’m a bit of a sucker when it comes to Christmas Markets, so when a trip to the Yorkshire Christmas Markets – markets I’ve not visited before – came up, I had my bag packed and my Santa hat on faster than you could say ‘mulled wine’.

In a change to our usual working location in Leger's Design Studio, my colleague, Tammy and I were joining the tour to get some new photographs for the brochures and the website, and to check the tour out – listening to what the customers thought of the trip and experiencing the Yorkshire Christmas markets first hand... After Grassington Dickensian Festival, our final stop was York.

Yule love York!

The medieval city of York is known for its impressive cathedral – the York Minster, its historic city walls, the famous Jorvik Viking centre and its various museums, but in the run up to Christmas, the markets – as we found – provide another great reason to visit. It was a clear crisp day with bright skies as we arrived and still quite early, so we decided to take a quick look around York’s historic parts before the Christmas shoppers descended on the city. We took a walk past Clifford’s Tower – the surviving keep of York’s main medieval castle – for a panoramic view of the city; walked down the famous, ancient street known as the ‘Shambles’, full of quaint shops in half-timbered, medieval buildings dating back to 1400s; and had a very short stroll down ‘Whip-ma-Whop-ma-gate’, the shortest street in York with the longest name – once the location of York’s pillory and whipping post. Some say this was the inspiration for the street’s name.

Cliffords Mount

York Minster

The centre of York has no shortage of shops, ranging from big named, high street stores to the unique little shops that can be found on The Shambles and among the maze of the city’s charming cobbled streets. We wandered along, listening to buskers and watching street entertainers who appeared on most corners. Parliament Street, in the centre of the city, was the location of this weekend’s Christmas market – the St. Nicholas Fayre.
St. Nicholas Fayre

The market stalls were once again a mix of handicrafts and food and drink, with one half of the stalls selling wooden ornaments, handmade silver jewellery and Christmas decorations; the other half, marked by the now-familiar smells of hot roast nuts, mulled wine and roasting meat, with stalls offering fudge, cupcakes, different flavoured toffees and gifts from Yorkshire brewery. We were never very far from something to sample, whether it be a locally-produced chutney or sloe gin jam, and now and then, little stalls selling hot chocolate with rum or brandy appeared.
Chewy delights

Tammy: “York was the highlight of the tour for me. The atmosphere on the coach was different by the third day, people were chatting, laughing and joking – there was a real sense of camaraderie. Even though I’ve worked at Leger for a number of years, I’ve not been on a coach holiday before but definitely understand the appeal of holidaying by coach – everything was done for us: no driving, no navigating our way through the country roads, nothing to think about... we just had to turn up and get on the coach. Then we just sat back and enjoyed the scenery.”

Tammy soaking up 'all the fun of the St. Nicholas Fayre' in York

 
 
So that was it. Three days and three different markets, all full of festive cheer and an atmosphere you only get at this time of year. And here’s one final observation: Christmas markets are not the place to be if you’re on a diet! There are so many wonderful smells coming at you from every direction that it would be hard for anyone with even the highest levels of willpower to walk past without a taste. We didn’t even try – afterall, that’s all part of the attraction of the Christmas markets! The diet will have to wait for another day!
For more information about the York St.Nicholas Fayre, Leeds Christkindelmarket, and the Grassington Dickensian Festival visit our Yorkshire Christmas Markets Tour page
 
 
 

Yorkshire Christmas Markets

It’s that time of year again when towns and cities play host to the colourful Christmas markets, welcoming visitors from near and far to join in the festive celebrations and soak up the unique atmosphere. I’m a bit of a sucker when it comes to Christmas Markets, so when a trip to the Yorkshire Christmas Markets – markets I’ve not visited before – came up, I had my bag packed and my Santa hat on faster than you could say ‘mulled wine’.

In a change to our usual working location in Leger’s Design Studio, my colleague, Tammy and I were joining the tour to get some new photographs for the brochures and the website, and to check the tour out – listening to what the customers thought of the trip and experiencing the Yorkshire Christmas markets first hand… After Leeds Christkindelmarkt, our second stop was Grassington.

Engrossed in Christmas Past

It was a clear, frosty morning, as we set off en route to the Yorkshire Dales village of Grassington. Travelling through the beautiful Yorkshire countryside, passing long shadows stretching out across fields criss-crossed with dry stone walls, we drove through the lovely spa town of Ilkley, close to Ilkley Moor – inspiration for the folk song ‘On Ilkla Moor Baht ‘at’.
Along the way we made a short stop in Skipton, the ‘Gateway to the Dales’, with Skipton Castle standing at the top of the high street of this traditional, market town. The cobbled streets were full of friendly market traders setting up their Saturday stalls and plenty of tea rooms serving crumpets, scones and morning teas. The smell of hot pork pies was hard to ignore – no doubt a favourite here as quite a few people were walking the streets munching on the warm snack. The markets were popular with both locals and visitors, selling anything and everything from farm foods to pots and pans; dog food to woollen hats and gloves – a typical Saturday market.

Tammy: “We found a little gem in an old fashioned sweet shop called Sarsaparilla’s – it was just like stepping into the sweet shop in the film ‘Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory’, with ‘Wonka Bars’ and ‘Everlasting Gobstoppers’, plus things I remember from my schooldays such as ‘Sherbet Dips Dabs’, candy cigarettes, Wham bars, Nerds and Push Pops. I really did feel like a child in a sweet shop!”

In Grassington the markets were different again, this time with a Dickensian theme. Grassington has everything that comes to mind when you imagine a typical village in the Yorkshire Dales: stunning views; beautiful stone buildings; quirky shops and friendly pubs, so visiting at Christmas time is extra special when the Grassington Dickensian Festival is on – this year, celebrating the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens. Walking up to the main cobbled square it felt as if we’d stepped back in time, with villagers and shopkeepers dressed in Victorian costume.

Keeping warm at the markets

More gift ideas!

The streets were bustling with musicians, a town crier, a stilt walker and chestnut sellers, and stalls were full of local produce including real Yorkshire ales, homemade chutneys, soups and pies (rabbit and cranberry must’ve been popular as it was sold out) and, of course, mulled wine.
Local produce

Town crier

The burger stall here had an impressive selection – the sign displaying ‘best beef, venison, kangaroo, wild boar and Welsh buffalo’ – and, for anyone wanting to take the weight off their feet for a while, the village had a good selection of cozy pubs where you could enjoy a hearty meal to warm you up on a cold winter’s day.
As the afternoon passed, the fire pits were lit, bringing welcome heat to the market-goers who gathered around eating and drinking, sharing the warmth and the charm of this olde-worlde town. As darkness fell, the lights from the quaint little shops began to twinkle and in the centre of the square, the Hebden Bridge band began playing traditional Christmas carols as people started to sing along.
Next stop: York St. Nicholas Fayre.
For more information about the Grassington Dickensian Festival, Leeds Christkindelmarket, or the York St. Nicholas Fayre please visit our Yorkshire Christmas Markets Tour page.

Yorkshire Christmas Markets – Leeds Christkindelmarkt

It’s that time of year again when towns and cities play host to the colourful Christmas markets, welcoming visitors from near and far to join in the festive celebrations and soak up the unique atmosphere. I’m a bit of a sucker when it comes to Christmas Markets, so when a trip to the Yorkshire Christmas Markets – markets I’ve not visited before – came up, I had my bag packed and my Santa hat on faster than you could say ‘mulled wine’.

In a change to our usual working location in Leger’s Design Studio, my colleague, Tammy and I were joining the tour to get some new photographs for the brochures and the website, and to check the tour out – listening to what the customers thought of the trip and experiencing the Yorkshire Christmas markets first hand… First stop: Leeds.

A very warm ‘Willkommen’ in Leeds

As we arrived at the Christkindelmarket in Millennium Square the markets were in full swing. Visiting each stall one by one to see what delights were on offer, we were lead along from stall to stall by one enticing smell after another. It was this mouth-watering mix of smells that hit us first as we arrived at the market – from the smoke of the giant barbecue cooking juicy frankfurters, sizzling schnitzel and huge burgers, to the sugary smell of candy floss and sweet popcorn being made, our senses went into overdrive… and if you visit a Christmas market, don’t miss the ‘Christmas in a glass’ taste of mulled wine – simply a must on a cold day in December! If you don’t collect the deposit you pay on your warm drink, you can even keep the special mug as a souvenir of your visit.

Tasty food

Sizzling sausages

The square in Leeds was full of wooden chalets selling all kinds of unusual gifts ranging from the ‘Honey House’, where a unique variety of candles, honey and jam were being sold, to hand-painted baubles and candle holders, knitted and sheepskin clothing, and salt crystal lamps which lit up with a warm orange glow.

Caroline: “The man at the ‘Honey House’ told me how this was his 6th year at the Leeds Christkindelmarkt, and so far, sales were good – probably, he guessed, because he’d managed to hold his prices from last year. It’s his daughter who makes the candles on his stall – beeswax candles in the shape of pine cones, roses, Christmas trees, angels and reindeer, all created by pouring liquid beeswax into moulds where it’s left to set for 24 hours. And what’s his role in this, other than being the stall holder? He’s the beekeeper, and he’s been looking after the bees for over 40 years – with quite a few stings along the way!”

At the ‘Honey House’

The traditional nutcrackers and wooden toys brought out the Bavarian theme to this market with other stalls selling brightly painted, old tin toys and unique Christmas decorations made from dried fruit and cinnamon sticks which smelled lovely. The glittering carousel was brought to life as it whizzed around with squeals of laughter from children and adults alike, whilst the sound of fairground music played, all adding to the market’s wonderful atmosphere.
In the centre of the stalls, we could hear live entertainment coming from the warm and cozy retreat of the ‘Alp Chalet Restaurant’, a huge, log cabin-style hut providing authentic German food and drink – obviously a popular place judging by the queue of people waiting to get in!

Caroline: “I’ve been to a few markets in Germany before – Cologne, Düsseldorf, Rüdesheim, Aachen etc – they’re my favourite, so it’s great to have one to visit a bit closer to home. It really gives you a taste – quite literally – of what’s on offer at the bigger markets in Germany.”

All day there was a great, festive atmosphere, but it’s after dark when the markets really come to life. After around 5 o’clock they became quite busy with the bustle of people gathering around the food and drink stalls, many of them clutching a warm drink and tasty snack and wearing an array of different woollen hats, probably bought at the market. The unique, magical Christmas feeling flowed through the market as the brass band started to play classic Christmas tunes, all adding to the festive atmosphere. We even spotted the big man himself ­– who would’ve thought we’d get to see Father Christmas at Leeds Christkindelmarkets – he even stopped for a photo!

Naughty or nice? Caroline’s chance meeting with Santa!

Next stop: Grassington’s Dickensian Festival.
For more information about the Leeds Christkindelmarket, York St.Nicholas Fayre and the Grassington Dickensian Festival visit our Yorkshire Christmas Markets Tour page.