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.

Paul Reed: The Legacy of Passchendaele

This year marks the centenary of the Battle of Passchendaele, a name that will be forever synonymous with our knowledge and understanding of the First World War, but more than that it is part of our collective consciousness of the war. When we think of that conflict we imagine endless miles of water-filled shell craters, thick glutinous mud, and everything from men, mules, guns and tanks disappearing into this mud.

All of this happened at Passchendaele; at times the landscape was as dangerous to soldiers as was the enemy shooting at them. Arguably it was the worst battlefield on which British soldiers served between 1914 and 1918; both in terms of the physical conditions and also the terrible scale of the fighting.

Hell Fire Croner 1917

What made Passchendaele such a terrible battle? It is not widely known that the first day of the battle, 31st July 1917, was a success. Most objectives were taken, and the Germans pushed off the high ground at both Pilkem and Bellewaarde. But it was a costly day, too: more than 6,000 British soldiers died at Ypres that day, one of the worst in Flanders during four long years of war.
Success, but at a cost: but another factor came into play that first day: rain. It began to rain that evening and pretty much did not stop raining for a significant period of the rest of the battle. It was the wettest summer in living memory, with huge amounts of rainfall. That in combination with the unparalleled use of artillery by both sides, the shells just destroyed the Flanders landscape.
Trenches, buildings, and the drainage systems all pulverised by warfare on an industrial scale. The water had nowhere to run except into the holes in the ground occupied by soldiers, or into the lunar landscape of shell craters. The mud became glutinous, in places almost liquid; and everything from men to every man-made object disappeared into it.
Shell Smashed Landscape at Passchendaele

Attacks failed, and the bodies of the fallen could not be recovered; with the mud and shell-fire, all trace of them was lost and Passchendaele is a battlefield that has one of the highest levels of soldiers with no known grave, now commemorated on the Menin Gate or Tyne Cot Memorial.
A century later it is easy to think that the mud, and men disappearing forever are one of the many myths of the First World War. But I have witnessed both in my work with archaeologists in Flanders.
On a dig in 2012 I saw how liquid mud, even after minimal rainfall, could drag us down and how the effort of dealing with a mud-filled landscape was almost impossible at times; and we had modern clothing, tools and no-one shooting at us!
A Century Later, Archaeologists Still Bailing Out an Old Trench

Back in 2001 I saw how the work of The Diggers at Boesinghe demonstrated that Flanders is still one large cemetery; and every year since more and more soldier’s remains are found. It will be one of the almost permanent legacies of the Great War at Ypres, along with the Iron Harvest of shells which are still being found by farmers on the old battlefields.
Archaeologists Working in the Mud of Ypres

To understand more of what Passchendaele was and what it means to us a century later you can travel to Flanders with Leger Holidays on several different tours in 2017. Join us for the actual anniversary commemorations at Tyne Cot on 31st July, or take the They Called It Passchendaele tour which looks at both Messines and Passchendaele in some depth.
You can walk the Passchendaele battlefield on Walking Ypres, and see it from ground level in some detail, and in November we commemorate the end of the battle with a special Passchendaele themed Armistice tour.
The Iron Harvest

The war poet Siegfried Sassoon wrote, ‘I died in Hell… They Called it Passchendaele’. A century on we owe to the generation which marched to Flanders in 1917 to understand that Hell and never let it happen again; and that is perhaps the real legacy in an ever changing world.
 
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Beer and Battlefields: The Man Behind the Concept

Looking ahead into 2017, we’ve got big events coming up. From the Centenary of Passchendaele to the 75th anniversary of Dieppe, there’s an interesting year ahead on our Battlefield tours. Yet, there’s one itinerary that really stands out. New for 2017, this tour isn’t focused on a big anniversary, neither is it visiting new ground, it’s just a whole new concept that has really got people talking. Beer and Battlefields.

Mark Hope: Beer and Battlefield creator
Marc Hope

Designed by our very own Battlefield Guide Marc Hope, our Beer and Battlefields tour combines battlefield sites from both World Wars with visits to a selection of the best breweries in Belgium. And, who better to give us the inside scoop than Marc himself? In this exclusive interview, find out just why this tour is going to take 2017 by storm.
Q: Beer and Battlefields, it’s certainly an interesting concept. How did it first come about?
A: It came about several years ago when I used to do Brewery Tours around Belgium and France. Originally we concentrated on the Trappist Breweries and then onto various other establishments which took us over the Battlefields of WW1 &WW2. People then started to look at the Battlefield side of things as I used to give a running commentary as we passed through these sites. It snowballed from there with us doing the Battlefields in the morning and Breweries in the afternoon as; believe it or not, people didn’t want to spend all day in Breweries. It’s a more relaxed kind of Battlefield tour where we can digest the Battlefields over a great beer.
Q: What significance does beer have to the stories of World War I and World War II? Is it something that is often overlooked?
A:  A Medical Officer once said “Had it not been for the rum ration, I do not think we should have won the War.” Winston Churchill would acknowledge alcohol by saying “It saved more Englishmen’s lives, and minds, than all the Doctors in the Empire.” Therefore alcohol and the role it played are very much overlooked, as it played a significant part in Soldiers and Civilian lives during both Wars.
Alcohol, particularly Rum was administered as a treatment for everything from Shellshock, wounds, hypothermia, flu right through to exhaustion! Most commanders issued double rations when men were going ‘over the top.’ Alcohol was also used as a motivational tool, a reward and a cure. It was a great way for men to unwind behind the lines in the local Estaminets and cafe’s.
On the downside it led men to be Court Martialed and imprisoned for drunkenness. It could also lead to forfeit of pay up to 28 days. Officers could also be forced to give up their commission or ‘Cashiering’ as it’s known.
The British Government became very concerned that drunkenness was affecting War production back at home so they introduced the Defence of the Realm Act. This meant that licensed premises could only open between certain hours and this wasn’t overturned until 2005, so affected us up until quite recently.
Q: How did you choose the breweries that are featured in the tour? Are there any that really stand out?
A: I picked these Breweries as they represent the Battles of WW1, WW2 and what the troops, and civilians, got up to behind the Lines. These Breweries are all establishments I’ve visited in the past. They are connected to the War by either producing alcohol for the troops or being associated on the Battlefield themselves.  For instance the Kazematten Brewery in Ypres is housed in the old Ramparts where once upon a time they used to produce the ‘trench gazette’ for the troops. It still produces the Wipers Times, but now in a form of a beer. It still retains the medicinal Saint Mary’s Thistle (blessed thistle) on the label of the beer which was originally found on the front page of the newspaper. They all have something unique.
Q: Compared to the other Leger Holidays Battlefield tours you have guided, how will Beer and Battlefields stand out to you?
A: It gives a different concept to the Battlefields themselves. It gives an insight as to how alcohol, food and tobacco influenced and shaped these soldiers in their everyday lives. It’s not all about Battles but rather what the troops did to relax and how they integrated with the civilians behind the lines. It’s also a look into how alcohol got a lot of Soldiers into trouble and also how many won Bravery Awards whilst under the influence.
Q: Whilst researching the tour, did you come across any interesting stories that you can give us as a sneak peek into?
A: As with Alcohol in general, it leads to some very bizarre stories and circumstances. All I can say it led to one particular soldier nearly marrying a cow to another nearly winning the Victoria Cross! These and many more stories will be told on the tour.
Q: Do you think the premise of the tour will attract people to the battlefields, who may not have considered it previously?
A: Yes indeed as not everyone wants to do a full day Battlefield Touring. We’ve had it many a time on tours where ‘the other half’s’ have bought a Battlefield Tour, as a present, and they feel obliged to come along. This way they get the best of both worlds. Supporting their partner’s and then going for drinks and guided brewery tours after. They can even chuck in a bit of shopping! It’s far more relaxed. It will also, hopefully, attract people who like their beer but would like a bit of culture and history to go alongside it. They complement each other very nicely.
Q: What is your favourite beer sampled on the tour?
A: I can’t remember! That’s a very tough question. As Belgium alone has over a 1000 beers it’s hard to narrow it down to one particular beer. Can I just say it’s still ongoing research?
Q: You’re quite active on social media, have you had any interesting comments or questions regarding the Beer and Battlefields tour?
A: It certainly seems to be going down very well, just like beers I expect! It’s very much straight forward as the title does what it says on the tin, or bottle in this case. I think a few people were concerned how this itinerary was going to pan out. Once I told them it’s going to be Battlefields in the morning, followed by the Brewery tours in the afternoon, it seemed to put their minds at ease. We didn’t want it getting too messy doing it the other way round! You can’t go wrong with Battlefields and then beer after.
Q: What are you most looking forward to when the tour gets on the road?
A: Meeting old and new faces. It’s great to be going to new places and the Hop Museum is a fantastic place to visit. All the Breweries offer something different with their own regional beers. It certainly gives a very different aspect to the two Great Wars from both sides.
Q: What three words would you use to describe this tour?
A: ‘Hoppy’ times ahead.
Our Beer and Battlefields tour will be hitting the road from June 2017 on either a 4 or 5 day break with executive and Silver Service travel Available. Staying at the 3* Novotel in the heart of Ypres, join us from just £399pp.
Follow Marc on Twitter: @Thegr8war
 

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

“How lucky we are” – The Fritz and Tommy Battlefield Tour by Rob Schäfer

I have been visiting the battlefields of Flanders and the Somme for nearly 20 years, but this is the first time ever where I sincerely doubt if all the suffering was worth it.
This moving remark was made by one of our guests on the last day of the ‘Fritz and Tommy’ Battlefield Tour in October and was certainly one of my personal highlights this year.

I had the pleasure to guide two of these tours in September and October, working side by side with Leger guides Paul Reed and Marc Hope, leading the guests to German sites in Flanders, Northern France and the Somme
Visiting battlefields, cemeteries and forgotten German memorials, following in the footsteps of Ernst Jünger and the young Adolf Hitler, then a corporal in the Royal Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment No. 16, looking at German military, funeral and mourning traditions, organizational details and telling stories and anecdotes of the German army and the units that fought in the places we visited. How did Fritz, the German soldier experience the Great War and what were the joint experiences of Fritz and Tommy. What set them apart and what united them.LHRossignolWood
The first day on the battlefields was spent in Flanders. For the German men that fought in the war Flandern was a byword for sacrifice and suffering and we went out to look at how Germany commemorated her dead in that area, visiting the German cemeteries at Vladslo and Langemarck, a virtually forgotten German regimental memorial and looking at the ‘Langemarck myth’ and its importance to the propaganda of the National-Socialists.
After that we examined the pivotal fighting around Gheluvelt, the key to Ypres, on the Menin Road. Here we used letters and diary extracts of German soldiers from Württemberg and Bavaria that fought in and captured the village in November 1914 before switching our sights to the desperate and decisive counter charge of the 2nd Worcesters.
After lunch at Hooge Crater Café we visited Bayernwald to see the German trench system there, an ideal place to talk about the undying myth that German trenches were generally better than their English counterparts and to have a closer look at German and British mining techniques.
At Messines we visited William the Conqueror’s mother in law and looked at the story of Herr Hitler again, reading an account of how his battalion celebrated Christmas in the church and crypt in December 1914 before finishing the day visiting a German officer’s grave on a British cemetery to tell his sad and fascinating story.LHNeuville
Day three led us to northern France to the sad German cemetery at Wervicq before exploring the Frommelles battlefield from both sides, looking at its German defences and talking about the first clash between German and Australian troops and how that event influenced the catastrophic outcome of the Battle of Frommelles. One of my highlights of the September tour was certainly the visit to the huge mass of individual graves that forms the military cemetery of Neuville St. Vaast, where 44888 German soldiers from more than a hundred different divisions from all provinces and counties of Germany are buried. Here Paul Reed’s soulful recitation of a letter written by a German veteran to the famous British war poet Henry Williamson left everyone, including me, speechless and lost for words. A misty-eyed moment and a truly moving experience I will never forget.
Day four was spent on the Somme starting at Copse 125 or Rossignol Wood, where the famous German stormtrooper-writer Ernst Jünger fought in 1918 opposite New Zealanders including the ‘King of No Man’s Land’ Dick Travis V.C. DCM MM. Among highlights of that day were our stops at Hawthorne Ridge and Sunken Lane as here we were able to deliver a most detailed account of the slaughter that happened there on 1 July 1916.
An ideal location allowing people to immerse themselves in the story told.
Highlighting the experiences of attacker and defender alike, reading accounts from both German and English soldiers that had fought there that day and finishing the presentation off inside the bus, with lights dimmed, watching Malins’ famous footage of the explosion of the mine, Sunken Lane and the attack on Hawthorne Ridge. LHHawthornRidge2
To stand in the middle of where it all happened and to know what exactly happened there on the German side and the English side left a lasting impression on everyone. After visit to Courcelette the days on the Somme ended at Guillemont where we returned to Ernst Jünger and his harrowing descriptions of the fighting there in 1916.
I was positively surprised about amount of interest in the groups and even after the official end of each day I continued answering questions in lively debates over many a glass of Belgian beer, sometimes up until deep in the night. For me personally these tours have been commemorative events in their own right. A hundred years have passed since Fritz and Tommy fought each other in four horrible years of suffering and pain.
Now in 2014, we, their ancestors are able to travel the battlefields together, walking in their footsteps as friends. How lucky we are.

Nie wieder Krieg! Fritz and Tommy – We will remember them

 

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

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

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

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Cross of Sacrifice at Tynecot

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

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

LEST WE FORGET

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

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

Remembrance – Annamarie Vickers-Skidmore

Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres

With Remembrance day now less than a month away, on such a poignant year, the sacrifice of World War One is highly present on all of our minds.

We’ve recently received a phone call from a customer of ours thanking us for listing one of her ancestors names on page 14 of our Battlefields brochure. The name, Mr E. Payne, is etched into a panel at the Menin gate and you can see the picture on the right hand panel of the brochure. You can view the brochure here.
A member of our reservations team, Annamarie, was so humbled by the call and that one name was recognised out of so many, that she was inspired to write the following poem of remembrance.

Remembrance.

Thousands of names,
Carved into the wall,
On Armistice Day,
We remember their fall.
 
The young and the old,
A battlefield of hate,
The bugles will play,
To honour their fate.
 
Names embedded,
Their graves unknown,
Fighting for our country,
Feeling so alone.
 
Their legacy lives on,
As their ancestor’s wait,
Heads bowed in respect,
At the foot of Menin Gate.

We would like to thank Annamarie for sharing this beautiful poem with us and we hope you enjoy it as much as we did.
We are forever being impressed by these displays of talent from customers and staff alike, if you have something you’d like to share, email us at social@leger.co.uk.