I said in my last post that I was off on a short holiday – a few days’ tour of the World War 1 battlefields. Well, I have now returned from that tour, and what a brilliant experience it was. It’s something I had never really wanted to do, as the First World War has always been a bit of a no-go area for me. However, I, and those with whom I went, had a fascinating time.
We visited the areas of Ypres (modern Ieper), and the Somme. Seeing the landscapes of these areas, which saw most of the British activity on the Western Front, brought home to me something of what it must have been like to be there during the war. The Somme is today a lovely, gently undulating countryside, cut at regular intervals by small, steep-sided vales and ridges. One of the things that was drummed home to me during the tour was the huge advantage that even a shallow rise gave a well-positioned army – and the Germans had made sure that they held all the rises they possibly could.
Everyone knows that the British troops took appalling casualties – but seeing fourteen British and Commonwealth cemeteries from one vantage point, all within a kilometre or two of where we were standing, made it all a bit more real.
Another thing that came across was something I knew but hadn’t really grasped, that battles which history knows as “1st Ypres” or “The Somme” were in fact many separate battles. The geography of these areas is crammed full with labels such as Munich Trench, Sunken Lane, Helen’s Tower, Devil’s Wood, Lochnagar Crater. Each label carries its own terrible story, involving a myriad of regimental names such as the Durham Light Infantry, the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, the Northumberland Fusiliers, the Post Office Rifles, and so on.
I could go on…and on. But I won’t. Well, not now, at any rate. In a future post I want to discuss a couple of important things about the British experience of the war which school text books seem to ignore. However, for now, I want to say how much more enjoyable the tour was made for us by the superb tour leader, Edward Waite-Roberts.
He was (or maybe still is, I’m not certain) a lieutenant colonel who runs a travel agency specialising in putting together bespoke holidays for people. Because of his military background he often does battlefield tours like the one I was on – he even takes groups of officer cadets on such tours, so he must know his stuff! However, he also organises holidays all around the world (for a frighteningly high price, I should imagine, though on his website he claims he’s cost-effective). His specialism is logistics, which (so far as I understand) is a fancy word for transport organization, so I suspect that makes him about as well qualified to do what he’s doing as anyone!
Regular readers of this blog will know I never normally plug companies or products, but in this case I’m making an exception; and I’m doing so out of gratitude to Mr W-R’s wonderful leadership of the tour. So, if you want to visit the battlefields of the First World War, or the Second WW, or the Napoleonic Wars, or (for all I know) the Punic Wars, then he’s your man. Or maybe you want a holiday organized in Lesotho or Myanmar or Guatamala? Enlist his services. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on 01256 362800.