Category Archives: Battlefield Guiding

Bosworth and Naseby – A Case Study for a Business in Transition

Opposed take over of the Family Business - Henry Tudor lands
Opposed take over of the Family Business – Henry Tudor lands

One of the most difficult transitions for a business is to move from being a family business controlled by its owner manager, to one capable of expanding to a size where a more corporate structure is needed. Guardian Water Treatment Limited is an ambitious building services business at this stage in its development.

Guardian Water Treatment LtdGuardian Water Treatment

Founded in 2001 by Mark Hobson, Guardian Water Treatment Ltd (GWT) is bringing science to the business of managing water and air purity in buildings in the face of regulation and the real risks of Legionnaires Disease. The business currently has a turnover in the £millions and has ambitions to grow to much more. GWT has a mixture of head office and home based sales and engineering teams. The management wanted to hold a management study day to get people together out of the office and to discuss some of the issues facing the business as it grows.

Opposed take over of the Family Business – Henry Tudor lands

GWT was interested in looking at the following:-

  • The step changes required as a business grows.
  • The need to change business process in order to fully benefit from the potential of technology.
  • The challenges of retaining human capital.
  • Developing culture and processes that retain flexibility and responsiveness
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A skilled craftsman explaining the tools of his trade

A management study day could be held, in theory, anywhere. One could hire a conference room in any of a number of hotels. But there are good reasons for looking beyond a purely formal meeting. Teams can only bond when their members have an opportunity to meet each other outside  the day to day working environment. Excursions of all sorts provide a framework for building relationships with colleagues one might have only dealt with via the telephone or email. Historically, businesses have used sporting and cultural events for management level team building, but a round of golf or a day’s shooting is not for everyone.

Business Battlefields

Business Battlefields is a business service which provides corporate business events on historic battlefields. It was founded by Frank Baldwin in 2005 and its customers include Merrill Lynch, Marks and Spencer and Boeing. Business Battlefields was engaged to find historic locations which would provide a setting for GWT’s management study day.

A visit to the battlefields is a chance to compare current organisational issues in a way which enables participants to make connections and draw lessons from history which they may not otherwise see. It provides scope to tell stories that make it easy to understand and share messages which can be applied in a business situation.

New recruits
New recruits to an industrial revolution in warfare

The battlefields of Britain offer a great background for the study of business problems. The battles of Bosworth (1485) and Naseby (1645) are a source of lessons for a business growing from being family run to building the framework to become a global player. In the case of our battlefields, the business is protection and the family is, of course, Britain’s own Royal family.

Both battlefields are situated in the East Midlands and well served by business hotels, restaurants and pubs. The Bosworth Battlefield Centre provides an excellent interpretation of the battle supported by a collection of weapons demonstrated by a medieval martial arms expert. Naseby has no interpretation centre but has viewing points, which can be supported by living history

The battles of Bosworth and Naseby represent different eras in the development of armed forces. The Battle of Bosworth 1485 is one of the last battles of the medieval age. Richard III and Henry Tudor were feudal warriors leading factions fighting for control of the family business. Their rule was personal and their armies were comprised of bands of warriors owing loyalty in a way which stretched back to 1066 and earlier. The Battle of Naseby 1645 is the start of the modern world. The British Army is descended from the New Model Army with governance and organisational structures familiar to the modern world. Today’s soldiers could understand the organisation and rank structure of the New Model Army. Between Bosworth and Naseby there had been a military revolution, based on gunpowder technology, but requiring far reaching organisational and cultural changes. These made the European model of warfare a world beating model and enabled the European countries to colonise the world between 1600-1900.

Richard III and Bosworth: A Hostile Take-over of a Family Business

Living Historians on the Battlefield of Naseby
Living Historians on the Battlefield of Naseby

The story of Richard III is one reason why the Bosworth battlefield is fascinating. There are many lessons to be drawn from his short reign. The problem with family businesses is that genetics is not the best recruitment mechanism. Richard found himself as the man with the skills and experience for the top job while knowing that it would go to his juvenile nephew. He chose to mount a coup and wrest control, but ultimately failed because he could not win over all the stakeholders. It’s a cautionary tale for anyone. Do you settle for second best or risk all to win everything? Our client hasn’t relied on recruiting family members but there are lessons to be learned by privately owned businesses of all sizes.

These battles offer examples of the significance of the organisational and cultural impact of changing technology. The big difference between Bosworth and Naseby, less than 200 years apart, is the nature of the armies. Bosworth was fought by craftsmen; Naseby by mechanics. The warriors who fought at Bosworth, from King Richard downwards were trained to varying degrees from their youth in the martial arts they practiced. It took ten years to train an archer to use a war bow, and knights, squires and men at arms took a comparable time to master the variety of edged and blunt weapons used by a late C15th army. By the C17th soldiers were drilled and trained to use simple weapons such as the musket and the pike which could be taught in hours and days rather than years. And, with drill books sent across the world, could be taught to anyone. It’s a brutal lesson in the value of scale-able, low cost and repeatable solutions.

Gunpowder – the catalyst which replaced Craftsmanship with Process

"Downsizing" meant something slightly different in the past....
In the past,  “Downsizing” could be taken literally…

Other lessons from the New Model Army are the lessons for re-structuring. In 1644 Parliament had a problem with its military forces. The armies were created by local associations and commanded by the local Lords and MPs. Its success rate had been, at best, patchy and forces were tied to local regions. Parliament took the decision to form a homogeneous national army. One of their key decisions was to remove the owners of the individual armies via what is known as a the “self denying ordnance” by which Members of Parliament, (with a few exceptions) were to resign from their command positions in the army. The New Model Army, led by Sir Thomas Fairfax demonstrated its quality in its first battle at Naseby. This has an obvious lesson for any business seeking to assimilate an amalgam of acquisitions – remove the previous management.

GWT wanted the following from the day:

  • An opportunity for the management team to get to know one another outside of the working environment.
  • A chance to discuss the challenges of embracing new technologies, growing the business and managing change.
  • To use lessons learned from history to bring to life the challenges being faced while also explaining that they are not new challenges and there are opportunities to learn from history.
  • To enjoy a new and interesting experience.

Dan Doherty, the client contact, said: ‘Frank’s encyclopedic knowledge, connections and passion for what he does makes for a unique, interesting and beneficial experience. Most importantly, Frank is no everyday military historian; he has both military experience and a successful career in business and management. This is a heady cocktail of original and high value experiences that will benefit any organisation that wants to think outside the box for team building exercises.

logo brownMore information about Business Battlefields here

Can History and Historic Fantasy co-exist? A new Magazine and Event are trying to bridge the Genres

To what extent does history and historic fantasy mix? How close to historic fact do we need to be to celebrate history and heritage? The launch of Seaxe magazine and the Fayre Times Festival are a bold attempt to reach people interested in both historic fact and the fantasy.

King Arthur - Cultural icon or medieval fantasy?
King Arthur – Cultural icon or medieval fantasy?

There is an obvious relationship between fiction and fact. Horatio Hornblower, Richard Sharp and Commando magazine are fiction and their activities, however accurately set contain fantastic elements of some kind The history of the Wars of the Roses offers an ill defined historic basis for historic fiction, such as the White Queen, but is also the basis for Hollywood films such as the Prisoner of Zenda and Game of thrones. The historic dark ages provides the culture and mythology that sustains middle earth as the best loved fantasy of modern times.

There are far more people who read Tolkein than Beowulf, and more viewers of the White Queen and Game of Thrones than visitors to Barnet Towton and Bosworth. So what attitude should those of us interested in military heritage take to people more interested in the culture and ethos inspired by history than in history itself? We have become used to re-enactors who portray people with an anonymous historic background. But there are also people who dress up as members of mythical societies based on medieval societies,mainly as a spin off from role playing games. Where do they fit into the heritage world?

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The fictional Battle of Dorking can make for an entertaining battlefield walk

There is a difference between history and heritage. The archaeological remains of Stonehenge is a fact. The ley lines of druid mythology may or may not have any historic basis, but do exist as part of our cultural heritage. This does not mean, and should not mean that a spot of mythical significance should have the same protection as, say, a battlefield. The Battlefields Trust is only concerned with the heritage of battlefields and not fictional battlefields such as the George Chesney’s Battle of Dorking or HG Wells fight against the martians on Horsfell common in Woking. However, it is right to encourage those fascinated by the myth to understand and support the protection of the historic heritage on which their myth is based.

Monument to a Fantasy Battle. The Martian Tripod in Woking. The role HG Wells' story in inspiring the invention of the Tank was recognized after WW1.
Monument to a Fantasy Battle.that influenced a real World War.  The Martian Tripod in Woking. The role HG Wells’ story in inspiring the invention of the Tank was recognized after WW1.

Lots of subjects we now regard as mainstream and acceptable were once seen as deemed nerdish and derisory. In the 1960s and 70s military history was seen as an academic irrelevance. It took people such as Richard Holmes to make military history a respectable subject worthy of media interest. The late Don Featherstone and Paddy Griffith showed that it was possible to be a wargamer and have something serious to say about military history.

The Battlefields Trust is providing Seaxe with articles from back issues of Battlefield and will be represented at the Fayre Times Festival. The individuals behind the projects deserve support in helping to ensure that the message about the value of preserving interpreting and understanding battlefield heritage is not forgotten by those who draw on it for inspiration.  

Hitler’s Image on the Cathedral and Other Military Heritage in Barcelona

 

"HItlers Face" on Barcelona Cathedral
“HItlers Face” on Barcelona Cathedral.

People do not normally visit Barcelona for its military history. It’s more associated with Catalan culture, football, art, architecture, tapas bars, beaches and clubs. But it also has some interesting military history, starting with the legend of its foundation by Hamlicar Barca, the Carthaginian General who fathered Hannibal, and the archaeological evidence of the Roman Colonia founded for ex-Legionaries. There are at least three episodes from its past which are well worth exploring.

George_Orwell_press_photo
Eric Blair AKA George Orwell: Volunteered to fight for Republican Spain but lucky to esacape from the conflict between Satlinist, Troskyist and Anarchist factions

The most visible is the legacy of the city’s role in the Spanish Civil War when it was a staunch supporter of the Republican side. The army’s coup attempt in the city in 1936 was defeated by the armed trade union militia, paradoxically mainly by well organised anarchists. The city became the capital for the Republic after Madrid came under ground attack. One of its most popular streets, the Ramblas, became the front line in the civil war within the civil war between the Stalinist, Trotskyist and anarchist militias. The British Volunteer, Eric Blair was stationed on the rooftops on the Ramblas. His experiences and disillusionment became the inspiration for the works he published as Animal Farm and 1984 under the name George Orwell.

Ramblas
The Ramblas: the front line between the Anarchists and Communists in the “civil war within the civil war” in May 1938. The building on the extreme right is the Intercontinental Hotel, where Eric Blair (the novelist George Orwell) was staying with his wife Ellen while commuting to his place in action further down the street..
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The bombers view of Barcelona: March 1938. The Ramblas is the street in the centre of the picture aligned at 11 O’Clock with a stick of bombs below and above it.
Sant Felip Neri
Bomb damage to the facade of the Church of Sant Felip Neri. 42 civilians died in this square, mainly children.when bombs struck the square in March 1938

The bitter and sad story of the Spanish Civil War deserves to be better known. It is much more complicated than a simple story of good versus evil or communists against fascists. The evidence of the savagery and cost of the war is visible across the city. The bomb splintered façade of the church of Sant Felip Neri is witness to the deaths of 42 civilians, mainly children, when Italian aircraft bombed the city in March 1938. The damage to the Gaudi Church of the Sagrada Família and the barren church interiors are a reminder of the bitter anti clerical passions among the Republicans. The names in Fort Montjuïc mark the cells where Republican political leaders were held, tortured and executed, in Franco’s post war campaign to exterminate political opposition. It is still a sensitive topic across Spain, and avoided in the aftermath of Franco’s death, while the country made a transition to Democracy and EU membership.

The Spanish Civil War is a case study with lessons for the modern world. The debate about whether, when and how the world should intervene in a civil war is a live and current concern with images from Egypt and Syria in the media.

 

Montjuïc from the North of the city.
Montjuïc from the North of the city.

Fort Montjuïc on the hill south of the city and port was key to the defence of the city. It was the site of the oppida, the pre Roman site. In the Catalan wars of the 1640s the hill was fortified by the inhabitants and key to protecting the city from attack. In the war of Spanish

Lord Peterbporough supervises the siege of Barcelona . Note the bombardment from Montjuïc on the left.
“Over the hills and far away, to Flanders Portugal and Spain, Queen Anne commands and we’ll obey” .    Lord Peterborough supervises the siege and capture of Barcelona 1705. Note the bombardment from Montjuïc on the left.

Succession 1705 Barcelona surrendered after the Anglo imperial forces assaulted the fort and it played a key part in the recapture of the city by the Bourbons in the siege of 1713-14. The fort is in an excellent position and well preserved, with coastal artillery batteries with C19th and C20th guns. The fort held a military museum assembled in the Franco era until 2009, when the collection was disbursed, which may itself indicate the sensitivity of the Civil War. The fort can be reached by a combination of cable car and funicular railway from Parallel metro, or via the cross harbour cable car from Barceloneta, by bus or walking.

Real replica
The Real: A full scale replical of Don John’s flagship at Lepanto. One of the largest war galleys built in the C16th

The city’s maritime museum is a gem with links to one of the most important naval battles in history. The museum is in the old Royal Catalan and Spanish naval ship yard where merchant and war ships were built in a Gothic stone building. The museum contains a replica of the 235 tonnes, 60m “Real,” the galley which served as the flagship of Don John of Austria, at the battle of Lepanto in 1571. The original Real had a crew of 400 sailors and soldiers in addition to 290 oarsmen and was armed with three heavy and six light cannons.

The battle of Lepanto was one of the largest and most significant naval battles in history and took place in the Ionian sea off Greece on 7th October 1571. 212 ships of the Holy League (Spain, Venice and the Papal states) under Don John, manned by 28,500 soldiers and C 25,000 sailors and oarsmen faced 250 Turkish ships manned by 31,400 soldiers and 50,000 sailors and oarsman under Ali Pacha. This is more ships and men than took part in the largest naval battles of Jutland (1916) and Leyte Gulf in the C20th World Wars and approximately eight times as many ships and men as took part in the famous battle of Trafalgar (1805)

At Lepanto the Real engaged the Turkish galley Sultana, flagship of Ali Pacha in deck to deck combat. The Spanish troops boarded the Sultana and after about an hour of bloody fighting captured her. Ali Pacha was severely wounded by musket fire, fell to the deck, and was beheaded by a Spanish soldier. His head was displayed on a pike, severely affecting the morale of his troops. The Real captured the “Great Flag of the Caliphs” and became a symbol of the victory at Lepanto.

The battle was a decisive victory for the Holy League. The Turks lost 80 ships sunk and 130

The Battle of Lepanto Paulo Veronese Academy of Venice (1572)
The Battle of Lepanto Paulo Veronese Academy of Venice (1572)

captured, with the loss of 20,000 Turks killed, captured or wounded and the release of 12,000 Christian galley slaves. One of the c.7,500 Holy League casualties was Miguel de Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote. The battle ended Turkish naval supremacy in the Mediterranean and inspired paintings and poetry. Barcelona Cathedral contains a further artefact from the battle of Lepanto, the Christ of Lepanto, carried in on a Spanish Galley. The body of Christ is supposed to have moved to avoid cannon shot during the battle!

Galley warfare of slaves at the oars, and hand to hand combat may seem archaic to Britons whose image of naval warfare is based on the kinds of sailing ships used by sea dogs from Drake to Nelson. But the battle of Lepanto took place 26 years after the English carrick, the Mary Rose was lost while engaging French galleys in the Solent and only seventeen years before the Spanish Armada.

The nearest Metro is Drassanes close to the Colon which commemorates the return of Christopher Columbus to Spain after his first voyage and reception by Ferdinand and Isabella. The Museum café is in a quiet garden with a fish-pond and is a good place to contemplate the war galleys which dominated naval warfare in the Mediterranean for over two millennia – or to take a break from sight seeing.

If you are interested in travelling to battlefield heritage in Barcelona or elsewhere in Span contact me via Baldwin Battlefield Tours

PS Hitler fought in Ypres in 1914.  The Battlefield Trust is organising a fund raising event at lunchtime on 10th September 2013 with a lunch and a talk given by Col (retd) Christopher Newbould on the British Army at Wipers.  Details here.

 

 

Forgotten battlefields of the Aisne

aisne departmental map
Great War Aisne Battlefields

The Aisne battlefields are in some ways a forgotten corner of the Western Front. Most British visitors to the Western Front tend to focus on the battlefields of Flanders and the Somme, or hurtle across it en route to Verdun, the iconic French battle. Yet the battlefields in the Aisne, the bordering department south of the Somme Region, play a significant part in the development of the Western Front, have a special place in the story of the British Expeditionary force and are the resting place of several thousand British soldiers.

The Department of the Aisne forms an inverted triangle with St Quentin near the top left corner and the town of Château Thierry near the base. The northern half of the department is part of the Picardy plains. The southern half is much hillier and cut by the Oise, Aisne and Marne rivers flowing East to West. Battlefields tend to be determined by physical geography rather than administrative regions. Thus the department plays an significant role in several battlefields, only one of which takes its name from the department.

THE OTHER SOMME BATTLEFIELD

There are geographic and commercial reasons why British battlefield tourists tend to miss out the Aisne. The Somme is that bit closer, and even then most British visitors focus on the battlefields around Albert, the site of the dramatic and costly first day of the Somme, and popularised in literature from Siegfried Sassoon to Sebastian Faulks. There has also been a major investment in the Somme in heritage tourism, from the development of the Thiepval interpretation centre, to the establishment of the Museum of the Great War in Peronne, and there is the well organised support for British tourists and the tourist trade. There is a risk though, that the focus on that which is easiest to visit distorts our understanding of the history and what it means.

The Manchester Regiment captures a German Battery on Manchester Hill.
The Manchester Regiment captures a German Battery on Manchester Hill.

The Northern part of the Aisne department centres on the town of St Quentin. This area tells a different story of the battles we know as the Somme. The most obvious features are the remains of the Hindenburg line, the fortified line created due to the high cost to the Germans of the battle of the Somme. We don’t often see the 1916 Somme battle as a “victory”. The huge investment in developing the Hindenburg line and the spiteful destruction of everything of possible value in the land they evacuated indicates that the Germans saw the Somme as a defeat. This area included the sites of actions in the advance to the Hindenburg line in March 1917. The village of Francilly-Selency includes reminders of this in the monument to the 2nd Battalion the Manchester Regiment which liberated the village in March 1917, in the action during which one of their officers, the poet Wilfred Owen, was wounded.

 

Lieutenant Colonel Wilfrith Elstob VC
Lieutenant Colonel Wilfrith Elstob VC

If we relied purely on popular culture, the Great war was not won but fizzled out in an Armistice, whether in a hail of bullets in no man’s land in Blackadder or with the tunnellers still under the static trenches in Bird Song. However, a visit to the Battlefields around St Quentin bears witness to the violent climax to the First World War on the Western Front. In March 1918, Manchester Hill, captured by Wilfred Owen’s battalion the previous spring, was occupied by the 16th Battalion the Manchester Regiment, understrength and exhausted from the Passchendaele campaign. This was one of the British redoubts isolated by German storm troops on the first day of the Kaiserschlacht and where its commanding Officer fought to the death, and was subsequently

Men of the 137th Brigade, 46th Division, being addressed by Brigadier General J C Campbell VC CMG DSO on the Riqueval Bridge over the St Quentin Canal, which formed part of the German's Hindenburg Line, broken on 29 September 1918.
Men of the 137th Brigade, 46th Division, being addressed by Brigadier General J C Campbell VC CMG DSO on the Riqueval Bridge over the St Quentin Canal, which formed part of the German’s Hindenburg Line, broken on 29 September 1918.

awarded the Victoria Cross. The Hindenburg Line positions north of St Quentin stormed by the British, Australian and American troops 28 September-3 October 1918, are still very visible and provide evidence of the story of the allied determination, skill and courage that overwhelmed the Germans in 1918. At this point the German defences were based on the Canal du Nord, a major obstacle protected by barbed wire and concrete bunkers. The tactical problem can be compared with the D Day landings. The bridge at Riqueval, seized by Captain Charlton and nine men can be compared to the capture of Pegasus Bridge on D Day. It is one of the most evocative places, and captured on a camera.

The fighting did not end at the canal. The concrete bunkers of the Hindenberg line are much better preserved than the earthworks of the Somme. The BBC TV Programme ”Who Do You Think You Are?” featured Matthew Davis the descendent of William Henry Johnson VC winner seeking the story of his ancestor. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-23109590

 

Lance Corporal William Coltman VC
Lance Corporal William Coltman VC

Close to here, at Mannequin Hill, N.E. of Sequehart, Lance Corporal William Harold Coltman, of 1/6th Bn, North Staffordshire Regiment, carried out the actions for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross. William Coltman, whose Christian beliefs would not allow him to kill another man was Britain’s most highly decorated serviceman of the First World War ( 1914-1918 ). In the last two years of the war he was awarded the Victoria Cross, Distinguished Conduct Medal twice, and Military Medal twice, acting as a stretcher-bearer.

THE AISNE – THE BIRTH OF TRENCH WARFARE

Aisne Valley
Aisne Valley
Sgt Ernest Horlock RFA VC "For conspicuous gallantry on 15th September, near Vendresse, when his Battery was in action under a heavy shell fire, in that, although twice wounded, he persisted on each occasion in returning to lay his gun after his wound had been dressed.—London Gazette 1915
Sgt Ernest Horlock RFA VC “For conspicuous gallantry on 15th September, near Vendresse, when his Battery was in action under a heavy shell fire, in that, although twice wounded, he persisted on each occasion in returning to lay his gun after his wound had been dressed.—London Gazette 1915

South of Laon is the area of the Aisne battlefields.  The department included the battlefield is bordered by the city of Soissons in the West and Berry au Bac in the East, and stretches as far south as the River Marne and the city of Laon in the North. The countryside is a little more alien for the British visitor. The Somme Battlefields are geologically similar to Southern England and the rolling countryside and large fields are similar to the landscape of Hampshire. Much of the fighting centred on the high ground North of the river Aisne. The heights are often referred to by the name of the road along the heights, the Chemin des Dames.

The War first came to the area in September 1914 as the French and British armies fell back south pursued by the Germans. The German Schlieffen plan finally unravelled in the battle of the Marne between 5-12th September 1914 and the Germans pulled back. When the allies advanced north many could be forgiven for thinking that this war was nearly over. There had been an advance, a big battle and now the invaders were in full retreat. But, when the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) crossed the river Aisne, they found the Germans dug in on the spurs on the high ground overlooking the rive Aisne and supported by plentiful artillery. Despite heroic efforts in over a week of fighting, the BEF were unable to dislodge the Germans and both sides had started to dig trenches. Field Marshal Sir John French, the commander of the BEF wrote to the king “I think the battle of the Aisne is very typical of what battles in the future are most likely to resemble. Siege operations will enter largely into the tactical problems – the spade will be as great a necessity as a rifle

There is a lot to see in the area from the BEF experience on the Aisne. The ground itself is evocative, and much as it was in 1914. You can still see the bridging site where the Royal Engineers bridged the river next to the damaged bridge. The story of the BEF can be traced on the landscape and past the cemeteries with the reminders of the costs.

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THE CHEMIN DES DAMES –1917 THE CALVARY OF THE FRENCH ARMY

The Chemin des Dames area was the site of the disastrous Neville Offensive in May 1917. The newly appointed commander of the French Army, General Robert Neville, thought that he had discovered the secret of the offensive based on the experience of successful limited attacks on the Somme and Verdun. He massed hundreds of guns and the cream of the French army, including tens of thousands of African soldiers. Unfortunately for Neville and the French army, the Germans had tunnelled deep into the ground, developed defences in depth and found out when and where the attack would take place. After several days bombardment the attack started under atrocious weather conditions, for May. After 135,000 casualties the French troops had had enough. There were mutinies in several regiments. They were strikes really, with soldiers protesting about ill planned attacks, poor food and no leave.

The saviour of Verdun, General Petain was appointed as Commander in chief of the army. He is credited with restoring discipline and confidence to the French Army. He did so with a mixture of carrot and stick. He instigated improvements in pay and leave arrangement, and perhaps most significantly, he cancelled further major offensives. This allowed the French army to recover its confidence in its commanders through a series of carefully planned and executed limited offensives. One of these, in November 1917 took place in the area around Fort Malmaison on the Aisne and resulted in the Germans withdrawing from the Chemin des Dames, the objective on the first day of the Neville offensive. The other implication of the French Army mutinies was that the burden of warfare on the West would have to be borne by the British until the American army could be mobilised and brought to Europe.

1814 and 1914 memorial
1814 and 1914 memorial

Arguably the 1917 mutinies had another legacy, in the French army of the Second World War. There is a comparison with Verdun. Verdun is a story of determination and sacrifice characterised by “They shall not pass”. The Chemin des Dames is where the French army reached the limits of endurance. It can be characterised by the bitter words of the Chanson de Craonne. ” It’s in Craonne up on the plateau That we’re leaving our hides ‘ Cause we’ve all been sentenced to die. We’re the ones that they’re sacrificing.”

There is a lot to see on the Aisne battlefield from the 1917 battles. The battlefield itself, like much of the

The Battle of the Aisne May 1918: 8th Infantry Division dispositions
The Battle of the Aisne May 1918: 8th Infantry Division dispositions

area around Verdun was deemed to be too devastated to be restored for agricultural use and designated a “Red Zone.” Although subsequently much agricultural land has been recovered, there are still tracts of the battlefield preserved as it was at the end of the First War, with the ruins of abandoned villages such as Craonne. There are also plentiful interpretive panels and panoramas relating the landscape of the battlefield. One focus for interpretation is the Cavern de Dragons, a quarry that became the scene of underground fighting. This contains an imaginative museum and guided tour.

There are also some evocative memorials each of which tells something of the French army. One memorial has a statue of a French soldier of 1814 alongside one of 1914; a reminder that this was also the site of one of Napoleon;’s last victories.

A group of elegant dark statues represents the spirits of the African soldiers who suffered so heavily in 1917. There is also a memorial to the first use of tanks by the French Army at Berry au Bac.

THE BRITISH ON THE AISNE IN 1918

Last Stand of the 2nd Battalion the Devon Regiment at the Bois de Buttes May 1918: Willaims Barnes Wollen
Last Stand of the 2nd Battalion the Devon Regiment at the Bois de Buttes May 1918: Willaims Barnes Wollen
Gibraltar_battery_Beret
5 Gibraltar Battery still wear the ribbon of the Croix de Guerre on their berets.

The troops that made up the Ninth British Corps were singularly unlucky during 1918. As mentioned earlier, the Germans launched a series of offensives to try to win the war before the American Army appeared in numbers. The first offensive was between St Quentin and Arras on 21st March and took the Germans to within a few miles of Amiens. The second, the battle of the Lys, in April took the Germans close to undermining the Britsh in Flanders. In these five weeks the British Army had taken over 230,000 casualties, about the same as in the four month Passchendaele campaign. Five of the most battered British formations were transferred to the Aisne front, which had been a quiet sector since 1917. And so when the Aisne became the target of the German “operation Blucher.”, the plateau of California and Craonne was defended by the 4th Battalion the East Yorkshire Regiment of the 50th Northumberland Division. The resulting battle saw the British and French pushed back 25 miles to the river Marne. The 2nd Battalion the Devonshire Regiment and 5 Battery RFA distinguished themselves by the heroic defence of the Bois de Buttes despite being attacked by storm-troopers supported by tanks. Both units were awarded the Croix de Guerre which now is worn by all soldiers in 5 Gibraltar Battery RA and the Rifles. One of the best accounts of the fighting on the Aisne is published as “The Last of the Ebb:The Battle of the Aisne, 1918” by Sidney Rogerson Greenhill Books/Lionel Leventhal

BIG CASTLES AND BIG GUNS

Concerete gun pits of 13" German heavy artillery
Concerete gun pits of 13″ German heavy artillery

The hilltop village of Coucey has a particularly fine ruined château and the remains of town walls. But it’s ruin is a story of the First World War. Before 1914 the château of Coucey was the largest in France and a major tourist destination. But in 1917 it lay in the zone that the Germans were planning to abandon and was destroyed in what in retrospect seems spiteful vandalism. On the outskirts of Coucey is a different sort of structure. In the forest is a concrete emplacement for a giant gun used by the Germans for shelling Compiegne 20 km away.

Batlefields_Abroad1

THE 1918 BATTLEFIELDS OF THE MARNE – WHEN THE AMERICANS SAVED PARIS FRANCE AND WON THE WAR

On two occasions in the First World War the Germans nearly reached Paris. It was the high point of the German advances in 1914 and in 1918. The battles which saw the repulse of these attacks are both known as the Battle of the Marne. The turning point was the deployment of American troops on the Marne in June and July 1918. The Americans played a big part in halting the Germans on the Marne at Château Thierry, which is home to the impressive US Châteaux Thierry monument. Not far away is Belleu wood, which is where the US marines attacked in 1918. This battlefield has been preserved and it and the neighbouring US American Battle Monuments Commission Cemetery and the German cemetery are reminders of the part America played in the First World War.

2013-08-02 17.50

In Praise of Panoramas

Just how well can you describe what you are looking at to someone else? Telling a story about the landscape is at the heart of battlefield guiding. But how sure can guides be that this audience has understood exactly what they are talking about? Just because the audience nods sagely when the guide asks if everyone understands doesn’t mean they all do. But, unless the members of the audience all know what the guide is talking about, they will go home with an inaccurate picture.

On a recent Introduction to Battlefield Guiding course we conducted an experiment to see how easy, or difficult it is for guides to identify exactly what points on the ground they are talking about.  A panorama of the battlefield of Flodden was projected onto a screen. Students were asked to point out some of the locations to an audience relevant to telling the story of the Battle of Flodden. Each student was given a sheet of paper with a copy of the panorama and asked to mark on the panorama where they thought the locations being described were.   The results are shown in the illustration 1.

Illustration 1- the results of the experiment. The markings in pink are the locations the guide was indicating and those in yellow or black are where the audience marked them.
Illustration 1- the results of the experiment. The markings in pink are the locations the guide was indicating and those in yellow or black are where the audience marked them.

The overall results are shown in Illustration 1. The students describing the locations lettered A-F were given a sheet with one of the pink lines. The yellow,and black letters A-F show where other students positioned these points. This is a bit crowded, but as you can see, there is quite a bit of variation in almost each location.  Some locations are easier to describe than others.  We should not be too critical of our experimental subjects.  The task might have been easier if the audience members had a map in front of them. However, not everyone can read a map and relate it to the ground.

Although the task of indicating positions on the ground is a common and obvious task for a guide, it asks a lot of the collective brains of the guide and audience. We are asking someone to look at a visual image and describe it in words which the audience then uses to construct their own image. (See Illustration 2.)  If we want to understand what some artist such as Constable saw it is far easier to look at the Hay Wain than to visualize the work from a description. Visual and verbal communication are processed in different ways, and even by different parts of the brain. Words may have a different meanings for audiences with a range of linguistic skills and vocabularies.

Explaining a visual image in words is a complex task for the speaker and the audience, however well chosen the words.
Illustration 2 Explaining a visual image in words is a complex task for the speaker and the audience, however well chosen the words.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The answer may lie in making more use of panoramas, i.e. an annotated  sketch of the landscape from  the observer’s position.   A  couple of hundred years ago, when armies were starting to become professional, field sketching was a key skill for officers. The current issue of the Sandhurst Foundation’s “Wishstream “ magazine has an article about the staff of the Royal Military Academy in 1813. Until Ordnance survey maps became common, a sketch was the norm for pointing out the ground. The National Army Museum has a water-colour that is claimed to have been used on the battlefield of Waterloo.

Sketch map used on the field of Waterloo (National Army Museum)
Sketch map used on the field of Waterloo (National Army Museum)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the Second world war it was not unknown for senior officers to practice the art.

Panorama drawn by Brigadier H J Parham  BRA 2nd Army from GR 013705 on the high ground North of Caen at 12.30 on 10th July 1944.
Panorama drawn by Brigadier H J Parham BRA 2nd Army from GR 013705 on the high ground North of Caen at 12.30 on 10th July 1944.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and even 1980s Cold War warriors were expected to draw an OP panorama.

 

Panorama's still expected of Gunner Forward Observers in the 1980s.   The OP's own less than artistic efforts on Munsterlager South Ranges from Wincklershohe scrapes (GR 7005 6535) on 2nd April 1984
Panorama’s still expected of Gunner Forward Observers in the 1980s. The OP’s own less than artistic efforts on Munsterlager South Ranges from Wincklershohe scrapes (GR 7005 6535) on 2nd April 1984

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is a secret behind Illustration 2 which means that the local guide, Clive Hallam Baker, shown addressing the Battlefields Trust Annual Conference  in April 2013, can be happy that his audience know the ground as he describes the ground.  The battlefield of Flodden has excellent interpretation boards showing panoramas illustrating the battle.

Panorama from the centre of the Scots position. These help excellent interpretation panels mean that visitors to the battlefield itself are rarely as confused as in our experiment.
Panorama from the centre of the Scots position. These help excellent interpretation panels mean that visitors to the battlefield itself are rarely as confused as in our experiment.

So perhaps battlefield guides should consider using panoramas as visual aids.   On most occasion guides know where they will wish to stop and talk. Modern cameras, mobile phones and tablets can capture panoramas; and Google street view allows for a “Virtual recce”.  The problem posed our experimental subjects would have disappeared if the audience had been given a panorama like this one, generated in 20 minutes.

Flodden panorama

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Frank Baldwin holds Badge No 8 of the Guild of Battlefield Guides
Frank Baldwin holds Badge No 8 of the Guild of Battlefield Guides

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