Category Archives: Battlefield Guiding

Listening Post No 9: Alain Chissel: An Entrepreneurial Schools Guide

Alain Chissel served as a Regular and Territorial Officer for thirty years, retiring as Deputy Commander 49 (Eastern) Brigade in Chilwell, in the rank of Colonel.

Alain set up Anglia Tours, along with Ed Church and his wife Anita in 1997, which became the UK’s leading guided history tour company for schools.

 

He recently retired as it’s Chairman but remains as Head Guide. Alain is a passionate WW1 guide as both his grandfathers fought there. He also guides in Berlin and his Swedish wife Anita is the UKs most prolific Holocaust guide having led over 200 groups to Auschwitz/Birkenau.

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Listening Post No 7: Chris Finn – Airman, Academic and Director of Validation

Group  Captain  Christopher Finn MPhil FRAeS FHEA served in the RAF for 33 years as a navigator, primarily on the Buccaneer, and was a weapons and tactics specialist. He has twice been awarded a Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air. A graduate of the Joint Services’ Defence College, in 2000 he gained an MPhil in International Relations from Cambridge University. His last 5 years in the RAF were spent at Shrivenham, firstly on the Directing Staff of the Advanced Command and Staff Course and then, on promotion to Group Captain, as the RAF’s Director of Defence Studies. In this role he lectured extensively on air power to UK and international audiences, published articles on air power and ran the RAF’s staff ride programme.

On leaving the RAF in 2005 he spent ten years as a Senior Lecturer in Air Power Studies with Kings College London, later Portsmouth University, based at the RAF College Cranwell.

Chris’ primary expertise is in the influence of air power on the battlefield and areas such as joint fires, logistics, command and control, intelligence, campaign planning, leadership at all levels and the political aspects of warfare. However, he has also covered maritime battles (Malta & NEPTUNE) and land battles (Monte Cassino & Berlin).

Chris lectures on Aviation and Military History to a wide range of audiences including, recently, an on-line lecture on the role of the Royal Artillery in the Imjin River Battle of the Korean War. He is currently writing a chapter on Bomber Command tactics for a book on the Combined Bomber Offensive to be published in 2022.

He is a Fellow of both the Royal Aeronautical Society and the Higher Education Academy, and works as a volunteer Guide at the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.

A member of the Guild since 2008 Chris gained his Badge in 2009, becoming a validator the following year. He has organised a number of Guild Events, the last being a Guild Recce to Berlin in 2019. He became the Chief Validator in 2015 and the Director of Validation (now Accreditation Director) in 2017. He was elected the fourth Fellow of the Guild at the 2020 Annual Conference.

Chris’ family home is in Caythorpe, Lincolnshire, where he lives with his wife and two retired Greyhounds. His other interests are flight simulators, swimming, yoga and cooking.

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Listening Post No 6: Julian Humphrys – Interpreting England’s Heritage

After reading History at Emmanuel College, Cambridge and completing a postgraduate course at the Polytechnic of North London, Julian spent 12 years at Chelsea’s National Army Museum, setting up special exhibitions including its acclaimed Road to Waterloo Gallery, liaising with the British Army and acting as spokesman to the media on all matters of military history. He has acted as a historical expert on many TV and radio programmes,  and made three expeditions to Bosnia during the Civil War to record the British Army’s activities there and to obtain objects for display in the Museum.

A qualified blue-badge guide, Julian set up English Heritage’s Tours Through Time programme of guided visits to historic properties and its battlefield hikes programme which he now leads. he also guides on a wide range of tours for special interest travel companies, both in the UK and overseas.

From 2009-2020 he was Development Officer of the Battlefields Trust, the UK Charity dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of Britain’s historic battlefields and is now a Trustee. Julian lectures and writes on many aspects of British history – he is a contributor to BBC History Magazine and History Revealed Magazine and his published books include   Clash of Arms: Twelve English Battles, and Enemies at the Gate: English Castles under Siege (both for English Heritage).

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Listening Post No 5 Tonie and Valmai Holt – the couple who opened the doors to the battlefields

Tonie and Valmai set up the first modern commercial battlefield touring company in  the 1970s, when there was little tourist infrastructure or any previous model to follow.  They blazed the trail for guiding battlefields and sold their business in the 1990s to concentrate on their books.  They have been part of the virtuous circle that encouraged  the development of commemoration and tourist facilities in local communities on historic battlefields.  

Tonie and Valmai Holt started guiding when visitors included many veterans of the two world wars.  For some years they were responsible for organising and conducting Pilgrimages for the Royal British Legion.  They are honorary members of the Guild of Battlefield Guides International 

The podcast is divided into three parts.

Part One –  covers Tonie and Valmai’s background, how they came to set up Major and Mrs Holts Battlefield Tours, the challenges they faced setting up a battlefield touring company and some of the difficult problems they had to solve.

Part Two – The Holts tell some about some of the veterans they met, and share their stories,  some of their most emotionally moving experiences on historic battlefields and introduce a song about D Day that they would like to be passed on as widely as possible.

Part Three –  Tonie and Valmai talk about some of their most amusing experiences,  guiding in the last century and their advice for battlefield guides.

Listening Post No 4 Chris Scott – the Lord General of Validation

Dr. Christopher Scott has been walking battlefields for over 45 years and has been to 332 fields in 20 countries over 5 continents. He has guided sites of Medieval, Civil War, Marlburian and Napoleonic battles and was a Trustee of the Battlefield Trust and The Guild of Battlefield Guides, which he also helped create and designed their first Validation Programme. He formulated his own approach to battlefield study and has written several military history and battle books including a new and detailed interpretation of Roundway Down. Whilst in Education he led departments and faculty teams,  He and helped found a Further Education College. At The Royal Armouries he designed the education and public interaction programmes for the Leeds Museum. Chris is a freelance guide, lecturer, consultant and writer; he is also a good storyteller and a past winner of the Cameron Mackintosh Contemporary Playwright Award. He was the Lord General of the Roundhead Association.

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Listening Post No 3 Graeme Cooper – Founding Force for the Guild of Battlefield Guides

Graeme Cooper has been battlefield guiding since 1995 and operates Cooper’s Waterloo Tours, a family run business specialising in tailored tours to Napoleonic battlefields for adults, and leadership training for the military.

A Fellow of the International Napoleonic Society (FINS), Graeme qualified as a Waterloo Campaign Guide with Les Guides 1815 in 1998.

In November 2003, Graeme inspired the foundation of The International Guild of Battlefield Guides and was the Secretary up until November 2009 when he became the first member of the Guild to be elected to the Roll of Honour for his services to the Guild.

Graeme is married with a son and daughter and lives in Essex. He plays golf when battle time permits.

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Listening Post No 2 Sue King – the Camp Follower who Leads Guides

Sue King is a professional guide, and guide trainer. Besides her accreditation by the International Guild of Battlefield Guides  she is a very experienced Blue Badge guide  qualified to guide Yorkshire, London, Cumbria, South West, Liverpool City Region / Merseyside, South East England, Heart of England.  She is also a City of London Guide. For several years she has been the director of training for the London Tour Guides.

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The Listening Post is a Podcast about Battlefield Guiding. There have been battlefield guides throughout history, but the modern trade started in the second half of the C20th. In 2003 the International Guild of Battlefield Guides was founded a professional organisation to analyse, develop and raise the understanding, practice and profession of battlefield guiding and to promote the education of battlefield visitors and students in military heritage.

The Listening Post 1. John Richardson: The Flying Doctor

The Listening Post is a Podcast about Battlefield Guiding. There have been battlefield guides throughout history, but the modern trade started in the second half of the C20th. In 2003 the International Guild of Battlefield Guides was founded a professional organisation to analyse, develop and raise the understanding, practice and profession of battlefield guiding and to promote the education of battlefield visitors and students in military heritage.

John Richardson’s full credentials are Professor & Colonel (Retired) J.C. Richardson, MA, MB BChir, MRCS LRCP, MSc(GP), MMedSc(Occ Hlth), FRCGP, FFOM(RCPI), DRCOG  Emeritus Defence Professor of Primary Care & General Practice.  He has been leading and taking part in expeditions for nearly sixty years. During that time his expeditions have faced most of the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

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John was known as Doctor John to Royal British Legion staff as he organised medical support to the Legion’s pilgrimages to war graves, memorials and battlefields across the world.  Each Pilgrimage was supported by a doctor nurse or paramedic recruited by John. He briefed Pilgrimage tour escorts,  manager/guides about the medical problems and support for tours. A is  copy is here for your interest and education.

LRE Expo 2020 – A post BREXIT Challenge

 

At the beginning of February I attended an event in Brussels that really impressed me. Liberation Route Europe is an ambitious project, a marketing initiative to promote remembrance tourism of the Second World War across the continent of Europe. It was started by a Dutch charity, but now encompasses Europe from Sicily to the UK and Normandy to Poland. I met a great bunch of people.  There are several impressive achievements.

• A walking trail covering Liberation Routes from London to Berlin via Normandy.• An impressive Rough Guide “Liberation Routes”, with a mixture of history, a campaign guide information about museums, memorials and cemeteries.

• A network of guides, museums and tourism organisations to support inbound travel.

• Generating business with inbound tour operators using the Liberation Route.

• Political support and engagement by senior European politicians. Liberation Route Europe’s Patron is Martin Schultz, a past President of the European Parliament and previous key-note speakers include Frans Timmermans, the Vice President of the EU Commission.

No punches pulled in a critique of Poland’s current ruling party view of history

• A willingness to debate contentious contemporary issues. The event included several presentations of gaps or critical interpretations, including the Dutch neglect of its post war experience in Indonesia, and the current day Russian and Polish government driven historic narratives. There was a debate between two MEPs about the extent to which the EU should have an authorised narrative. A little incongruous, inconclusive and less than exciting, but significant that it took place.
Their website has a mixture of history and tourism offers. History takes the visitor to story lines, based on historic themes, geographic locations and personal stories. An invitation to Travel the route offers directs visitors to offers for individual, groups, educational tours, guides – and the Rough Guide.

Way marker design for the walking trails

The history behind the Liberation Route is based on an agreed historic interpretation named as the “Magna Carta”. This interpretation, agreed by eight historians of different nationalities, draws on the full range of individual experiences of the populations of European states during the Second World War. This acknowledges that loyalties were divided and avoids judgements on the actions of a generation that is fading from personal memory. The liberal politicians supporting the project see the story of the Second World War, and its roots in fascism and racial supremacy as an important warning from history. The inclusive interpretation focusing on the common experiences of European populations is an ideological counter to the nationalism and intolerance of modern populism.

The conference took place in the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History in Brussels under a Spitfire on the tail of a V1 flying bomb. Brussels and Antwerp, like London faced intense bombardment in 1944-45. There is no museum in London that tells the story of London’s defence against the V1 blitz. In Belgium they are opening museums and interpretation centres to tell the story of their heritage. In Britain we are closing military museums.

Liberation Route Europe has been keen to engage with Britain. The Liberation Route walk starts in London. Whatever the UK’s future relationship with Europe, it does not affect its role in the Second World War and there is a common interest in promoting heritage to inbound tourists. However, many Britons are skeptical of “Euro History”. Some question how Germans can tell the story of WW2. Nor does the Liberation Route Europe focus on the heritage of 1944-1990 fit the British narrative with its finest hour in 1940.
Recent research segments tourists by their interests, referred to as passion communities, rather than by demographics. One segment is described as explorers of cultural identify. Around one third of visitors plan to visit sites associated with the world wars. This roughly reflects the segment covered by dark tourism research and the research commissioned by the Royal British Legion. Liberation Route Europe is ahead of the game as a focus for organising inbound tourism for this sector. Britain, committed to existence outside the EU needs to up its game.

Why did the Gunners want to bombard Langemarck Church?

There is a small interpretation centre at the entrance to the German cemetery at Langemarck. One of the slides shows Langemarck church as a heap of rubble – with an doorway suggesting at some dug out complex in in the crypt. It’s a striking image to compare with the rebuilt church.

Sure, anything in the “strip of murdered nature” that was the battlefields of the Western Front was going to end up as rubble. But there are RGA War Diaries that record  their target as “Langemarck Church” not a strong point in the church, or the village but the church itself. It was repeatedly targeted along with targets such as “trenches u.16.d.76.23- u 16 d.54.14 and “wire u 16 a.52,05 – u16 a.15.16” So why was the church such a popular target?

A week or so ago I was carrying out some research for a guided family history tour to the battlefields of where their relative Bombardier Griffiths had served in 324 Heavy battery RGA.  The battery’s war diaries were available, but the diary for March 1918, the month he died , was missing.   Furthermore, there was evidence that suggested that Bombardier Griffiths did not join 324 battery until january 1918.

However, the diaries were very legible and full, recording the details of each shoot, including rounds fired and the target.

6″ 26cwt Howitzers near Boesinge 1917

324  Heavy Battery was formed from 1916 conscripts and deployed to France in May 1917 equipped with four 6″ 26 cwt  Howitzers.  After a few weeks on the quiet sector of Bois Grenier the battery moved to Woesten, north of Ieper on 14th July 1917. From there it took part in the preliminary bombardment for the 31 St July , then stepping forwards to Elverdinge. The first day of 3rd Ypres 31st July, was successful on Pilckem Ridge, with the British line moving forward roughly along the Steenbeek south west of Langemarck.

A first world war artillery piece aimed at a target some 6km away was probably going to miss with its first round, even if the target had been plotted on a surveyed trench map. The position of the guns and the direction in which they are recorded as pointing may not be particularly accurate. Changes in the wind speed and direction will change the trajectory. An observer with communications to the guns could adjust the fire of the guns until the rounds from the guns were landing in the target area. Of course, by this the enemy will have worked out what was going to happen next and take cover.

A further problem was that the guns in a battery would not all have the same characteristics. Guns may be manufactured to different standards and might have different wear in the barrel. The WD entry for 5th August records that between 2pm and 2.30 pm 324 battery fired 30 rounds unobserved at Langemarck Church as ordered in Operation Order No 23. After this, someone,at Periscope House, probably Major William Orpen Sikottowe Sanders, the  battery commander  decided to calibrate the guns using the church. Firing ten rounds and watching one hit the church with others plus and minus, the unit could apply a correction for each gun. (Though ten rounds might be few to base a statistically reliable.

Part of a panorama. It is hard to pick out any landmarks on this devastated battlefield. Corrections from a Witness Point using a trench map might be the only way to hit targets.

It wasn’t always possible to see targets clearly. Pilckem ridge isn’t much higher than the surrounding ground and it would have been quite difficult to pick out specific targets from the ground. Furthermore, the landscape was devastated, with buildings and trees leveled and landmarks obliterated.

One technique which could help is to use a “Witness Point” This was a point some distance from a target, but accurately located in relation to it, which could be ranged without losing surprise against the target and the correction applied to data for the target. If the correction to hit the church was “left a bit and add a bit”, the same correction could ensure that targets in the same area picked off a map could be hit first time.

The entry for 7th August shows that between 3.30 and 6.30pm 324 battery fired a total of 24rounds at Langemarck Church as a Witness Point. Their next shoot 7.30pm to 8.30 an unobserved concentration on trenches straddling the Langemarck-Poelcapelle road was unobserved, but could be expected to be reasonably accurate, as might the shoot at 9pm. a response to a call for the SOS.
The targets on the 8th August were east and west of the German positions which ran through the north end of the German Cemetery at Langemarck, as evidenced by the three bunkers.

The search for the part an individual soldier played  turns up some surprising detail about how the battle was fought and the reason why Langemarck Church was shelled.   It also explain the rationale that supports the old military axiom to never deploy at an obvious terrain feature. Landmarks are shelled because they are landmarks .