Category Archives: Battlefield Guiding

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 .

1918: A Year Britain has chosen not to Remember…

The official government website shows nothing between Passchendaele and the Armistice

The main focus for commemoration in 2018 will be the centenary of the Armistice on 11th November.  If you take your history from Blackadder, Sebastian Faulks, or even the Royal British Legion or Commonwealth War Graves Commission, you might be forgiven for thinking that Passchendale was the climax of the First World War and that the fighting ended in the vicinity of the same lines of trenches fought over since the end of 1914.

What do the official commemorative  websites say happened in 1918?

There is nothing on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission campaign history pages for the Western Front 1918

As of 2 February 2018, the Commonwealth War Grave Commission lacks any pages for 1918 in the Western Front campaign pages, which end at Cambrai.   Nor does the British Government First World War Commemoration website make any reference to any events of 1918 before the Armistice.  The Royal British Legion seems to have lost interest in the Centenary too. It’s focus for the year is to celebrate the 90th anniversary of its own Great Pilgrimage in Ieper, a location peripheral to the events of 1918. It offers a “100 days” option, alongside one to visit the battlefields of 1914-17, suggesting Loos and Mons as destinations. It looks self indulgent, if not neglectful for the Royal British Legion, as custodians of national Remembrance to organise an event celebrating 90 years of battlefield pilgrimages at a peripheral location that competes with the commemoration of the anniversary of the battle of Amiens.

The Royal British Legion’s commemoration is a parade of standards at the Menin Gate. If Pilgrimage 90 follows the path of the 1928 Pilgrimage the “organised tour commemorating the last 100 days of WW1” looks like a tour of the highlights of the rest of war on the western front – such as Ypres, Mons and Loos.

If you want to see the impact of official amnesia of 1918, read the coverage of centenary events in the media.  The printed The Times report of the centenary of the sinking of the SS  Tuscania on 5th February, in with the loss of over 200 American servicemen merely as “shortly before the end of the First World War.”   This misses the point that the Americans men were on their way to fight the decisive battle. T he Daily Mail use the same language in their coverage of the airmen who wore slippers to face von Richthofen.   The implication is that the war of 1918 is more of the same old trenches until November, and ignores entirely the intense air war that would kill von Richtofen and many of the other leading aces in the meantime.

1918 – the year that Challenges Preconceptions

An iconic of the First World War on the Western Front – laden Tommies on Pasechendaele ridge

But this overlooks the dramatic events of 1918 itself.  These do not sit comfortably with the popular stereotype of the Western Front.   And that is one reason why the events of that year and the actions of those who fought deserves special recognition

1918 wasn’t about waves of Tommies going over the top in a vain attempt to break through lines of trenches. Instead, the battles of 1918 started with the Germans on the attack.  Nor was it a tale of mud, blood, barbed wire and trench foot.  Much of the fighting took place in open country and some distance from the battle fields of Passchendaele and Loos.  The year contained some of the lowest points in British military history – and some of the highest.

It’s a pity that the events of 1918 have not attracted more support from the  institutions that have led the commemorations of the First World War. It is shameful for their events to be bundled together as merely the overture to the centenary of the Armistice.

1. The German Spring offensives were among the biggest and bloodiest battles in history

The Russian revolution and armistice ended Germans’s Eastern Front.  For the first half of 1918, until the Americans arrived in force,  the Germans would have superior numbers on the Western Front.  Between March and May 1918 they stuck the British and then the French with a series of hammer blows.  A combination of infiltration tactics, clever use of artillery and broke the stalemate of the trenches.  These battles were the most intensely fought and bloodiest of the Western Front, if not in history.  The casualties were very high.

Between 21st March and 5th April the British Army lost 160,000 casualties, an average of over 10,000 casualties a day, compared to some 2,700 casualties per day for the Somme and Passchendaele.   The opening day, 21st March 1918, was the second worst day in British military history, costing 35,000 casualties.

Between 9th -30th April the next German attacks, in Flanders cost the British a further 80,000 casualties.  Again, a higher rate of casualties than endured by the British Army in the offensives between 1915-1917.  In May , a further attack on British Troops sent to a “quiet sector” cost the British a further 27,000 casualties in nine days. Between 21st March and 6th June the British lost some 260,000 casualties, higher losses than in Flanders in 1917.  Between March and July 1918 the German Army lost nearly 1,000,000 casualties. This is a story worth as much dedicated attention as Passchendaele,  Loos and Cambrai

2. The July and August battles on the Marne and the Somme were the turning point of the first World War

8th August 1918 Australian infantry following British tanks on the Black day for the German Army

Between 15 July and 7th August six French armies, with American, British and Italian Army Corps, halted and turned back the last great German offensive. This was followed by the British led offensive at Amiens on 8th August – the black day of the German army.

From this time the Germans were on the back foot and under continuous pressure from the allies. The last 100 days of the war cost the British 360,000 casualties. About one quarter of the strength of the BEF.  Only the 1916 battle of the Somme cost more.

3 The feats of arms of the British Forces of 1918 were one of the high points in British Military history

Australian Artist Septimus Power has captured the combination of arms of the 1918 BEF – artillery, tanks and air power. More 1940 than 1914….

It isn’t fashionable to praise the First World War as an allied victory; or to admire its generals. But there is much merit in the performance of British and commonwealth armed forces on the Western Front in 1918.

The retreat from Mons by the BEF in 1914 is famous, but the fighting retreats of March and April 1918 were fought by an amateur citizen army which fought a series of continuous engagements instead of two battles and a series of skirmishes.   According to the Official History the retreats of 1918 were a greater achievement.

Turning defeat into victory is a remarkable achievement. The BEF of 1918 lost twice as many casualties as the BEF in 1940, but then turned around and beat the Germans.  The experience was unique and unlike the trench warfare that preceded it.

The British army of 1918 won the war.  In the last 100 days it took almost as many prisoners as other allied armies put together. Its tactics were closer to 1940 than 1914.  Its leaders, castigated as “butchers and bunglers” turned out to be good effective experienced commanders. The leadership and tactics in 1918 are hard to fault. At the end of the First World War the Britain’s Armed Forces were at a peak. They had mastered modern mechanised warfare. The Royal Air Force was the worlds largest, and only independent, air force, and had mastered most of the elements of air power.  These were remarkable achievements for a citizen army.

4. The experience of 1918 was unique and deserves the same recognition extended to the Somme and Paschendaele.

There are qualitative differences in the solders’ experience, and in how we perceive them and the losses they suffered. The battles of 1916 were fought by citizen armies largely new to the fray and with a sense that they would deliver the big push that would end the war. There was a false dawn in 1917 with Vimy Ridge and Arras, but by Passchendaele the British and commonwealth armies had lost their sense of optimism. Their losses in retrospect have been seen as an almost biblical sacrifice. “what passing bell tolls for those who die like cattle?” -” I died in Hell men called it “Passchendaele.” The late Bob Bushaway wrote a perceptive paper on this elevation of the war dead from the casualties of war to sacrifices for mankind.   Passchedaele epitomes loss and futility that is perhaps the mostly widely popular narrative of the First World War.   That  the war continued for another decisive year is an inconvenience for this interpretation, doubly so as British soldiers return to undertake operations in the national interest and end as victors not sacrifices.  It is easy to understand the temptation to lose interest after Passchendaele.

The situation 11 November. Each Arabic number is a division of C 15,000 men. Fresh formations are shown in black and tired formations in red. Click on the map to enlarge.

But that does not do justice to the story of the men who fought in 1918.  The last hundred days was an unrelenting battle. Those who fought did not know that the war would end imminently. Many in authority thought it would continue to 1919 or 1920. Some of the soldiers’ letters refer to the thought that they had the Germans on the run and would try to finish them off before winter weather gave the Germans a respite.   One striking feature of the graves of the men who fell in 1918 is the proportion with at least one decoration.  These men had already done their bit but were determined to finish the job. Their knowing sacrifice deserves some focused reflection.

Places to evoke memories of 1918

Battlefields are places of historic memory. Yes, they inform the visitor about how the micro-terrain influenced events, and the sights, sounds and smell of the landscape. They are also powerful symbols evoking memories and emotions.  They have a deep cultural significance as places of sacrifice, reinforced by memorials and ceremony.   The places dedicated to the sacrifices of 1916 and 1917 won’ t serve the memories of 1918. It is hard to think about successful open warfare at Amiens while standing at the Menin Gate, literally on the road to the mud of Passchendaele.

 The Somme

In 1918 the fighting crossed the 1916 battlefields twice.  But the 1918 battlefield covered a much wider area.  To interpret the battle the visitor should explore the area around St Quentin. West of that town were the British lines that formed the setting for the play Journey’s End and the German onslaught in March. In late September the British with Australian and American troops forced their way across the Hindenburg line a few miles north of St Quentin. Peronne, ten miles to the west was the site of British rear-guard fighting in March and a great feat of arms by the Australian Corps in August. It also has a fine museum, the Péronne Museum of the Historial de la Grande Guerre, overlooked by many visitors to the 1916 battlefields. The graves dating from March and August 1918 are evidence of the fighting that took place across the old battlefield.  The memorial to the Fifth Army missing of 1918 is in the Pozieres war cemetery on the road from  Pozieres to la Boiselle – often ignored by visitors. The fighting extended west of Albert to Villers Bretonneaux outside Amiens, the site of Australian feats of arms and their national memorial in France.  The graves of many British soldiers in Villers Bretonneaux is ample evidence of the part played by British troops in the area, which is also the location of the first battle between tanks.

There is no single memorial to the battle of Amiens. The paths of British and Commonwealth troops east can best be evidenced by the graves dated August 1918. The formidable Hindenburg line lay east of the March 1918 Allied lines. You can find remains of German defences and memorials to the battle that forced this line.

Flanders

Semper Fidelius The last stand of the 2nd Devons at the Bois des Buttes

The second German offensive was in Flanders, in the area between Armentieres and La Bassee, stretching West as far as Hazebrouck and Mount Kemmel.  Start with the Portuguese cemetery just south of the Indian Army memorial at Neuve Chapelle.  Under equipped and under-trained the Portuguese defenders of this quiet sector were some of the unfortunate victims of the Germans Georgette offensive. The 55th Division memorial at Givenchy commemorates the gallant stand by the territorial soldiers from West Lancashire holding the flank of the German breakthrough.   The German Alpine corps took Mont Kemmel, south west of Ieper, which then fought over by British and French troops for the next three months. Mount Kemmel is an overlooked battle. The French war cemetery with 5,000 graves testifies to the ferocity of the fighting. The US memorial at Vierstraat Kemmel is a reminder of the 60,000 American soldiers who served in the area in August 1918. On 27th September Ieper was the starting point for the last act in the Salient. A single day was all that was needed to capture the whole of Passchendaele Ridge.  The fighting that followed half-way to Brussels was hard enough for several VCs to be awarded and for Brigadier Freyburg to be awarded two bars to his DSO.  The Americans captured Oudenarde, and their Flanders Fields cemetery at Waregem has  those that fell.

Arras to Le Cateau and Mons

Thousands of people visit the impressive memorial and preserved battlefield of Vimy Ridge, captured by the Canadian corps in 1917.  Far, far fewer follow the story of the Canadian and British troops that advanced from Arras to Cambrai, Mons and Le Cateau.  This was no triumphal parade.  The memorial to the missing at Vis-en-Artois was the site of a bloody set back at the end of August, while at Iwuy in October the Germans counterattacked with tanks, throwing the British back.

The Aisne

British troops were also deployed to the Aisne area North East of Paris. In May an army corps of some 80,000 battered in the earlier German attacks was sent to a quiet sector to recover and integrate reinforcements.  Unfortunately for them they were in the path of the next German offensive.  The experiences of Captain Ulick Bernard Burke of the Devonshire Regiment were recorded and the digitised recording is held by the Imperial War Museum available . From 11 minutes into reel 17 he describes the last stand of the battalion.

Battle of Tardenois. Infantry men of the 62nd Division looking out for the enemy in the Bois de Reims. (Imperial War Museum image Q11089)These British troops were some of the 60,000+ Tommies fighting alongside Italians and Americans under French command in July 1918. Once French General Foch had been appointed Supreme Allied Commander formations were deployed where they were needed.

Further east, in July two divisions, some 35,000 soldiers fought under French command near Rheims, supported by American tanks and Italian artillery in the second battle of the Marne.  From Paris eastwards the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) played a major role in halting the Germans and turning them back.  The AEF battlefields of the Aisne-Marne, Champagne, Meuse-Argonne and St Mihel are well preserved and interpreted.  If you are interested in visiting these, check out americanvictory.com

There is far more to the fighting in 1918 than the 100 days as a prelude to the Armistice. It is a shame that there is so little public awareness or interest in public education by the bodies that should take the lead.

If you are interested in visiting the battlefields of 1918 contact info@baldwinbattlefieldtours.com