Ethos of Battlefield Touring

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    I found a couple of additional sources regarding the ethos of battlefield touring.

    The late professor Richard Holmes’ comments on the Guild of Battlefield Guides’ website here.

    While this is mainly about the Guild of Battlefield Guides, it does explain why Richard thought battlefields mattered and why battlefield guides should be competent.

    Here is a slightly an extract from the case put forwards by the Battlefields Trust for a bigger role for the battlefields themselves in commemorating the Centenary of the First World War.

    Battlefields matter because they add to our understanding. The micro terrain of the battlefield, the minute variations in topography, vegetation and climate help to explain what happened and why. As yet, no computer simulation, model or display of photographs can replace the value of seeing the ground. The landscape is the living memory. There are plenty of excellent photographs of the landscape and flowers of the Somme in Summer, but they are not the same as as the sights , sounds and smells of the real countryside. Battlefields are sites of mass slaughter from conflicts that punctuate our relations with our neighbours. The act of visiting the battlefields is a way to bear witness to the scale of suffering that is qualitatively different to watching a TV documentary or visiting a museum.

    Making a pilgrimage to battlefields is a long established and important component of commemoration, dating back at least to the Norman Conquest and the construction of Battle Abbey. As Abraham Lincoln pointed out, battlefields are hallowed ground, consecrated by the men who struggled and died for the societies in whose cause they fought. King George V started the tradition of pilgrimage to the battlefields of the Great War in his visits to the battlefields of Belgium and France in 1922. That was made as a representative of the nation rather than as a veteran or close relative of the fallen. It was also intended as a model to be followed, and should form part of our commemoration of the Centenary.

    The Centenary of the Great War is an opportunity to renew those links between the communities that sent our soldiers to war and those whose freedom was secured by their actions and in whose lands our dead lie. The recruitment pattern of the Great War meant that particular battlefields have a resonance for specific towns in the UK. Those links were renewed after the Great War. The City of Sheffield is bound to the French village of Serre by the sacrifice of the Sheffield City Battalion in July 1916. Many of their dead lie in CWGC graves along what was No Mans Land. After the Great War the City of Sheffield purchased the land from which the attack was launched , now Sheffield Park, and paid for the reconstruction of the village of Serre. Similarly the city of Birmingham contributed towards the reconstruction of Albert. These are links which should be renewed. The war cemeteries cared for by CWGC are still on land donated by communities which live in a landscape dominated by the memorial architecture of mass slaughter. If we do not visit communities, why should they honour an ancient agreement to allow our graves to exist in perpetuity?



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Military history, Battlefield heritage and Touring