Back to the Battlefields; A Poignant and Vivid Picture of What It Was like to Be a Soldier on the Front Line

Daily Mail (London), November 7, 2009 | Go to article overview

Back to the Battlefields; A Poignant and Vivid Picture of What It Was like to Be a Soldier on the Front Line


WITH the passing earlier this year of the last World War I veterans, the horrors of the trenches have slid from living memory into history.

That heroic generation is now gone and -- at this time when we remember the Fallen -- there's a lingering feeling we didn't ask all the questions we wanted to.

Maybe one reason why more people than ever are visiting the battlefields in search of answers, often under the wing of an expert guide who can paint a vivid picture of life at the Front.

Demand for battlefield tours has grown by around 20 per cent this year, boosted by last year's 90th anniversary of the end of the Great War and this June's 65th anniversary of the Normandy landings -- poignantly the last that a large number of veterans will take part in.

Anecdotal history

No conflict quite inspires remembrance like World War I, with its emotional mix of horror, hubris and honour.

So most popular are the introductory tours to places like Ypres, or 'Wipers' as it was known, Vimy Ridge and the Somme, with names like All Quiet On The Western Front (Leger) and It's A Long Way to Tipperary (Holts Tours).

But there are many other battle sites now on the tour list, from Agincourt and Waterloo to Gallipoli and the Falklands, while some visits have a special interest spin, based on Anne Frank, war poets on the Somme, or the German occupation of Jersey.

What all have in common is that they aim to evoke what it would have been like to actually be there, on the very spot where history unfolded.

Growth has also been boosted by the massive interest in family history research. Being on a tour could show you the trenches where Great Uncle Arthur fought -- and reveal more about his life on the Front Line than you thought possible.

Paul Reed, Leger Holdays' head battlefield guide, explains: 'People coming on a tour don't want long lists of dates. They want to look at it from the point of view of people who took part -- Private John Smith in a trench or Bill Brown on a Normandy beach.

'So a battlefield tour revolves very much around anecdotal history and storytelling, talking about the lives of soldiers, their equipment and what they went through, the minutiae of history rather than the broad sweep.

'People can expect hopefully to be moved by it. And when they get back Armistice Day and their Poppy is likely to mean a lot more to them having seen Tyne Cott, where there are 11,500 graves, or been at the Menin Gate as the Last Post is being played. …

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