Battlefield Tours - Trips into History
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- Last updated: 20/01/2023
Holidays are very personal and not everybody likes the same thing. As a result, family holidays have now been joined by a list which has been designed for those who enjoy cultural experiences from foods and wines to architecture, history and the arts.
Rather than being ‘niche’ holidays, these trips have become a growth area for travel companies, who have responded by developing a range of itineraries to suit all age groups. Those tours listed under the heading of history include visiting the sites of battlefields from the Napoleonic Wars through to both world wars while being accompanied by an expert guide.
Leading tour operators specialising in battlefield visits, such as Leger and Anglia, provide a comprehensive package. Smaller specialist travel companies, such as Dursley-based CGT in Gloucestershire (www. cgtbattlefields.co.uk), because of their size, offer a more personal service. Destination choices, along with departure dates, are shown in brochures and on company websites, which also include details of locations visited in the itineraries. This makes it easier for family groups when planning to visit a site where a relative served. Itineraries span many centuries and have been compiled to suit the widest possible range of interests.
There is hardly a country in the world where some kind of military action has not taken place, including islands such as Malta, the Isle of Wight and the Channel Islands, all of which have been attacked by France at various times over the centuries and also bombed during WWII. These actions are of interest to military historians and tourists who want to know a bit more about places. As a battlefield tour guide myself, I have surprised residents when I turn up with a group to discuss a battle about which they were not aware.
The first time this happened was in the French village of Tilly la Campagne, just south of Caen, where in late July 1944 a German armoured unit engaged Canadian troops. Curious about our group, the locals came out to see us. They were amazed because they did not know there had been any fighting in the village and certainly not involving a Tiger tank.
I have been working as a battlefield tour guide for over 30 years, during which time I have been engaged by several companies to escort groups to locations in countries across Europe, from France to the Czech Republic. The tours have visited sites where men have won the Victoria Cross, other sites where desperate actions have been fought and even locations where war crimes have been committed. These visits encompass all the drama, bravery and stoicism that war brings out in men. Women, too, feature in these events, such as nursing sister Nellie Spindler, killed in August 1917, and SOE agent Lilian Rolfe of the WAAF, executed in February 1945.
Mostly, these tours to sites in Europe are completed by coach travel from point of departure in the UK all the way through to the return home. The coaches are comfortable and well-appointed with onboard conveniences. The drivers are very experienced and the guides provide commentary. On arrival at the main site of the action, things are talked about in detail.
This could be Waterloo, the Somme of 1916 or the tank battles in Normandy, such as Operation Goodwood in 1944, the fighting around Hill 112 or the Commando raid on the radar site at Bruneval. The coach takes the group from one location to the next and the guide can answer questions either individually or as a group. Air travel makes it possible to visit those battlefields further afield, such as the operations in which the Chindits’ fought in the Far East and the sites of the fierce Battles of Kohima and Imphal. In the Middle East, battlefield tourists can walk the ground around El Alamein and Tobruk, sites that they would have previously read about and now have the opportunity to visit. Further opportunities to visit different battlefield locations came about with the end of the Cold War in the 1990s when travel restrictions to Eastern Europe were relaxed.
Those countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, which fell under the sphere of Communist Russia influence, have since joined NATO and the EU. These countries have built a tourism industry, which includes battlefield tours, making it possible to visit the sites of battlefields to study Napoleon’s campaigns in Eastern Europe, such as Jena, Borodino and Moscow. In the past it has been possible to visit the battleground of Kursk, the scene of the greatest tank battle, and tour the sites of the Crimean War, such as Inkerman and Sevastopol. However, the current situation in Ukraine has put these destinations off limits for the time being.
There are plenty of destinations to choose from when considering a battlefield tour, including Italy, Greece, the 1915 Gallipoli Landings in Turkey, Tannenberg in Russia in August 1914, the Hundred Years War, the American Civil War and even the Seven Years War. In fact, the list is seemingly endless.
For the best experience when it comes to planning a battlefield tour, it is best to book through one of the specialist travel companies. Once you have chosen your preferred itinerary, the staff of the company will make all the travel arrangements and sort the services of the accompanying guide. I could recommend several companies, but I want to remain impartial and it’s best to leave these decisions to the tourist. It’s worth taking your time to look through each in turn and see what is included, the same as when booking any regular holiday.
Having been on a battlefield tour, you will more than likely wish to book another. It’s not just military enthusiasts who travel on these tours. I have found familiar faces in several different groups I have escorted to the battlefields of 1914- 1918 because they found the experience fascinating. Some of my colleagues report the same thing for tours visiting Napoleonic battlefield sites. I think it’s called ‘being bitten by the bug’ and it can affect anyone. Who knows, sometime in the future I might have the privilege of meeting some of you good readers on one of the tours I am guiding. You never know.