War history: First World War was definitely not over by Christmas, despite the optimism of the British

Last week our Somme day excursion included a visit to the 18th (Eastern) Division Memorial at Thiepv

Last week our Somme day excursion included a visit to the 18th (Eastern) Division Memorial at Thiepval, says Mike Peters. The division included men from a number of East Anglian regiments. Photo: Jo Hook - Credit: Archant

We haven’t even reached the centenary of the start of the First World War and yet much has already been written, spoken and broadcast about a conflict that actually lasted four long years. Mike Peters, Galloway’s resident military historian, considers ways of honouring those times in the most meaningful ways possible

The battlefields are as vast and complex as the First World War itself. Over the next four years the

The battlefields are as vast and complex as the First World War itself. Over the next four years the Galloway tour programme will offer visitors the opportunity to visit a wide variety of emotive places. Picture: Jo Hook - Credit: Archant

Over the past few months the UK Government and the media have focused heavily on the impending centenary of the First World War. This is of course a positive development, as for many years the war had been largely overlooked by the majority of the UK population. At best, it was misunderstood. Trends are already positive and it seems that public interest levels are climbing.

The centenary programme is already going a long way towards raising public awareness of the historical events of 1914-18. Not only that, it is re-forging the links between families and communities with the same history.

This to me is the most important facet of the entire programme. After all, how many times have you heard or said the phrase “Lest we Forget”? Hopefully the centenary will give that phrase new meaning and a new generation will say it with feeling.

There is, though, a real danger we may expend all of our national effort in the first year of the centenary programme, saturating the public with information, TV coverage and events that will exhaust their interest.

Already this year, months before the anniversary of the outbreak of the war, we have seen a steady stream of documentaries, films and the first of 1,000 new (and not so new) book titles. In fact, the Government commemorations and funding for events extend into 1919. So, as I have said, it is probably best to view the centenary as a marathon and not a sprint.

With all this in mind, our battlefield tour itineraries will be changing regularly in line with the anniversary of relevant battles and campaigns. This will keep our programme fresh and interesting, and also give you the option to make repeat visits to different parts of the Western Front.

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It’s a very exciting time for us at the moment as we are busy developing the next phase of tours.

We are writing itineraries to be used throughout the coming years, featuring three- or four-day guided tours of the Ypres Salient and the Somme battlefields. These may be dedicated battlefield visits or may include other interesting destinations unrelated to the war, just like next month’s five-day tour of the battlefields and coastline of Normandy.

We are also researching new guided day excursions centred on Ipswich’s partner city, Arras. It looks likely the tour will take in the events of the 1917 Arras offensive and allow time to experience the atmosphere of the beautiful French city.

The tour may include a visit to the Wellington Quarry, the underground complex of caves and tunnels used to shelter British and Commonwealth troops during the offensive.

This year is the centenary of the Christmas truce. We are busy putting together a day excursion to the Ypres Salient in December to visit the site of one of the meetings between British and German troops.

The events that took place outside “Wipers” over Christmas 1914 still capture the imagination and stir up controversy. The tour will be accompanied by a Galloway battlefield guide, who will help separate the myths surrounding the truce from fact.

The day may well end with the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate. This is especially emotive on a crisp, dark winter night just before Christmas.

As these are still under development, we would welcome your ideas for places to include in our programme. Please send your thoughts to marketing@gallowayeuropean.co.uk. To be the first to hear about new tour dates, register to receive the enewsletter at www.travel-galloway.com/companynews

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