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I received an email from a mate of mine a few weeks ago telling me that he was planning a visit to the battlefields in late-May. He was coming with a few friends for a boy’s weekend with a bit of remembrance and battlefield touring thrown in for good measure. It so happened that they would be in Arras on the day when I was planning to return to the UK after three and a half weeks on the Somme archaeological dig with Cream Productions.

I couldn’t turn down a chance to give them a whistle-stop tour of the Arras battlefield and duly met them on the Saturday morning at Tilloy-lès-Mofflaines where I hopped in their car and gave them a running commentary around St.Laurent Blangy, Athies, Point du Jour, Fampoux, Roeux and the site of the infamous Chemical Works, Monchy-le-Preux and a walk up Infantry Hill, with a run back down the Arras-Cambrai road past Feuchy Chapel back to my car.

Whilst at Point du Jour we visited the graves of many of the Grimsby Chums (10th Lincolns) whose bodies were found in 2001 when foundations were being dug for a nearby BMW car factory.  These bodies were buried with full military honours in the nearby cemetery in 2002.  Sadly, positive identification of any of the remains proved impossible and all are now buried in graves marked with ‘unknown’ headstones.

Describing the Arras battle whilst at Point-du-Jour Military Cemetery

One unexpected outcome of the whistle-stop tour was an answer I received to my usual question of ‘Did you have any relatives that fought in the war?’ One of the party, Rob, responded by telling me he was related to the Great War fighter ace, Albert Ball VC, DSO & Two Bars, MC. He had read about Ball’s exploits recently and this had stirred his interest in the visit. I was glad to hear that next day they all visited Ball’s grave in Annoeullin Communal Cemetery, German Extension.

Great War fighter ace - Albert Ball VC, DSO & Two Bars, MC

So, whilst a lightning quick overview of a very small area, it was still a great way to spend a morning. It was also the first time that I had used the new Arras panorama volume on the battlefield – an mighty useful it was too! Many thanks to Rob, Chilts, Errol and of course, Pieman and his massive but silent car.

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I spent last weekend (16-18 April) taking a family from Bristol on a battlefield tour to Ypres. It had been a while since I have been there after so much recent research effort on Arras for the forthcoming book and the Somme for next month’s TV documentary (of which more details to be released later).  The family wanted to follow in the footsteps of their grandfather and great-grandfather who both served during Third Ypres as well as see the usual sites. This meant a fair bit of in-depth research on two actions that I hadn’t studied before – I’ve passed over the ground en route to somewhere else but never actually looked into what happened at each spot. I was in the extreme north of the advance, up at Faidherbe Crossroads – les 5 Chemins area (at a place called Madonna) in front of Houthulst Forest to cover the 35th Division attack on 22 October 1917.  I then moved down to more familiar territory and focussed on the 9 October 1917 attack of the 2nd Royal Warwicks against Judge Copse. Lunch was taken at my good mate Johan Vandewalle’s café, De Dreve at Polygon Wood (www.polygonwood.com). I also took them to Harry Patch’s memorial to the 7th DCLI in front of Langemark, Vancouver Corner for the Canadian Gas Memorial, Tyne Cot Cemetery (where I bumped into my brother as he was guiding for a trip!), Black Watch Corner down to Clement buy xanax reddit Robertson VC’s bridge as well as a good cup of tea at the Hill 60 café and then a good stroll around the hill and a stop at the Caterpillar crater. Sunday morning was spent with a quick stop at Brandhoek New Military Cemetery to visit the grave of Captain Noel Godfrey Chavasse VC & Bar, MC.

Grave of Captain Noel Godfrey Chavasse VC & Bar, MC - Brandhoek New Military Cemetery

Captain Noel Godfrey Chavasse VC & Bar, MC

We then drove down to the Messines battlefield to view the mine craters of the Messines attack. The group were mightily impressed by the sheer size of Peckham Crater and Spanbroekmolen.

Explaining the work of the tunneller at the enormous Peckham Mine Crater on the Messines Ridge

We then headed south to Ploegsteert (Plugstreet) for the Memorial to the Missing where I told them all about Sapper William Hackett VC, 254 Tunnelling Company, Royal Engineers (see www.tunnellersmemorial.com) and then turned about-face and arrived at our final stop – Talbot House, Poperinghe. The tunnel back was much busier than usual owing to the closure of airports but, despite missing our chosen train, I arrived back in Bristol at about 8.30pm. A tiring but brilliant trip all carried out in most un-Flanders like glorious sunshine! My thanks to Robert, Helen, David, Robin, Nicky and of course Thomas for being such charming travel companions.