Welcome fellow Members, Guild Partners, and Supporters to your summer edition of Despatches, the house magazine of the Guild. Well, what a year of battlefield touring we have had so far and there is still more to come. After the recent surge of interest surrounding Gallipoli 100 and Waterloo 200, new information is already circulating for the Lone Pine and Suvla commemorations in Turkey. The ceremonies on the Somme next July are also taking shape. Before you launch into your Despatches I would like to make a couple of serious observations on what is happening on the battlefields at the moment.
The FWW Centenary has seen a significant increase in the number of new Tour Operators, Coach Companies, Sole Traders and local Guides offering battlefield tours to the public. The standard of these tours and their administration varies dramatically. Over the past few months I have heard some real horror stories from members about guides operating without relevant travel insurance, life-changing injuries to clients on tour that were not covered by the guides public liability insurance and a range of other alarming and unprofessional incidents. In the main this can be attributed to overenthusiasm and a lack of a well thought out business plan that considers all of these mundane but wholly necessary requirements. What is evident is that while making private visits to easily accessible sites in Belgium and France many aspirant guides from the UK have become familiar with the ground but pay scant attention to the laws and industry regulations of their chosen area of interest. This over-familiarity is potentially dangerous and leads to the kind of incidents that I referred to earlier. So please if you are about to take the plunge into the battlefield tour industry seek professional advice, talk to fellow members and above all, ensure that you look beyond the history of your chosen battlefield.
My second point is actually a question, when does a visit to a given battlefield cease to be a battlefield tour? One answer is of course, when it is a pilgrimage. This subtle difference in focus is of course not a new problem, how many times have we all heard a young student whisper (or shout), ‘Not another F&%*£@% cemetery’, or an older person say, oh we had a lovely tour of the cemeteries…the trend of cemetery laden itineraries is on the increase – which is fine if you are offering a pilgrimage tour. However, if we as guides are not careful, there is I feel a danger of a cult of the dead dominating our industry. Cemeteries, pilgrimages and reflection all have a place in most itineraries, the art is to keep them in context. As guides we should not feel that we have to wave our remembrance credentials at every stand. One guide described the obsession with remembrance at every single stand as LWFF – Lest We Forget Fascism. Kipling’s three words are now so overused that they have almost become a glib greeting rather than being used for the sentiment most intend. So, my plea to you is for balanced itineraries that include appropriate time on the actual battlefields, that pilgrimages and remembrance are delivered in context and wherever possible, some emphasis is placed on those that survived and left the battlefields to live a full life. We are after all, Battlefield Guides…Lest We Forget!
On that note I will close by wishing you all good luck on your respective battlefields in the coming months, look out for each other and try to make time to exchange ideas and tips. Remember, there has been no better time to work as a Battlefield Guide, enjoy it to the full.