Western Front Photography

Resources





The purpose for this section is to provide information about sources, accommodation and other matters which I think might be of use to people interested in visiting some of the fields of battle illustrated on this site.

I will be keeping it updated on a regular basis so if you have any suggestions which you think might be useful to others, please send me an e-mail.


 

Battlefield Tours:

I am frequently asked whether I will guide people on tours: the answer is YES. I have been awarded my Battlefield Guide's badge by the International Guild of Battlefield Guides and I run my own unique Battlefield Vision range of tours. These are especially aimed at people who want to create graphic and expressive photographs which will better express the emotions which we all feel as we walk these fields of battle.

In addition I work as a guide with Clive Harris, who runs Battle Honours Tours. Clive is renowned for the range of personal histories and In 2003 his first book was published "Walking the London Blitz", He subsequently appeared in ITV's "Blitz Spirit", Channel 4's award winning "Time Team" as well as writing numerous articles for the Mail on Sunday, The Daily Telegraph, The London Evening Standard, The Daily Express and Living History Magazine.

Battle Honours specializes in taking small parties to walk  the actual ground of battle thus enabling you to have a better understanding and feel for the events that took place than you can ever get from the more usual 'drive-by' battlefield tour.

So please join either Clive or myself on one of our especial tours or contact us if you would like us to make an especial tour for you.

 

 


Armies [ and Photographers ] march on their stomach:

The following are some of the places at which I like to stay: they are chosen on the simple grounds of comfort and price and then fact they seem to tolerate my pre-dawn departures in a clattering diesel van. But they are personal choices so please don't blame me if you don't like them.

SOMME:

Mme. Christine Matte
Bernafay Wood B&B
55/57 Grande Rue
Bois de Bernafay
80300 Montauban de Picardie
T> + 33 22 85 02 47
E> bernafaywood@aol.com
Christine speaks excellent English, knows the region intimately and provides both a very warm welcome and an excellent box for muddy boots at her tranquil house set in wood 2 kms. south of Delville Wood.

VERDUN:

Mme. Valerie Godard
Les Charmilles
12 rue de la Gare
Charny sur Meuse
T> + 33 3 29 86 93 49
Really comfortable rooms with table d'hote, secure parking.

VOSGES:

Mme. Caroline Maire
Chambres d'Hotes des Combes
185 Le Combe
Orbey
T> + 33 3 89 71 22 22

A very tranquil house right on the battlefield of Le Linge: lovely walking, excellent simple food and fantastic stars at night. M. Maire has a fantastic snow-plough for helping idiot photographers out of drifts!


YPRES / MESSINES:

Jean Marie Tydgat & Magda Delcroix
De Linde - B & B + Supper.
Houthemstraat 45
Heuvelland-Wijtschate
T> Heuvelland-Wijtschate
T> + 32 57 447 958
M> + 32 49 678 8546
E> bb-delinde@skynet.be
A very quiet farm house about 4 kms north east of Messines. Incredibly kind and generous hosts, they speak English, will give you supper if you warn them and are just lovely people

GALLIPOLI

Quite the best stay is the Gallipoli Houses Hotel in the little village of Kocadere on the peninsula itself. Run by Belgian Eric Goosens and his Turkish wife, Ozlem who runs the kitchen, this is a lovely quiet place to stay within easy reach of the battlefields without having to spend time each morning and evening crossing over from Cannakale. The rooms are  very comfortable, the food is excellent, the wines delicious and Eric is himself a very knowledgeable historian and guide so all in all this is an especial place.

 

 

 


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Battlefield Etiquette and Safety:

Whilst I hope my pictures will help people to appreciate these landscapes, I do hope that people will not destroy the very thing they are going to see. As the pictures show there are many relics in plain view - for over 90 years they have rested there as a reminder of things past: please let them remain another 90!

It goes without saying that 90 year old munitions are dangerous - don't touch them. Please don't seek to take "souvenirs" - don't even buy them from eBay as this only encourages unscrupulous diggers who all too often destroy sites and the valuable information contained therein. Remember that these fields are burial grounds and none of us would like to think of the bodies of our relatives being dug up merely so someone can get a cap badge. The French Gendarmes rightly take a very dim view of people with metal detectors and muddy "souvenirs" in their cars: so please treat these places with the respect they deserve.

Some places can be a little awkward - barbed wire persists in many woods and bramble patches so please walk carefully. The authorities at Newfoundland Park have already closed off areas because they are concerned about people hurting themselves on the metal pickets - methinks I hear the sardonic laughter of the ghosts of 1916!

Also consider the local people and the farmers - remember these are working fields so don't block roads and tracks with cars. Do ask permission before walking across fields and into woods and if you want to see a bunker in someone's back garden, just consider that you might just be the 10th person to have interrupted their afternoon nap. Don't leave litter: it always amazes me as to why people seem to be unable to carry an empty water bottle back to their car.

I find that local people unfailingly appreciate ones desire to visit these places so long as one remembers that one is simply a transient visitor in their community:  please remember that others may wish to tread the same path after you, so walk gently and leave no trace of your passing.
 

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Bibliography:

Pride of place must go to what must be without doubt the best photographic book on the Western Front, namely "Traces of the Great War" by J.S. Cartier. This is really a superbly evocative book and I find his work a real inspiration.

I think it goes without saying that "Before Endeavours Fade" by Rose Coombs, MBE is an essential  staple of any battlefield tour as are the invaluable guides by Major and Mrs Holt.

"Scenes de Tranchees dans les Vosges" by Eric Balmier and Daniel Roess. [ ISBN 2-7165 0547-0 ] is a superb collection of contemporary photographs of the French campaigns in the Vosges together with good explanatory text.

For a simple description of the soldiers life I think it hard to better "The War the Infantry Knew 1914-1919" by Capt J C Dunn [ ISBN 0-349-10635-5 ] and with that I would place Ernst Junger's "Storm of Steel" ISBN 0-141-18691-7 as a powerfully written view from the other side of the Western Front.

And for sheer heart rending prose, the final pages of Edwin Campion Vaughan's "Some Desperate Glory"  [ ISBN0-333-38727-9 ] describing the Battle of Langemarck in August 1917 is hard to beat.

Johan Vandewalle is the co-author of  "Beneath Flanders Fields - The Tunneller's War"  [ ISBN I.86227.237.9 ]  which covers in great detail the techniques used by the engineers and miners as well as covering some of the recent finds. He is a great fund of local information especially about any work on tunnels and dig-outs. He can generally be found at his cafe which is the Cafe de Dreve, Lange Dreve 16, Zonnebeke -  at the south west corner of Polygon Wood. T> + 32 57 46 62 35.

As a photographer I find some military histories appear to have been written by a writer standing in the field alongside me: having spent two weeks shooting Messines I can avow that "Pillars of Fire - the Battle of Messines Ridge" by Ian Passingham [ ISBN 0 7509 3464 6 ] is one such book. It's worth buying just for the glossary of military terms as well as being a really clear and informative book.

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Exhibitions & Museums:

The battlefield of Le Linge is maintained by Le Association du Memorial du Linge who also have a very good museum. You may find it hard to arrange an English speaking guide [ but hey, you could always hire me! ] and it is only open between April and November 11th and as it is at over 1,000m altitude in the Vosges the weather can cause access problems out of season.

The Passchendaele Museum at Zonnebeke has an excellent "Dug-out Experience" exhibition and has a rolling programme of exhibitions. Also organises battle-field walks, concerts, lectures and excavations and is a fund of information.
Ieperstraat 5
Zonnebeke.
T> + 32 51 77 04 41.

One very overlooked battlefield is that of the Aubers Ridge and  Fromelles. L'Association pour la Souvenir de la Bataille de Fromelles have created a marvellous little museum and the Curator, Martial Delabarre is an enthusiastic expert on the region and leads a very productive team of amateur archaeolgists. As the museum is run on a voluntary basis you need to make an appointment but it is well worth a visit and the British officer's compass is one of the most poignant relics that I have come across.
Musee de Fromelles, Mairie - 7 rue de verdun, Fromelles. Tel. + 33 3 20 50 63 85.

Verdun:
Memorial-Musee de la Grande Guerre
1 av du Corps Europeen
55100 Fleeury devant Douaumont
T> + 33 3 29 84 35 34


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Photographic:

For those of you who ask how I get these shots the answer is simple: I use a Kodak DCS Pro Slr 14n which gives me a 14Mb Raw file. I get up early, stay out late and don't mind getting cold and wet!.
 

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Websites:

Gallipoli is always a hard area to research but the site Turkey in the First World War is really quite superb and unlike so many sites is perfectly honest about its sources and academic limitations. Created by Altay Atli it covers all the Turkish campaigns of WW1 so really this is an invaluable resource.

 


I always think that personal anecdote is more interesting than endless statistics: quite one of the moving sites I have come across is http://www.rgcrompton.info/crompton/1805info8.html This is a very moving and detailed site created by Richard Crompton describing the history of his great-uncle, Pvt. J H Crompton, who died at Passchendaele in 1917.
 



A really amazing web-site http://www.greatwardifferent.com/ is run by Antony Langley:  a truly massive collection of contemporary accounts which I find quite fascinating and anyone reading this comment should ensure they have of time to spare as this site needs hours of attention.



 



Alan Jennings
runs a very neat and concise guide to British battlefields at
www.ww1battlefields.co.uk
A personal labour of love and respect which is well worth taking time to view. It is constantly being extended and is a very good visual guide to many battlefields.



On the Somme I always find that the gentle slope of Serre Ridge and the lark filled skies of the Redan Ridge belie there history: Andrew Jackson's site http://www.pals.org.uk/pals_e.htm dedicated to the Accrington Pals on July 1st 1916 is quite exceptional with its collection of diaries and photographs which make this an essential source for anyone visiting the Somme.



Terres de Memoire is a website run by Peronne based guide Sylvestre Bresson whose tours offer a unique French perspective on the Somme: he is able to show parts of the Somme battlefield which no other tour operator even knows about and has his own archaeological project in the French sector of the battlefield so if you think you know the Somme, well give him a call and you will have a great day.
 



An extremely comprehensive site with a great range of information covering  some unusual areas and battlefields and as well as offering an enormous range of  links is http://www.unfortunate-region.org/.


Brent Whittam and Terry Heard have compiled an extraordinarly thorough web-site covering First World War cemeteries and memorials around the world which I find invaluable for research and general information. It is now being extended to cover WW2 and is a really great resource.



The Western Front Association has recently revamped its website www.westernfrontassociation.com but more importantly, for me at least, it has released the first of a series of DVDs, compiled in conjunction with the Imperial War Museum. Entitled 'Mapping the Front', these DVDs are a collection of high resolution images of maps, together with photographs and index maps taken from the collection held by the IWM and is an amazing resource compiled by a really dedicated bunch of volunteers. For me these DVDs are an essential piece of kit and amazing value.



Acknowledgements:

Any project of this kind would be impossible without the advice, support and hospitality of a great many people who have shown me hidden places, given me hot coffee at ungodly hours and not laughed at my terrible "franglais". Thank you  one and all.

Janet, my lovely wife for her toleration of all my absences.
Prof Richard Holmes for his unfailing support, suggestions and all round good natured ability to amaze and confound me with his knowledge.
Frankie Bostyn & Freddie Declerk and all the staff at Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 for their patronage and support of the 'Fields of Battle - Flanders 1917' project which provided the real incentive for this project.

Kristoff Blieck for showing me how to build a dug-out in the Belgian Embassy in London just using a discarded cargo pallet and some plywood!
M. Roland Bodo - Les Amis des Champs de Battaille du Linge
Sylvestre Bresson for taking me to the hidden places of the French Somme.
Martial Delabarre - Conservateur du Musee ASBF - for his introduction to Fromelles
M Jean d’Escayrac of Mont Renaud.
Eric Flamand - who had the idea for an exhibition of pictures of Messines...
Jean Claude Fombaron - for his guidance to the hidden places of the Vosges.

M Jean Francoise for swooping me around the skies above Vaquois
M Didier Geunaff for his introduction the the Carriere de Cinq Piliers.
Brian Goldschmied for permission to show his interview.
M Philippe Gorczynski - Flesquieres Tank Association - for saving "Deborah"
Guild of Battlefield Guides for allowing a scruffy civilian to join their ranks
Arlene King for trusting me not clutter up Newfoundland Park.
M. Norbert Kugel - ANSM - for his guidance and advice in St Mihiel.
Laurent Loiseau for paying me to go to so many of these places
Mme. Martainville for showing me the hidden marvels of Carriere de Rouge Maison
Mme. Christine Matte for her fabulous plum jam.

M. Fernand Moxhet of the Association de Fort de Loncin
M Eric Murat - Service Archeologique d’ Arras - for the introduction to Carriere Wellington
Dr. Dean Oliver and all the staff at the Canadian War Museum, Ottawa.

M. Jean-Luc Pamart - Association Soissonnais 14-18 - for the keys to the caves of Confrecourt Farm.

M. Daniel Pastor, Forts of Douaumont & Vaux.
M. Bruno Saedleleer and his team for their amazing work at Carriere de la Botte
M. Louis Scheromm and all Les Amis de Hartmannswillerkopf for the best ever meal in a mountain bunker.
Isobel Swan and all at Holt's Tours for allowing me to try and lose their clients in the mists of the Vosges.
M. Serge Tourovski for an amazing day in the rain in the Bois de Malancourt.
Jean-Marie Tydgat & Magda Delcroix for their boundless hospitality
Erwin and Mia Ureel for their seemingly limitless hospitality and whiskey.
M  Georges van den Bulk - for taking me up amongst the birds of the Somme
Johan Vanderwalle for all his advice and hospitality.
Maurice van Rossem of 'Authentic' Brussels for the superb exhibition prints.
Claude & Nellie Verharghe - Lelou of the Ploegsteert Auberge for their hospitality
Avril Williams for being just that - the one and only Avril Williams!

www.westernfrontphotography.com