Guest Blog: WWI Battlefield Tours with Steve Smith

Visit the WW1 Battlefields
July 3, 2019

We’re delighted to have one of our Battlefield Guides, Steve Smith share his views on battlefield tours and the excellent educational impact these have on students. Read on to hear Steve discuss his passion for these tours and the educational and personal discoveries your students can expect to experience on one of his tours.

Steve served in the RAF for 18 years and now works in adult education. He started guiding in his spare time in 2002 where he decided that the best route to become a qualified guide was to follow the path to being badged with the Guild of Battlefield Guides. He duly qualified as a badged guide in April 2004, gaining Badge No 17.

He has been interested in military history since a very early age and the battlefields of the Western Front especially had a big impact upon him and first toured the Somme at the age of 13 when his family wanted to learn more about the death of his Great Grandfather, Frank Smith. He has since been able to trace Frank's movements from start to finish.

Since 2013 Steve has released two books documenting the impact of the Great War, local to people of Norfolk where he now lives with his family. Currently, he is writing his third book which will look at the Norfolk Regiment on the Western Front.

He has been working with Adaptable Travel since 2010 and his aim is to keep the memory of those that fell during WWI and WW2 alive and to share his passion and knowledge with the groups that he guides.

Without further ado, over to you, Steve.

I have worked as a battlefield guide with Adaptable Travel for 9 years now and I pride myself in the fact that I have developed my tours with both the company and the schools I guide in that time. In all of that time Adaptable Travel have been fully supportive of my passion so this blog is about why I feel you should use them to take your school to the battlefields of WW1. Plus, I have had the pleasure of guiding the same schools again and again over the years. That has been like meeting old friends each year.          

On Adaptable Travel tours I have covered the following subjects

  • Religion and WW1
  • Poetry Tours
  • Medicine in WW1
  • Geography and Topography of the WW1 battlefields
  • The myth and reality of the Christmas Truce
  • The comparisons between the British and German soldier
  • The use of and the development of tactics weapons in the Great War

That list is not exhaustive and is just a snapshot of the subjects I have been asked to guide.

All of what we guide is totally compatible with KS3 and KS4 studies for subjects in English, Religious Studies as well as History. We will also tackle myths such as the senior and junior officer role, the Lions Led by Donkeys myth and look at the reality of battles such as the Somme and 3rd Ypres. Adaptable Travel’s own ethos is the following,‘With over 20 years’ experience in educational travel, Adaptable Travel are seeing impressive, sustained growth, fuelled by you - teachers who choose Adaptable Travel due to our focus on what matters – making your life as easy as possible as a group organiser, removing much of the burden of paperwork.

The beauty of our tours is they are bespoke and put together by the guide and the lead teacher. The guide plans all of the itinerary for you and will offer help and advice as to what to visit whilst over there. They are also there to take the pressure off of you in aspects of the tour such as route planning and ensuring that you get to places on time. We will work with you closely throughout the visit. The beauty of this is that we try and ensure that the tours are always a balance of cemeteries, sites of interest, museums and free time.

What that has enabled the staff to do is to concentrate on their core business of actually allowing the students to learn about the subjects they are teaching and also allows the guide to tackle any myths or questions the staff might have while they are over there. On more than one occasion I have had staff members tell me that they will go back to school with new ideas on what to discuss in the classroom based on what they have learnt in the field.

But for me it’s also about the personal touch. Every time I have conducted a tour at least one student or staff member has spoken to me about their parents or grandparents telling them they have a relative buried or commemorated over there. If possible, I will try and take that student to the cemetery or memorial where their relative is remembered. For me it is the most tangible thing you can do, not just for the student but for the rest of the group who often feel the connection too.

It always humbles me what I witness with my groups while over there. It might be a simple thing such as a heart put in a cemetery register, it might be because the students continually ask me questions about what they are seeing. Or, as always happens, how the students totally respect and understand the sacrifices made by those that now lie in France and Flanders Fields.    

Adaptable Travel will offer you the following things on each battlefield tour:

  • Early Booking Discount
  • Free Project Battlefields Resources
  • Family & Local Regiment History Searches
  • Wreath Laying at Menin Gate
  • Free Belgian Chocolates

And I will add to that by stating if you book a guide you will get the full battlefield experience from start to finish and it is certainly something I would urge you consider or future tours because it will definitely help to change your perceptions of those historic times.

If you've been inspired by Steve's passion for these tours and would like to hear more about a tour like this for your students, get in touch with a member of our team today.