The Death of Innocence

A study tour that contrasts the jubilation of August 1914 as expressed by Rupert Brooke in ‘Now God be Thanked’ with the sombre reflection to the stalemate of the trenches and the futility of war in Charles Sorley’s ‘When you see Millions of the Mouthless Dead’. Besides examining the writing and poetry of the early months of the war we will spend time examining the work of the architects of the Imperial War Graves Commission who were challenged to commemorate those who had made the supreme sacrifice for their country.

Our tour looks at the events between August 1914 and December 1915 through the eyes of the writers and poets who commented on the tumultuous upsurge of patriotism and excitement that swept through Britain (and other warring nations) as war broke out. Brooke was in good company. He was joined by Gibson, Hodgson, Binyon, Rosenberg, Owen and many others who greeted, with patriotic excitement, the conflict that was to become the ‘War to End All Wars’ . The Great War was the first major literate war and the commentaries by the poets reflect not only their emotions but their response to the cataclysmic events that were unfolding.

Of course it was to be ‘Over by Christmas’ and thus the only concern was to join the fight before the opportunity was missed and the writers conveyed this joyous mood as they went to war. Some reflected on the cost Binyon’s For The Fallen, which includes the prophetic ‘They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old’ was written not after the slaughter of the Somme but in September 1914, long before the casualty rates grew to an industrial scale.

The bloody and futile battles of 1915, small in comparison with the killing fields of the later bloodbaths, saw many of the early idealists killed; Brooke died in Salonika, Sorley was killed at Loos and Julian Grenfell died of woundsin a base hospital. It was also the year that many of the later, great, writers were to join the conflagration. Edmund Blunden, Edward Thomas, Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves and David Jones began their war whilst Isaac Rosenberg, Ivor Gurney, Wilfred Owen all joined the swelling ranks of the army. During our tour we follow the journeys of all these writers as well as those from the other combatant nations. Their commentaries are the vivid images that form the backdrop of the war that was to kill over 10 million men, wound and maim twice that number and send millions more back to their families and communities, haunted by the most hideous memories.

The cost of the sacrifice caused a grateful nation to commemorate ‘permanently and in perpetuity’ those who had made the supreme sacrifice, and our tour will examine the work of the Imperial War Graves Commission who were tasked with interpreting Sir Fabian Ware’s vision; their ‘Silent Cities’ and ‘Memorials to the Missing’ are now the footprints of those wee follow to war and, in many cases, to their death.

Itinerary

Day 1 Saturday 25th October
Our luxury coach leaves Victoria Coach Station late morning for a Eurotunnel channel crossing. Arriving in France by mid-afternoon we head for Ypres which will provide the backdrop to the tour and we are intro-duced to the Salient with a visit to the world famous In Flanders Fields Museum in the iconic Cloth Hall. In the late afternoon we drive to the Altia Hotel in Neuville en Ferraine. Before dinner we meet for an aperitif which accompanies a short presentation to the background for the tour and an introduction to the places and people who will feature in our journey.

Day 2 Sunday 26th October
After a full buffet breakfast we depart from the hotel to travel to the 1915 battlefields. Here we visit Dud Cor-ner Cemetery and the Loos Memorial to the Missing before looking at the story of My Boy Jack and Kipling’s search for his son. We take in the architecture of the Indian Memorial at Neuve Chapelle and other significant sites in the area. A picnic lunch, with wine, is provided. Many of the great writers in the Great War fought, and wrote, in this area and we will hear their stories at the places that shaped their writing. We return to Ypres in the late afternoon and check in to The Albion Hotel in the centre of the historic town. Near to the hotel The Wipers Times was printed in the town ramparts and we are within easy walking distance for both the Menin Gate and Grote Markt with its many restaurants. Group members choose their own dining venue.

Day 3 Monday 27th October
After breakfast in the new dining room we depart from the hotel for a day in the Ypres Salient and follow the story of many important people in our story. We visit Essex Farm where John McCrae wrote In Flanders Fields, Artillery Wood Cemetery to hear the stories of Hedd Wynn and Francis Ledwidge. We visit Sir Herbert Baker’s Tyne Cot, the largest British
cemetery in the world before travelling to the Irish Peace Park to study the work of the Irish poets who fought during the war. During the day we will study Blunden, ‘Tubby’ Clayton, Roland Leighton, Vera Brittain, Julian Grenfell and Bruce Bairns-father as well as visiting the site of the 1914 Christmas Truce. We return to the hotel and enjoy dinner together at a restau-rant in Ypres town centre.

Day 4 Tuesday 28th October
After a buffet breakfast we check out of the hotel to visit sites en route to our inbound shuttle. These include Brandhoek Mili-tary Cemetery and the new visitors centre at Lijssenthoek which has links to Ivor Gurney and several other important literary characters. After a picnic lunch we return to Calais and the group is due back at Victoria for their onward journeys at around 6.00 pm.

Please note that these notes are for guidance only as the final detailed planning will take place during the summer. If you would like to reserve a place on the tour please complete the accompanying booking form and return to Eyewitness Tour with a non-refundable deposit of £50. There are 40 places available and these will be sold on a ‘first come first served’ basis. The cost of the tour is £450 per person (£85 single room supplement). Included in the price are all travel costs, 3 nights accommodation in 2/3* hotels, dinner on Saturday and Monday evenings, a packed lunch on three days, museum entry, all fees, a comprehensive reading list and full background notes to the tour.

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