Hi David, how are you?
Very well thanks. And you?
Not too bad. Itís school sports day for my son today.
Exciting times! Are they allowed to compete these days?
They are actually. And even allowed to win at our school.
Thatís good. Iíve heard some funny stories about
schools being P.C. these days. In my day, we had the sack
race, the egg and spoon race and the two-legged race and
we were all in it to win it.
Iím in middle England now and weíre very much allowed
to cheer and to compete and things like that.
Good. I heard one story where children ran a race up to
the winning line and then stopped dead because nobody had
explained that they were supposed to run through it!
Yes, we went through the period where everyoneís
feelings had to be taken into account all of the time. But
we saw the product of that out in south Africa recently
didnít we? (Englandís World Cup fiasco) Thereís no
pride or effort, really.
Donít get me started about the football! The other day
on the news they were trying to explain the dismal
performance and they suggested: ďIs it because the
manager is no good? Is it because the players donít play
together enough and are too tired with our long seasons?
Is it because the structure of football in this country,
and the vast number of overseas players that are here,
doesnít allow the local talent to develop?Ē And
so on. And, of course, itís all of those things and
Yes, absolutely. We just have to get on with our lives and
then, as from August, seeing the same faces telling us
what energy drink can you make you best while theyíre
picking up £30,000 a week.
£5 million Capello is on and at last nightís press
conference heís saying, in his clipped unintelligible
English, that he has been approached by other teams but
would like to continue as England manager! Of course he
would for £5 million. He should be on a small salary and
then a bonus depending on how far they get. Or not.
Iíd have thought FIFA should be saying that if youíre
England then you should have an English manager, just like
you have English players.
Yes, and itís not a racist thing.
Of course itís not, itís about your country's
football. It has to be an English manager and an English
There are some obvious names like Redknapp or even
Iíd rather we went there with Redknapp and
under-performed than went there and did well with a
foreign coach because my Scottish friends wouldnít let
me forget it if we won with a foreign coach.
To the questions thenÖ What is your background and how
did Battle Honours come into being?
I come from a military family and my family has always
been in the military. So I tended not to concentrate at all
school. I was the worldís worst pupil.
Maybe I was second worst then!
I grew up in Welwyn Garden City and there were lots of old
Itís a nice place to retire to and people think
theyíre coming out to the country from London without
coming out too far. Itís the whole green belt around
London, so a lot of the Great War generation came out
here. So Iíd carry their shopping and mow their lawns
and theyíd tell me how good army life was. By the age
of sixteen I was in Ė I didnít even go back for my
school exam results. I joined as a junior soldier, had
eight brilliant years, but had fallen in love at school and
knew soldering was a single manís job and I couldnít
do it forever. So I ended up at Sandhurst as an instructor,
teaching army cadets. And thatís probably where I
learned to speak to people. When a job came up in my local
police force in my home town I took it. I started working
part-time as a bit of a guide for a larger company and was
frustrated by not having autonomy over it all. So, I started my
own tours in 2004. What I really wanted to do was to have
small groups and to really walk the ground. I really felt
that if somebody said ďWhere were the Germans and where
were we?Ē on day three or four then Iíd failed in my
job as a guide. Ground was such a key part of it and you
struggle to capture that when youíre on a coach. Itís
not the same at all.
When you see the death toll in Afghanistan, 300 and
rising, how does that make you feel?
Every soldier we lose is a tragedy for someone as well as
for the whole nation. Having been a soldier, we have a slightly
more reticent approach I think. You join the army and you
kind of hang up your right to say ďWeíre going to do
this and weíre not going to do that.Ē I still have a
lot of involvement with the British Army these days,
because we have a contract with them taking regiments on
tours because of the sorts of tours we do.
Are they a higher quality of soldier than in the past? You
hear so many glowing tributes to them from friends,
family, fellow soldiers and officers and it sounds as
though they are all very big characters and high calibre.
Yes, I think thatís the product of the system. The basic
training, where youíre given a raw product from various
different backgrounds from different parts of the country.
The first thing you need to do is get everybody down to a
base level. So, for example, I had a guy from Portsmouth
in my room, eight Glaswegians, myself and a guy from
Cornwall. And the Cornish guy was going to be eaten alive
within the first 48 hours because he didn't have the same
social skills as the rest of us had from an urban
background. And by the end of the basic training, where we
all had been made to feel as though we were rubbish but
then passed at the same spec. Well, then we all passed on the square and
he was as competent and confident as the rest of us. And
what that short, sharp, army system does is it delivers a
brilliant product and itís one of the few jobs in life
that youíll be in where you canít hide and you canít
bluff your way through. Once youíve passed off the
square you know youíve got a certain standard of
individuals. And when you get to your working unit you know
you can rely on absolutely everyone. Because the chaff has
been weeded out. In civilian life, thatís not acceptable.
There is a bit of weeding out, is there?
Yes, there is. I started with 75 and ended up with 28.
Thereís quite a lot then.
Yes, absolutely. Ití, about mental strength with these
sixteen, seventeen and eighteen year old lads as much as
physical strength. The door is always open and people can
leave at any time. And thatís what makes it unique,
because itís a volunteer army and so everyone who is
there wants to be there. And they can rely on each other
and theyíve all got the same sort of ethos in life. They're
as good as Wellingtonís army and as good as General Haigís.
And until someone says that the Sergeant Major must
tuck them up into bed and make them a cup of tea and not
hurt their feelings, they always will be.
That was interesting, when they were talking about the
credit crunch, and that with the armed forces everything
was up for discussion. It couldnít be taken for
granted that the three services Ė army, navy and air
force, would survive as they are, at least theoretically.
Absolutely, well Iíll tell you where we have suffered
over the years as a military. Weíre given a job to do
and we do it, occasionally we donít do it in the same
way the media would like it to be done. But equally if you
look at Iraq we get involved in a long and sustained
campaign and then we leave and we hand over to the locals to
run the place. Now, invariably what happens, is to pay for
that bill they cut a couple of regiments. That seems quite
natural but itís the opposite of performance-related
pay! That will happen again, but weíve been what you can
regard as high-tempo for the last nine or ten years. At
some stage in the last government it was accepted that
there was something called the military covenant that
dates back hundreds of years. Itís never been written
down but thereís been an understanding Ė a sort of
gentlepersonís agreement, between those that run the
country and those that serve in the armed forces. To kind
of look after each otherís interests. And it was only
under the last government that it broke down and thatís
quite hard for me as Iím a traditional Labour voter.
Iím from a fairly working class background.
There again, it's not traditional Labour anymore is it?
No, no. Not at all.
Very difficult to separate them these days.
Itís not the Labour party my grandfather would have
supported and fought both wars for. Because my Englishness,
and my passion for being English Ė Iím very proud of
the fact, but it comes with the rider that it doesnít
make me any better than anyone else and I donít see
myself as superior. And on St Georgeís day I just think
we should all listen to Billy Bragg's Between The Wars as
much as we should listen to anything else. Itís not necessarily
all about Land Of Hope And Glory.
I wish we did celebrate our Englishness a bit more.
Itís becoming more popular now, isnít it? The taxi
drivers have put their foot down in London. For a long
while it was probably stolen by the BNP and thatís not
really acceptable. Englishness isnít necessarily what
country you're born in, itís what culture you embrace.
Itís hard to say what it is because weíre a hybrid
We are. Iím half Irish.
That makes you half English as well! (Both laugh)
I can see both sides. I can remember being in Belfast in
the early 70s when I was a young teenager and I was a
Catholic Brit, so I needed to be quick in making a
decision if somebody challenged me. But it was
intimidating over there with the army pointing guns at you
and the searches. We stayed at The Europa Hotel which had
the highest security fence and then fencing coming off
that to stop people lobbing explosives or whatever over.
And everywhere there were bollards to stop car bombs.
Thankfully, it did take us a few years but by my time in
the late 80s we did have a different approach to policing/soldiering
in northern Ireland. In the early days we were as naÔve
as the terrorists were, I think. So it does take a while
to settle it down to some semblance of normality and there
is still a bit of an atmosphere there, isnít there? It
will take generations to make it right. Itís got to
start with the children, really, growing up as northern
Irish rather than Protestant or Catholic.
Itís always a strange thing to do, splitting a country
arbitrarily along lines. Very odd to have a majority and a
Thatís why thereís no easy answer. Itís not as easy
as packing up and saying ďGo on, the whole place is
Ireland.Ē It would be upsetting the silent majority in northern
Ireland that donít want to belong to the south plus I
would think a majority of the south who canít afford the
The irony is there are lots of Church of Ireland people in
the south and very protestant.
Yes. And in both wars they really batted above their
average and punched above their weight. I think itís 27%
of the British army in both world wars were Irish. You wouldn't
want to join the Irish Defence Force anyway because
theyíre flying old planes and donít get to do anything
but thereís always been quite a profitable recruiting
base for the British army in Ireland despite the troubles.
What makes Battle Honours different from other 'war
Iíve not actually come across anyone who is a pure walks
company. Some add walks to their brochures as sort of
specialist events but thatís ALL we do. Our whole ethos
is to get people out on the ground and to see and
experience things from a soldierís point of view. So, we
would always look to walk any battlefield in any part of
Youíre doing a walk at Arnhem, arenít you?
Yes, again thereís no reason, unless you have physical
restrictions, to go to Arnhem and not walk it. I canít
see what you would gain by getting on and off a vehicle
there. Soldiering is generally done on foot and still is,
and to get the most from it you need to understand the lie
of the land, dead ground, forgotten places. Maybe way off from
the main road where you might not be able to get a cup of
tea and the toilet, but you might find an almost pristine
machine gun bunker or a cave that was concerted into a
chapel with graffiti in it.
Iím trying to remember the name of where the British had
to retreat to finally Ė it was a really small area in
the end with a river to the south and surrounded by the
Germans on all other sides.
Coming back from Oosterbeek. I've actually been back there
with veterans before and sat on that bank and listened to
their stories about crossing that river.
There's some famous footage whenever thereís a
documentary about Arnhem and thereís the Paras being
paraded by the Germans to show off theyíve been
captured. They look really, really p****ed off! And really
tough as well.
Thereís the famous one where the soldier does a 'v' sign
to the German cameraman. Itís quite a famous shot. I
mean, these are British paratroopers and they were tough,
tough guys. This idea that because it was all in black and
white they were all poets. You just have to look at some incidents
in downtown Cairo in the second world war or the Battle of
The Wozza that was just before the Gallipoli landings.
They were pretty much destroying towns drunk in their disapproval of
the price of beer going up. Wellington once said ďI donít
know what they do but they sure scare the hell out of me.Ē You've got
to have some idea of the chaps youíre dealing with and
to get these old chaps back at Arnhem is quite amazing.
The quietest guy of all was an artilleryman who, because he
wasnít a Paratrooper they came on the other side of the
Rhine in the winter of í44 with a 25 Pounder field
gun. He hadnít said much at all, but because he wasnít
a Para he felt he shouldnít be talking. But when he got
down to John Frost Bridge he came alive and he picked four
of us out at a time - there were twelve of us on the walk. He went
through all of the gun drills with us and taught us all
the shortcuts and how to do things and at the end he was hollering
at us like a Sergeant Major. You could see, just for that
moment, that he came alive and, of course, by him doing that,
thatís what we see as added value for a tour. We always
look to find something slightly different that we
wouldnít advertise but that we can include.
What is the range of tours that you do and where do your
experts come from?
We walk anywhere, chronologically speaking, from Waterloo up
to The Falklands, so itís as wide as that really and
even then weíre looking to go further back as the years
go on. Thereís no industry standard as such for guides,
but The Guild Of Battlefield Guides, which is an
international organisation, run a validation programme
where you get to wear a badge if you jump through all
their hoops. Itís a twelve part process and the equivalent
to a degree level in guiding, similar to a Blue Badge
Guide. And I think Iím right in saying that we were the
first company to insist on the fact that all of our guides
had gone through that process. So I use four or five
guides and theyíve all achieved their badge and that can
only be a mark of competency. The Guild will never say
that if you donít have a badge you canít guide, but
the day will come when the public says ďWhy hasnít my
guide got a badge?Ē
Do you bump into Germans doing guided tours in the other
direction as it were?
Thatís the one sort of group we donít, strangely
enough. Itís not a tourist thing for them and not part
of the travel industry out there. We do find Germans who
come out individually on pilgrimages to find their
relatives, but they will only be able to find the relative.
They wonít be able to put him into the perspective of
the war, the regiment and what they got up to. And
thereís been a few times where weíve managed to get
them to join our tour and have taken them out and they
probably learnt more with us than they would have done
back home. Itís changing, because thereís a bit of a
cult following, particularly from America, where people
are interested in the German soldier from the first world
war. But weíre all not ready yet to embrace the
Waffen-SS and say they were only doing their bit. And I
hope they never do.
It makes me very cross when history tells us about all the
massacres the SS were involved in. From Dunkirk onwards,
both British and American troops were slaughtered and also
civilians like the incident at Oradour sur Glane and
Yes, thereís that terrible babyís pushchair in the
church with the bullet holes. And actually, if you go to
Arras, the firing post at the back of the Citadel can be a
very moving place. When you see the names of the people of
Arras that were shot for various things. Accused of being resistance,
or maybe even were resistance in the last war. Among them
you can see Chef du Jardin, which is Head Gardener
Ė a war graves gardener shot by the German Gestapo and
SS who were in Arras at the time.
Some people try to say that, for the most part, many of
the SS were regular professional soldiers acting under
orders but it just doesn't wash. These were often brutal
and indiscriminate acts of terror or disproportionate punishment
No, no, no, no, no. You donít put that badge on unless
you know what youíre up to. Itís like thereís a hero
worship thing for this Michael Wittmann character out in
Normandy. No doubt a very able tank commander, better than
me, but to turn his grave into some sort of shrine that
people put crosses on? The guy was an out and out Nazi and
itís not really appropriate, is it? There probably were
many Germans who were doing their bit for their country
and tying to make their lives better, but we need to
remember that Hitler took power via democratic process.
There was a bit of German resistance.
A bit of one, probably not as healthy as weíd like to
think and probably not as big as our own one would have
been if theyíd got here.
The theory goes that if they had invaded here it would
have shortened the war by at least three years because of
the resistance we could have achieved and the blockading
of the German supplies by the navy. You saw what happened
to the German troops in the Channel Islands w
I think probably, by now, we would all perhaps have been
happy to live and may well have seen it as a war of
liberation. Itís a long time now and the precedent for
that would have been the Alsatians who were annexed as
part of the 1871 Franco-Prussian war. Then, in 1914, when
the French rolled across the border in revenge and they
expected everyone to come out with flowers and bunting
they were actually opposed by an Alsace-raised German unit
saying: ďMy dad may have been French but weíve been
German for forty years now and Iím quite happy being
German thank you.Ē Itís interesting to see how our grandparents
would have seen it Ė Iím visiting my grandfather this
afternoon Ė heís 89 and fought in Normandy in
the last war. And if Iíd been going around saying ďWhat
a result yesterday, eh Granddad? 4-1 to Germany, itís fantastic
isnít it?Ē (Both laugh) He might have a
What are your most vivid memories of tours that you have
taken in the past?
Thereíve been individual cemetery visits where Iíve
been able to take people back to see a relative's grave
that have been particularly poignant. Gallipoli especially,
because itís a long way to go to get someone out there.
And most people will just roll up a piece of paper with
Gallipoli written on it and throw it in the waste paper
basket and say ďWhat a waste of life.Ē They havenít
actually ever studied the campaign and how close it was. Even though there was the folly to think it up
theyíve not looked at the Heath Robinson tenacity of the
men who were there and how much they achieved while they
Itís the lions led by donkeys criticism, isnít it?
I think, in this case, it was lions led by lions, but maybe a
donkey came up with the idea in the first place. Thatís
probably a more realistic viewpoint.
They didnít consolidate, because they achieved the
beachhead and sat around. The troops were swimming every
day while the Turks regrouped and dug-in.
We sent the wrong people in to lead because by then the
western front was the only place where the war could be
won. We couldnít afford to send the right troops in and
we did find three or four divisions that could have made
the difference we just put General Stopford in charge Ė
the less said about him the better. Like most military
historians, not even most but all military historians,
youíll find that weíre quite fair and weíre
certainly not scathing of the high command in The Great
War. We certainly understand what they were going through.
You canít compare Haig with Wellington, for example.
Wellington had 200,000 men under his command and Haig had
2.5 million. So Wellington would have been a corps
commander in the first world war and the same with Montgomery.
Iíve just taken a school on tour Ė I do one school
that Iím very fond of and one of the questions they were
asked to study before they went away was: ďWas Haig the
butcher of The Somme?Ē Which sounds like a very reasonable
question to ask until itís pointed out that, actually,
Haig wasnít in charge of The Somme, Haig was in charge
of the whole British army across the Western front. One
of his generals, Rawlinson, was in charge of The Somme and
every now and again Haig would check with him to see how
it was going but he also had his eyes on other things
going on across the country. Therefore, the better
question would be either ďWas Rawlinson the butcher of
The Somme?Ē or ďWas Haig the butcher of World War
I?Ē And if you are going to say he is then you have to
analyse his performance in 1918 where the British army had
180 days of continual victories. And only one side crosses
no manís land with a white flag, and itís not us.
Itís not so easy as to just put a white van manís
stamp on it and say "That bloke's a butcher.
And retrospect is a great thing as well.
Yes, it is and military historians Ė weíre often referred
to as being revisionists when, in fact, history shows us
that we are revertists because what weíre trying to do
is bring the country back to the conclusion that they made
between 1918 and 1923. Which is when we had the enquiry
where they looked into the war and came out with the fact
that we had actually won the war on the western front and
therefore actually won The Great War, albeit at a huge cost.
After a few years have elapsed things are seen totally out
of context arenít they? These myths become reality.
That's right. The revisionists were led by people like
Alan Clark Ė lions led by donkeys and the movie Oh! What A Lovely
War which is a great piece of cinematography and says more
about the sixties when it was made than it does about The
Great War. Thatís when the revisionists came and said
ďLetís re-invent what happened.Ē But from the 1980s
onwards, thereís been a general mood to simplify things a
little bit and, by the way, when these guys came up with
these new theories in the sixties no records were released.
At that time they were still classified. Now you can
go down to the national archives and you can look at the
staff work that was involved in one regiment on one day. And to think that somehow they were sipping champagne in a
chateau thirty miles behind the lines just doesnít add
up. And when you see that, statistically, whether itís
from the rank of Brigadier to Lieutenant General you had a
higher chance of dying in The Great War than any other
rank. Because we lost nearly 400 Generals in The Great
The officers were often very clearly marked and the enemy
would try to pop them off first.
Yes, very much so. It was 100 years ago roughly and then it was only 100 years between The
Great War and Napoleon and Wellington waving at each other
on the field of battle. And weíve now come 100 years on
from that again and so Waterloo was as old fashioned to
the people in The Great War as that is to us. Waterloo is
now ancient history but there would have been people in
the trenches talking about their great grandfathers who fought
at Waterloo. Itís a fascinating subject, isnít it? To
come back to your question though, I think one stand-out memory
was when we took a Canadian regiment back to Dieppe and unveiled
a memorial and we had twelve veterans on board at Dieppe.
And since that time, eight of those guys have passed on. We
wonít get again twelve veterans in one place and time
talking about their experiences. We had the local
population, who remembered the Dieppe raid, and one nun who
was 95 who at that time refused a German order to only nurse the Germans.
She said ďIíll treat everyone.Ē And she almost
risked her own life to treat these Canadians. And we got
them all reunited again and had a pipe band playing on the
beach and even arranged for a Spitfire to fly over for
them and they were all crying as much as me. So thatís
one memory that will stay for a long, long time. We flew guys
back from Afghanistan who are serving today to take part
in that ceremony. Iíve taken Lancashire Fusilier veterans
back to Monte Casino who were present at a Victoria Cross action
and to go through the ground with them and find out
exactly what happened is fascinating.
Didnít New Zealanders take it in the end?
Yes, they were there. It was a very international affair
and some of the bravest fighting was from Indian and
Ghurka troops. Also French Algerians as well. The
Americans crossing the Rapido river was the Americanís
most severe loss until then. If it hadnít have been for Omaha beach
later it would have been a landmark disaster in the
history books and a text book 'how not to do it'. They had a
rough, rough time out there.
If someone is thinking about embarking on one of your
tours, what sorts of things should they do to prepare for
They donít need to do any background reading because we provide
that and we send out a reading list anyway. They need to
bring a pair of boots, a sense of humour and they need to
be aware that we have a wet weather programme that
involves them... getting wet! (Both laugh)
Have you ever had anyone complain abut the mud or the
Honours Guided Tour
No, thereís only once we had to stop a tour because it
was that bad but, do you know what? The same people that
evening said ďCan we go out again now because itís
stopped raining?Ē We did a twilight walk. We provide all
the relevant knowledge that people will need.
Nobody fell in a trench?
Weíve had a few little hiccoughs. You canít be in a
industry like ours without having a few glitches. Stolen
passport, lost medication, road accident. These sorts of
things happen in life, donít they? But really, because
the guides are usually ex-military or ex-emergency
services or ex-teachers and all have got their Gilt Badge,
so youíre in safe hands. They are not afraid to make
decisions and are risk-aware and not risk-averse.
In what direction are your planning to take Battle Honours
in the future?
The one that itís currently on which is one of Ė
consolidation's the wrong word really in this climate.
Weíve not been effected by the climate like the larger companies
have because their margins are wider. And weíre fairly
high-end, really, when it comes to pricing because of the
quality of the product. But we will continue to chug along
offering tours for small groups walking all around the
globe, up to twenty tours a year. That way Iíve got
control over the quality of the product. What I wouldnít
want to do is expand, become more accessible but then
dilute what we do. Because I think weíve got it about
right and weíre starting to become the tour company for
tour guides and we have quite a few guides booking as
passengers on our tours. Some people say they may be
seeing our trade secrets but I think thatís the best
compliment we can get.
Thatís a really great plaudit that they're dong that.
Yes. So we get a good mix and bunch of people on our tours
Ė there'll be enthusiasts, quite a few first-timers but
you find, with The Great War especially, there's no such thing
as a one-timer. It gets into your skin and you may come on
the tour for closure but it opens up more questions and
you want to go back and back and back.
I still plan to go to Arnhem. I donít know why but I
need to go there but something is drawing me there. I have
some great Dutch friends and theyíre very Anglophile
Itís quite an over-populated country as well. You think
we have problems with our roads but as soon as you go
across the border from Belgium to Holland, Iím
invariably in a contra-flow in tailbacks somewhere and
itís really frustrating.
I went to a celebration where three villages met in a
hall, which was like a big warehouse, and they drank and
partied. Now, Iím over six foot, but most of the people
there, ladies include, were as tall or much taller than
me. I donít know why theyíve all inherited the tall
My grandfatherís memory of Holland is crowds of people
coming out and cheering them wherever they went. He was
liberating people all the way through and he ended up, in
the winter of í44, at a place called Valkenswaard. He
was an 'advance airfield maker' for the RAF and they would
go into a field, create an airfield, and then the Spitfires
or Mustangs and Typhoons by that time would land and
heíd re-arm them and make sure the airfield was up and running.
One day, he wandered up to the Dutch boy who on the fence
nearby and starving, and he managed to get him some
chocolate from his mates. Now, that chap became the mayor of
Valkenswaard. He's called Tise and in the late 1970s I used to
get the best Christmas presents ever off of him. He still
comes over from time to time to see my grandfather whoís
90-odd now and not in the best of health and wonít travel
again. And Tise will never forget that one incident. A lot of the Dutch people donít forget what
Itís funny, the school trip Iíve just been on and
their French teacher came, who was French, and a lot of
the children will see a cemetery with 12,000 graves and
think ďWhat a waste of life.Ē Then, when you take
a French person like her there and ask her what she thinks
that the dead came from different countries to liberate
France from an invader and she said. ďWaste cannot be
the word we use.Ē Duty and sacrifice arenít words that
come so easy to us these days, are they?
No. And on that key note Iíd like to thank you for that insight
Clive and wish you the best of luck with your future plans
Thank you David. You too.