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I first visited the Somme and Ypres battlefields back in 1966 when I was just eighteen. I was returning from a holiday in France, and by chance found myself to be driving through somewhere called Picardy and the Somme.

I remember stopping to see a truly massive memorial which dominated the skyline - the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing on the Somme battlefield (see inset left). I was taken aback that the 72,000* plus names on the memorial were not all those British soldiers killed in the battle (as shocking as that would have been...) but ‘just’ those soldiers whose bodies were were either never found, or whose bodies were found but could not be identified (the latter being those servicemen whose headstone today reads ‘A soldier of the Great War known unto God’). I found this figure difficult to comprehend, especially as this figure got worse the more I learnt about what happened here. I could not help thinking that I was the same age (at that time) as so many of those names who were staring at me from the memorial walls.

As my then knowledge of the Great War was fairly sketchy I found difficulty, like so many casual visitors to the battlefield today, in transforming the landscape in my minds eye back to how it must have looked in 1916. I wanted to know exactly where the front line trenches were, and where exactly the many individual actions took place. More than anything I felt a need to understand what it must have been like for those who were there. What was the reality of trench warfare?

My ‘journey’ in answering these, and many other questions, has captivated my interest ever since that first visit. I must stress that I have never been one to collect military memorabilia, or have any great interest in the tactical aspects of warfare or militarism. My interest is solely from a social / humanitarian perspective, and the consequences of warfare, coupled with a perhaps somewhat naïve belief that understanding humankind's potential to indulge in such conflicts is perhaps one way of preventing a repetition.

The more I learnt about what these men endured, the more I thought that if I had been there, I would (at the very least) have hoped that future generations would take just one day or so out of their lives to try to understand what I, and countless others were experiencing. I doubt if I would have been one of those whose bravery would be remembered. Most likely I would have been just a typical nineteen year old from a town or village somewhere “back home”, almost paralysed with fear, a fear that would most likely come to an end on the hell they called the ‘Western Front’.

Since that first visit I have pursued a career in the police service (Superintendent, Dorset Police) as well as raising a family. Throughout this time my interest in the First World War, and the Somme, Ypres and Verdun Battles in particular, has continued. Over the past forty odd years I have returned to the battlefields countless times. I have also undertaken numerous private conducted tours to both the Somme, Ypres and Verdun battlefields whilst serving as a police officer, a background which served me well when I decided to establish my company after I retired in 1996.

I took the plunge and formed Somme Battlefield Tours Ltd, more as a way of sharing my interest with others as opposed to running the venture as a hard-nosed commercial business. For this reason I personally organised and accompanied every single one of the many, many conducted tours I have undertaken since starting our small company back in 1996 (now also with my wife Annette who switched career and joined me in 2004). Annette and I have, however, always avoided the temptation to expand what we do beyond the reach and scope of our personal involvement. This is important to us as we want to provide a quality personal service, which can not be found with so many larger companies today. This way you deal with us personally and not an employee!

In 2009 we decided to focus all our energies to providing self-drive tours to the Somme and Ypres battlefields, based on our many years experience of taking small groups.  Over the years we had seen so many people trying to find their war around the battlefields, then one day we though 'why not commit our tried and tested conducted tours to paper'  - and it worked.  It worked very well indeed (as you may have seen from the letters we have received).  Our much-praised self-drive tours are now extremely popular for the reasons we've outlined on the appropriate page of our website.

Organising our tours is has always been a labour of love with each conducted or self-drive tour taking on a character of its own. Without exception, everyone Annette and I have met has been good company and all have found the visiting the Somme, Ypres battlefields a most moving, interesting and rewarding experience.

Well I think that’s just about enough waffle about us.

Once again, thank you very much for visiting our web site.

Any comments or suggestions would be most welcome.

James Power

James Power is an Associate Member of the
Guild of Battlefield Guides and
Western Front Association




The Thiepval Memorial to the Missing

The casual visitor to the Thiepval Memorial could be forgiven for believing that the Memorial records all those soldiers whose bodies were never found. This is true to an extent but the term ‘missing’ more accurately means that the final resting place of those soldiers recorded on the memorial are not known. This can mean that either:

  1. The body of soldier in question was never found and today still lies beneath the ground somewhere
  2. The body was found and buried during the course of the war but the whereabouts of that place of burial has been lost
  3. The body was subsequently found but for whatever reason the identity of the soldier could not be established.  It is these servicemen who we today find in just about all the cemeteries marked as ‘A soldier of the Great War known unto God’.

The Thiepval Memorial to the Missing records the names of those British and South African servicemen who have no known grave. Visitors should be mindful that:

The memorial does not include all those Australian, New Zealand, Canadian and Indian soldiers who fought on the Somme battlefield and whose bodies were never found or identified, for they are recorded on separate memorials (Villers Bretonneux for Australians, Vimy Ridge for Canadians and Neuve Chapelle for Indian soldiers).

The memorial does not include the tens of thousands of French soldiers who died on the Somme battlefield during the time that they ‘held the line’ here from the start of the Great War up to the Autumn of 1915.

Furthermore, the Thiepval memorial does not include a further 14,600 + British soldiers who were similarly ‘lost’ and never found when the German Army swept across the Somme battlefield in the Spring of 1918 (...and swept back in the August of 1918 leading to the eventual defeat of the German Army). The battlefield visitor needs to drive another mile or so east of Thiepval to the village of Pozieres to see the names of these soldiers commemorated at the Pozieres Military Cemetery (on the main D929 Albert-Bapaume road approx 1/4 mile south of Pozieres).


My wife and me (left of photo) with one of our many tour groups

Memorial_video

Our tribute
to all who fell l in the
Great War 1914-1918


Please note that if you are thinking of booking a self-drive tour then it is advisable to book as far ahead as possible as the centenary years 2014-2018 are understandably attracting more visitors than usual and that consequently the few hotels we work with (because they are some of the best) are filling many months ahead (hotels may get fully booked but the battlefields still largely remain peaceful and easy to explore using our written guides).


Somme Battlefield Tours Ltd
19 Old Road, Wimborne, Dorset, UK BH21 1EJ
Tel: 07776 195773  (office) or 01202 840520 (home/out of office phone)
Email: jamespower@btinternet.com

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