Big thank you from

The 'who, why and what' of battlefield tours

An interview with Rev.Canon Alex Cheevers

EACH year Rev Canon Alex Cheevers takes local people on guided tours of the battlefields and war cemeteries of Europe and this year he has a very special tour planned to coincide with the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.

Q. Who goes on a battlefield tour? Is it mainly ex-military people?

A. Far from it. Normally a good percentage of people on a tour would be couples. Probably the majority of them would be aged from middle age upwards, but there would usually be the whole spread of ages. As well as couples there would also be a number of ladies travelling, where two friends 'team up' for the tour. And there would be one or two ladies travelling alone.
There would also be some men, either travelling alone or where they have 'teamed up' with another man. One man recently treated himself to a tour as his 65th birthday present. There would be the occasional person with military background, but they would be the exception. The youngest person I've had on a tour was fourteen.

Q. Is it not morbid visiting war cemeteries and battlefields?

A. No. It can certainly be very moving, but people talk about being uplifted to see the beautifully kept Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries and memorials. Very often a woman with no interest in history, and who went on the tour simply because her husband or partner wanted to go, has come home uplifted, amazed at how much she has enjoyed and been moved by the experience - and how much she enjoyed discovering our past, walking where history was made. And I always plan a tour so that there is one day completely free in a city such as Bruges or Paris so people can relax and 'do their own thing'. Also, each evening we are on the Continent people can choose their own restaurant and choose what they want to eat. Experiencing the local culture is an important part of the whole experience.

Q. Do you have any special plans for 2012?

A. Yes, I am in the process of becoming a certified member of the Guild of Battlefield Guides. I still have nine submissions to make to the Guild. Two of these are lectures I give to examiners, to be done in France in the context of the battlefields, and the other seven are written submissions. I hope to have my membership completed in 2012. Also, I have two tours planned for this year, one being 'The Best of Dunkirk, Ypres, Passchendael, Messines and the Somme', being at the Somme for 1st July for the Commemorations of the start of the Battle of the Somme — with a free day in Bruges, the Venice of the north.
The other tour covers northern France, Belgium, Germany and Holland, taking in the Battle of the Bulge, following the Royal Ulster Rifles throughout the Second World War.
The free day on this tour is in Cologne, Germany. My other project for 2012 is that I have started preparing another new tour for 2013. This will be my seventh different tour I have developed and led and will centre on northern France - with a free day in Paris.

Q. Why do you do this all?

A. A number of answers. First, those who lie in foreign fields deserve our remembrance and respect. Each tour is my tribute to them, and each tour enables those on board to pay their own tribute.
Secondly, I have always loved history and enjoy researching and finding new sites for people to visit.
And finally, I get so much pleasure from making it possible for other people to visit the places they would always have wanted to visit, but would not have been able to visit on their own.
If anyone has any questions or would like more information, please contact The Rev Canon Alex Cheevers on 9269 0701.

Ulster Star