Mount Harriet Photos

Recently I was lucky enough to be able to go to the Falklands with elements of the army as the attached academic on their battlefield study. The islands are utterly incredible, but one of the most particularly striking sites was Mount Harriet, where the Royal Marines of 42 Commando wrested control of the hill from the Argentine defenders on the night of 11-12 June, 1982. Thanks to excellent planning, and brilliant co-operation between different branches of the Task Force, the hill was taken with the loss of just two men.


But one of the most remarkable aspects of the battle was its legacy, and how that can still be seen on the hilltop. It really is a time capsule. You can explore all of the old Argentine positions, finding little pieces of equipment dotted around the rocks. I’ve included a few photos below of this amazing place.

However, this alone isn’t what is so amazing about Harriet – impressive that it is. Instead, what’s incredible is that the summit of the slope is like a time capsule. The hill is littered with the detritus of war, from small personal items evoking such pathos, Like shoes or razor blades.

But you can also see the defensive positions and remnants of heavy weapons that should have made this natural fortress utterly impervious. The views from the summit, down to where the Royal Marines attacked from, and the surrounding hills, are commanding to say the least.


It really is an incredible place.


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South Africans on the Somme


100 years ago, the Battle of Delville Wood was being fought. It was one of the many engagements that made up the Battle of the Somme, and part of the wider Battle of Bazentin Ridge.

The battle saw the debut of the South African Overseas Expeditionary Force on the Western Front. They took Delville Wood on the 15th of July 1916, and they held on grimly during numerous German counterattacks, until they were relieved.

The South Africans held the wood until 19 July, at a cost in casualties similar to those of many British brigades on 1 July. They lost 2,536 men in the attacks, counter-attacks, and defence in this small stretch of the front.

Delville Wood is now the site of the South African National Memorial, which was opened in 1926. There’s some great original footage here of the unveiling of the memorial – and you can really see the destruction of the wood as there are virtually no trees standing.

The memorial building itself is near the centre of the wood, with this rather moving inscription in English and Afrikaans:

Their ideal is our legacy.
Their Sacrifice our Inspiration.

The memorial commemorates not only the actions of the South Africans at Delville Wood, but also all those who fought and died in the battles of the First World War, both in Europe and elsewhere in the world. But it was only recently that the names of 1100 black and coloured troops from the South African Native Labour Corps who served as stretcher bearers and trench diggers were added to a remembrance wall.


There is also a small museum designed to look like the Castle of Good Hope in Cape Town. Disappointingly, on my last two visits (even on 2 July 2016) the museum has been closed. I hope it is now open to tell the story of the South Africans at war.

Of the wood itself, while it looks full only one tree is an “original” hornbeam that survived the fighting. It is marked by a small plaque and shows battle damage. The rest of the hornbeam and beech trees were destroyed, and those there now are oak and birch trees planted by the South African government.

The wood is enormously peaceful, but it’s easy to see the scars of the war here. The trenches are still visible in the trees, and little memorials are still dotted around, such as pointing out where the South African HQ was.

Across the road is the Delville Wood Cemetery. It is the third largest British cemetery on the Somme, with 5,523 graves, and was created after the Armistice by concentrating a number of smaller cemeteries from the area, as well as those recovered from the battlefields. As a testament to the level of fighting here and in the immediate surrounds, two thirds of these are unidentified.

Delville Wood does not hold the same resonance for South Africans as Vimy Ridge for the Canadians, or Villers-Bretonneux or Gallipoli do for Australians. I think that is due to the contested and divided nature of South African 20th century history. Commemoration of these times remains difficult as it remains a painful issue about what is remembered – though it was good to see President Jacob Zuma lay a wreath at the memorial.

Delville Wood is an important site that helps people remember those who went before and fought for their country, and to my mind one of the most remarkable sites on the Western Front. I certainly recommend you visit it.



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The Hillman Bunker Complex

As today is the anniversary of D-Day, I thought I’d put up a few photos of my recent trip to Normandy, specifically looking at the Hillman Bunker complex.


The Hillman bunker complex is a 24 hectare site made up of 18 concrete bunkers crisscrossed by trenches. The site was a defensive command post on the Côte de Nacre, but was unfinished when the Allies arrived on D-Day. Originally it was surrounded by  barbed wires and a mine field, and designed to provide an observation platform

It was captured by the 1st Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment who overran the position after landing at Sword Beach that morning. It saw considerable heroism and acts of tenacious attack on defence – on both sides. There was J Hunter’s charge which singlehandedly led to the capture of one of the outlying bunkers, and the stubborn defence of Colonel Krug and his men from the 736 Grenadier Regiment, who held out overnight with two other officers and 70 men – only surrendering the following day.

The Hillman complex is now a memorial to the Suffolk Regiment, and is a great site to explore, with much of it still open to visitors. There are three main bunkers with Tobruk pits that you can climb up inside (complete with range indicators based on church steeples), observation cupolas, trenches, a water reservoir, a cook house, a guard post… even the old water tank – all of which you can see in the pictures below.



Hillman is easy to find, and definitely worth a visit. It is on the Rue Suffolk Regiment, just south of Colleville-Montgomery. It can be reached by following the D60 north out of Caen, then turning north-east onto the D60 into Colleville-Montgomery.

Hillman may be off the beaten track, and is not often featured on the regular tourist trail, but I would highly recommend going. From it you can look down to the coast and Sword Beach, past another former German gun emplacement, and really get a sense of how far in land the British were trying to push on D-Day.

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Forgetting the War

I’ve just seen the trailer below for a new documentary called Almost Sunrise about two US veterans and their attempts to move on from their experiences in Iraq as they attempt to readjust to being civilians


The film’s website tells us that Tom Voss and Anthony Anderson served in Iraq, and since their return home have both struggled with depression, to the extent that they contemplated suicide. In order to try and master their fates, the two embark on a massive 2,700 mile walk across the country from Wisconsin to California, “in order to reflect on their haunting experiences of war and to ultimately, save themselves.”

Military personnel struggling on their return from conflict is not new, and their battles with reconciling what they did when in action with the moral code of a society removed from war have been studied before. But it can never be highlighted enough. This, like anything else, takes time to heal. And sometimes time alone is not enough.

The subject of transition into civilian life from the military is something I’ve worked on and highlighted before here, but it does seem to attract far more attention in the US than in the UK. Why is this? Certainly one major part of it is the cultural difference between the US and the UK, and the place the veteran has in our societies – and the questions about what we as civilians owe them, if anything, in return for their service.

Also,  I can’t help but notice that this seems to add to the latest trend in film-making when it comes to war films; that the focus is now more on the legacy of the war at home after the conflict for those who endured it, rather than the war itself.

It looks like an amazingly powerful film, and I’ll certainly try and track this film down from the UK.

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‘Chosen Men’ (2016)

I have a real interest in the study of veterans, veteran culture, and the process of transition from military to civilian life. So I’m pleased to have found the following  trailer for a new documentary on the British military and the transition back into civilian life, due to be released in the UK in 2016.

The producer and director is former Rifleman Aaron Sayers who, having served in the Army until 2002, has direct knowledge of the transition process, and so is well placed to comment and document the sometimes complicated path from army life to civvy street that veterans can experience.

The title Chosen Men refers back to the special terms used to describe Riflemen in Wellington’s army in the Peninsular who were particular soldiers of merit that could be trusted to lead a half platoon in the absence of an officer or an NCO – so effectively  Lance Corporal.

What the trailer below, and find out more about the film here. I’ll certainly be seeking it out on its release!



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The Sir John Monash Centre, Villers-Bretonneux

In December 2015, the Australian Department of Veterans’ Affairs announced that construction would begin on the new Sir John Monash Centre at the Australian National Memorial near Villers-Bretonneux, France.

This brand new interpretive centre will tell the story of Australian involvement in France and Belgium in the First World War. The Centre is named after General Sir John Monash, who led the Australian Corps with outstanding success on the Western Front in 1918, including the famous 4 July 1918 victory at Le Hamel, which transformed First World War tactics. Situated at the Australian National Memorial near Villers-Bretonneux, it will be linked inexorably to the site of Australian sacrifice in foreign fields.

Centenaries and anniversaries are popular times for new and refurbished museums. The new memorial museum at Verdun, for example, opened this year, and the Sir John Monash Centre will open for Anzac Day 2018.

The Centre looks like a fantastic layout already, with large investment in multi-media to give an immersive experience. You can see a preview of it here:

I’m excited to see how the project develops, and will no doubt go once it’s opened in 2018. I’m sure it will become a favourite stop on the battlefield tourist trail for European visitors, and a site of pilgrimage for Australians.


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The new Verdun Memorial Museum

Really excited to see the below video for the Verdun Memorial, which is due to open after an extensive redevelopment. It first opened in 1967, and has been extensively modernised to commemorate the centenary of one of the most famous battles of the First World War.

As I have more than a passing interest in redeveloped military museums, it’s exciting to see another project so close to completion! With its forts, trenches and cemeteries, the Verdun battlefield is an incredible site to visit. This looks like an exciting, modern museum that promises to deliver a great visitor experience. I’ll certainly be going back as soon as I can to see this new museum!

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Hougoumont 200 years on

Last year I was lucky enough to visit the battlefield of Waterloo, just ahead of the bicentenary commemorations.

One place I desperately wanted to visit was Chateau d’Hougoumont, the stronghold on Wellington’s right flank that proved so decisive in the outcome of the battle.

Until recently, the extensive buildings have been in private hands, but were extensively refurbished and redeveloped to open to visitors (you can read more about that here).

It was amazing walking around such an iconic site, so steeped in history!


The famous North Gate. Breached during the battle, Wellington said ‘The success of the Battle of Waterloo turned on the closing of the gates’


The walls of the grounds still have their loop holes. Recent excavations suggest the French may have gotten into the gardens – something not previously know


The inside of the chateau


The South Gate


The view up to Wellington’s position from the chateau




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Africa and the First World War

In November I was lucky enough to be invited on to the Islam Channel to discuss the First World War in Africa.

As you can imagine, the African continent was shaped and influenced by the war in different ways, with campaigns being fought in the north, the south west, and in particular in the east in German East Africa.

It was great to be able to talk about the campaigns, the vital role that African soldiers played in the armies of the belligerents, as well as expand on some of the stories of other volunteers from the Commonwealth, such as those from the Caribbean.

Here’s the interview, hope you enjoy it!

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The BBC’s new War and Peace adaptation looks pretty good!

The BBC have just released the trailer for this winter’s adaptation of Tolstoy’s epic War and Peace. A six-part mini-series, it has been made by BBC Wales and directed by Tom Harper (of Peaky Blinders fame). With an all-star cast, including Paul Dano, Lily James, Jim Broadbent, and Gillian Anderson, it has all the ingredients to be a smash.

But can Tolstoy’s epic narrative sweep be translated to the small screen satisfactorily? The trailer suggests it can!

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