My fascination with the First World War used to be seen as geeky. Not any more ...

I am delighted that I am joined by glamorous young Royals

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I have been visiting First World War battlefield sites since the mid-1980s, when I was in my twenties: even back then I was on the outskirts of what most people considered were suitable or mainstream pastimes. Of course, in the City of London in the 1980s, that was mainly drinking and making money.

I went to the 75th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings to commemorate the start of eight months of bitter fighting and the campaign which resulted in the founding of Anzac Day and the dawning of national consciousness for Australia and New Zealand. Likewise with the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme – in which, on the first day alone, 20,000 British troops and 7,000 French were killed in unimaginable mud, blood and fear. And, before politics took over my life, I used to lead tours over the Channel.

Farage’s Forages was a combination of my passion for First World War history and the knowledge gleaned from years of study, together with my other passions for a good, well-cooked meal, a pint of ale (or three) and the company of friends, old and new.

In November 2008, I stood at the Cenotaph in London as three veterans placed poppy wreaths in memory of their fallen comrades. But these weren’t just any three veterans: they were Henry Allingham, Harry Patch and Bill Stone, the last surviving representatives from each of the services who served in the Great War.

A friend and I had managed to sneak past the security using a combination of British Legion staff passes and my Western Front Association membership, and we stood only yards away from these three quite astonishing men.

Henry Allingham – who served with the Royal Naval Air Service, saw the horrors of Ypres and the Somme with the Army and was one of the earliest members of the Royal Air Force – brought tears to thousands of eyes as he batted away the serving member of the RAF who was looking after him and insisted that he place the wreath on the Cenotaph himself.

It seems hard to believe, but nobody had heard of Harry Patch before a BBC documentary in 1998: he simply never spoke about his experiences, not even to his wife. I wish I had been there in 2007 when he gave his impromptu speech on the Western Front at the 90th anniversary of Passchendaele, a soliloquy where he asked the ghosts that seemed to surround him in his private memories of 90 years before – standing where those trenches were – if he really was the last one left. 

I thought on that day that when the last living links with the war had died, which they sadly did within a year, people would start to lose interest. But this week alone shows how wrong I was: the hobby I have had for years which has seen me lead battlefield tours to the fields of Flanders used to make me something of a geek. But now as the front pages are filled with the glamorous young Royals leading the nation’s reflective remembrance of those who made the ultimate sacrifice, I am delighted that I am joined in my fascination.

READ MORE:
My father threw away his poppy in disgust
Sombre TV moments filled a day when we were reminded of how war’s lessons are never learnt

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