'Simply unforgettable'

'My first pilgrimage. Not my last.'

'Having always been very interested in the history of warfare, I will be the first to admit I knew very little about WW1.

The learning began instantly. We set off on our journey via the first early LeShuttle from Folkestone. Whilst on that short journey, Andy began to explain how the Great War started and was answering the many questions I posed. The way Andy explains things made me feel comfortable and confident in asking more.

We arrived in France and Andy took me to the various memorials, cemeteries and battlefields on the Somme. Using technology and unimaginable hours of research, Andy enabled me to understand what the soldiers experienced, saw and even where they took shelter in some pictures. Frequently Andy would stand with his arms outstretched to help orientate the who, what, where and when. For me, this was an awakening. We can read it all in books but being there, and seeing how the trenches advanced, and where some battalions made their final stop was so very interesting and really puts life in perspective!

We moved on up to Ypres where Andy added new layers of detail visiting various cemeteries and battlefields. I recall standing in a pristine cemetery and Andy was gazing at the surrounding fields, before quietly remarking, 'the real story is what happened out there'. 

The great thing about this was Andy has the ability to explain how the soldiers were advancing etc, but always had an individual anecdote about exactly where we were standing at the time, and really made me feel the story rather than hear it.

That evening we stayed in a lovely house in central Ypres. We had a lovely evening whilst visiting the Menin Gate (where I was lucky enough to stand amongst members of the Last Post Association).

The next day was ANZAC Day and we attended the Dawn Service at Polygon Wood. This was simply stunning.

We had, by then, been joined by Andy's other guests, Miles and Sandy and where Andy took us through the Ypres Salient visiting places Miles' family member had fought and died. Andy had researched this to an astounding level of fine detail and tracked down where it was more than likely that Miles' relative had died on the road to St Julien in April 1915 when gas was first used. 

Witnessing this, I pondered how many hours of research Andy would have undertaken so that he could deliver such a personal pilgrimage. He told me that he'd been out there a few weeks beforehand on a recce. Witnessing this gave me a clarity on life.  I was part of something that money cannot buy. I watched Miles have the ability to visit the place a young family member fell in service of his country which, without Andy's passion and dedication, may not have ever been possible. Andy then arranged for Miles to lay a wreath at the Menin Gate Last Post Act of Remembrance. Andy went above and beyond.

On our journey home, Andy had one last surprise. He took me to Talbot House, where we enjoyed a lovely breakfast. An amazing end to an amazing trip. Simply unforgettable.

On a final note. I will be forever grateful for the time Andy took for this tour. It gave me a new perspective on my own life and gave me a new passion for the subject. I do not stop speaking about my time with Andy to friends and colleagues; some of whom now jokingly call me, 'World War Wiltshire'.

Without hesitation, I would urge anybody thinking about attending a pilgrimage to go with Andy [a guide]. Without Andy's know-how, I would have blindly driven through the countryside, unaware that in the surrounding fields the extent of the destruction, bloodshed and sacrifice just a little over 100 years ago . 

Andy's pilgrimages are amazing; he caters for your understanding and, at a personal level, he feels like a best friend within minutes.

Liam Wiltshire'



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