“Jeremy excels at bringing to life both the big picture and the specific incident, and above all, at humanizing the history of the Western Front through recounting the stories of the people who served there. He can immerse you in the collective experience of entire units and the personal lives of individuals while relating the whole to the landscape on which you are standing. As someone who had spent years reading innumerable archival documents and published primary and secondary sources before ever having the opportunity to set foot on a battlefield, I know that there is no substitute for experiencing first-hand the landscape of the Western Front. No amount of reading or poring over maps can fully prepare one to appreciate instantly the significance of the terrain itself as a primary source. This is why anyone, no matter how widely-read, benefits immensely from the knowledge of an experienced guide to the landscape, and I can think of no better guide to have than Jeremy. He can take you to what looks like an empty field, a rural village, or a grove of trees and transport you to the events that occurred there a century ago.
He is a born storyteller whose ability to entertain is underpinned by a scholar’s capacity to analyze, interpret, and enlighten. This combination is a rare gift. In short, he knows his stuff and has clearly mastered the relevant archival and published source material. If Jeremy held an academic appointment at a university, students would be lining up to take his courses.
Having toured with Jeremy on two different occasions, once by car, and the second time by bicycle, I can testify to how much greater the connection one makes with the landscape when cycling it. Novice cyclists need not fear the challenge, for there could be few people less conditioned to spending three consecutive days “in the saddle” than me, and it all went brilliantly. The landscape of the Canadian Corps’ 1918 battlefields was very forgiving, and any challenges for a non-cyclist like me (such as a couple of cobblestone paths and that head wind up to Monchy Le Preux) were met by the manageable pace set by Jeremy, good bicycles, and the moderate amount of training I did during the weeks preceding our trip.
None of this would have turned out as wonderfully as it did without the incredible preparatory work done by Jeremy before the tour. He visited the ground himself, cycled it to determine the best routes, and must have spent countless hours of research to develop an itinerary that was entirely tailored to our interests. Every stop at a cemetery, a point of tactical interest, or a key objective was accompanied by a rich array of operational context and fascinating stories. Like many successful set-piece battles, Jeremy rehearsed the tour and worked it out in advance to minute detail so that it all came off in fantastic fashion. I can’t think of a touring experience that better exemplifies the dictum of Lt-Gen Sir Arthur Currie, GOC Canadian Corps: “Thorough preparation must lead to success. Neglect nothing.”
Dr. David Campbell (author of ‘It Can’t Last Forever: The 19th Battalion and the Canadian Corps in the First World War’), Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, summer 2017
“I have had the pleasure of being on tour with Jeremy several times, and on the last two occasions we took to the battlefields by bicycle. Cycling offered a unique perspective of the battlefields as we were able to appreciate the terrain as we travelled and access areas that would have been difficult via car. We were also able to enjoy great company and beautiful countryside.
As we travelled, Jeremy was able to bring the battlefields to life. Throughout the tour he was able to point out key points and highlight key events. Innocuous looking fields, often off the beaten track, were brought to life with accounts of harrowing events or acts of tremendous bravery. Jeremy gave a unique insight to the events that had unfolded around us which would have been lost if we had merely sped from point to point in the enclosed cocoon of our car. We felt so much more connected with events. This was further enhanced through Jeremy’s use of firsthand accounts, war diaries and photos which he produced at key locations on the tours. He does his research thoroughly and ties it all together perfectly.
I cannot recommend Jeremy highly enough. He is knowledgeable, dedicated and diligent. And the inclusion of the bicycles, not only connects you to the battlefield in the way a car can’t, it adds an additional dimension that keeps everyone smiling in the bar at the end of the day. You certainly feel you have deserved that cold beer!”
Martin Prendergast, Berkshire, June 2017
“I was unsure what more Jeremy could bring to his battlefield tours by using bicycles but was amazed. Having done five tours with Jeremy by car and foot I was intrigued what difference being on a bike would make. As he had explained, it gave a much deeper perspective of the topography of land and the importance this had on battles. Most of these changes in gradient would have been unnoticeable by car but on a bike you appreciated what an undulation meant to the men moving forward into battle. Travelling by bike also gives you valuable thinking and reflection time between stops whilst also taking in the magnificent scenery and villages.
With Jeremy imparting so much incredibly detailed information and, most importantly to me, personal stories, being on the bike gave me time to take it all in. We were able to travel to more places and a more diverse selection of areas of interest that were not necessarily accessible by car. Jeremy geared the route to my fitness level. Being able to pay your respects at so many stunning cemeteries was also incredibly important to me and travelling by bike seemed to make this more personal as you had made the effort to cycle there rather than jumping in and out of a car. On a lighter note it is great fun and a wonderful way to earn your beer or wine in the evening as you sit and chat about the phenomenal day you have just had.”
Sally Weston, Bangkok, Thailand
“We visited the Somme during the 100th Anniversary of the 1916 Welsh Division attack onto Mametz wood. As a group of former Infantry officers from a Welsh Regiment, Mametz was firmly imprinted in our minds as an important moment in Regimental history. Jeremy put together an itinerary that placed the battle fully in context and, with a keen eye for ground and detail, brought the battlefield to life with a mix of his extensive knowledge and use of war diaries, medal citations and eyewitness accounts.
Ahead of our visit, I mentioned that my Great-Grandfather had been wounded whilst serving with the Devonshire Regiment. Jeremy took us to the likely site of his wounding and was able, using period mapping and the Battalion War Diary, to talk us through the action. It was incredibly moving to walk the ground, where 100 years earlier, my Great-Grandfather had moved with his Battalion into the attack. There is no way I would have found this location without Jeremy’s knowledge.
The cycling routes Jeremy selected were excellent and fully within the capabilities of the group. Traversing the battlefield by bicycle, rather than car or bus, greatly added to our appreciation of the importance of the ground of the Somme; Jeremy has an Infantryman’s eye for the impact of terrain and a clear understanding of the equipment and human aspects of warfare. Perhaps the best indicator of success is repeat business; we planned a 2017 visit immediately upon return from our Somme visit and this Summer we will return for our third trip led by Jeremy, this time to explore the events of 1918.”
Steve Mannings, Hampshire, June 2017
“I had the distinct pleasure in the summer of 2017 of participating in a three day cycling trip with Jeremy Banning and two other Canadian friends. I should add that this was my third First World War expedition since 2013 with Jeremy (surely positive testimony in of itself) but the first tour on a bicycle. I became aware on previous trips that Jeremy is a keen recreational cyclist and wondered if he might consider guiding a “Canadian-centric” trip. We were particularly interested in cycling the terrain of the Canadians during the Last 100 Days of 1918 in the areas of Amiens, Arras, the Canal du Nord, Bourlon Wood, and Cambrai. Neither myself or my companions had prior visits to these regions and we did not know if cycling these sectors was even a tenable consideration. Jeremy informed us that it definitely could be done and proposed an excursion.
What an experience! This was “custom touring” at its very best. This was not a ‘standard’ tour that Jeremy had conducted previously but a totally new itinerary that was specifically tailored to our interests (and fitness levels). While the general touring plan was known prior to our departure, it was not until we were underway that the full extent of Jeremy’s preparation (geographical reconnaissance, reading up on the Canadian Corps, and fact finding on specific Canadian soldiers) became apparent. This speaks volumes to his commitment to do the background research to ensure a personalised experience for his clients. Preparedness is what you get when you retain a professional guide of this calibre.
At least as important as the actual touring was the ‘fun factor’ during this outing. Jeremy has a tremendously engaging personality, a voice that never quits, and an infectious passion for his area of expertise. A perhaps unexpected aspect of touring with Jeremy is a daily little mystery or surprise that he keeps secret until you arrive at a destination where he will recount a poignant or otherwise compelling anecdote. All great fun.
If you have an interest in the First World War Western Front and enjoy cycling, this is your man. Unequivocally highly recommended and I am looking forward to the next time.”
Dr. Mark Sadler, Halifax, Nova Scotia, summer 2017
“We spent three fantastic days with Jeremy exploring the battlefields of the Somme, Arras and Loos – on bikes! As part of the trip Jeremy researched my grandfather’s story in the Irish Guards and found where and how he won his Military Cross (and got injured in the process). Jeremy is unbelievably knowledgeable about the battlefield sites specifically and about the First World War. He brings an incredible level of passion and insight to his subject. For both myself, and my son, who joined us, this was a poignant, indeed life changing experience. I can’t recommend Jeremy highly enough.”
John O’Brien, Surrey, May 2017
“I have travelled twice from Canada to France and on both occasions thoroughly enjoyed a WWI themed history tour with Jeremy Banning. The most recent visit was a cycling adventure (which I’d highly recommend). Regardless, I found Jeremy to be extremely well-informed as to the subject matter, prepared completely for our daily sojourns into the field, and a highly entertaining dinner companion for our daily wrap-ups. I fully intend to make future tours.”
Richard B. Stevens, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, summer 2017
“Thank you for the last few days on the battlefields of the Somme and Arras, and for providing your knowledge and experience. It was an extraordinary couple of days and while I ‘enjoyed’ them, it produced for me a mixture of great reflection, some depression and considerable impression. An odd word to use in the circumstances, but your knowledge brought these battles ‘alive’. I will still find it difficult to imagine the circumstances, but perhaps they put into greater context the way we live today.”
Tim Spratt, UK, summer 2015
Thanks to Jeremy for bringing alive the Somme & Arras for us. They have gone in a few short days from being just names, albeit iconic ones, to truly meaningful places which will always evoke memories of the dreadful and heroic events which took place there in the First World War.
Alex Vandeleur, UK, summer 2015