I’ve found that blogging has opened no end of doors for me whether it be writing books and articles, my tour company or being invited onto the radio or television however I must admit that I wasn’t expecting what happened last Friday morning when I routinely checked my email as I do working from home, almost on a minute by minute basis.
There was an email from a gentleman working in a senior position at the Commonwealth War Graves Committee who had seen my various blog posts about my relation Reuel Dunn who fought the Red Baron in WW1.
My Lest We Forget WW1 concise history book promo video
I immediately gave him a call as he seemed a nice chap and was very interested in Reuel and what I had done. We talked for nearly half an hour though it could have been much more if we both didn’t have urgent work to attend to.
It was explained to me that the CWGC who oversee all such military cemeteries were already aware of Reuel and it being almost the 100th anniversary of his fateful encounter with Baron Von Richthofen, they wanted to raise public awareness of the larger battle that he was just a small part of and there are few more famous names in history than the Red Baron to do so. As a non-profit making organisation, they also wanted a way to demonstrate how the general public can use their website and other services to track down family members, often with only the most brief of details which is of course exactly what I had done.
It transpired that the CWGC might like to meet me in March and making film me in some way to mark the event and kill two birds with one stone.
This sounded tremendously excited as I was wondering how I myself might mark the 100th anniversary on this blog and in the real world and there were various possibilities muted including filming at my house, local museums or even going over to the Western Front to make a short documentary film there.
My In The Footsteps of Heroes book promo video
We ended the call and I tried to give the distinct impression that I was very flexible and enthusiastic to do anything before spending much of the day thinking about what might transpire.
Another surprise email or two later that night and Saturday night and I found myself being invited to France on Sunday. It all sounded a bit mad to be honest which Tim at the CWGC admitted himself. To go to Lille with just a few hours notice and meet someone I didn’t know at a place I had never been to and with no return ticket to do…. who knows what?
I always say how I am up for adventure and whatever opportunity comes my way so at 7am on Sunday morning, I made my way first to London and then onwards to northern France. It was all a little surreal and it made me think of Lawrence of Arabia going off to meet an unknown contact in the desert somewhere, to do… who knows what?
My contact was a little late due to prior filming commitments but after wandering around the heavily armed precincts of Lille station, we met up and immediately hit it off. Minutes later we were driving down towards Arras. Tim was even more fantastic than I thought and with a life time in the media and history/politics was a very interesting colleague but I’d like to think that I had made an impression of my own.
We went to a number of places that I had been to 3 years earlier as well as a few that were new to me. I have a feeling that they only expected me to say a few words but typically of me, I threw myself wholeheartedly into it all and rather than giving 10 second takes, ended up chatting for 3 or 4 minutes at a time about everything and anything. At one point I found myself driving along and talking to the camera in the front seat, explaining where we were going and why as if I were a professional presenter or documentary maker. I guess conducting all my tours and chatting away has given me an unusual skill-set!
We kind of winged the whole day and did various takes as not only will the video be on the official CWGC website but it is hoped we might even make BBC news! It was quite an amazing day and Tim himself said it was an adventure and a crazily fantastic day. I remember laughing a lot and making Tim laugh too, even at the grave of Reuel and I’m sure after 100 years, he must have had fun too if he was watching.
We progressed to various little-known places through little more than my memory and vague hunches which incredibly paid off well and allow me to keep up my tradition of never getting lost with my homing pigeon like sense of direction.
At one cemetery we went to, we visited the grave of a flyer named Charles who had witnessed Reuel and his plane. Sadly Charles too died 3 weeks later at the tail end of what is known as Bloody April. Tim had done some research on that day and it was really interesting to learn a little more of what happened. That cemetery was interesting too for it had French civilians, French and North African troops, British and Commonwealth and also several Germans buried there too and all under the shadow of a volcano like slag-heap, one of many that litter that corner of France.
At one point we attracted a local family who if my French understood correctly, took part in the new war film Dunkirk and who gave me warm and possibly slightly inebriated hugs as a thank-you to Reuel, Charles and no doubt over a million others.
Rather frozen, hungry, and quite needing the toilet, we made our way back to Calais where we were to drive onto the train under the sea before driving back along to London. There were 2-hour delays at passport control but funnily, considering what I wrote a few days, the time just flew as we chatted and laughed the night away and funnily enough Lawrence of Arabia came up in conversation several times.
It will take a few weeks to edit the film and there is a good possibility we will do something else before April but it is a reminder of what can happen if you can get your blog in front of the right people at the right time. I was just glad to go back to Reuel on this special year and talk about something I know a little about with some passion. I’ve been told that I will be able to use the finished film too so hopefully you will see it here on the 2nd April 2017.
Below is a brief video diary of my day out filming in France.