A series of six journeys through six centuries of warfare in the company of military historian Professor Richard Holmes. Battlefields were Holmes’s natural habitat, and defined him as a television presenter, often up to his knees in mud for the BBC series War Walks in the 1990s, in which he toured the trenches of the First World War.
Dates such as 1066 and names such as Dunkirk often strike a chord of nostalgia, but the details of the historic events associated with them are forgotten. In the War Walks 1-2 Richard Holmes takes us on fascinating journey through time to visit twelve battlefields throughout Britain, Northern France and Belgium that mark crucial moments in Britain’s bloody and turbulent history. From Hastings to Dunkirk, Agincourt to The Somme, Richard vividly recreates the atmosphere of these key battles in our history.
With his expert knowledge of weapons and warfare, Richard Holmes provides a brilliantly clear picture of the events which led up to each battle, the conflicts themselves, and the people who fought them. Using practical ‘views of the field’, he travels the battlefields as they exist today, pointing out their places of interest, paying tribute to the men who fought there, and bringing history to life.
In War Walks 2 Richard Holmes takes us on a fascinating journey through time to visit six battlefields that mark crucial moments in Britain’s bloody and turbulent history. This series focuses on a selection of battles, six fought in Britain – or, in one case, on a struggle that straddled the Channel.
Part 1: Hastings
1066 was the year that invasion changed the course of English history. A duke became a conqueror. He landed, beat King Harold at the Battle of Hastings, and brought about the end of Anglo-Saxon England. Hastings was more than an epic struggle between two towering personalities. It was that rare event, an utterly decisive battle. One side defeated the other — and killed its leader into the bargain — in a clash which decided the war. The long-term political, social and economic changes that flowed from it were nothing short of revolutionary. Professor Richard Holmes walks and rides over the Hastings battlefield that marks a turning point in British history, handling the weapons and equipment of the period and becoming a Norman knight to reveal just how close William the Conqueror came to defeat.
Part 2: Bosworth
His helmet encircled with a golden crown, Richard III, King of England, prepared himself for ordeal by battle. He rode out against the man who had vowed to wrest the crown from his head, and sought to kill him in hand-to-hand combat. That spectacular flourish took place on the 22nd of August, 1485. The fields near the little town of Market Bosworth, saw the last battle of the Wars Of The Roses, that bloody clash between the Houses of York and Lancaster. Professor Richard Holmes visits a battlefield on which the course of British history was changed, as Henry Tudor’s dynasty toppled that of King Richard III. Holmes encounters members of the Wars of the Roses Federation, who gather to re-enact the battle, and meets present-day supporters of Richard, convinced that he was not the soulless villain portrayed by Shakespeare.
Part 3: Battle of Naseby
This episode covers the battlefield of Naseby, the Civil War’s decisive clash. It was there on the 14th of June, 1645, that Charles lost the war and began his slide down the long slope that ended on a scaffold in Whitehall. Professor Richard Holmes follows the campaign that led to the Battle of Naseby, starting at the king’s headquarters in Oxford. On the battlefield itself he is able to touch the past, as metal detectors unearth musket balls buried for more than 350 years. Members of the Sealed Knot Civil War Reconstruction Society demonstrate the lethal power of the musket and the pike.
Part 4: Boyne
Few battles are commemorated as passionately as the Boyne. The clash between two kings, James II and his son in law, William of Orange, still resounds through Irish history. The defeat of James II by William III in 1690 is commemorated every July, when the Protestant marching season begins in Northern Ireland. One street in a Protestant area of Belfast is dominated by an image of William crossing the River Boyne. His victory over King James II in 1690 became a powerful symbol of Protestant ascendancy. It lies at the heart of the divisions and distrust that separates Ireland’s two communities. Richard Holmes visits the site of the Battle of the Boyne, the defeat of James II by William III in 1690, and shows how the battle could have been over before it was fought – if a Jacobite gunner had been a little luckier, William would have been killed while inspecting enemy positions along the banks.
Part 5: Dunkirk
Nearly 60 years ago, thousands of men waited on the French beach for days, under repeated attack from the air. They were members of the British Expeditionary Force, now surrounded by the German army. Most of their guns and their few tanks had been destroyed in battle, or smashed to prevent capture. They were running short of food, and even drinking water was scarce. German tanks had overwhelmed British and French troops and were poised to seize the British Expeditionary Force. Their only hope lay in rescue from the sea. It was a desperate situation. To the British, evacuation would be a miracle. To their French allies, it would seem like a betrayal. Professor Richard Holmes describes the events when dozens of small-scale actions combined to delay the Germans taking Dunkirk, and walks the beaches and breakwaters from which thousands of British troops narrowly escaped capture in May 1940.
Part 6: Blitz
From mid-September 1940, London faced night after night of continuous bombing. It became almost a matter of horrific routine, with wardens helping people to the shelters as the sirens wailed over blacked-out streets. But one night, and one image encapsulate the London Blitz – the 29th of December, the Second Great Fire of London, when St. Paul’s rose in its glory amongst the smoke and flames. On that night the Cathedral was surrounded by a ring of fire, as centuries of history went up in smoke. The landscape of London was changed forever and those who were there will never forget it. Richard Holmes traces the events surrounding the terrible destruction caused during the night of the Blitz, from the sector control room where the incoming raiders were plotted through to the efforts of the firemen to save St Paul’s.