Arnhem: Tour of Duty on Channel 5

This is quite an interesting one. Channel 5 have got together a group of young people from Croydon, South London and put them through the training process to take part in a re-enactment of the Battle of Arnhem.

Now first of all, I’ve read some pretty sniffy comments about this, from people purporting to be military history experts. I might claim to have more of a personal stake in what this programme is about, as my late Grandfather was an Arnhem veteran. To me what happened at Arnhem in September 1944 is not just history or something I’m interested in, its part of my family, and by default, who I am. It would be so easy for me to knock it, but I can’t and I won’t. Because its something I would love to have done myself, and I think its a great way of teaching military history in a fun way. Fun learning = good learning. It sounds very well put-together, with ex-Paras working alongside youth workers.

Of course no TV programme is ever going to fully recreate the intensity, the danger and the courage of a Battle like Arnhem, how could it ever? But that doesn’t mean its not worth a try. As a result of this programme there will be a bunch of young people from Britain who will know more about Arnhem than they did before they started. And how, exactly, is that a bad thing? It’s their history too and they are entitled to learn about it. And not just from books, but from really getting out there and getting to grips with what made those men so special. I remember watching a similar programme about the D-Day Landings, which involved D-Day veterans, and that worked quite well.

Dismissing it as cheap reality TV is in itself a pretty cheap shot. I’ve got no time for snobby put-downs, they’re not big and they’re not clever. It reminds me of the supposed Great War enthusiast who moaned about the amount of school groups visiting the Western Front, complaining that it was turning into a theme park – is this guy for real?! Porbably the same kind of person who would moan about young people not having enough respect for history.

Lets watch the programme with an open mind and see how it works. I’m looking forward to it.

Arnhem: Tour of duty is on Channel 5 on Wednesday 10 and Thursday 11 November at 8pm each day.



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11 responses to “Arnhem: Tour of Duty on Channel 5

  1. An exposure to the land environment where a battle was fought is an excellent learning tool. Until you’ve stood on an American Civil War battlefield and seen the vague depressions that were trenches, until you’ve stood in an earthwork in old wool soaked and freezing, until you’ve lain flat on your stomach and seen how critical a single inch or centimetre of rise to the land can be to survival, it’s almost impossible to comprehend what the actual soldiers went through. Throw in the roar of rifles and artillery, the inability to see or communicate through smoke, and the confusion that runs rampant even in the most choreographed re-enactment, and you get the absolute best teaching environment you can, short of someone actually shooting at you. Theme parks have carnival style rides that might make you a bit queasy or make your heart beat a bit faster. Crouch in a trench, your feet in inches of icy water, smoke and noise all around you, and – trust me on this – the most “radical” rollercoaster in the world will feel like a walk in the countryside in comparison. You will always have “purists” ho complain, be they re-enactors who argue over which buttons are correct for your uniform, or “historical experts” who believe that square miles of historic battlefields should be fenced off and under glass. Stand in the middle of one of those battlefields, and watch a child of any age shiver as you recount the battle, and you’ll know that we need MORE of this kind of “cheap reality entertainment”. Maybe then the little vandals will cease destroying war memorials all over the US and Commonwealth!

  2. James Daly

    I fully concur John. I’ve walked over the Arnhem battlefields three times now, including once with a group of schoolkids and once with my brother, and both times the learning experience was so clear – its only by walking the ground, feeling the lumps and bumps, visualing the distances and smelling the mud that you get a ‘feel’ for what happened.

    What makes me sad is I think most kids, given the chance, are completely respectful about military history. Given the chance, that is. And what makes me angry is that the people who moan most about ignorance about WW2, say, are the same people who get on their high horses about keeping kids away from battlefields.

  3. Arnhem vet's daughter.

    I will wait and see but why are they talking about Paras and showing American Forces? I think we have had enough of that version of history. Could someone tell me what are some of those badges, flashes etc? Just curious.

    • Is there any video of this on the net? Channel Five doesn’t have anything posted, and I don’t have access to Channel Five (I’m in the States). If I can get a look at some video, I’ll check out the uniforms and see what I can find out.

    • James Daly

      sadly sometimes the researchers on some tv programmes leave a lot to be desired. All they needed to do was pick up Brian L. Davis ‘British Army uniforms and Insignia’!

      • So they actually DID do something as block-headed as use US uniforms? For goodness’ sake, I still have my Polish Para uniform around. I would’ve been happy to loan it to them! Sure, Yanks were involved at the other two sites, but Arnhem was all Brits and Poles (Let’s hear it for the 1st Independent Polish Paras!), Americans need not apply, thank you very much!

    • And to “Arnhem vet’s daughter” – Shame on me, I did it again! Or failed to do it, more accurately. Welcome to Mr. Daly’s little corner of the Internet! Please share your opinion of these shows in the coming days, I would be delighted to hear what you think of them.

  4. James Daly

    I’ve just watched this, and I was reasonably impressed. The ex-Paras were from the Pathfinders group, ex Paras who keep on parachuting in civvy street. It looked as genuine as it could be, with the constraints of time, TV and health and safety. Some interesting segements with Arnhem veterans too.

    Tomorrow night they finish off their training, go to Arnhem for the annual anniversary events and jump out of a Dakota over Ginkel Heath.

  5. Brendan

    I saw both programmes and was really moved by a successfull piece of film-making. The constraints and difficulties of production must have been great. Part two was successful in bringing home to those involved what an incredible sacrifice the fighting troops went through.
    It did show in fact how modern urban ‘youth’ are out of sync with recent history, geography, language and even themselves, although the spark was lit and retained for hopefully further development.
    The young people involved did achieve and should be proud of themselves, I think it is a marker for others to follow in terms of education. By giving that opportunity the programme did bring out something of meaning for those involved which I’m sure will have changed and stregthened them for their future. I wish them well.
    It’s an experience I would have liked to have been involved in at their age, which is not as a glorification of battle or war,but an appreciation of those who did participate as well as those who did not come home. The respected veterens showed how terrible the war and the fighting was, something our Politicians should do well to remember when sending others to do the fighting and the dying!.

    • I hate to sound like a broken record, but re-enacting is a truly outstanding way to get in touch with history. One weekend of crawling around in the mud, roasting in the summer sun (while wearing wool!), or freezing parts of your anatomy off will permanently cure ANYONE of the illusion that war is glamourous, noble, or glorious. Before I started re-enacting, I had studied WW2 for over 30 years. I could quote armour thicknesses of various tanks, fighter plane armaments, and ship tonnages, but I never really knew what it was like for the individual soldier. As I’ve said before, short of being shot at, re-enacting is a great way to understand war from the soldier’s point of view. Pity we couldn’t pitch a few US Senators or British MPs into a cold, muddy field for a weekend – it would be a great education for them!

  6. Pingback: 2010 in review « Daly History Blog

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