Together with wargames, Battlefield Visits can be wonderful eye-openers for the military historian. Quite apart from the 'atmosphere of place' that is mystically imparted by any historic site, a moment on the real terrain can often reveal significant tactical aspects that cannot be relayed through books or even maps. Lines of sight turn out to be very different from what has been imagined from merely the contours, especially when one adds architectural, forestry or agricultural features which are not shown on the contours.
A further problem with maps is that the ones used to illustrate military history books tend to be minimalist sketches designed for instant clarity as visual aids, but not faithful and detailed records of all the true - and complex - wrinkles of the ground. Yet in the lower levels of combat, where troops often shelter their heads at or below ground level, it can easily be the very smallest folds of the 'micro-terrain' which can make all the difference between seeing and blindness: between life and death. A six inch high ridge of soil may prevent a sentry from spotting the raiders who are about to seize his key position, just as a whole battalion may sometimes lie undetected in a slight depression in an apparently flat field.
I was fortunate in being taken to a number of battlefields while I was still at school (Salamanca, Solferino and Verdun are particularly memorable) - from which I developed a habit of seeking out more of such sites whenever I could. In recent years I have also either organised - or commentated for - a number of formal battlefield tours. I COULD HELP WITH YOURS, TOO ( - but only for a very large quantity of money, since a good day's touring takes several days of preparation: it is highly disruptive of my programme. And besides, the best tours can be fitted into a single car: the more people who come too, the slower and more complicated the whole thing becomes).
Also in recent years I have joined the Battlefields Trust, (Regd.charity no. 1017837. Company Registration No. England 2786730), which was set up by Kelvin van Hasselt in response to the road-building at Naseby. Its aim is the preservation, interpretation and presentation of battlefield sites, which seems to be an increasingly important need in the current era of ever-accelerating suburban sprawl and rural concrefication.
When there was a threat to build quarries on the field of Blore Heath I found to my great delight that the Trust could actually make a difference. Its representations at the public inquiry helped to keep the quarriers at bay. The Battlefield Trust therefore deserves support, and anyone interested in military history should join it. As a bonus to its preservation work, it issues a regular newsletter and runs a variety of highly interesting study days, battlefield visits &c (This September there will be a 'Battle of Britain' day at Hendon on the 16th, and in late October Chris Scott will be taking a charabanc around Waterloo and Marlborough's battlefields in Belgium).
To join the Battlefields Trust, contact its co-ordinator and membership secretary, Michael Rayner, at the Trust's registered office: Meadow Cottage, 33 High Green, Brooke, Norwich NR15 1HR England.
Some of my Other Activities     When I lived in Nuneaton I set up the Mercia Military Society, as a monthly lecture and discussion circle for persons interested in military history. It meets in the Chilvers Coton Liberal Club, Henry Street, Nuneaton, from 7.30 pm on the second Monday of every month. Do look in if you are in that area - I can put you in touch with the current organiser, Bill Rogan.
If you happen to be passing by Manchester on the third Monday evening of any month, drop in on the South Manchester Tactical Society from 7.30 pm....