Your Great War Tour Guide – Debbie Coupland
Your tour guide will be Debbie Coupland. An experienced researcher and passionate tour guide, Debbie will help unveil the story behind those you are interested in and bring their story to life. She has been fascinated in the people whose lives were touched by World War One for many years, and here she explains some of her own history.
When did you first start to take an interest in WW1?
“I’ve been a keen student of the First World War since childhood, when I took to looking for war memorials wherever I went, reading names in search of my own surname and noting those evocative and all too numerous family groupings. Then, while living with my family in Lae, Papua New Guinea, I marched with the Band of the Returned Services League (the Australian version of the Royal British Legion) as the entire school took part in the annual Anzac Day Parade (25th April). I quite literally soaked up the folk lore surrounding the Aussie ‘Digger’ – that plucky, indomitable hero with his donkey – with some of whose descendants I shared my school classroom.
My interest was nurtured further through the poems of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. When I joined the Territorial Army while still at school – having decided already that I would not go to university as expected but would rather take an Officer’s Commission in the Army – I could barely believe my luck at being sent, as the most junior Officer Cadet, to the smallest room at the top of the Officers’ Mess in Burniston Barracks, Scarborough. I alone appeared to know it was the place in which Wilfred Owen had found himself in 1917, in preparation for his return to full time duty at the front, having been in hospital in Craiglockhart. Famously, he had undergone treatment for shell shock at this hospital in Edinburgh and, in meeting Siegfried Sassoon there, had found finally his poet’s voice.”
Did your role in the Women’s Royal Army further fuel your passion for WW1?
“As Lieutenant Debbie Farrant WRAC (Women’s Royal Army Corps) I was posted from Thiepval Barracks in Lisburn, Northern Ireland – the Irish 36th Division being linked inextricably with the most famous memorial to the missing of the Battle of the Somme – to 11 Signal Regiment in Helles Barracks, Catterick Garrison. The opening salvos of the Gallipoli campaign had been made on the Helles Peninsular on 25 April 1915 and I presented my Commanding Officer with a proposal to lead a battlefield tour there to establish a memorial link. I was told most firmly that defence budget funds could not be spared for such an exercise.”
What moved you to set up Great War Tours?
“Having left the Army to bring up my family, I continued to read about the war, took myself off on a range of battlefield tours and even managed to include several modules and final dissertation on military history within my university degree. Along the way I learned from my father that his father had served briefly in the first war. When he opened the cemetery at Tyne Cot in May 1922, George V, observed that there were no more potent advocates of peace than the massed silent witnesses to the desolation of war in the many cemeteries he had visited. For myself, I have never found these places of pilgrimage to be silent as, behind each and every name, there is a story to tell – of dedication and duty, of loyalty and love and of a life cut short. So many lives have been loved and lost, through Great War Tours I wanted to open the opportunity for people to have their own personal experience of visiting the battlefields and cemeteries through a tailor-made tour relevant to their interests.”
If you’d like Debbie to research a family member who served in the First World War or are interested in a tailor-made tour of the battlefields please email Debbie at firstname.lastname@example.org.