|Bob Reynolds (Center) Celebrating the 100th Anniversary |
of the Royal Air Force
My friend Bob Reynolds passed away at age 99 last month. I got to know him through my battlefield tour work with the company he founded in 1977, Valor Tours, Ltd. He was highly esteemed, even beloved by many of us who had traveled with him over the years. When he started out, Bob was doubly qualified to organize such an enterprise. He had long been an executive in the airline business with international responsibilities and knew the travel and accommodations part of the operation hands down. More important, though, Bob's WWII varied and fascinating service with the RAF gave him great credibility in attracting veterans, their families, military service organizations, unit associations, reunion groups, historical societies and government institutions with an interest in the Pacific and Europe wartime theaters.
|Flt. Lt. Reynolds on Left with His Lancaster Crew,|
He joined the Royal Air Force on 4 September 1939 and entered active duty in July of 1940. He completed flight training and received his wings in March of 1941. Bob served as a flight instructor in Ontario, Canada, and returned to England in early 1943 as a pilot. He continued serving as an instructor to the U.S. 8th Air Force, training Yanks in map reading and how to navigate through cloudy, European skies. He later joined the 101st Squadron, piloting Wellington and Lancaster bombers. He and his Lancaster crew flew bombing missions over Germany and made several runs to retrieve British prisoners of war for repatriation. He landed the first RAF aircraft in Berlin after VE day.
By the time of my involvement in 2006, his company, Valor Tours Ltd., was being managed by his daughter, Vicky. Up to that point, despite being the largest operator of battlefield tours in America, Valor Tours had never run a First World War tour. Some of the regular customers, though, decided they wanted to visit the Western Front, and Vicky tracked me down. For the next two years, I had little contact with Bob, who had moved out of the Bay Area. However, he still led some of the tours, and by word of mouth had heard that the new World War I tours were going well.
|Bob's Parents: Lt. George and Marcelle Reynolds |
on Their Honeymoon
One day I got a call from Vicky, informing me that Bob and his wife Betty wanted to join my next tour, but they had a special place they wanted to visit—some specific place his father, Lt. George Reynolds of the Royal Engineers, had served. This sort of request was always something I always tried to accommodate, but this one would prove to be one of the most challenging I'd faced. The Royal Engineers were everywhere on the Western Front, and George Reynolds moved all over the place in different assignments, surveying, construction, and so forth. How to identify with some certitude a place where Lt. Reynolds actually tread was a big problem.
|British Troops Aboard a Light Rail (Narrow Gauge) Train|
His son Bob, though, had one vivid memory of visiting a site in France where his dad said he had supervised the maintenance and operation of a light rail line for several months during the spring 1917 Battle of Arras. (In the interwar period the family owned a summer house in Normandy and traveled around France a lot, so his recollection was solid in a general sense, but not too specific about exactly where this took place.)
The next step was to try to pin down the lines where George might have served. We called on every British Army expert we knew. U.K.-based researcher Sidney Clark networked with a chap named Kevin Horn, who had access to a library of war diaries that included engineering units. His searching yielded the decisive information we needed. Lt. George Reynolds was assigned to the 113th Company of the Royal Engineers between 17 March and 18 May 1917. The company was responsible for a long stretch of rail line from Doullens to Arras, and on 23 March Lt. Reynolds had been given responsibility for a 10-kilometer stretch around the village of Mondicourt. Toni and Valmai Holt of Holt's Tours were also very helpful. Toni was a Royal Engineer, himself, and was able to find the map shown here that displays the Mondicourt section.
As you can see, the map is an engineering map not a road map. I could only compare it in a rough way to my Michelin map. As of my departure for France that spring, I didn't have a specific point I could direct our bus driver to, and I did not know if there would be any remnants of the rail line even if we were at the right point. The one thing I noticed in comparing the two maps was that for the stretch under Lt. Reynolds's command, the rail line ran parallel to the Doullens-Arras roads (N25), just about 50 yards to its south side.
Leaving Doullens, I decided to drive to Mondicourt and take the first right turn and see what I could see. If that didn't work, I would go back to the N25 and take every turn-off I could until I found a rail right-of-way. I had not informed the group (including Bob and Betty) of where we were headed. I held my breath as we turned at Mondicourt, but immediately felt a great release when I realized the entire former rail line was still clearly delineated and had been converted to a regional trail. (The aerial view below shows the path.)
After the bus was parked, I just asked the group to dismount and join me for something interesting on the trail. We walked a bit, and when the group gathered, I told them the story of Lt. George Reynolds and his service during the Battle of Arras. Bob, as you can see below was bursting with joy and the group was thrilled for him.
|Bob in the Center with the Group|
on His Father's Former Rail Line
That night at the hotel he shared his happiness at being able to appreciate for the first time exactly what it was that his dad had done in the War to End All Wars.
|How I'll Remember Bob|