A former soldier turned explorer who was part of one of the British Army's toughest regiments, P Company The Parachute Regiment, is an ambassador to a project aiming to honour the memory not only of all who died during the First World War but those who may be affected by conflict in more recent times or those who simply want to learn in a more immersive way about shared European history.
Sunday Times best-selling author and British Army Reserve Levison Wood, has walked 8,000 miles along the Nile, circumnavigated the Arabian Peninsula and trekked across Botswana with a herd of wild elephants, making him the perfect ambassador for charity 'The Western Front Way'.
The charity's goal is to create a long-distance route dedicated to peace and active remembrance – by being outdoors and experiencing remembrance in a new way. When finished, The Western Front Way route will be a 1,000km (620-mile) walking and cycling path that echoes the line of No-Man’s Land along the 1914 Front Lines – from Nieuwpoort on the Belgian coast all the way through France to Pfetterhouse on the Swiss border.
Wood spoke to Richard Hatch on BFBS the Forces Station about The Western Front Way and started by revealing where the idea of the remembrance path came from, saying:
"In 2015, a letter was rediscovered, dating back 100 years and it was written by a young soldier called 2nd Lieutenant Alexander Douglas Gillespie.
"He was writing home, describing his vision, that once the war had ended, he'd like to see this path of peace that travelled all through the battlefields to sort of mark as a testament.
"He wanted the next generation to understand just how fragile that this really is."
Listen: Levison Wood talks to Richard Hatch about The Western Front Way
Just three months before he was killed in action, 2Lt Alexander Douglas Gillespie of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders wrote the following poignant words:
"I would like to send every man, woman and child in Western Europe on a pilgrimage along that Via Sacra so that they might think and learn what war means from the silent witnesses on either side.
"When peace comes, our government might combine with the French government to make one long avenue between the lines from the Vosges to the sea.
"I would make a fine broad road in the no man’s land between the lines, with paths for pilgrims on foot and plant trees for shade and fruit trees, so that the soil should not altogether be waste."
Wood explained that the charity hopes the path will help honour 2Lt Gillespie's memory and that of the soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice in the brutal, unforgiving trenches. However, as Wood said, they also want the path to be used and enjoyed by future generations:
"The idea really is to remember not just his legacy, but of all the soldiers that served in that war and to mark that and hopefully to create this path of peace for the next generations to be able to enjoy it as a walking and cycling route."
The explorer got involved with the Western Front Way as an ambassador because of his own experience as a teenager. For part of his Duke Of Edinburgh's Award - which sees teens volunteering for a charity or helping their community, becoming fitter plus planning and completing an expedition – Wood went to locations of First World War battles to help clean war graves. He said:
"I think what the Western Front Way is doing now is … encouraging young people to get outside, get walking, be fit and healthy, but also to understand more about the past and to engage with that."
The Belgian section of the Western Front Way is fully marked and open for walkers. The section in France is underway right now. The hope is that cadets and military charities can use the route as a form of fundraising, adventure training or simply to experience several days of walking along the frontline.
The charity has received an award in November for 'Remembrance and Reconciliation by the Association Civisme Défense Armée National / European Defence & Security Association.
In addition to that honour, The Western Front Way's CEO Rory Forsyth was presented with the Elysée Medal of the President of France.