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Best Of 2015! – Top Re-Enactments And Militaria Fairs

Well, here we are at the end of another year; and what a thrilling year it was for re-enactors, with news, new groups and new events. As regular readers know, I try to visit as many events as possible, from the small to the large, because not only are they great fun, it is an opportunity to meet new groups. Also, from a militaria collecting point of view, it is possible to pick up lots of items. Regardless of size, all events deserve to be mentioned because so much hard work goes into organising them. That is why an end of year round-up to feature a few which may have been overlooked serves as a reminder from the packed programme of events which fill the calendar around the country.

I know that some groups continue to attend private battles and gatherings in the quieter months at the beginning of the year, and these are used as training sessions and to prepare for the busy months ahead. For me, the first event of the year was Mapledurham on the border between Oxfordshire and Berkshire, where scenes from the 1976 production The Eagle Has Landed was filmed. I last visited two years ago and I’m pleased to report that the event is stronger with more groups and vehicle owners on site along with more traders. Over the weekend 4th - 5th April, there were static displays and small skirmishes took place at various locations, with a final battle worth going along to see. It is an opportunity to meet up and perhaps think about joining a group. Keep an eye open for news of this event in the diary dates next April.

On The Rails

I did not have to wait long before going along to the event at the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway which was held over the weekend of 25th - 26th April. Events organised around vintage steam trains are extremely popular and appeal to a wide demographic of visitors. I had not been to this event before and I was impressed with its organisation and level of attendance. It is themed along Home Front and Allied forces with British, American and civilian re-enactors. At each of the stations there were displays and vehicles with a relaxed atmosphere. This is a very nice event and I predict it will continue to grow and attract more visitors. Already the dates for next year’s event has been announced as the 23rd and 24th April, but please note that there is a stringent no German policy at this event. For additional information visit the website at: www.gwsr.com.

This year’s event at the Rural Life Museum at Tilford, near Farnham in Surrey, was themed as a Victory in Europe celebration. Held over the weekend of 9th - 10th May it is easy to get to despite its rural setting. I visited this event two years ago which had a very good attendance in groups and vehicles. It is one of those events which falls at the time of the year when there is much else being organised which makes it difficult to choose which event to visit. This is a great location and has much to offer and the relaxing pace makes it another ideal venue to discuss the possibility of joining a group.

The month of June arrived and turned into one of the busiest months in the calendar for re-enactment events. On 6th June I was invited by Preston and Tim Isaac, father and son owners of the Cobbaton Combat Collection in Devon (www.cobbatoncombat.co.uk), to join them for a military vehicle road run to Braunton Burrows, a wartime training grounds used by the American Army. The drive was terrific fun and entering the sand dunes with the historical connection was incredible. After a memorial service we drove to Saunton Sands where all the vehicles gathered and drove along the beach. So this is what being a vehicle owner is all about, which is having fun. It was a serious gathering to remember those men who trained here before going off to D-Day 71 years earlier.

Can You Dig It?

The following weekend I was at the Dig For Victory Show at Wraxall, near Bristol, and which I reported on at the time. This was a very good show, much bigger than 2014, and still has lots of potential to grow in size and attract more re-enactors and visitors. The organisers have already released the date for next year’s show as being 11th - 12th June and full details can be found on the website at: www.digforvictoryshow.com.

Wartime in the Vale, at Ashdown Camp in Evesham, Worcs, was held on the weekend of 20th - 21st June and was a first time at the show for me. The site has a number of preserved wartime buildings used to house exhibits and if a location should be considered a spiritual home for WWII re-enactment groups this is it. But don’t just take my word for it, ask anybody who has been there. The site has accommodation and can be hired by groups for training purposes which is ideal for WWII re-enactment. I was impressed by this event and I will certainly be returning next year. The Website has all the information and can be found at: www.ashdowncamp.webs.com.
The month of June ended with Tankfest, held at the Tank Museum at Bovington in Dorset (www.tankmuseum.org). It is an excellent event and is a great place to arrange to meet people and set up a photograph. That is exactly what I did with Stephen Phillips of Heia Safari, a group which portrays the Afrika Korps. For several months Stephen and I had been planning to take photos of him depicting General Hans- Karl Freiherr von Esebeck who commanded the 15th Panzer Division in North Africa. Esebeck had served in the First World War and in 1939 had fought in Poland. In 1940 he took part in the campaign into France and Belgium. He transferred to North Afrika and was wounded during the fighting. A highly capable commander he also served in Russia. He also knew of the plot to kill Hitler and was arrested. He survived the war but died in penury in 1955.

I have known Stephen for a couple of years and seen him in Afrika Korps officer’s uniform and I thought he would make an ideal von Esebeck. We arranged to meet at Tankfest and he adjusted his uniform to depict the General. As a member of Heia Safari, which was the battle-cry of the Afrika Korps and is a Bantu native expression meaning ‘Drive on’, Stephen had all the correct uniform and medals. I took the photos and was more than satisfied with the result. Stephen is a very obliging chap and the whole group of Heia Safari is very friendly.

Back On The Rails

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July began with a visit to the South Devon Railway 1940s Weekend, otherwise known among re-enactors and military vehicle owners as Buckfastleigh in Devon. This was another first time event for me but I had heard from re-enactors vehicle owners how good it was. As soon as I drove into the car park it was possible to see that a lot was happening. Vehicles on displays and re-enactors moving around made this a lively event. A full service of steam trains operated between the three stations, each of which had displays, such as Staverton where an air raid shelter had been created. I can recommend a visit to this event which has something for everyone, including small number of militaria traders. I can’t help thinking that this event is another show which will grow in popularity and size. Further details can be found on the website at: www.northdevonrailway.co.uk. The South West Airfields Heritage Trust has done a great deal to preserve wartime heritage at location in the Devon area such as Dunkeswell and Upottery where they have restored wartime nissen huts as used by American troops. Over the weekend of 11th - 12th July I dropped in to visit the Upottery Military Experience. This was another first time for me, but I have known about the group for a couple of years. The weather was terrible but spirits were high and the event went ahead with a full programme. The event was supported by vehicles and some static displays, such as Kevin Drake who portrays Home Guard and has featured in these pages. Always the optimist, Kevin braved the elements and stayed at his post. It was here that I had the privilege of meeting Helen Patton, the grand-daughter of General George S Patton jnr., and learned about the work she is doing to support servicemen and women suffering from post-traumatic stress. The group holds monthly militaria fairs and other gatherings, details of which can be obtained by emailing [email protected].

House Style

I have visited Lupton House before and it is an event I truly enjoy visiting. Located on the A3022 road leading to Brixham in Devon the house was used by American forces in WWII. Indeed, shell scrapes, shallow trenches to be used in the event of an air raid, are reminders still to be seen in the grounds. The 1940s weekend has been held there for five years and is growing in size and each year it is presented slightly different. I did not visit last year and so I thought I would drop by to see how it is developing. Re-enactors are at the gate to greet visitors and the first displays can be seen within a few yards of the entrance.

Despite its small size, the event manages to squeeze a lot in. Vehicles, replica Spitfire and Hurricane aircraft, static displays of equipment and weapons and even a small skirmish. This year a couple of German groups had dug in with machine guns and a section of First World War trench was created for visitors to enter. In the house were traders and some displays connected with WWII such as Home Front and local Home Guard. This event is proof that small events can grow year on year and be successful and attract increasing visitor numbers. Further details of the site and even join in with organising event visit the Website at: www.lupton1940sweekend.co.uk.

Due North

The East Somerset Railway (www. eastsomersetrailway.com) event was held over the Bank Holiday weekend of 29th - 30th August, which as all reenactors and vehicle owners know, is an extremely busy time of the year with many events being held. Because of this the attendance was low, but that did not deter the volunteers from going ahead with their event.

Visitor numbers were good and they enjoyed the displays put on by the re-enactors which included a skirmish between the Home Guard and a few Germans. The railway is at Cranmore, near Shepton Mallet and more could be made of the resources available, but if groups cannot attend due to other commitments it will be hard, but not impossible, to make it bigger if it has enough support.

Another new event for me was the North Norfolk Railway 1940s weekend over the weekend of 26th - 27th September. The line operated a full service of nostalgic steam trains from Holt to Sheringham, with Weybourne station in between where a number of displays had been set-up. One of these was my very dear friend Jude Knight who does Home Front so well, and on this occasion was presenting her Ministry of Food talk. She was in her display trailer and people enjoyed her presentation. A handful of vehicles and an Anderson shelter made for an interesting visit. A couple of groups had weapons on display and the whole atmosphere at the station was lively.

The towns at Holt and Sheringham really joined in with the spirit of the occasion and shops were decked out with ‘anti-blast’ tape on the windows and Churchill’s wartime speeches were broadcast. The main reenactment displays were at Holt, where I met up with Paul Lincoln of the Long Range Desert Group in his Jeep with twin Vickers ‘K’ guns and other equipment. There were traders here and the main line-up of vehicles and other displays. Walking into the canteen serving refreshments was like stepping back in time, complete with a lady playing the piano. This is an event to get immersed in without any hurry. I stayed for the whole weekend and thoroughly enjoyed the event.

This is an event which exercises a ‘no Germans’ policy and focuses on the Home Front and the many USAAF bases in the area. One vehicle owner told me about a B-24 ‘Liberator’ bomber which flew 130 missions without any casualties. In honour of this he named his Jeep ‘Witchcraft’ after the lucky aircraft. There is a lot to see in the area, such as the Muckleburgh Collection (www.muckleburgh.co.uk) which has an incredible display of artillery, vehicles and weapons. This is an event I am truly looking forward to visiting again next year and I cannot recommend it too highly. Full details of this event can be found on the website at: www.nnrailway.co.uk.

Event horizon

Visiting events around the country over six months is really busy, but to see so much hard work which has gone into organising the weekends makes it worthwhile. There are many dozens of events around the country, even into the winter months, you just have to look for them. The diary dates section in Gun Mart is one place to start and either the MVT or IMPS websites. If you are organising an event for 2016 please send in details, already I am receiving news for the months ahead. Please send dates of your event to: john. [email protected]. Well done everybody for organising such great weekends, keep up the good work and I look forward to seeing as many of you as possible next year.

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