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War & Peace Revival

War & Peace Revival

At 9am on the morning of 25th July, as the gates to the 2017 W&PR Show opened, it would not have been surprising to hear a loud cheer from the visitors queuing to welcome the return of the ‘Show of Shows’ back to the Hop Farm at Paddock Wood in Kent. For many, this is seen at the natural home of the event and the atmosphere was one of great relief to have it back.

On entering the site, it was hard to imagine that it had ever been away, because the return was seamless. Obviously, there were some changes, that is only to be expected, but they are all for the good and keeps the show fresh and lively. Once through the gates, the visitors found themselves faced with the first displays. This was the Home Front area, complete with pub, cinema and all manner of shops, each evoking the period. One re-enactor had recreated the role of milkman, complete with a handcart to transport the crates of bottles. He had named the dairy ‘Potkins’ established in 1909, in memory of his late father who had been born in that year. A very touching tribute, which fitted in with the Home Front scenario perfectly. A marquee was set aside for visitors to watch Jude Knight give her demonstrations of wartime cookery, or they could see other activities at various times throughout the show.

As with a show this size, it is essential to have a map of the site. There was a map in the programme, or you could download it onto your smartphone, and once equipped it was easy to find your way around, allowing people to go straight to their area of specific interest. There were plenty of trade stalls for collectors, vehicles for enthusiasts and reenactors displays for weapon and equipment enthusiasts. Moving around, it quickly became clear that this was an International event, with many traders from Europe and many overseas visitors, also. There was plenty of time in which to see and do things; after all, the show ran from 25th to Saturday 29th July.

Plenty of surprises

Being a veteran of many W&PR shows and knowing the site, I followed the welltrodden paths. As I did, I found myself moving from one surprise to another. Yes, there were plenty of familiar faces and vehicles, but the displays were fresh and imaginative. For example, the Red Ball Express, with its range of vehicles including trucks, Dodge weapons’ carriers and equipment, showed how many thousands of tons of supplies needed by the American army were handled and moved. Towering over the display of parked trucks was a ‘Quick-Way’ Truck Shovel, used to lift crates. This is the kind of display which sets the tone of the show, by presenting the most authentic scenario possible.

There was much to see, and moving from this group, I next saw a small unit of 101st Airborne Division in a Jeep, parked next to a display representing an abandoned German tunnel. It looked like a film set and I guessed, rightly as it turned out, that it was one of Danny Butler’s creations. Explaining quickly what I wanted, a couple of the group staged a photograph to recreate how such installations were captured and cleared. Danny is a member of a group depicting the 29th Infantry Division and his creations for W&PR are legendary. They are extremely realistic and always perfect for such events.

As usual, there were plenty of ‘strollers’ moving around in all manner of uniforms, but my attention was grabbed by a pair I spotted whose unusual appearance gave me cause for some thought. They were wearing plain olive drab jungle-style hats, in which were pinned the red badge of the Salvation Army, along with Vietnam War period Australian army uniforms on which the Salvation Army badges were sewn. Such a combination just had to be investigated further. I spoke to them and they told me they were representing a real unit, which served in Vietnam. The pair had done their research to authenticate the existence of the unit. They explained that they were part of the Rolling Thunder group, which recreates the period and their display in a tent, although small, had a lot of items.

The Salvation Army volunteers, known as ‘Sallymen’, served in Vietnam between 1962 and 1972, providing soft drinks and magazines as an alternative distraction for the troops. To recreate the role, special permission had to be obtained from the Salvation Army. This small display showed an almost forgotten part of that war and served as a reminder that Australian and New Zealand troops also served there.

Vehicles galore!

The show was packed with thousands of vehicles and dozens of displays, with each one being a discovery on its own. For example, the young girl with a Women’s Land Army display, called ‘Barbed Wire and Bunting’. On the opposite side of the track, her husband was displaying vehicles of the Vietnam War period. It is a testimony to the popularity of re-enactment as a hobby and in which whole families can participate, to the point where they can display their own separate interests.

Walking around, I saw a half-track vehicle known as a T-19, on which was mounted a 105mm gun used during WWII. I recognised it, having previously seen it at Tilford back in May and here it was, now with the name ‘Battering Ram’ painted on the side. It lived up to its title when it took part in the battle re-enactment scenarios in the main arena. The number and variety of vehicles lined up, such as M-29 ‘Weasels’, Jeeps, trucks, DUKWs and earthmovers, the show is still the place for any serious military enthusiast to visit. Even novices equipped with a spotter’s handbook would soon ‘tick off’ many must-see types, which included many of the more recent designs, such as Scorpion CVR(T)s and Land Rovers.

Incredible beasts

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The W&PR Show has a reputation for surprises and this year there were many in the shape of some real rarities. Jon Phillips, AKA ‘The Welderbeast’, is a collector and restorer, well known to vehicle owners. He periodically turns up with some incredible types of vehicle. This year, he stunned visitors by displaying his latest acquisition, an SdKfz 138 Ausf. M, built in 1943.

Known by its common name of Marder III, this series of self-propelled gun had a wartime production run of only 942. There are some in museums and even fewer in private ownerships. Jon’s example is even more rare, because it is operational. Armed with a 75mm calibre gun, this series of self-propelled gun served in Italy, Russia and France. On the static line-up, it caused many enthusiasts to stop in their tracks as they admired it. The best part came later when it went into the battle re-enactment in the arena, causing cameras to click like machine guns.

The amount of hardware just seemed to go on with artillery, machine guns and even more vehicles, so that the site looked like several major military museums had just been emptied of all their displays. With so much on display, it pays to keep your eyes open and pay attention, otherwise something could be missed in amongst so much armoured plating. For example, the French-built Georges Richard ‘Unic Puteaux’ half-track, owned by Stephen Lamonby, who has supplied vehicles to film projects such as ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and ‘Band of Brothers’, which stopped me dead. If I thought I would never see an example of this outside a museum, I wondered how many other people were thinking the same.

Stephen very kindly explained how the vehicle had been captured by the Germans in 1940 and converted into the self-propelled anti-aircraft gun role by mounting a 2cm calibre FlaK38 in the rear. It was converted under the Baustab Becker programme, which was the idea of Major Alfred Becker, a mechanical engineer, who designed a series of ideas to convert captured enemy vehicles into other roles. This Unic was one of those vehicles, making it extremely rare. Major Becker served with the 21st Panzer Division in France and Stephen explained that the markings on the vehicle identify it as being in the anti-aircraft role.

Realistic replica

After two such wonderful discoveries, I wondered how many more surprises lay in store. I did not have long to wait to discover. A group depicting a German unit over from France had set up a brilliant display, complete with a Schwimmwagen amphibious car and other weapons, but it was the appearance of a Panzerbuchse 41 anti-tank gun which stood out. From its pristine condition, almost factoryfresh, this was a replica. Speaking to a member of the group this was confirmed. It looked authentic from all angles.

This unusual weapon used the Gerlich ‘taper-bore’ method to increase muzzle velocity to an incredible speed of almost 4600fps. It fired a 28mm calibre projectile with a tungsten core, which was ‘squeezed’ down to 20mm calibre as it exited the muzzle. Mounted on a two-wheeled carriage and weighing only 260-pounds, in action it could be man-handled by a couple of men. The replica had all the details to identify it, right down to include the ‘spaced’ double gun shield which was a feature of the design. Unfortunately, the penetration capability of the round was only 52mm at a range of 550-yards, which severely limited its role as an anti-tank gun. Nevertheless, seeing this replica would have delighted any weapon enthusiast and certainly pleased the many modellers who visit the show for research purposes.

Keeping up appearances

The standard of re-enactment displays this year were again up to their high standard, with some new groups making their first full-scale public appearance. One of these groups was the Romney Marsh Beach Command Re-enactors, which I interviewed and will feature in full in due course. This group had an incredible collection, which included a Bedford truck and many weapons. The period of history ran from WWI to the Gulf War, with other scenarios in between, such as the ‘Cold War’ and the fascinating Vietnam War with the veteran groups of Rolling Thunder and the American Infantry Preservation Society (AIPS).

Throughout each day there were a series of displays in the arena, ranging from basic mobility with all types of vehicles, which this year for the first time included a Leopard I tank. The battle scenarios were full of action and drama, with plenty of re-enactors and vehicles filling the arena with pyrotechnics adding to the realism. In fact, there was no shortage of action either at the static displays, where groups gave presentations, or in the arena with vehicles coming and going continuously. The WWII battle featured the supporting cast of many vehicles, as the Allies and Germans fought a thrilling action-packed engagement set ‘somewhere in Normandy 1944’.

W&PR is well-known for offering something for everyone and all interests. This is still very much the ethos of the show, as visitors discovered as they wandered around. The trader’s stalls were busy and included a varied mix from the smallest to the largest. Prices were fair and the range of items on sale were sufficiently varied to please all interests. Bargains were there to be found by looking around and searching out things. I collect small items, such as medals and photographs and, like other collectors, I spent some time wandering around the traders’ area. I was more than satisfied with the purchases I made and talking to other collectors, they were equally pleased.

Conclusion

John Allison and his team have brought the show back to its ‘grass roots’, to use a popular expression, and in doing so have pleased everybody. It is strong, positive and reliable and still the best and biggest show of its kind in the world. Don’t just take my word for it, ask anyone who went to it this year. The date for next year’s show has been announced as being 24th to 28th July 2018. You can keep up-todate on developments and registering for Email news by logging on to the official website at: www.warandpeacerevival.com.

They now aim to continue building on this and expand the show and attract more vehicles, traders and re-enactment. There are many avenues still left to explore in terms of military history and if the turnout at this year’s show is an indication, people are more than willing to support it with their attendance either as participating displays or visitors. To paraphrase a wellknown advert; ‘The future is bright, the future is War and Peace Revival’.

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