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Re-Enactment Round-Up 2016

Re-Enactment Round-Up 2016

Each year there are more reenactment events organised, which is good news for the hobby and is great news for the visiting public, because it offers them a wider choice of venues to visit for variety. There are now hundreds of events held across the country, beginning around April, when the weather improves, and continues to October when the days are shorter. Even then, in the winter months there are still smaller events and group gatherings to attend, which livens up the weeks until it all begins over once more.

During the course of the year, I attend many events of all sizes. In fact, on reflection, I seem to attend so many of all sizes that I often find I can only mention them properly in a post-season roundup at the end of the year. Some of these I have only just discovered for the first time, such as the D-Day Revival at Southwick Village in Hampshire. Others are newly established events, such as Military World, which was hosted at the Hop Farm at Paddock Wood in Kent. Each event is a great show in its own unique way and deserves recognition.

The Eagle Has Landed

The first event I attended this year, 16th - 17th April, was at Mapledurham, on the Berkshire-Oxford border near Reading, where some scenes from ‘The Eagle Has Landed’ were filmed, including the battle in the church. Organised by Dave Allaway, AKA Captain Dave, it is a great event full of atmosphere. I was still reflecting on it when the next event in my calendar popped up, which was the Wartime Weekend at the Gloucestershire and Warwickshire Railway over the weekend of 23rd - 24th April. With steam trains as the main theme, there is a lot to see and do at this small event, which is becoming very popular. Vehicles, displays by various re-enactment groups, demonstrations and a smattering of traders keep visitors interested all day. This is a very friendly and informal event, as well as being relaxing, so no rushing about. In the words of a very old advert ‘Let the Train Take the Strain’ when you visit this show. The date for next year’s event is 22nd-23rd April and all details can be found on the website at: www.gwsr.com.

Two weeks later, 7th - 8th May, I found myself at Tilford, near Farnham in Surrey, which Captain Dave also organises. This is themed as Home Front with Allies and civilians and really is a first class event. Nice friendly atmosphere with some excellent displays and plenty of time to talk. Dave has since announced that he will not be hosting the Mapledurham event next year, a decision that may disappoint some people. Instead he is putting all his efforts into expanding Tilford, which has some great opportunities to allow for more displays. To keep up with developments, either contact Captain Dave on Facebook or visit the Website at: www.rural-life.org.uk.

The Longest Day

The month of June turned out to be a very busy period. For starters, I was invited to join a convoy on a road run from Broadmayne in Dorset to the Tank Museum in Bovington, visiting the town of Dorchester on the return journey. It also saw me visit the Tankfest, which I reported on, as regular readers will have seen. These were both great events for re-enactors and owners of military vehicles. I also managed to fit in a visit to see the D-Day Revival at Southwick Village, just outside Portsmouth, on 11th - 12th June. This was the third year of the village hosting the event, but it was a new event for me to visit. As first visits go to an established event I was heartily impressed. The turnout of military vehicles was not large but the types were very rare, including an original German BMW R75 with sidecar combination. The location is best known as the site of Southwick House where much of the planning for D-Day was laid out. Indeed, the original wartime map, which plotted the landings in Normandy, is still in place and the organisers arranged for special trips to visit it. The Golden Lion pub was an ‘unofficial officers’ mess’ and Eisenhower and Montgomery would both visit it for a quiet drink. Because of all this history attached to it, the event is unique. The date for next year’s event is 10th - 11th June and the website is: www.southwickbrewhouse.co.uk/d-dayrevival.

Dig For Victory

The day after my visit to Southwick I returned to Somerset to visit the Dig For Victory Show, at Wraxall near Bristol. I always enjoy visiting this show, which is organised by the resourceful James Shopland, whose family own the famous Shopland Collection of military vehicles and artillery. This year there was a lot of artillery, including the only live-firing 17-Pounder anti-tank gun in the country giving firing displays, two 3.7-inch anti-aircraft guns in recreated positions and James’ recently restored 4.5-inch field gun being towed by an AEC Matador from the Shopland Collection. Groups had put on static displays and demonstrations on the Home Front were presented in the marquees. With mobility displays, along with a skirmish and traders’ stalls on-site, this event has everything and is one of those real ‘gems’, which has to be visited. The date for next year’s show is set for the 10th and 11th of June and full details can be found at the website at www.digforvictoryshow.com.

Also in June, I managed to squeeze in a visit to Ashdown Camp, over the weekend of 18th - 19th June, for the ‘Wartime in the Vale’, at Badsey near Evesham. It was my second time to this show, which is small compared to some, but it has everything, which the larger events have. In that respect, Wartime in the Vale stands out on its own for all the right reasons. Not only does it have a great line-up of vehicles and trade stands, but re-enactors put on static displays and arena displays complete the show. This year there were around 260 vehicles on site and about twenty re-enactment groups. The Nissen huts are all original wartime buildings and each one has its own display dedicated to an aspect of the war, including Home Front, and one houses an interesting collection of weapons. The date for next year’s event is 17th - 18th June and the website is: www.ashdowncamp.com/events.html.

The month of July was another busy period, beginning with the South Devon Railway 1940s Festival over the weekend of 2nd - 3rd July. Steam trains as a backdrop to re-enactment events work very well and are extremely popular. This show at Buckfastleigh is one of the most popular in the south-west, attracting visitors and participants from all across the country. There are a few traders on-site, but it is mainly the vehicles, static displays and the atmosphere on the platforms, which makes this a special show to visit. Space is at a premium here and so displays are ‘tucked in’ wherever they can fit. This is perfect and visitors have to seek out what is behind the next bend or bush. I can recommend this as a show to visit and for groups to attend. Full details can be found on the website at: www.southdevonrailway. co.uk. The month continued with War & Peace Revival and the 1940s Weekend at the Black Country Living Museum in the West Midlands, both events were featured in Gun Mart. Full details of which can be found at www.bclm.com.

Very august

August is also a busy month for reenactment, but this year, after such a hectic start, I thought I would ease back and just visit the one show. This was the brand new event called ‘Military World Show’ held at the Hop Farm near Paddock Wood in Kent over 13th - 14th August. Yes, we all know the history of the site, but this is an entirely new show. I had heard in advance from several groups who were going to attend, including our old friends the Second Battle Group. The SBG were in fine form and turned out in strength, complete with an all-female gun crew serving an 88mm anti-aircraft gun on part of the display area.

Speaking to the ladies on the ‘88’, they explained they had formed themselves into a group called the ‘Females Re-enacting Axis Units’, or FRAU, which means ‘Mrs’. The ladies were very keen about their depiction and stated that research reveals there really were German all-female anti-aircraft gun crews during latter stages of the war. It is this kind of depiction that keeps re-enactment fresh. If any ladies would like to know more, then FRAU can be contacted through Facebook.

It was another young lady, by the name of Jennifer Mason-Hawke, who made the Military World Show really different for me. We had met at previous shows and I have long admired Jennifer’s very high-standard of turnout, either as a woman soldier in the Serbian army in WWI, or as a Dispatch Rider in WWII. I had also seen photographs of her as a female Russian sniper in WWII, which got me thinking. I tracked down a photograph of a famous female sniper by the name of Kyra Petrovskaya and asked Jennifer if she would recreate the pose. I was delighted when she agreed and we arranged to meet at the new show.

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When we met, Jenifer looked perfect, except for one thing; she was carrying a German K98 rifle, when I expected a Mosin-Nagant. This was where I learnt something about identifying weapons. Jennifer explained she had studied the rifle held by Kyra in her photographs and the weapon was undoubtedly a German K98.

Having convinced me, we went ahead and took the photos. The most incredible thing is that Kyra Petrovskaya is still alive and living in America. She served as a sniper during the siege of Leningrad and was wounded twice. She became a nurse later in the war. To this day, her exact tally of ‘kills’ is not known, but hers is a remarkable story, which we can remember through re-enactment. Further news about the show can be found at the website: www.militaryworldshow.com.

Let of steam

Then, suddenly, it was September and more events, but not before I had dropped into the MVT event at Lacock in Wiltshire, which is always an interesting event. Another small, but very interesting event, which is well worth visiting, was Lupton House near Brixham in Devon. However, it was the North Norfolk Railway event over the weekend of 17th - 18th September, which drew me in again after my visit last year. With three stations, a regular timetable of steam trains, traders’ stalls and vehicles, this is another event that has everything for all interests.

What I have found at events, even those I have visited many times, is that there is always something which comes as a surprise. And so it was in Norfolk. The largest town to take part in the event is Sheringham, where the streets are decorated like VE Day and also where the main station is located. The number of people parading through the streets is incredible and the platform is always packed as people wait for the trains. Amidst all the throng, a military enthusiast will always spot something out of the ordinary.

That is what happened when I glanced at a ‘stroller’ wearing an ordinary British army battledress uniform. He was otherwise unexceptional to other people, but what made him stand out to me was the fact his regimental badge on his beret was simply ‘NCC’, and the same three letters appeared on his epaulettes.

I had only ever read about this unit, which was unique to the British army in WWII. Now, here I was looking at the reenactment of a truly minority unit which is all but forgotten. This was the Non-Combatant Corps, and it had taken a re-enactor to bring it out to an event like this. During the war, those men who did not wish to fight or take up weapons could serve in the ranks of the NCC and undertake duties that did not involve fighting. This included serving as medical staff and bomb disposal. In fact, on his arm he wore the insignia of the UXB to denote his role. The men who served in the NCC were not cowards by any means, their wartime duties were dangerous, it is just that they did not believe in the use of weapons. No other army during WWII had a unit, which could compare with this organisation and it is a truly remarkable history worth tracking down on the internet.

This was not the only surprise in store for me at Sheringham. On the platform, whilst waiting for my train, I spotted someone wearing a most unusual but highly distinctive helmet. After my encounter with the NCC, I did not think I would see anything else out of the ordinary. Yet, here I was chasing after someone I believed to be wearing a WWII Danish army helmet and uniform.

When I finally caught up him, my thoughts were confirmed. His name was Robert Sutton and he explained the uniform actually dated from 1949 and was Danish Civil Defence. However, it was virtually unchanged from the war, including the shape of the helmet. To see one surprise was great, but to see two such unusual re-enactors on the same day was astonishing and goes to prove, you never know what you will see at these events.

Full details of this event can be found on the website at: www.nnrailway.co.uk.

Here’s to 2017!

Going to so many re-enactment events and meeting interesting people is a wonderful experience. I also get to see many unusual things, but there is always room for surprises, such as my meeting with the NCC and Danish army strollers.

That is the nature of re-enactment.

People involved in the pastime like to remind us of history, and by bringing it outside at events, they make it tangible. I enjoy visiting every event, but looking back on the year is also fun and full of memories. So, for 2017 keep an eye open for re-enactors wearing rare and unusual uniforms. Well done to all of you, because together you are making a difference and keeping the hobby fresh.