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Re-enacting Recent History

Re-enacting Recent History

The first recorded battle in history is Megiddo, fought around 1469 and 1457 BC, between the Egyptian army, led by Pharaoh Thutmose III and the Canaanites, led by the King of Kadesh. Accounts are not complete and much of what we do know about the battle comes from hieroglyphics carved in stone by the military scribe Tjaneni at Amun-Re at Karnak. Using this as a starting point to form a timeline, this episode gives re-enactors a period of almost 3500-years of history from which they can choose to depict.

Obviously, the better recorded periods, from around the 14th Century onwards, are popular and with lots of evidence can be recreated very authentically. Both World Wars, with so much photographic and written evidence, are very popular, also. But history does not have to be that far back in time to be worthy of being recreated. History is being made on an almost daily basis and, because of this, we are beginning to see more recent periods of military history being added to the list for re-enactment. Some of the post-war conflicts, such as the Suez Crisis of 1956 and the Korean War of 1950-1953, are often overlooked in favour of other wars, such as Vietnam.

Timely alternatives

Until a few years ago, the Vietnam War was the most recent conflict to be the subject of re-enactment. However, we are now seeing excellent displays by groups portraying Bosnia from the 1990s, the First Gulf War, Operation Desert Storm, 1991, and some of the other episodes from that era. There are other depictions such as the Falklands 1982 and the ‘Cold War’ period, which existed between NATO and the then Warsaw Pact Forces. In the wake of these episodes, books began to appear, followed by documentaries, which pleased military enthusiasts and gave plenty of options for re-enactors.

After these wars, much of the surplus kit such as uniforms, equipment and vehicles was sold off, which delighted militaria collectors, because they had a new period to satisfy their interests. Such a move happened after both World Wars as peace returned and the equipment was not seen as being required any longer. With so much kit now available, it was not long before groups of enthusiasts began to put on displays at events such as War & Peace Revival and Military Odyssey. There were words of concern remarking how it was too soon to put on such displays. Nevertheless, the re-enactment groups went ahead and their displays were an instant success.

It was their way of remembering what happened and commemorating the men and women whose served. Along with all this kit came the legally deactivated weapons, which re-enactors bought to complete their displays, including rifles, mortars and even anti-aircraft missiles such as Rapier, which had been used in the Falklands.

Now, for the first time, visitors to these shows could see up close the types of weapons used in these wars, along with the vehicles, which they had only seen on news bulletins. This was the opportunity to ask questions, take photographs and even purchase an example for their collection. Thinking about it, and providing these more recent conflicts are re-enacted with consideration and have been fully researched, there is no reason why Desert Storm or even Afghanistan should not be depicted. Exhibits from these conflicts are already on display in military museums, which people visit to understand what happened. Well, re-enactment does the same, except it is done outside and with participants who can interact.

South Atlantic conflict

For example, until a few years ago, there was virtually nothing to depict the Falklands War, but now there is a small but growing interest in the war, with displays showing kit and weapons. Traders have been selling items associated with the period for some time and gradually it is becoming popular with collectors and re-enactors. Today, many of the types of weapons used in the Falklands are now available as legally de-activated versions, including sub-machine guns, the L1A1 SLR and the version used by the Argentine army known as the FN FAL, both of which fired the 7.62mm calibre cartridge. Other weapons, more unusual types of the period, including machine guns, can be purchased from dealers such as World Wide Arms, who have an extensive range of legally de-activated types available.

One of the best collections of the Falklands War I have seen is that put together by Lee and Richard Marshall. These brothers have long held an interest in the Falklands War and for years have been collecting items of kit, uniforms, weapons and even vehicles from the period. Indeed, they have amassed all manner of items relating to the war, some of it quite ephemeral, such as tinned food and documentation. One of the more unusual items they have is an 84mm calibre Carl Gustav anti-tank weapon. During the Falklands War, a Royal Marine fired a Carl Gustav at the Argentine corvette ‘Guerico’as it approached the harbour at Grytviken and hit it at least three times. The weapon held by Lee and Richard is one of the few examples to be in private ownership and really sets off their collection of weaponry includes rifles, SMG and machine guns.

Vital supplies

When we think of weapons used in a war, we tend to think of rifles and machine guns but there is also the heavier weaponry, including artillery and missiles. Obtaining the smaller weapons used in the more recent conflicts is not a problem and are available from dealers such as D&B Militaria (www.dandbmilitaria. com) Another supplier specialising in legally deactivated weapons is the Eccleshall-based company of World Wide Arms in Staffordshire (www.worldwidearms.com) which offers an extensive range of NATO weapons and former Soviet weaponry, including deactivated AK-47 rifles, pistols and machine guns. Such items are ideal for re-enactment displays and the companies usually have stands at most of the big shows including War & Peace Revival.

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There are companies and specialist Websites on the Internet, including eBay, which can be searched for specific items. For example, the On-Line site known as ‘The Military Marketplace’ (www.milmarket. org) has an extensive list of items for sale. Finally, there is also the Classified Ads section of Gun Mart itself, where collectors or re-enactors often advertise items for sale. This works and the thousands of readers each month know they trust this method.

The Stourton-based company of Johnsons of Leeds (www.johnsonsofleeds. co.uk) stocks a wide range of army surplus kit, ranging from uniforms to larger items such as radios and even one-off items of specialist equipment such as laser range finders. This is another company which can be found at most of the larger events and always attracts a lot of interest from customers who are looking for something unusual. The company of Epic Militaria (www.epicmilitaria.com) also offers an extensive range of army surplus, which allows re-enactors to depict modern conflicts and holds items connected to various armies.

Larger scale

From this brief look at what is available in the smaller end of the scale, which reenactors need to get started if they are to depict modern conflicts, things lead on to the larger items, which need to be added to increase the interest of a display. Vehicles are the obvious option and these can be bought from various sources, including owners who are getting rid of a vehicle type, because they want something different. This arrangement suits everybody. Vehicles can be bought either through classified adverts in specialist magazines or websites such as (www.milweb.net). On this site, there can be found all types of trucks, motorcycles, and even armoured vehicles, along with the tools needed for their maintenance. It also lists hundreds of dealers and support services all of which are useful in depicting modern conflicts.

Of course, we are used to seeing all types of vehicles at shows and the clubs or societies, such as the MVT and IMPS, are recognised among vehicle owners and military enthusiasts. The Historic Military Vehicle Forum (www.hmvf.co.uk) is a very useful Website where, as the title says is a forum, questions can be posted. Answers are then posted in return and everyone is satisfied. This site, along with Milweb, are the sites to begin looking for the heavier items for re-enactment displays. This includes artillery and vehicles. If you are looking for a specific type of vehicle, or piece of artillery, then, somebody on either of these sites will give you the answer. These can be considered as the Social Media sites for military enthusiasts and they do work exceptionally well.

Head turners

As experience grows and more equipment is added, there comes a point when a group may want to add something to the display, which will really ‘turn heads’. I have seen displays, which incorporate anti-tank weapons, such as the L4 MBAT (Mobile Battalion Anti-Tank) version of the L2 Wombat still being used by the British army in the 1970s and 1980s. Although dispatched to the Falklands in 1982, the Wombat was never deployed for action during the war. Instead, the Milan anti-tank missile was used, which had better accuracy being wire-guided. By coincidence, a recent check on the D&B Militaria Website show that the company has Milan missile tubes for sale, which can be used to complete a modern conflict display.

Now, whilst Milan is entering the area of technical weaponry it is also a headturning item. Other similar anti-tank missiles, such as the American-designed TOW, are now available for modern conflict displays, including Desert Storm, and shown mounted on vehicles. There are events where even larger missiles, which are also more technical, have been put on display. These include the Rapier anti-aircraft missile, which was used by British forces in the Falklands and the Gulf Wars and other armies in other conflicts. The Rapier can be obtained from the Historic Military Vehicle Forum website. It is expensive, as to only be expected, but the cost is worthwhile for the effect it has.

The thaw

With the end of the Cold War, a lot of former Warsaw Pact equipment produced by Russia (formerly the Soviet Union) or one of its former client states from Eastern Europe, can now be purchased, also. This includes vehicles, artillery and even missiles, which at one time, not that long ago, were considered highly sensitive and of a secret nature. For example, the SAM 6 ‘Gainful’ anti-aircraft missile can be purchased from sites such as www.mortarinvestments.eu. How time changes things, and today these items, which were once only seen as grainy photographs in magazines and books, are now available to collectors and vehicle owners- at a price. In fact, uniforms of former Warsaw Pact forces are now on sale at militaria fairs, along with chemical warfare suits and all manner of other items of equipment. This availability helps greatly and allows the range of re-enactment displays to be extended.

Such displays depicting modern conflicts can be demonstrated by groups of all sizes, from, say, just a handful up to a couple of dozen members in a group. We now have Northern Ireland from the 1970 and 1980s, complete with lookout towers, vehicle barriers, and even vehicles to show what was used during the period known as ‘The Troubles’. These include Ferret Scout Cars, Saracen and Humber ‘Pig’ APC and, of course, the ubiquitous Land Rover. Move forward to Desert Storm and the Land Rover, albeit a different version, is still being used alongside other vehicles, such as the Warrior APC and the American ‘HUMVEE’ high mobility vehicle, which has seen considerable service in modern conflicts. This vehicle now features in a range of scenarios depicting American forces in modern conflicts, including Iraq and Afghanistan.

The displays showing WWII weapons and equipment are interesting and have a wide appeal to all age groups visiting events. However, the displays showing the modern vehicles and weapons are familiar to the younger visitors who will know and recognise the items from television and the Internet and because of that, they find them fascinating in a different sort of interesting way. These are the items that are depicted in computer games, which today have the most realistic visual graphics. This adds to the excitement for today’s younger generation. If that means it keeps them engaged and attending re-enactment, then I for one am all for it.

This is the generation that have seen the films such as Jarhead, The Hurt Locker, Bravo Two Zero and Three Kings, which feature all the items re-enactors have on display. These things they recognise in the same way the older generation recognise vehicles and weapons from an earlier period. Looking at it from this point of view, re-enactment and modern movies share a lot in common. They both have a wide audience appeal, which maintains this interest in each other. We have seen this already with the old WWII films, now it’s the turn of current movies with their theme about modern conflict to keep this interest in wanting to see re-enactment displays from the recent events.