Re-enactment - The Gun Nuts
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- Last updated: 17/09/2023
When a group of like-minded military enthusiasts get together for a chat, the outcome can often lead to an unexpected result. In the case of father and son Darren and Cameron Cooper, it led to the founding of ‘The Gun Nuts’ in 2016. Several years later and what started out as an interest group has developed to the stage where they attend military shows to display weapons from their collection, such as Wartime Wheels at Caldicot Castle in Wales. That is where I met up with them over the weekend of 29 April to 1 May, along with fellow Gun Nuts, James Aylott and Calum Garre.
Their display on that occasion was a large, open-fronted gazebo in which they had arranged some eighty weapons from their collection as an open-air museum. Positioned to face visitors walking on site, it was intriguing to watch the reaction of people on being greeted with so many weapons. Visitors were fascinated and the four men were kept busy as The Gun Nuts easily became the most visited display on site and held people the longest. ,
I spoke with Cameron who explained that the whole thing came about after his grandfather died, bequeathing to him and his father a legacy of historic firearms which he had collected over many years. Fortunately, they were serious about all things connected with military history, Cameron being a long-standing re-enactor, and they decided to show the weapons at events. The popularity of this choice was evident from the number of people asking questions and taking photographs.
The Gun Nuts is not a club nor a group, but a gathering of four enthusiasts who between them hold one of the largest private collections of weapons, spanning more than eighty years from the start of WWII to more recent conflicts such as Iraq and Vietnam. The fact that there is no glass to separate visitors from the weapons, allowing a clearer view, and with four highly knowledgeable people on hand to interact with visitors and answer questions, it could not have been more perfect for weapon enthusiasts.
All their weapons are legally de-activated, including the ‘sectionalised’ examples. These show the internal workings of certain weapons, such as the RPD light machine gun. Many countries are represented, including France, America, Britain, Russia, Belgium, and Germany, with designs from the familiar AK-47 and M-16, through to those less familiar, such as the 9mm Hotchkiss ‘Universal’, which is an all but forgotten design. Where it is not possible to obtain an example of a particular weapon, The Gun Nuts have no option but to fall back on a replica, which is explained to visitors.
Based in the Swindon area of Wiltshire, The Gun Nuts have established a fine reputation for themselves through attending military shows. This has led on to them being invited to attend other shows, such as the White Horse Military Show (www.whms.org.uk), which premiered last year and where they will again put on their display over the weekend of 19-20 August. Their Facebook account is an ‘open group’ and has a good following, with many supportive comments from people who have seen their display.
The weight and bulk of transporting so many weapons would be beyond the capacity of any family car, so they have acquired an ex-military Leyland DAF truck, which is driven by Darren, who also doubles up as the cook for the group at weekend events. With the truck, it is possible to transport everything needed for the weekend, as well as all The Gun Nuts together.
The range of weaponry held and displayed by the group includes pistols and runs up to anti-tank weapons, with the earliest being a muzzle-loading, percussion carbine dated 1847 and stamped Tower armouries. Being classified as an antique, places it outside of the de-activation requirements, and it is in excellent condition. If an enthusiast looking at the collection used a reference book as a ‘checklist’ against the display, a lot of ticks would mark the pages, while a collector would give admiring nods.
The selection of shoulder-fired anti-tank weapons includes examples of both the M1A1 ‘Bazooka’ in the original 2.36” calibre and the heavier, post-war M20 ‘Super Bazooka’, plus the Panzerschreck and Panzerfaust. Other post-war AT launchers include the LAW66 and the RPG-7, which were both used during the Vietnam War. The handguns include the Colt 1911, Russian Tokarev Model TT33, plus the German C-96 Mauser, P08, and P38 pistol. There are also some Smith & Wesson and Webley revolvers.
The collection of sub-machine guns includes familiar types such as the Sten Mk 2, German MP 40, and the Russian PPSh and PPS-42. You will also find the M1 Thompson and the 1928 model with drum magazine and ‘Cutt’s compensator’, as well as the British ‘Lanchester’, as used by the Royal Navy. The rifle section included the Martini-Henry, all the way through to the German K98, with the Italian Carcano and Russian Mosin-Nagant along the way. All of them were hanging on display boards like the pages in some 3-D book.
At the front, so tantalizingly close, yet out of reach because of the security rope, were the machine guns. These ran from light designs such as the Bren, Browning BAR, and distinctive Russian DP 1928, through to the heavy types, such as the Vickers, Browning .30 cal, and Russian Maxim. A German MG 42 fitted with a ‘saddle drum’ magazine was shown attached to a high-angle mount for use in the anti-aircraft role.
The list just goes on, and instead of asking what The Gun Nuts have, it is easier and quicker to enquire about what they don’t have in their collection. On request, an item will be brought forward for people to have a closer look, but they are not allowed to handle the weapons. More exhibits are being collected all the time and where several examples of a weapon are held, these are kept in reserve. Inert ammunition for belt-fed machine guns in boxes and magazines for rifles, SMGs, and LMGs add to the display.
Laying all this out is hard work but for these collectors, it is a labour of love, because they enjoy what they are doing. As if they don’t have enough to look after, these guys are always looking for items to add to their collection when at shows or militaria fairs.
It’s not just members of the public who visit the display, police and members of the armed forces are equally fascinated to see something which they may have only ever seen before in books. Darren explained he is working on an idea which involves taking a selection of weapons to present talks to police forces on the types of firearms they may encounter in the course of their duties. That sounds like a great idea and one which is sure to work.
After any show, it comes the time to pack away everything and make sure that nothing is left behind. With such a valuable collection, extra care has to be taken. Loading the truck is heavy work and has to be done in reverse when they get home. Even then, no one can relax until they have unpacked and cleaned the weapons, especially if it has been wet at the show. Weapon collectors will appreciate the value of these items and, like any investment, they know they have to be looked after.
Look out for The Gun Nuts at shows, you will be impressed by what you see and enjoy a great conversation with any of the guys.