The Way Ahead
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- Last updated: 22/02/2021
As we go into 2021 we can look back and reflect on 2020 as being, without doubt, the most extraordinary time for everybody. For all those who enjoy hobbies involving full contact, such re-enactment, it has proven to be the most demanding time in recent living memory. With events cancelled, museums and public places closed plus personal contact being curtailed, we have followed the advice from the famous wartime poster which urged people to ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’.
For almost a full year we have been living with COVID-19, the effects of which has forced on us an unprecedented change in our lifestyles as we followed guidelines with ‘lockdown’, self-isolation and social distancing, all of which go against our natural desire to gather and mingle. Although these restrictions have been inconvenient, we understand it is for the health and wellbeing of us all. We also know that such measures are only temporary and they are proving effective because we are following the guidelines.
Despite the difficulties, people have remained optimistic, dealing with all the attendant exigencies, and showing themselves to be highly resourceful. Most people have mobiles and PCs through which they have been able to keep in touch with friends and family. Some have used this technology to produce very imaginative and entertaining short films to keep us amused. From wartime sing-a-longs to dancing lessons and comedy, they have evoked the spirit of the Blitz and cheered up many viewers. Some re-enactors have turned into budding film directors and produced clips showing fashion, hairstyles, cooking tips and recipes.
In the early months of the pandemic, event organisers were optimistic and hoped their shows might be able to go ahead. Sadly, one by one they had to follow guidelines and cancel their events. Visitors, vehicle owners and re-enactors who had filmed at previous shows used their computers to edit clips of the film and present them as home movies. Seeing all the fun, excitement and energy was a nostalgic reminder of what we have to look forward to when the crisis is over. Throughout the crisis, everybody has been patient, but now it is only natural that we should be eager to get back to normality.
Zoom meetings have allowed groups to keep in touch and introduce re-enactment to potential recruits. I’ve taken part in several Zoom meetings which have allowed people from different countries to discuss mutual interests. Militaria collectors have also used this facility and museums are joining in with presentations, virtual reality tours of the galleries and so much more. It is also a great way to pass on news directly, especially if it concerns reenactment and collectors events.
In the early months of the crisis, event organisers used social media to keep us up to date about show cancellations and apologising for the inconvenience caused. We all understood the reasons and remaining at one and the same time optimistic and sympathetic. With 2020 behind us and the recent news about vaccination, things are looking more hopeful where event organisers are announcing advance notice for dates of events in 2021. For example, the Mid-Hants Railway, better known as The Watercress Line, at Alresford in Hampshire (www.watercressline.co.uk) has sent out dates for the summer ‘War on the Line’ event which, if things continue to improve, will be held on the weekend of 12-13th of June. Looking even further ahead, the popular Watercress Christmas Leave Train is scheduled for 27-28th December 2021. The village of Southwick in Hants organises the commemorative D-Day weekend event known as the ‘Southwick Revival’ and it too is hoping to hold the event on the weekend of 12-13th June. The Dig For Victory Show in Somerset was due to be held at its new venue of Ashton Court Estate in Bristol for the first time in 2020 but was cancelled. The website (www. digforvictoryshow.com) carries a message from the organisers who are hoping it will be held in 2021.
Other events which were cancelled in 2020 included Wartime in the Vale in Evesham, Worcs. (www.ashdowncamp.com) and the War and Peace Revival at Paddock Wood in Kent, (www. warandpeacerevival.com). Looking at the website for each of these highly popular shows gives their dates for 2021 as being 19-20th June and 27-31rd July, respectively. At the time of writing, the news was good, with a vaccine and the start of an inoculation programme, which, if all goes well, could see more events being given the ‘all clear’ to go ahead. So, keep checking on the official Websites for news and updates.
Despite the lockdowns, traders have still been able to continue, as re-enactors and collectors shop online. Several dealers I have spoken to report good sales because of the facility. I’ve used this method a few times myself over the past few months and I’m very impressed with how easy it was, with speedy deliveries direct to the door. Specialist companies supplying equipment to re-enactors such as Soldier of Fortune and Epic Militaria, both based in Wales, each offer great telephone or online ordering services. Both companies post regular updates on their respective websites and their reputation for quality and their services are first rate. You can even buy gift vouchers as a birthday or belated Christmas presents.
Militaria dealers found the lockdown particularly difficult because collectors fairs were cancelled. However, they did not give up and many expanded into trading online, some for the first time. Collectors responded by making purchases using the facilities. Small, light items like medals, photographs and badges can easily be posted but larger, heavier items require specialist handling. For these deliveries, there are reliable courier services specialising in handling bulky packages and they offer next day delivery to your door, which saves a lot of time. Dealers in de-activated and replica weapons for collectors and re-enactors, in particular, were able to dispatch deliveries to customers using these courier services.
Lockdowns also led to museums closing their doors, but the news is good and getting better by the day, with some re-opening and announcing details of future dates for new exhibitions and special events in 2021. At present, anyone wishing to visit a museum will have to pre-book a date and time slot online. The National Army Museum at Chelsea in London has ‘posted’ dates for its programme of exhibitions and displays on its website, including ‘Foe to Friend’ which details how post-war Germany became a member of NATO. The museum is arranging online talks, projects to download as well as offering online shopping for items from its range of goods, which are suitable for all ages. Full details of these events and how to pre-book a visit can be found at www.nam.ac.uk
Fort Nelson as part of the Royal Armouries has re-opened, along with its sister museum in Leeds, and both are currently running a programme of displays and exhibitions along with talks and presentations. It is something else to consider and demonstrates that enthusiasts can still enjoy their interests remotely. Both sites are continuing to sell a range of items, including books and replica weapons such as swords and pistols, all of which can be purchased online. Visits to both sites have to be prebooked but addmission is still free and full details can be found at www.royalarmouries.org
The Imperial War Museum joins the list of those sites re-opening the doors of its various locations, including HMS Belfast, Churchill’s War Rooms and Duxford. A range of items can be purchased online and these, along with full details of booking and opening times can be found at www.iwm.org.uk.
The Tank Museum at Bovington in Dorset has announced Tankfest 2021 will be held over the weekend 25-27th June and tickets can be pre-booked. Check out www.tankmuseum.org
So, the news is good and we can only hope it stays that way and things can move ahead with militaria shows and other venues re- opening. Let’s hope that by the summer all the usual re-enactment events will be back on. Everybody has been restricted, but overall, people have been very understanding and we may have lots of surprises in store. Re-enactors will not have been idle during the lockdowns and put their time to good use creating new groups and displays. Even now, groups across the country are preparing for when the shows start again and unveil the results of their hard work.
As pastimes and hobbies go, reenactment and militaria collecting are adaptable, and because of this, have survived challenges before. However, nothing could have prepared us for this current situation. Things have slowed down and changes have been made which has stretched us to the limit. But having survived this situation we can move forward and together face anything.