Dig for Victory Show
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- Last updated: 19/12/2016
The term ‘Dig for Victory’is believed to have been coined by the late Michael Foot when he was working for the London Evening Standard newspaper during WWII. The slogan was picked up and today, more than 70 years later, it is still being used as the name for re-enactment events themed around Home Front, the best of which, in my opinion, is the show of that name which is organised by James Shopland and held in the grounds of the North Somerset Showground at Wraxall near Bristol. This year’s event was held over the weekend of 13th and 14th June and on entering the grounds the first thing I noticed was how much bigger it was than 2014’s event. At a guess I should say that it was a good 50% larger, with more vehicles and traders’ stalls.
This was the third time I have visited the show and on each occasion I have always been struck by the range of displays, which are not massive by any means, but rather the complementary way in which they support one another. This is very much a non-Axis event and, apart from a couple of Kubelwagens on show, there were no Germans on site. One can understand this in a way, because of peoples’ sensitivities, but it did seem a little bit strange all the same.
Despite this, there was still plenty to see and opportunities to work with new groups and create scenarios. The event is themed along the lines of ‘Home Front’and the Allies, especially the Americans, which is in keeping because a number of American units were based across Somerset. Being a farming community there were displays showing how the industry operated in the wartime years, including horses pulling heavy wagons and making hay.
The first thing which struck me as I entered the grounds was the wide range of vehicles, from the small amphibious M29 Weasel used to tow trailers through to the massive Diamond M20 Diamond T981 transporter with an M4A4 Sherman tank on an M9 Rogers Trailer. The French Army Re-enactment Group, the FARG, which depicts the French army since WWII, including Indo-China, Chad and Algeria were on display with vehicles including a Panhard AML-60 armoured car with a turret-mounted mortar, a Hotchkiss M201 Jeep and a Renault 2087 truck. They had a selection of personal weapons with them such as the MAT49 SMG, MAS36 rifle and the Modele 24/29 machine gun which could be pintel mounted on a vehicle. We have met before and we have agreed to collaborate on a feature later in the year.
It is incredible what is seen at show such as this, such as my old friend Derek Woodward who usually turns out as a policeman and has even been seen as an army padre, but here he was looking very smart in the uniform of St John’s Ambulance. My attention was drawn to the tail section of an Me Bf 109 sticking out from a hedge as though it had just crashed. This called for the services of a Home Guard to stand sentry to guard the crash from souvenir hunters. I had seen another familiar face, Kevin Drake, who portrays Home Guard and a quick word with him and he was fully kitted complete with P14 rifle and bayonet and very much looking the part. Kevin has only been involved with re-enacting for a couple of years and has already participated in many events with his one-man display of Home Guard.
Another one-man display was Russell Coles from Bristol who was depicting a member of the 2nd Australian Imperial Force which fought against the Japanese on Papua New Guinea. Apart from his uniform, what drew my attention to Russell’s appearance was the fact he was carrying an Owen SMG. This was a most unusual weapon and one which I have never seen outside of a museum. It transpired that Russell wanted an Owen to complete his portrayal and went on the website at www. wwIIairsoft.org.uk and left a message on the forum asking if anyone could help. He was contacted and told they could assist. Sometime later he took ownership of the replica Owen which is very convincing and does fire pellets using an airsoft mechanism. There is some debate among re-enactors as to whether or not airsoft weapons are acceptable, I am not taking sides here, but if it means the possibility of seeing more unusual weapons for the sake of authenticity then they should be seriously considered. We already accept replica machine guns such as .50 calibre and other weapons, so why not Airsoft Owen SMG and other rarities such as the Italian FNAB-43 SMG or Japanese Type 100/40 and Type 100/44 SMGs?
The number of traders’ stands had also increased since 2014 and now included those selling militaria and even reproduction items such as insignia and badges. The specialist supplier of deactivated weapons D&B Militaria were on site for the first time and were satisfied with the response. In fact so much so, that they have announced they will be back next year with a wider range of items. Another new-comer to the show was Stand Up, Hook Up which specialises in reproduction items for 101st and 82nd US Airborne Divisions and also the Women’s Land Army. They too were satisfied with the response and will probably return next year, also. With leading name traders such as these coming on site it will encourage others to follow and I am sure we will see even more big names at the show in future.
Although ‘digging in’ is not possible on the site, there were enough static displays to keep visitors busy and interested. Displays of weapons, kit and vehicles encouraged questions and the Home Front displays in the dedicated marquee attracted much interest, also. The farming display of the wartime period was very unusual and proved popular, especially seeing the horses pulling wagons. This was truly Home Front and showed the real thing, unlike many films and sanitised television series.
There was a good turnout by Women’s Land Army to complement this display. There were also plenty of strollers – for instance, Robin Armstrong who looked very smart in his uniform depicting the Internal Troops section of the wartime Soviet NKVD. Robin explained he lived in Russia for 10 years and speaks the language and has enjoyed a life-time interest in wartime Russia. He has a fine personal collection of memorabilia and has also taken part in battle excavations that included the uncovering of war dead.
They were identified by their personal papers and later given a proper burial. Battlefield archaeology is becoming very popular, but must be undertaken correctly and all the evidence recorded. The vehicles were the main attractions of the show and there was plenty to see. James Shopland who organised the show had brought along a number of vehicles from his own collection which includes many unusual types such as a Canadian-built Fox armoured car and an Austin K5 truck with a 6-Pounder anti-tank gun mounted in a style known as ‘portee’. This method of transporting the gun, rather than towing it, reduced wear and tear on the gun carriage and was used mainly in North Africa. This combination is more often only seen in wartime photographs, but here it was on open display and looking spectacular.
Static displays by re-enactment groups portraying US 29th Infantry Division, both the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were arranged around the vehicles and the 3.7 inch anti-aircraft gun was displayed in a firing position. Gary Everard and Steve Curtis were two friends down from Bristol who were displaying a 1942 Ford Jeep in a most unusual way. Normally we see Jeeps fitted with rubber tyres for road use, but the vehicle was extraordinarily versatile and served in a variety of roles. Gary and Steve decided to remove the road wheels from the Jeep and fit railway wheels in their place and position the transformed vehicle on a length of railway track they had recreated using wood. Information to support the display showed what the real thing looked like in use during the war.
Although there were no Germans on site to conduct a battle re-enactment against there was still an arena display showing a skirmish with pyrotechnics and blank firing weapons. The real firepower display came in the form of the only live-firing 17-Pounder anti-tank gun in the country. This weapon is very large, weighing around three tons and the barrel measuring 13 feet and nine inches in length. It was introduced into service in 1943 and was used in Italy and Europe and continued in service with several armies after the war. It was produced in several versions including being fitted to armoured vehicles such as the Sherman to produce the ‘Firefly’ and a self-propelled version known as the Achilles. It fired a 17-pound HE shell at 2900fps and the APDS projectile at 3950fps capable of destroying even the most powerful German tanks. At the Dig for Victory Show it set off car alarms when it fired.
Each day there were three arena display with vehicles driving circuits which gave plenty of opportunity to see them in action. From small Austin ‘Tillys’ to a Sherman tank and M8 Greyhound armoured cars, these displays allowed the vehicles to pick up speed going through their paces. The Sherman was shown being loaded and unloaded from a Diamond M20 T981 with its M9 Rogers trailer, a sight not often seen. Jeeps, trucks and liaison vehicles such as a magnificent Chevrolet ‘Suburban’ car in US Army recruiting markings proved more than satisfactory for visitors. The gates opened each day at 10am and closed at 5pm and after seven hours even the most enthusiastic visitor was worn out.
This is a show which is set to run and run, as well as grow in size. Indeed, I predict that as news of the event spreads it is set to become the premier show in the southwest of England. It will take time to achieve this status and a great deal of hard work, but if anyone can do it, James can, ably assisted of course by his ‘Team Wraxall’. If you are a vehicle owner, re-enactment group or trader I suggest you contact James to enquire about attending next year’s Dig for Victory Show. Already he has announced next year’s date which is 11th and 12th June 2016. So, make a date in your diary.
I would like to extend my sincere thanks to James and all his staff for making my visit so enjoyable and I look forward to seeing all again next year. The official website is at: www.digforvictoryshow.com and details of James’ collection of vehicles can be found at www.shoplandcollection.com