Why the blog? I recently got into Napoleonic reenactment and thought how helpful it would be to other new recruits, or those considering taking it up, to hear some thoughts, get advice on starting out and where to get kit, things they might need, and generally be encouraged by the great time I have had so far. I called the blog Left foot forward because all movements in French army start with the left foot going forward!
Reeneactment is something I had considered doing several times before, but never got round to it. Napoleonic history and wargaming had long been an interest of mine and whilst I have been happy to fritter away money in dribs and drabs on other hobbies the costs involved in getting kitted up for reenactment as well as potential travel costs (especially as I don't drive) was the main thing stopping me. I also have a job where where I am required to work the majority of weekends and wondered how I would get to attend events short of using up all my holiday or getting lucky with the rota. None of these things would prove insurmountable.
One evening I shot off a few e-mails asking people who run groups off the Napoleonic association website whether they were looking for new people and what advice they could give to someone wanting to start out. The fact that it was the tail end of the bicentenial events surrounding so many battles was also a prompt, the lure of Waterloo 2015 being something I saw as a real big life experience. Also I am not getting any younger, better now than never.
Duncan from the French 45eme was the first to reply and a dialogue started and basic questions answered, a close second was a Prussian landwehr unit but they were based a bit further away and I was already gravitating towards the French point of view. I never considered joining a British regiment and shall record why later on.
I printed off forms for the 45eme and Napoleonic association began getting little bits of kit, McFarthingbowls were a great source of cutlery, cups, a canteen and such like. My first mistake was ordering a sabre-briquet, a short infantry sword which as a line infantryman I would not need but I like swords! I managed to cancel that one in time. First big purchase was a greatcoat, this was a practical thing because it can cover up a multiple of sins, a habit (uniform jacket) is one of the most expensive bits of kit to get hold of but a coat will do and will also keep you warm, you'll just have to deal with the heat in the summer but remember your a soldier now! I also sent off my application for a black powder licence, and am still waiting on that 3 months and an e-mail later.
I got my great coat from history in the making who were very helpful, and remember putting the coat on to find it a fine fit and with the canteen and havasack slung over each hip I could already see a passable French soldier taking shape. I had also picked up a couple of pairs of linen trousers off ebay for just a couple of quid, and they have proved fine stand ins for actual white breeches.
I started considering what event to go to first, it was early in the season, the first event was abit far/pricey by train and another consideration loomed for the first time.. a lot of events are at country houses or outside of major towns and for someone without a car you will have to find your own way, look ahead for buses or taxis, use google maps to find options and distances. Also booking train tickets online in advance will save you a tidy sum, always plan travel a few weeks in advance if possible.
By now I also had a 19th century shirt off ebay and a waistcoat (military vest, white) from Sutlers store. Seeking advice about the former got a mixed reaction, and some condemnation, but the item turned up in good time and I have had no problems with it. Fathingdale's also supplied a cheap bicorne so I wouldn't be bareheaded, going about bareheaded was apparently looked down on.
I also got some black gaiters (can't remember where from) these were also useful as I could wear a normal pair of black leather shoes and get away with it, the bottom covering the laces and detail nicely. Mud and people nipping your heels on the march are also good reasons to have gaiters to keep your shoes on.
When getting kit, ASK around your group, once you sign up you will doubtless have access to a forum or a facebook group and people will help out, also try to check how long an item will take to arrive, many are bespoke and will have to be made to measure. I just bought a backpack and then noticed an average wait of six months, if you want an item for a particular event you can always ask if they think it will be ready in time. Also regiments want more members and most will have kit to LEND people, infact if you had nothing and wanted to 'try before you buy' most will kit you out and the Napoleonic association will even let you join for one event in case you decide it is not for you. Despite my lovely wife advising me to give it a go before buying into it too much I had already kind of taken the plunge. I would not regret it.
Woolaton, Nottingham would be my first event!