Wednesday, 28 May 2014

In an English country Garden. A F%^&ing Huge English country garden.

Painshill! Long anticipated by many due to the number of the unit coming as well as a joint birthday party in the evening sun, except for the pounding rain which people woke up to on the Saturday morning.

I'd packed most of my stuff the night before and this one did not require an early start so I sat on the train to Clapham Junction and then Leatherhead, perfecting the art of sitting (reasonably) comfortably whilst wearing a full pack. I met dear John Flapejacque at the station for the last leg of the trip. The rain returned as we started to try and put up the camp so there was a brief repose in the Offices tent (with biscuits) for those already on site as we waited for it to pass, and the sun indeed came out.

Tents and awnings up I had to chose a spot for my own canvas.. literally a sheet of tent canvas but (hopefully) enough to cover a recumbrent self and gear during inclement weather, other than a short sharp shower at Eastbourne I had been pretty lucky with the weather so far. This would be a fine test.

More familiar faces were arriving and some new ones (Hello Ian!). I wandered over to a big, low tree which I had considered as a Bivouac site to find a piquet of riflemen setting up, to keep an eye on the French! I had promised one of them some lovely brack bread that my wife had made in exchange for some hardtack biscuits. This might seem a one sided exchange but I wanted to try them. Gosh, they are tough, to snap one in half you have to put some oomph into it and chewing one is labourious, they taste abit like someone had condensed five rivita into one.I plan to keep the one I've got left to see how long it remains edible.. or weevils emerge.

That night was party night as two of our unit had 100 years of birthday between them to celebrate and soon the barbeque was smoking and the beer barrels were staved in, just to be cliche there were also frogs legs and snails going round. A great time was had, but nothing silly, really.

I certainly slept well that night. Painshill park is a large landscape garden and another great thing about renactment is you get invited to stay in these places and you can go for a wander before the place is even open to the public, I went for a walk in the morning sun and saw some lovely views.

After breakfast; drill and accreditation. The latter is basically making sure you know enough drill and firing procedures, especially in relation to health and safety, with firing you should be fine unless you either point the musket at someone or put your hand over the barrel when loading. Some units are a lot more formal than others, Ive seen one group giving out test papers, again each to their own.

By now there were more public around and we headed for lunch and to make up cartridges. Then it was form up for battle!
The battle area was long but looked fairly narrow being a roadway down a valley, opening up before a lake. We were turned instead up a track and onto the top of the hillside/ridge overlooking the roadway, behind some trees, and just besides the light artillery. It was going to be an Ambush!

The artillery opening the fire and the Voltigeurs of the 69th going forward firing, we soon advanced down the hill (apparently a bit late but the trees prevented us from seeing what was going on) and wheeled to give some volley fire before closing to melee and jeer at some redcoats 'You woudn't hit a man with glasses would you?' I asked my opposite number as we locked muskets 'No, would you?' 'oh No' 'Okay, lets just tusssle on the spot, raaaaagh!'

Being pushed back we wheeled and faced a formed up unit of riflemen who gave some excellent vollies that should really have swept a lot of us from the field but our lives had to be conserved, later it was agreed we should at least have a couple of blokes (probably non firers) fall out wounded, if only to stagger up again. My section went into open order and firing at will until we dropped back and were promptly charged by the Rifles.. we were to take some casulaties, so faced by two of the Green devils I went down. All I could see from then on was grass but apparently we won!

Back at camp it was time to clean muskets, the full monty. It was nice to be able to help people who had not done this before, even though I was in that very camp myself at Hoogstraten. Another pleasant evening drew in with food and drink and games and sing songs. It is great that everyone comes together and whilst the 21st century does make an appearance after joe public has gone home it is still camp activities that would not have been out fo place in the day (except the water ballooons maybe) that go on, people don't slope off to watch TV on an ipad or make long phonecalls or even read books and most of us ended up sitting round the fire chatting, singing and playing word games.

Earlier in the evening  it had been proposed that a small patrol go out at the crack of dawn to infiltrate the British camp and give the Riflemen on piquet duty something to do.. James and I even did a recce up a track through the woods that came out at the back of the British camp so that we could infiltrate, it felt like a real espionage operation and as we were in our whites we might not even be recognised as French.. although Im sure this was only in our minds.. we even took our hats off... Ideally we would be able to fire a few shots and I loved the idea of sleepy British in their tents going 'What the..? are we under attack or something? sound the muster!' but sadly the Rifles Sergeant asked his guys and they were not up for another night of piquet duty. Maybe another time.

I retired to my bed and at some point became aware of water on my face, I had wiggled out of the top of my canvas and it was just starting to rain.. then grew heavier. I struggled to pull everything under the waterproof cover, my pack was already my pillow but I grew in my breadbag and any of my coat that was poking out, and made sure my musket (behind me, in its bag, was all tucked in) and so got back to sleep with the sound of rain falling just by my ears ,though I discovered the top of my bonnet de police had escaped and got quite damp, oh and my pom pom was soggy.  But overall I was pleased.

 Drill on the second day was largely practicing conversions from line to column and back again and everything seemed to go smoothly, drill on the second day of an event always seems to go better and my theory is that on the first day you are a lot more individually minded and perhaps overthink responses.. by day two you are acting as a unit and reacting with less forethought, your memory of the French commands is also back in place too, recognising the command even if you don't know what the actual words are.

For me the second battle was also better, despite the rainy conditions I didn't have any problems firing off quite a few rounds, and there is a real satisfaction in getting to fire half a dozen rounds off in a stretch. Suddenly we were under attack by cavalry, we have never practiced forming square because for practical reasons unless you have atleast two ranks of four on each side (32 men) it just looks more like a 'A huddle' so instead we simply turn the rear rank about and present muskets, a Hussar attacked me and Duncan (the officer) and I crossed muskets with his sabre before he galloped off to try elsewhere.
                          The Corporal scouts ahead.. cavalry can be seen in the distance.

After this we were charged by redcoats, losing quite a few men but falling back before they came on again before I bought it.  I think I have died in every battle I've been in.. as a non-firer you are often asked to be amongst the casualties so the firing people can put on a show till the last (and pretending to fire is much more obvious when not camouflaged by the smoke of others). Now I think I've come to see it as a volunteering thing for the good of the event. You hear both sides grumble sometimes about how 'the other side refused to die' but I suspect it is more to do with confusion and keeping numbers up for a while than stubborness on most peoples part.

After the battle there were still quite a few public about but the weather and the main event being over they soon seemed to melt away and word came that we could pack up camp, everyone really pulled together and seemed to just get on with doing something and it wasn't long till cars were pulling up and damp canvas' stowed away with pots and pans and chairs and muskets and shakoes and blankets and everything else. Au revoir!

I really enjoyed this event and felt at the end I'd reached a bit of a plateau, that I wasn't a newbie anymore.. I think because I'd been able to help some of the new guys I realised how much I'd picked up myself and on both drill days I'd managed not to blunder into anyone or turn the wrong way and even when using the twiddly ramrod felt I was firing a little bit quicker.
On the way home I was felt almost oblivious to being in kit, having had it on for three days, often amongst the public, it just felt so normal. I just wanted to sit on the train and zone out however a chap asked if he could take a photo which I was more than happy to oblige, and he noted the train was the 18.12. He was an Elvis impersonator from East Croydon and we had a good chat, me going into my store of 'fascinating facts' about the hobby and the history.

Good days.

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