Monday, 1 June 2015

Western Heights, Slippery slopes.

Fouth trip to Dover! I wondered if I'd have much new to recount but there certainly was! It was quite a warm day but I elected to pack my habit (jacket) and wear the greatcoat so as to best spread the load without wearing both. I would just go at a steady pace..

It was the usual long train trip along the coast and I ended up at last change over at Ashford international where there is a bit of a wait.. the platform supervisor I met before invited me into the office so that he could get his colleagues to see a musket and gear, something I am glad to do.. and maybe it was all for the good as once back on the platform a conductor asked me about it, I didn't like the cut of his jib, him quoting regulations about no firearms being allowed on trains, fortunately the platform staff guy was there and took my side saying 'He's got no ammunition and it's been deactivated' (not the correct term which I expect he knew as he used to work with the marines).. and the guard shrugged and went away but without this intervention I wonder if he might have refused me travel.
As I work on/with trains I have asked about this before, even to British transport police and they don't mind if you have a licence, a reason to carry it and it's all kept in a bag. If you enforced every railway byelaw to the hilt there would be a serious cut in passengers but you always get a few 'by the book' people.

I arrived at the camp site in fairly good, non sweaty form, though was glad to shed the coat and pack. The Highlanders and Guards were about to march up to the fort at the top for drill and I tagged along shortly after.. and was shot twice and stabbed with a spontoon to add a bit of comedy action to the British drill, and spoke to a few people about the French point of view.

A chap who used to be in Sharpe was there, Jason Salkey, who is well know on the circuit.. I said hello and half expected him to be a bit 'Galaxy quest' (the film where some jaded actors from a cult TV series keep doing conventions etc to pay the bills) but he seemed a really nice guy and was interested in what was going on, and remembered my name a bit later.

As evening drew in the temperature began to drop a bit and I was glad to have the coat, it was time for a Napoleonic bayonet kebab and drop of wine.

The lights of France appeared across the water but soon faded as rain arrived and killed the off the fire (most of the wood was already damp) and those of us left retreated into the biggest tent where most stayed but come sleepy time I took to my canvas cover and slept quite well, once waking up with cramp that despite resistance made me get up and hop about for a few minutes. I next woke at dawn with a sound of the rain and dawn chorus, which gave a lovely impression as I usually wake up to the sound of downstairs washing machine...  but drifted off again. When I got up more of the 45eme were just arriving.

Wind and rain would be on and off throughout the day and awning up and everyone dressed we marched up to the top to do some drill and a firing display and have coffee and cake... and march back down again.

The skirmish was at 2.00 and it remained dry but my musket was already a bit rusty and the sandpaper I took to remove it had got wet and disintergrated! So I changed the flint and hoped to get a few shots off at least. It was the usual suprise attack and capture the fort scenario.. with the redcoats coming back to take it. I did a nice bit of scrabbling up and down embankments and after a couple of shots began to have misfires.. not getting the sparks.. but it wasn't too bad, about half my shots still went off before I was captured and pitched to the ground as Duncan, our Officer was last to be caught.. as they planned to shoot him I managed to sneak off from my guards with a pantomime SHHHHHhh! to the crowd, I almost got away before a Highland light infantryman spotted me and I was chased right round the back of the main mound only to briefly appear at the far side before stopping when just out of sight.. running in a full pack is not good for you.

Back at camp there seemed to be a flurry of photographers about, one of our unit, Carolyn was firing for the first time as 'Soldat Rene'.. which seems a tradition at Dover, as I and a few others had burnt our first black powder there, and one photographer got a great shot of the first round going off. A chap from the Footguards (Micheal Hastings) took a lot of portrait pictures of us, such as the fantastic one below.

Then it was about packing up time. Any hopes that my load would be a bit lighter by wearing habit under my coat and having eaten/drunk provisions were quashed by the fact some of my stuff was fairly wet, which was an illustration of how much difference rain would have made to being on the march.
I heard that the British used to sleep top-and-tail with one blanket beneath and one on top of two men, if it rained in the night the soldier whose blanket was on top would have to carry a heavier load and most likely complain about it. This gave rise to calling someone who moans about something 'A wet blanket.'

Got back last night and I'm off today, writing this is a good way of putting off sorting out my gear (particularly hard on the trousers this weekend), really going to town on cleaning and de-rusting my musket and attempting repairs to my shako which has suddenly decided to have multiple bits fall off it. Sigh. See you all Soon! 

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