Monday, 17 October 2016

Prussia falls!

Last event of the year. Jena, Germany, 210 years since the battles of Jena and Auerstadt! A battle that I didn't know that much about before heading up on it for this outing, and it all started with a car to the coach to the ferry and more coach with an airing of 'Pride and prejudice and zombies'. We arrived at five o'clock on a very cold, dark morning. The sun would soon rise over the great rolling landscape of Thuringia though.

This was my first 'early' event and we all swapped our shakos for bicornes, although mine was a bit of a sad old civilian style, I signed up late for Jena! I also decided on the stripey trousers to add to the effect although 1806 was already far from the days of the ragged armies of Italy... but which way to wear it? Sidelong? fore and aft? a jaunty angel?  I went for jaunty, partly as the back peak kept being knocked by my rolled up blanket when straight and the left side got knocked by shouldering the musket if straight across. you can't beat jaunty.

One of my favourite bits was that morning, just taking a walk with two of the other guys up to the long ridge, now lined by small trees and plaques bearing statements by Europeans about the mistakes of the past and hopes for the future, and the odd battle memorial. From the ridge you get a fantastic view of where the French would have come across from the south and south-east, including the Dornburg hill and Trafenburg, both of which are less pronounced than they appear in contemporary pictures. There is a windmill at one end of the ridge which was rebuilt by locals to replace the original a few years ago and makes a great reference point.

Having strolled into Vierzehnheiligen and having a bit of spare time I grabbed my sack and thought to look at how far it was to Isserstadt where there were supplies (the coach had been unable to stop for any, although there were apples everywhere!). No sign of it on the horizon, but I kept going. Soon after a car pulled up and (presumably) asked where I was going.. I explained and was told to hop in! Dropped off outside the shop I offered my thanks but was quietly concerned at how far away I might be from camp. However the walk back proved fairly straight forward, the church tower being visible from half way back and then being given another lift. German people always seem so helpful.

Later on it was wondered if there would be enough food for a dinner and lunch.. which made me ponder the French army of the day where food was theoretically provided from above.. but a soldier that couldn't secure food for themselves was likely to risk going hungry. I can think of at least one soldat who would have probably died without being fed and watered by his superiors!

We were meant to be marching out to the battlefield at Cospeda and doing an hour and a half of brigade drill before some food and then the hour and a half battle. In reality by the time we had done a pleasant(ish) route March there it was getting late and we went straight into the sausage-bread-beer lunch. It's funny that some events say no drink! whilst here they give it away, sure it is only one but it took so long to dish out the provisions I'm sure a few seconds were sneaked in.
Things went from askew to farcical in the next half hour as our brigade commander (whom I'd mentioned in a previous post for marching us up and down in specific and theoretical ways.) maneuvered us about. We literally marched down and back up and across the hill and waited (along with the audience) to get engaged as the cannons to our front fired across the gentle valley. There had been a rumour that not all units were going to get to do much.

Finally we were on the march, closing with the enemy. A white coated Saxon battalion just ahead and across to our right presented themselves. We stood around a bit. Any of Napoleon's firebrands or any wargamer would have seen the picture and pushed us into the convenient gap in the line to start volley fire but it seemed to take some hints from the lesser mortals before this happened. Much better, we were firing vollies, niggles are forgotten when the shooting starts!   Some pretty fireworks went off and further up the field a startled deer was seen streaking across the field. Cannons were roaring at us from across the field.

Sadly the deer was not the only animal to be startled as a rider came off their horse and was injured just behind the Prussian line and an emergency vehicle rolled on to see to them. On the right a great cheer and rush went forward as the Prussian line gave and the French there went forward but on our part the troops surrendered with more of a sigh than a scream. That was it then. Historically we'd be pleased at our marginal involvement. Indeed there were few visible casualties, I had been told at a previous event everyone had been given a number and if it was called you died! good way of imposing a sense of fate on participants, will I get through this one or fall at the first volley?

So we we're marching back to camp, by a quicker route than we came in on, and there were plenty of people there until we got onto a track across the fields, marching at a keener rate than the poor motorists trying to get out along the country roads.

Second night was mild compared to the first, when I had armoured myself against the frost with long coat and hat on and double blankets and a (faux) furry shawl/poncho thing and it all worked very well. I think this would keep off all but a Russian winter, which is good to know. The straw is also a help but UK events don't have it.

For breakfast I cooked some butternut squash, I wasn't sure how peeling and halving it before spitting it on a bayonet was going to turn out, I feared it was going to be black on the outside and uncooked in the middle but on peeling away the skin of black it was lovely and well cooked, will make it a regular provision next year, is quite hardy too.  My bottle of Barwurz 'Traditional Bavarian root schnaps' was spurned by all. Poor Barwurz.

Sunday was a day of rest, there was a formal ceremony at the church in Vierzehnheiligen but due to space only a few regiments were in attendance, a few of us went to watch though. Amidst the dignitaries and generals, including the Emperor, there were quite a crowd of locals turning out, it was all very respectful yet friendly.

I wasn't sure what to do with the rest of the day (packing up about half three) and wandered back up to sit under a tree on the Europaweg and have a drink and look out over the landscape, occasionally passed by a strolling silver haired couple hand in hand or little groups of cyclists or horse riders, many of whom said hello. It was lovely, though I suddenly felt a bit maudlin about the whole Europe thing, so went to find cake. There must be cake.

All in all it was a good weekend, glad I signed up for it, and just being there was a top draw. The disorganisation around the battle and not really feeling like we did much on the field were a little bit of a down side.
I also felt mildly embarrassed that as there were no official duties on the Sunday the public were wandering through an 'Historical camp' heavy with plastic beer crates and bin bags and a motley mix of fully dressed grenadiers sitting next to blokes in t-shirts and combat trousers. I fully appreciate some folk had to get away early but with a lot of public around at lunchtime maybe ask units to stay in kit until one o'clock at least but over all a good time was had and saw the season draw to a suitable close.

Possibilities are already a foot for 2017, Marengo in Italy has been whispered about even though I"m not aware of an organisation going on for the event.. I've booked time off for Brettan (Landskneckt fest) and James and I are keen to do at least one campaign event in France. In the mean time like minded Generals of little men are keen to get together for some war games over the winter. So if you'd excuse me I have some Hungarians to paint.


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