Tuesday, 1 October 2019

To the Netherlands in a big hat.

Wuustwezel! (Vurst-veezel) just up the road from Hoogstraaten In deepest Belgium. Promised another fantastic event from Ron Van Dyck.



As the last huzzah of the year, with not many 45eme going and me wanting to give drill/Musketry a rest for the reasons put in the previous post I pondered what I could go as..

 Journalist maybe? But I rather wanted to be in the battles which looked like they'd be interesting, with cavalry, barricades and pyros.. too good to be in a role where I mainly kneel down and fail to finish drawing anything. Hey, stand still!

I had Austrian officers kit I'd never made use of, on the French side it was passibly close to the Westphalian eighth regiment but without epaulettes and with the blue collar somewhat faded.. but with a rainy weekend predicted I'd just wear a greatcoat over it.
Narrative wise I was an orphan, the flotsam and jetsam of the eighth regiment disbanded after Leipzig. I'd never met/heard of anyone reenacting the Westphalian army. So one of the first things I was told on arrival was 'Oooh there's another Westphalian over there!'



Earlier it was up to London to stay with good friends then a Channel tunnel crossing and drive with three reenactors in a mini, which proved a bit longer than predicted. *Understatement* and the closer we got the worse the rain.. fortunately other than raining on the parade it was mainly in the early hours/morning.


The battlefield, both sides of the tree lined path, which had a nice ditch for skirmishers to fire from and us to leap across in retreat.


Wuustwezel by night, the church is the local landmark which we passed on the way to a/the restaurant, a change from bread and cheese.

As officer without portfolio I felt I had to balance the impression of being useful with retaining an air of dignity. The air of dignity was probably more important and when I took a place on the far left as our unit lined up with the rest of the French army it transpired a Caporal was meant to take this place as guide a gauche. so I smartly took a step forward.. only to find myself one pace in front of the entire army, I couldn't really push back through so turned on my heels and marched along the front of half the army to get one end and walk back to just behind where I'd started. I think it worked.
By the end of the weekend myself and this corporal had a great rapport for me stepping out of his way just as he was two paces from it.


The strangest thing about the role was in my mind I was about nineteen, I was the expendible ensign from Sharpe, even if other officers were about the same age they were the veterans who could doubtless order three platoons to do three different things at once, I mainly just stabbed people.


And stab people I did on the Sunday, or rather cut at them in telegraphed slow motion.
 Having not done much on Saturday I felt I might as well assist against any close  assaults including to neighbouring units, and the soldiers were willingly defeated, indeed a theme of the weekend was when a unit knew it was to lose, especially the Prussians and Dutch they would go down like nine pins. One volley was comically effective in turning nearly a whole unit into a heap of groaning bodies.
It was a really good natured event.


I had fully planned to die after falling back to the barricades but after one big attack from the allies the Dutch commanding officer called for a parley, and one senior and one junior officer appeared in no man's land, our General strode out to meet them, on his own? Should he not also be flanked by an attending officer for the sake of etiquette and moral support? I found myself as ADC, not that any ADCing was required.
I thought we might yet refuse to surrender, but a truce was agreed, there would be no final assault. I would live!


It was then straight from the battle to the camp, a flurry of hugs and handshakes, and to the car for a quick get away!

And so the year ends. The possibility of an event in Corsica was broached and some talk about Russia! Mental calender is already filling up. I just need to win the lottery and retire to it full time (tough when you only do the lottery about twice a year).

I feel 2020 is going to see some big events!




Monday, 16 September 2019

A lighter shade of bleu...

Way back in the spring of 2018 Quatra Bras was my first event of the year after a winter where my shoulder had 'frozen'.  The muscle plate was like stiff, scarred leather but the general prognosis was of getting better after two, or three years, hopefully, maybe.

The foggy nights in Belgium that weekend didn't help and when we started doing drill  I pondered if I should take up another role. I simply couldn't make all the shapes.
But it wasn't so bad at later events, and I soldiered on, until drill at Cheriton suddenly agitated something.

What to do? Of course we do this for enjoyment, my officer was first to point that out, if someone can't do something, nevermind. It's a hobby.


But at Quatra Bras after that drill we had been by the roadside when the Marshal had appeared, quickly we drew together and presented arms! The salute. Except I had a twinge in my shoulder and transferred the weight to my other hand for a moment or two.
Click. A picture later appeared on Facebook deriding the unit for not saluting properly. Of course I'd like to get that guy's head and crack it against a table until it also hurt, but he will never know that there was a reason for me holding my musket like that. I don't know what his problem with the rest of the unit was, maybe his protractor was stuck up his arse and he couldn't measure the angles properly, or maybe he was upset that he had to go more than five miles from Paris and the champagne and truffles parade circuit.
Even with a note from matron I'd rather not be the only one in the unit going to Porte arms differently to everyone else.


We already have a very good medical display from our infirmiere, there are other camp roles like traders, or my journalist impression or running an illicit gambling set up or being some administrative/political post or what about being even a proper regency era painter with canvases and an easel etc?
Or take the chance to do something obscure (especially in the UK) like a Bavarian cartography officer or a Westphalian pontoniere?  These would need to be tailor made and have the disadvantage of only being apt for the French side from 1805/7 to 1813.

Also I'd still like to take to the field and do some fighting.
Voltigeur? I didn't want to diffuse the appearance of the 45eme any more, we need a measure of uniformity and things are looking good, plus you should really still be in the ranks doing the same drill.. I needed to be attached to the 45eme and yet not..

A supply role? Logistics would also give me something to talk about, the sheer amount needed just for a gun battery is quite astounding. Every infantry battalion had two supply wagons attached.

The uniform for the artillery train, the train d'equipages (general supply) and the Ambulance drivers is very similar and with a cover over my shako I could easily adapt my look to each as required. Each was issued a musket or carbine and could fight, defending a gun position in the artillery role or helping and protecting our Infirmiere as an Ambulance man.


Research! Research! Research! Napoleon's specialist troops' from Osprey and the book below was very good for all sorts of supply/support services. 
One of the key factors was eliminating oddities, like one book that described Ambulance drivers as having brown trousers, something which doesn't tally anywhere else. 


I will keep all my fusilier kit for campaign events and for those events where we are sometimes short of troops, particularly firers.
So the project for this winter is to get this impression together with its curious mix of infantry and cavalry style gear, although the wagon and horses will have to wait a bit.


Thursday, 12 September 2019

Twenty nineteen.

Crisis!  This blog has somewhat fallen aside this year, I was writing up every event because I liked to keep a record, a diary, of every event for future recollection.
But it does feel like repeating oneself sometimes. I missed three events due to having my appendix out, then cracking a rib, so a recap of those I managed to get to..

Horsham Bastille Day!

A big French market of cakes and pastries and saucion and, er, vegetables..  and gallic attractions such as a band, vintage cars, our comrades in the children of the revolution with their guillotine display and ourselves made up this festival in small town England.

It was surprisingly civil and full of genuine interest, with only one awful bloke who seemed to channel the spirit of top gear repleat with making offensive jokes then saying 'only joking!'. I volunteer this man for the guillotine.


The unit had been here years ago for similar events at the behest of a French cafe/restaurant, and we had been at the museum for their Waterloo 200 event.



Cheriton multiperiod!

Hosted by the Sealed knot (English civil war) with added medieval, Napoleonic and some American civil war shenanigans it was the first large multiperiod event I'd been to for a while, not far from Winchester, and apparently not easy to find if driving around the country roads.


It was a tightly packed schedule with us waiting at one point whilst the medieval  display over ran with us clearly twiddling our thumbs and coughing. As one battle ended the next lot were ready to march in. Unless British of course.

The Sunday battle really was like this.


The parliamentarians, or possibly the Royalists, push forward. I never can tell unless Prince Rupert is involved.

Grössbeeren!

To Berlin.. the battle of Grössbeeren took place in August 1813 when Napoleon sent Oudinot to capture Berlin and hopefully knock Prussia out of the war. It failed. Terrible rainy weather and the geography of lakes and sandy soil turned the advance into a crawl and a Prussian and Swedish army met the French and Saxons here, who wavered and turned back. Berlin was saved! And every year this event is on, including a big fun fair, craft stalls, the camp, a torchlit parade, a battle, and fireworks.

Napoleon's hat from Waterloo, now in the German history museum.

Anyone for medicine? Good for what ails ye. You can always trust a man in a top hat and bare feet. I should have asked if he had anything for mosquito bites.


The King's Thaler!  Given to all by the Bürgemeister at the commemoration on Sunday morning. After which things pretty much wrapped up for the weekend, giving me most of a surprise day before my flight.


The great Silesian Landwehr before the Bülow monument.

'Our bones will bleach outside Berlin, before we take a step backwards!'


2019 is not done with quite yet, we have a small contingent going to Wuustwezel (in Belgium, although it sounds like it should be in Holland) in a couple of weeks for what promises to be a grand event from the organisers of Hoogstraaten 2014. Once more into the low countries...



Wednesday, 5 June 2019

our man abroad..

MASSACHUSETTS GAZETTE


Our correspondent, Wilbur Schlager, has returned from the old world with correspondence and illustrations from the recent conflict in Bavaria.

Six weeks at sea has cured this correspondent of his travel bug, thirteen in total if you include the return in an unfavorable wind and so you will be reading of the campaign in Bavaria some two months since the last shot was fired and the forces of Napoleon Bonaparte were marching on Vienna.


On my arrival and travels north I had to regularly try to gain intelligence on where the armies were mustering. For the French and allies I was told to make for Ingolstadt on the Danube. A journalist constantly runs the risk of being taken for a spy and my neutrality as an American citizen and enthusiasm for whichever side I was currently engaged with stood me in good stead. My Purchase of both a Bavarian and Austrian rosette from a reputable Dutch tailor was also a boon on close inspection although I feared discovery of 'the other' every time a soldier took a little too much interest in my possessions. 


From Ingolstadt I followed the armies march towards Regensburg, to travel in the wake of an army is woeful. Food and wine will be in short supply, prices high, and abused citizens may be angry with strangers, again I played my sympathetic aüslander card. Even in the wake of their own troops suffering is not uncommon and the weather had been unseasonably bad making transport slow.


It was a Bavarian corp that I caught up with on the 20 April. I was off the road in flat country, scattered with woods and farms. The roads heavy with supply wagons and guns. It cost me half a bottle of rum to get a seat by a fire. They seemed confident, thinking the foe must be worse off than themselves, and Napoleon had arrived whom they seemed to have confidence in. 


My experience of what I would later learn was the battle of Eggmühl was limitted to one small corner of the sprawling conflict. I fled from a small wood when I took a dislike to the number of cannons pointing my way and found myself on the lip of a rise with a column of Austrian Grenadiers marching forward, groups of grey clad jeagers in hunters hats flitted around them and engaged with their opposite number.


  I believed the Austrians had the better of it from their initial advance and sounds of melee but the white coats were soon in retreat, cannon shot ringing after them.
 I moved for comfort, I shall never forget the brute force of a cannon ball plunging through a light wood as if the trees were matchwood kindling, as if the devil himself, all enraged were crashing through the trees.


From my new perch I saw a Bavarian troop asail the wall around the Schloss Eggmühl, called a castle it's likeness is like that of a French châteaux, more mansion than stronghold yet a wall of stone yet made the assailents pay in blood before the ladders were raised and smoke indicated fighting beyond.


An officer of the 2nd Bayerische Chevaux-legere informed me that the battle was won, yet my ears told me blood was still being spilt and There on the flank battle was given next day. There is little love even in peace time between these neighbours.  I heard 6000 had fallen on the Franco-German side and twice as many of the Archdukes men. 


The sorrow of war is I would meet a Bavarian soldier and chat in ernest, then hours later be in conversation with a fine Austrian, and wish them both well, hoped they both would have good fortune yet both may end up a victim of the other.


The army, for I found myself again with the same Bavarians, marched onwards to reach Regensburg and a seige, for that famous stone bridge has stood some six hundred years and defied both sides attempts at destroying it. Panic started in the army as I was on the outskirts of the small conurbation, much damaged, north of the Danube, Napoleon was dead!

 But no fear, he soon made a supreme effort to show it was but a wound to his foot. Lannes, frustrated by failure, now snatched up a ladder and retorted 'I was a grenadier before I was a Marshal, see how a wall is carried!' His example inspired the men to another assault that carried the day.

I did not go into the smouldering town, but lodged one night with the baggage and headed east along the river and enjoyed the growing prosperity as I voyaged south and so to the sea, away from the war. It is America's blessing that war has not laid our towns and villages to waste in our generation and long may peace reign.

Wilbur Schlager, Boston, June 1809.


Monday, 20 May 2019

Battle of Lewes!

Lewes is probably the nearest place to me that has a semi-regular reenactment event, but I've never managed to get along and indeed in 2019 I was set to be in Almelo, Holland, but my appendix intervened and blew up. Can't be doing anything taxing as it heals up. A foray to Lewes as a non combatant however would be a welcome change of scene for the day.
On Lewes bridge with the mayor (obscurred by large armoured men), that is Simon De Montfort in foreground with the dastardly king, his foe, to his right. The appearance at the castle and here was to advertise the event and the Sunday battle.


Back at the convent field the weather turned, I prayed for intervention and said the sun would come out for the battle, no one would have to die in the rain, and I'm sure it worked.


 'Oh you're a monk!'

Is the general public response, understanbly enough to my new guise which I got a couple of years ago but not had an appropriate outing for it, however I am not a monk.. making the reenactor in me want to put them right.. well it's a conversation opener!
 A monk removes himself from the world to contemplation in a monastery. A friar is the opposite, out in the world, hands on, helping the needy and spreading the word.



 Saint Francis, founder of my order, had been wealthy as a youth and briefly a soldier in Italy but repented of his worldly ways. As a non religious person I would come at this role by remembering my admiration for this, friars and Fransicans especially are my idea for how Christians should be, not wealthy and preaching from comfort but living by example, One fellow asking me questions announced that he was a catholic and for a moment I thought he might take umbrage at someone depicting a religious figure, but he didn't and I feel as long as I respect the role no one really should.



I didn't take to the field given my convalescent state but watched the crowd line and let down the rope when the troops went on and off. It was a modest affair with more folk expected the next day. There was one participant pf note whom seemed to have come to a medieval battle as a 1970s Biker, but with a sword and shield!   Ive never really seen anyone who looked a bit.. lost? No one had said anything, maybe they didn't have the heart?  How do you even do that if you are the organiser at a small event?  Mate, this is the battle of Lewes, 1264, not Easy rider, 1964.


The mysterious mound near the convent field is actually.. , no one knows, maybe something to do with Druids. especially if you know Lewes.

It's a pleasant local event and I believe they will try and make it a semi regular feature, events often grow when groups get used to set dates to put in the calendar. I loitered for a bit with the Free company, some of whom also appear in these adventures as the Napoleonic sappeurs, and then wondered like a pilgrim to the train station all of two minutes up the road.

                              Tempus est ire in domum suam. Time to go home.




Ickworth III


My third Ickworth, always a good kick off for the season and always cold or wet or cold and wet, or wet and cold.
l did have a slight sense of trepidation though. Last year was without any of these Napoleonic association camp behind a country house/battle in the afternoon/socialise around fire in evening events and I wondered if I would still enjoy myself as much, last year having been heavy on campaign and foreign events.


What wasn't typical was splitting the armies in two as their was a test for a future campaign event on the site and the NA wanted to see how the space worked and try some objectives out. It would also be a good taster for those unfamiliar with this sort of running skirmish and treks. The sides were all the riflemen Vs 16 French volunteers, of whom I was naturally one.


One of the NCOs observed that the group seemed to have forgotten that troops do actually form units and fight/march in formations when not actually skirmishing My own view was that this was new to quite a few and the novelty of ducking and weaving and firing round trees had overtaken them, it was a different format to standing shoulder to shoulder and listening to orders and it was fun, plus the hotch potch group had lost its recognised command structures, bar the overall officer, which may have added to the impression.



It certainly didn't hinder effectiveness or elan and I think the French spirit worked particularly well in firing the troops up. The Rifles enjoyed the event and admitted they found it galling to cope with us playing them at their own game. Their attempt to outflank us making us pivot around firing from different directions, the hunters had become the hunted! 


Before I'd even fired a shot I went to show a family how a musket worked, including how when you pull the trigger the flint hits the frizzen and sends sparks down into the powder.. Gchink! The end of the flint just chipped away. This would be the way of it all weekend, I got through seven flints in two days, must have been a very brittle batch. Someone somewhere must dig up masses of flint just for reenactors.


The battle on Sunday started well with the bagpiper being surprised and shot, if only this could happen sooner,  Friday afternoon for instance or before they leave the house.
Our plucky vanguard of Sappeurs was soon overcome by a cavalry charge, something they have a dramatic talent for.
Then we, the main army, marched on from the flank having all filed over a wall, shhhh! Down the far corner and hopefully surprising the audience although quite a few of the British have probably seen this ruse at Ickworth before it does work well.It was a lively engagement with two wings fighting it off and the smoke hanging in the damp air. 


But the day was not ours, apparently decided at the officers meeting by a coin toss!  The vengeful redcoats decided to shoot our medical infirmiere but he legged it to much applause. 







A good weekend all round.

Monday, 12 November 2018

Night in the Trenches.


The weekend of 10/11 November 2018 of course marked 100 years since the end of World war one and saw commemoration events all over the world. There had been a plan to go to France but it fell through due to lack of information/planning but then there was Night in the Trenches at the Staffordshire regimental museum.

I had misunderstood when I first heard of the event and thought it was actually all night in the trenches and apparently it once was but a change in management decided they didn't want people on site overnight, especially not with sporadic fighting, and it would be tidied away by 23:00.
Tommy only needs a cup of tea and he's happy.


I was clearly having a bad day as I was captured six times! During each public trench tour a British team would capture an unwary Bosch and deliver him under fire for interrogation, which was quite hairy and I pretty much fell into the trench on the last occasion, which added to the realism and made children cry (again).
These duties were shared with Martin (a proper actor, above right) and we both shouted very German sounding nonsense on delivery ''Der Kuhlschrank ist Leer! Der Kuhlschrank ist Leer!' (The refrigerator is empty) and 'Meine hase ist im krankenhaus! (My rabbit is in the hospital).
 Being marched out through the allied trench led to more jokes. ''Didn't we capture your brother earlier?" and "look out they've started cloning!" 



The battles were after the fourth and eigth tour and involved fire between the trenches, both of which had a machine gun, and a few bombs going off, so pretty noisy and atmospheric in the dark. Then the French would get into the left flank of our trench and drive us out before we counter attacked.. a grand attack from all the French/British/Americans would then over run us and the survivors were marched out as prisoners, then formed up for the public.

As a medic I was quite distracted by dealing with the wounded, applying bandages and morphine whilst the chaos went on around me. Only really knowing we'd been over run when a Tommy was herding my comrades passed. 

There was soup and sandwiches at half time then we did it all again! 

So on Sunday morning I was traveling home, just coming into Kings cross at 10:54.. was in St Pancras international at 11:00 and just took my hat off and stood quietly. It was all a bit anticlimactic but I felt in a way that I was reminding people as I travelled through London in uniform, kit bag over shoulder that these stations had seen thousands of soldiers, often conscripts, pass through, a great many never coming home.

And so also ended my reenactment year, quite late being November. Quite a lot to look back on like the adventures in Malta and my first great war shows which seem set to continue despite a predicted drop in big events, much as was said when the Napoleonic bicentennial events came to a close. People with a passion for the era will keep it alive!

No more events but may post up the odd editorial piece in the off season.

Looking forward to 2019, hope to see you there!