Wednesday, 23 October 2013

LEIPZIG! the Big one. (Part Two)

The march began along a lane, thousands of men and women in a very long line, three or four abreast. Already people were watching and filming away, here and there an outbreak of singing. Across a road and onto a slope up to the field.. cresting the ridge the full scope of the battle area became apparent, it was over a mile to the far end, the opposed units were mere smudges on the horizon. Battalions filed into place and then.. lunch.  There was a good atmosphere but it was slightly tinged with a sense that orders would be filtering down.. with a bit of muddling through.  

Then the order to march! Soldiers struggled to their feet, only to be marched another 100 yards. This is also a great part of what things were like, also I had not worn a backpack before and could feel it pulling, especially where my musket rested, and the ploughed ground underfoot took extra effort to get along whilst remaining in file.

Away to the left a cavalry battle was swirling away, too distant to distinguish who was who. Cannons thundered on the horizon, you would have hoped they were not aimed at you. A soldier feels safe out of musket shot, almost in another world, but with artillery fire you can imagine the anguished sense of impotence at men dying around you and being unable to do a thing about it.
Light troops engaged ahead of us came running back, we crossed over the bridge to the other side of the field.

Suddenly shit got real. Prussians units were converging on us and two light field guns were brought up closer. We began firing and advanced.

This was perhaps my favourite moment. The band behind us struck up 'Le victoire et nous'.. one of my favourite tunes, a real fist waving piece, we were going forwards right into the enemy, you had to shout to make yourself heard. Volley fire began, I felt the shots singe my thumb, my mouth was dry with gunpowder, and then cavalry swept though between the Prussian battalions, hooves pounding as they galloped past mere feet away.  A real sensory overload! somewhere at the back of my mind the thought 'How the %$^£ did I ever end up here?' ran through my mind.

                                                            Taste the Awesome!

We then got charged by Prussian fusiliers, amid which a young Prussian officer told us we should be falling back. He got short shift, in a well meaning way. Soon though this proved the case. We went back over the bridge to reform a good way back. The village was on fire.

The only problem I had with firing was when I had started to load and then not had time to fire, I was unsure in the confusion a few moments later whether I'd got the charge in (and no one had told me you don't push the paper in for tap loading, I think its easy to forget what might be obvious when you are an experienced old hand). A comrade sorted it out though.

Back to the front!  Down to the river. The plan was for us to cross and the bridge would be blown up with us on the wrong side, but this never materialised, I can imagine several reasons why, logistics, getting people far enough from the blast in a battle, technical difficulties..   so we stood at the fore of the battle (at least on this wing) and traded shots.  Then the Bavarians ran, changed sides and disappeared over the bridge. On came a tidal wave of Austrians and it was all over for me.

The battle still ranged on for a while, the remaining French were pushed back up the field, and Napoleon made his escape...

Another thing you learn about the attitudes of the day is the animosities that come through.  The Old Guard get get paid ten times what the common soldier does yet often don't do the fighting, the Staff poncing about in the rear, at one point our cavalry rode past us, galloping to the rear and I thought 'It's alright for you, you're out of here!'   All in a nice way of course, but they arise out of sympathy for the men you represent.

Everyone got up, units reformed before the crowds.

                               Then came two minutes silence, and a single tolling bell.

All the battalions formed a column of march and left the field, along the line of the crowd who applauded all the way. Some units sang. We regularly shouted 'Vive l'Emporer' and ' Vive L'Leipzig!'

What a day it had been. The biggest reenachtment event ever, or so I am told. I doubt anything so bold will be seen until 2015. It gave me a whole perspective on the European scene and I loved meeting people from all over the world who all came together for this day in a big field in Saxony.  also that despite grand strategic notions and plans.. the common soldier knows absolutely nothing about why he is being sent forward or moved back again.. nothing but the twenty yards around him. His world is reduced to just a few comrades either side of him.

I will never forget that Sunday in October, 2013. 

LEIPZIG! the big one. (part one)

So the day finally came, when I booked the trip it seemed distant, now, here it was!

To cut a long story short I arrived in Leipzig about midnight, and sans luggage. Fortunately I was wearing my greatcoat over my whites, with gaiters, and a breadbag as handluggage (now rather stuffed) and my musket had been brought along by Duncan in a car, so I could always scrounge enough kit together to make it onto the field.

As many a soldier has done before I wondered between campfires asking if anyone knew where my regiment was.. 'aaah, a momente..' *gives cup, fills with brandy* 'No, I donta know."
(my big map and a spare phone battery were in my lost luggage btw) I was twice pointed in a rough direction of one of the other bivouacs and set off. Eventually however I turned back other than end up miles away. I should cut my losses, it would be easier in daylight with more people about.

I pitched into a pile of staw by a row of tents to sleep, the moon was bright and I pulled my greatcoat up to my face. A church bell chimed two o'clock.
A woke up now and then and then heard voices nearby, looking up at two greatcoated figures who seemed to be wondering if I was dead. They invited me to sit by their fire and as reveille was called they kindly offerred me breakfast. They were Russians (playing French, 33eme) and it was quite a breakfast, lentil soup with sausage, bread and cheese, black coffee and traditional Tenesse Whisky. I was quite set up for the day and quite moved by their kindness.

The Church by Touhaus Dolitz, just two minutes from camp, where Austrians and French fought for the bridge and surrounding houses on the 16th.

Setting off again I saw a group of Police and asked if they knew where 'Biwac drei was' (I now had a small map) they were not sure.. but put me in the back of a Police car.. and drove me to the Torhaus Dolitz, and here it was!    However the troops were about to march off for battalion drill and I just got to shout over a fence to my Officer what had happened and that I should sort luggage out and be here for afternoon practice.

I got back (still sans luggage) in time to meet up with the others and que at the 'field kitchen' for potato soup and a lunch bag for the next day. There was to be another practice as our brigage was very much le internationale and having units who had not drilled together before and speaking several different language had seemingly made the earlier practice not run as smoothly as the General would like.  I stayed behind with a comrade for a bit of 'shooting' practice/drill, having not been in a battle and loading/firing before. It is quite an experience and a joy to start, me, a firer at last! No more pretending. The flash and burn of powder. I never appreciated before the slight pause between pulling the trigger, the pan igniting, then the charge in the barrel going off. A couple of beers followed.

That evening (now with Luggage, I put my case in an Hessian sack to make it inconspicuous) :-) I was the guest of the Sappers and Miners and a couple of drinks, song and banter around the campfire. Joined occasionally by a plodding Norwegian on sentry duty (which goes on all night).  Turned in about eleven, stretched out under a table as a bit of momentary drizzel threatened rain. Slept like a log till about half six when a very loud cockeral woke everyone within a hundred yards up, no one actually shot it.

There was a great thrum of activity as breakfasts were finished and folk started to get into full kit and form up. Brigades formed at their alloted places and marched to the practice field where I believe Napoleon was meant to review the troops. However He was stuck in the traffic. Much milling about was done, watching units arrive. Marshal Ney appeared. So everyone formed a marching column and we were off to the battlefield! 

Sunday, 6 October 2013

In the wilderness, or sadly, not.

So I've had a bit of an enforced break from events but this evening saw a photo from a previous event and was struck with a real feeling of missing people and longing to get kitted up and do something.

I could have gone to Sheffield fayre but it was only a week after till Stanton st. John, the big campaign weekend! so I held out.

Then it got cancelled at the last minute. No fault of organisers but rather that of some attendees dropping out and making it financially and realistically tricky to run an event of that nature. Was very sad for those really looking forward it, self included, I was particularly looking forward to roughing it and doing sentry duty.

Still it's less than two weeks till Liepzig 2013, my first continental event and something way beyond the scale of what I've seen so far, being the 200th anniversary event and historically the biggest battle of the Napoleonic wars. 4000 people have registered to attend, with over 2000 of them French/allied including nearly 200 cavalry and 37 cannons, thats a lot of boom just from our side. Gonna be awesome, a real event to remember.
The battle itself is on the Sunday, the conurbation has doubtless grown much since then but is just to the S/E on the edge of the city today, between the city on map and where the Old Guard were.

I should also be firing at last. I got my black powder and shotgun licence.  After my forms finally went through (one had been m.i.a)  and being advised that I would need a securicord.. basically a metal coil that is secured to a wall and locks a single gun/musket up.. and getting one.. The firearms officer and a trainee came round, I even put a smart shirt on.  I was worried She would try and dislodge said chord with as much effort as she could (I had heard of a firearms office literally wrenching a gun cabinet off the fall and saying 'Not good enough!') but it was just a bried inspection and some questions about what I wanted it for, (reenactment with the Napoleonic association), who I lived with, checking I didn't want ammo/powder in house etc etc etc.

About two weeks later it turned up! A mug shot of me looking like a criminal and declaring that I am a member of the Neopolitan association. Oh well, close enough. 

Next thing; buy a musket, then a jacket and I'll be all kitted out!

Speaking of gear, still have not got back pack and bonnet de police, I really like to give people the benefit of the doubt but I have my limits.  SJ Seamstress said I'd have it by September (really needed pack for Stanton to carry everything). Never came. Waited two weeks and e-mailed again (they have no phone) and got a What? I gave it to some one else to send, I was away! response, told I'd have it by last Friday, still not here. They also seem selective about what e-mails they answer, a direct question about timing seems to illicit no response, a trivial thing does, strange that. Today I said get it to me within a week or give me my money back.

In other news I have a new job (starting tomorrow), on the trains, hours are a bit tougher but pay is much better, holidays pretty good and free or cheap travel.. all good for a reenactor!  hoping to find out about holidays quite quick so I can book of dates for next year.

I shall leave you with some Saxons, geographically seeing a lot of them soon! 

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Holding the Fort.

Eastbourne. Land of foreign students and resentful local youths, fish and chips, a pier and a shopping centre, and a two hundred year old redoubt that was recently captured by the French.

This was my fouth event with the 45eme and I remember when joining up first perusing the list of scheduled events for the year ahead and thinking 'well at least I'll be able to get to Eastbourne!' being only a 45 minute train ride and a walk. Gladly I have made many more events and I get the impression it is not uncommon for newcomers to soon realise that what might have been an occasional dip into history becomes a real drive. I certainly never expected to be travelling abroad to do it, at least not this year. 

Anyway, after the usual variety of pirate themed comments (it's the hat) from youths and more military related salutations from the elderly (there is not much in the middle in Eastbourne) I arrived at the Redoubt.
It was much the same crowd as Dover, including the Foot Guards and Scots, it seems British regiments tend to be more localised whilst the French are more scattered, I suppose with more British groups people will gravitate to the nearest unit and the Foot Guards seem to be just that.

Together we marched along the seafront and I had the honour of carrying the Eagle. Occasionally peeking up to see if it was facing the right way whilst not seeing anything on my left owing to the attached flag. Nevermind. Keep going. Look dignified. Chin up.

On our return I was invited to fire a blunderbus by the 'Hands on History' stall. Goggles on and Boom! it went. 'I think something just stuck in my face' I nonchalantly thought whilst dabbing a finger on my nose. there was red stuff. I asked for a tissue. A bit of schrapnel from the case had hit me. They decided not to use those cases anymore. Dabbing at my nose/tache area in the bathroom however I noticed a glint of silver, a bit of it was still stuck in my face and I had to track down some tweezers (which apparently can't be kept in a first aid kit) and remove it. First injury!
The chaps at the stall were apologetic and I later fired there cannon, It was a small matter and I expect things like that to happen occasionally, there is always room for the unexpected and the improbable, and whilst I hate to agree with Jeremy Clarkson on anything health and safety can often be a great tool in stopping anyone doing anything.

Abit of drill followed in which I made the most obvious of errors in turning left when everyone else turned right, indeed I felt often just a moment behind everyone else as my brain processed the words. Then a lull so we had another jaunt along to the pier, heckling people to come along to the Redoubt! I confess I ate some non-authentic food when we all stopped for ice cream at the end (Officer's treat). You can't turn down free ice-cream.

There were some great displays/events leading up to the skirmish that afternoon and much chatting with visitors, then as the time approached.. the heavens grew sullen and grey.. we brought the time forward half an hour and .. it absolutely poured down the very moment we stepped out. Fortunately no one was going anywhere so it was merely a pause. The wet conditions made a great effect on the smoke which drifted over the stones.

Whilst volleys were fired myself and a few others scuttled about as skirmishers, the British were wittled down and forced to retreat up the stairs, I was rather pleased to run all the way round the top level and come up behind the last Scotsman standing.. who refused to surrender and was killed with his own bayonet.  

We all went out to The Belgium cafe that evening, which I highly recommend. Both for food and drink and good service, and a jolly time was had. Back at the Reboubt (yes, they let us sleep in it) we crashed out in our cosy entrance tunnel to the tune of the British singing rugby songs. My usual plan for discomfort (lying on flagstones) was kindly ambushed by the lending of a further blanket and a jacket so I made what looked rather like a doggy bed with a sandbag for a pillow.

Next day ran much as the first except after our victory it was up the British to recapture the liberated fort. Gradually we were pushed inwards and suddenly I was the only bluecoat left, duely captured and with my fate resting in the hands of the locals. Who naturally demanded I be shot. Villains. I managed to get off a few half remembered lines of Le Marseillaise before the fatal volley. Which reminds me to try and learn some songs....

Aux armes, citoyens,                                                               To arms, citizens,
Formez vos bataillons, Form your battalions,
Marchons, marchons ! Let's march, let's march!
Qu'un sang impur Let an impure blood
Abreuve nos sillons ! Water our furrows! (repeat)

Next stop, Stanton St John Campaign weekend! 

Our daily Bread.

Bread. It's great.

A Few years ago whilst staying in a rural gite in the south of France Lucy had an accident involving a dog, a trampoline, a couple of glasses of wine and her ankle. As I can't drive most of our supplies were from the local shop and by local I mean a 20 minute bicycle ride to a village of about 3 houses where a usually quite bored French girl would temporaily perk up at the sight of a customer whom she was not actually related to, bringing in some actual money. I always bought bread and felt we were doomed in our little Gite if none of it was in the larder.

Reenactment has sparked even more appreciation of bread, and a real empathy for how important it was to our ancestors, it is THE staple food, it keeps a few days, is filling and a source of carbohydrate, is easily transportable and at any temperature, and did I say.. it is filling. To a hungry soldier it is chunks of goodness, and it goes well with anything, or nothing.

Bread and peace! was shouted by soldiers who had had enough of a campaign, Rome was famously pacified by 'Bread and circuses'. Most revolutions have been fed (no pun intended) on food shortages and the food most missed is bread. Whenever there is a disaster one of the first things given out to people is bread.

When I buy food for lunch at work now it usually revolves around a bread roll of some kind, not a filled roll, just the bread, no butter, just tearing chunks off.  I feel if I was a soldier I would be content as long as I had a days supply of bread but without it would feel at a real loss.

Heres to bread! 

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Authenticity II.

See this unsuspecting linen fellow, he is a breadbag. Some people want him ERADICATED.
Mr Breadbag is a not an uncommon sight in Napoleonic reenactment. I bought one as an early piece of kit as they are cheap and seem rather handy. To a newbie it seemed a useful thing to get when perusing reeneactment supplies. My breadbag is for food or my leather notebook or knife what my canteen is for water, easily accessible on or off the battlefield.

Recently I became enbroiled in a debate about how authentic they are, one corner saying they were NEVER issued to French soldiers and not official kit, the other, like me, saying they did get used by other armies and civilians and were very useful so a soldier would have picked one up. Yes, French soldiers had a leather backpack but would you as a person want to carry it everywhere and struggle to remove it amid rolled blackets and cartridge boxes everytime you wanted to get something?   I bet if you stopped a soldier on the road he would be festooned with Non-issued items, although that dosn't mean he will have them on parade.

It mutated into a clash between parade ground mentality and the campaign look, with the main breadbag hater claiming everyone should have identical kit down to the last button and back then a soldier would have been seriously reprimanded for turning up on parade not in issued kit. Yes I am sure he would. But we as reenactors are not issued identical kit, many can't afford to buy all the kit (except over time, I kept making this point) and some even enjoy having a little personal touch here and there. One guy has a stuffed partidge hanging off his backpack, looks good but is obviously a campaign thing, a bit of forage, but authentic forage never the less. Nor do we march 30 miles a day, get screamed at by Sergeants, steal food off the locals and sleep in a field in the rain at the end of it.. generally.

We build a camp with tents and cooking fires, this suggests life on campaign, and whilst we recreate the lives of Soldiers.. we are not under military discipline and are here because we consent to be and enjoy the hobby and love the history, history that we take seriously.

A breadbag with half a loaf in it also doubles as quite a good pillow, with a greatcoat for a blanket.

I spoke about authenticity earlier and those points still apply. Also about how we always want more recruits to fill the ranks and arguments like the one above would have quite put me off if I thought I was going to be balled out for not turning up with a full and correct head of shako furniture on day one. Everyone makes the most of what they have, no one turns up for drill in a baseball cap.

But each to there own, a friend of mine who runs an Anglo-Saxon group says that in reenactment you 'Get out what you put in'  and there is so much enthusiasm about that people are not purposefully tardy. I am proud that my unit embraces the campaign look and if you want to be involved in more of a parade ground reenactment then their are units out there that will cater for you.

Vive l"Emporeur! Vive L'Breadbag!

Bring up the guns!

I just spoke to someone at the Police. They Black powder licence I was waiting for HAS NEVER EVEN ENTERED THE SYSTEM.  It was February at the latest I sent it and having heard much about backlogs I assumed it was just going through the system, possibly waiting on checks or confirmations etc. Finally I e-mailed them, twice, but didn't hear back, so I phoned and was told there was no record. Maybe it was lost in the post.

I don't mind doing the form again, its the wasted time that makes me cringe. They did say they had my shotgun form but that is of no use unless I have the black powder form.. yes you can use a gun but your not allowed to handle the powder needed to fire it.

Presently I use a dummy musket at displays, which is fine for drill and when firing in line you can simply wait and jolt the gun as if it fired at the same time as your comrades, the noise and smoke will conceal the fact your not actually firing.
In skirmishing, such as at Dover, it is far more apparent that you are pretending, and dummy guns don't even come with a ramrod so you have to pretend to be doing that bit too. You will also die a lot more often or sooner so that the firers can carry on putting on a show. This is understandable as people want to see guns firing and the smoke drifting...

I have no criminal record and no history of mental illness, the only blip that might stop me getting a licence is that I am diabetic. I honesty think this should be no barrier as I would be checking my blood sugar before a battle and generally don't have problems. However my doctor did block me doing a parachute jump once on medical grounds, until I made an appointment and argued my case and she reluctantly relented. I am hoping she won't do the same about this and understand the grant is for using a musket for which I will not have any ammo or powder,  I'm not actually keeping a shotgun around the house.

My advice to anyone would be to do things sooner other than later, and there is no harm in phoning the office to check they have your paperwork, you will not actually be arrested for disturbing their tea. The man I spoke to did seem very nice and somewhat increased my confidence that it would not be another four months till I hear anything. (after this I will probably phone them next week anyway)

On the subject of guns these guys seem leaders in the field Derbyshire arms. I have e-mailed them about ordering a musket in future and they allow you to pay half as a deposit and half on completion, their services are in demand so it is best to order ASAP. At least if the shotgun licence comes through first I can put an order in, you cannot receive any gun without holding a licence.. I suppose I will try and collect it from an event which they are attending when that day comes. If not for the medical factor above I would order one already. At least everything should come through in time for next season!

Monday, 17 June 2013

unseen benefits..

Apart from the actual taking part and meeting lots of agreeable people I have noticed other benefits to doing reenactment.

I am eating a bit better, whilst I have never been into junkfood and favour going down the organic route whenever possible I still regularly ate things like chocolate or cakes and have noticed a marked decrease in this (real patisserie croissants don't count), infact anything that comes in a colourful or plastc packet tends to be avoided.

Having another interest in life that you feel a passion for is just good for your mood and adds to contentment. If I do overtime at work (not often) I can chant 'shako vouchers, shako vouchers, shako vouchers' and it will all seem more worth while.

Putting an event on the calendar is another thing to look forward to.
I am not a natural administrator, I had an office job once but they got suspicious at how often my inbox caught fire in a mysterious lighter fluid explosion incident, especially as I don't smoke...
My lovely Wife is usually the facilitator of holidays and now I have just organised a flight to Leipzig and hotel accomodation at the end, and have an enveloped marked 'Liepzig, important bits of paper.'    I am more organised.

Better budget. This might seem strange given its not a cheap interest but I have been saving money I would normally spend on other hobbies and putting it into this. I have even sold some old clutter and sold on a festival ticket to pay a large chunk of the above trip.

I am more concerned with maintaining good health, opting to make a few more trips on my bike other than a bus or train or to walk a bit further before stopping, opting for the smaller portion when cooking. I want to keep marching and fighting for years to come and keep a fairly flat look to the front of my uniform, no tum pooching out!

Must resist grecian 2000 though.

The Tricolor cliffs of Dover.

Well, I DID go to Dover. I am quite a good traveller, as long as I am being conveyed in the right direction I feel things are going well, and if there is a delay that I can do nothing about then just sit and wait for a bit.

I soon got up on the Heights, a former fort overlooking the harbour, it covers quite an area but much has fallen into disrepair, hence the existence of the preservation society who run this event.
It was a fairly relaxed affair, other than representing a French camp and chatting to visitors the main event was a skirmish in the afternoon. Before then there was a bit of drill, and I wandered about the site, chatted to the British surgeon and shared a spot of snuff, and enjoyed the view. There was also a lovely bit of story telling from John to a bunch of kids, all about soup!

Also tried on the Curassier gear from our display, wow, If I ever win the lottery (I do buy a ticket about every 12 months..) or inherit a huge fortune from a mysterious relative then I would be tempted to try and put a unit together, with my four warhorses from my personal stables, in the grounds of my castle.  I am a great natural horseman and went on a hack once in Cornwall and didn't fall off once.

I digress.  The skirmish!  as usual we were outnumbered so had to hide in an abandoned barracks until we could sneak up some steps to the main area which had a sort of dry moat around which the public stood, the sentry was shot and a brisk fire put the unfortunate Highlanders out of action and we tried to rouse the residents of Dover to throw off the shackles of entrenched Monarchy but they were not having any of it. Then the Foot guards came on and an enjoyable shoot out ensued with us firing at will (poor old Will). I managed to get shot twice but the kindly Highland Doctor revived me the first time 'Aaagh yes, you've been shot in the timetable.'  
He needn't have troubled cos at the end I found myself hoisted up besides a comarade and despite appeals to the crowd for leniency were shot as infilitrators, they could have just sent us to the detention centre down the road, but no.
Back from the dead we formed up and gave a mighty 'Vive l"Empereur! or three, followed by the British officer attempting to lead his men in a rendition of 'God save the King..' except with a rather stumbling 'don't really know the words/I'll just look at my feet' response from his men that I found very amusing. Superior French elan indeed!

Immediately afterwards the Surgeon from the footguards gave a talk/demonstration on battlefield surgery with a patient having one of his legs amputated and carried away whilst his mother wept (then had a stiff drink). Great show. I think as a smaller event audience participation was vamped up, at Hunton it didn't really matter if the public were there or not, you mainly listened out for orders and watched the goings on in front of you, the set up here was much like being on a stage.

Good day indeed. Next stop Eastbourne redoubt next month where we shall meet the Foot guards once again. I will now return to drinking tea.

Thursday, 6 June 2013


A friend of mine has started supplying all manner of cutlery and plates and cups at Laura's historic homewares. One of the first things you should get hold off is something to eat and drink out of.

I have also had dealings with A stitch in time, a tailoring comany that specialise in Napoleonic gear, I met one of the guys and he is familiar with most established regiments and might well know what exactly you need more than you do! Competitive prices and you can e-mail with details of what you want and get a quote.

Topical but not strictly reenactmenty I recommend everyone to read about General Lasalle. This guy is almost unbelieveable, his life reads like a work of fiction, romantic assignations behind enemy lines, bluffing armies into surrender, duelling, drinking, music making, cheeking Napoleon and generally being a rogue, but also a fantastic cavalry commander despite that.

May have had my first set back in that the one day event at Dover is a real arse to get to and back on a Sunday by public transport, with engineering work on, which would make next event about six weeks away! yikes, better see if I can make some of the others.


After the show at Hunton I was talking to a local farmer, he was selling cider, and he took a break to come down to watch and said he enjoyed it but he told me how there was a woman nearby who moaned several times about 'How there should be far more dead and how could they stand there shooting and not hit anyone..'  The musket was not a very acurate weapon but she was right, in the real battle more people would have fallen, so are we being unauthentic?

..We don't have hundreds of soldiers to replace the dead.. and the show would be over very quickly if each volley claimed a half dozen victims. Compromises must be made for practical reasons. We are the first to admit many of us are too old or too short sighted, or too big or too female to be serving French soldiers but this is another compromise made so people can enjoy it, some people start late, others don't want to stop.

From my experience in wargaming I have always been fairly relaxed about uniforms and authenticity, as long as it looks about right, and would never be bothered if someones 15mm tall Roman legionaires had the wrong sandals on or some such. Indeed I tend to feel people who do are a bit fussy and should get over it, and I wondered if in reenactment I would be chided for being not exactly right or wearing the wrong shoe laces.  I need not have worried.

Other than asking for any modern stuff to be put away when a site opens to the public I have not yet heard anyone asked to go and change something, this is because people WANT to be authentic and so look to there own gear. If you just want to dress up and fire guns there are plenty of other ways to do it. I was worried about my (ebay) trousers having thin stripes that were probably machined in, and possibly with synthetic thread, nor are they actually breeches but the important thing is they are linen and could have been around, and no one from the public has paid much attention to my trousers, yet.

Another great thing about the 45eme is that generally portray the troops in the field, campaign dress, so kit gets lost and replaced, clothes get faded or repaired, equipment and gear gets picked up or looted along the way. Another bonus is not polishing and shining everything for parades! Leave that to the Coldstream guards, they do that sort of thing, and some of them enjoy it I'm sure.

'Sacre Bleu! is Napoleon getting out of a Ford Mondeo, better get a picture or the boys will say 'Picture or it didn't happen.'

I have found I am actually quite fussy in other ways.. I only really want to use things I could carry and I don't like to eat or drink anything during the weekend that I might not have had 'back then'. No ice creams. No coffee unless it was made in the camp (and no tea at all). No fizzy drinks.
I confess I may sneak off and send a text to report that I'm not actually dead.. or take a photo with my phone when not in camp and certainly not on the field! but other than that I also become iliterate for the weekend. I have a couple of old books that might pass mustard but I also feel they should be things published before 1815, which I don't have, so I don't read. Its quite a nice change as normally I spend a lot of time using a phone, or a computer or reading a book or a paper. 

To anyone uncertain about this aspect again I say just ask and people will put you on the right path and if something can't be changed it can usually be hidden or adapted. You will find that if you want to be authentic then the rest will follow.

Monday, 3 June 2013


I hadn't originally planned to go to Hunton court 'Battle of the nations' but after Woolaton I wanted to get more events in and it fell on my long weekend, followed by a bank holiday.

Things I had learnt from Woolaton. Take booze (I actually wasn't sure what the view on drinking was, I was soon put right). Take food that can be cooked on a fire. Take notes. The later because people say things like 'Bob Smith makes those for about ten pounds', and you don't know who Bob Smith is and/or can't remember his name to look up later, same with companies. I have a little black leather book and pencil for this although it still mainly contains little sketches of camp life.

Hunton court, near Maidstone. Blessed with a lift up I arrived about five minutes before a parade of both armies in honour of the family whose land the event was on and a pretty good display it made too (must check my shirt is tucked in..).  Soon after there was drill. I remembered things from last time and am sure that if any of you bump into me and say 'Fix!' my shoulders will straighten and my head will snap forward. First casualty of the weekend was the person next to me feinting, it was a turning out to be a hot day!

 I can (usually) spot roughly where I am in these photos by being next to Brian, the tall bloke in the bearskin. A remarkable thing about changing formation is how often you can find youself in a different place just from a simple change.

The battle that afternoon was a sizeable affair even having localised skirmishes within it, a redoubt was assailed on the right whilst we advanced and drove off some Belgiums, one of whom got a musket butt in the head from me. Close combat is fun and rather polite, people signalling by gestures 'Go on then smash me in the face!'  We then over ran a gun position at the end.

After the dust had settled I had to go an guard the powder wagon, and enjoyed watching some Brunswickers trying to break a fallen tree up using only their bare hands, there was some falling off involved.
Then a lovely regimental dinner, two tables, good food, great company, an abundance of wine. This is the fantastic social side of it, the battle is perhaps an hour and a half but a summer evening is four or five hours of merriment. Athough only my second outing the unit was taking on the feel of a family, and I am not generally a family person but here are people you actually have things in common with, of all different ages,  including Mouton the dog, and you eat together, camp together, drill together, fight together.
I went to gather firewood afterwards with an axe and ended up chopping a fallen tree in half with the help of a redcoat, John of the East Essex, just like those encounters between piquets where enemies become friends. We carried the wood back and he joined us for a drink.

Next day ran quite like the first, without the parade, and making sure everyone had enough water, and this time I got it from a Belgium, seemed only fair. Sergeant Willie got promoted beforehand and the cry of Vive Willie! ran out along with 'Willie, willie, willie - OI OI OI!'  Even L'Emporeur found it funny.

After the battle the French flag was lowered and people started moving off, I find it a bit strange when people disppear into a tent and re-appear in jeans and a T-shirt. Who is this? are it's you.  Au revoir!

That Conversation.

As noted people love to come up to talk to you and if you are not prepared for this you should either not take up reenactment, stand next to someone who loves talking or pretend to be actually French and go 'pardon?' To every question.

My first blog post covered most of why I wanted to take up reenactment, a keen interest in the era and military history, and just experiencing how it was instead of just reading about it, anecdotal history and memoires have always been my favourite form of history book and here you can live that life.. or as close as a fairly comfortable approximation will allow short of half rations, fatigue, dysentry and various afflictions of the camp.. or being shot.. will allow.

One guy at Woolaton was almost flabberghasted that we all wanted to be French. THE ENEMY! I can answer this on several levels, firstly without French reenactors there would be no events, nothing beyond parade ground displays, it takes two sides to put on a battle and the French are usually outnumbered. Secondly being French I can go to practically ALL Napoleonic events, the French are everywhere.. Spain, Germany, Russia, Belgium, Eygpt, they even got to Ireland! 
Also I tend to root for the underdog. Being the ones to win on a given day is especially sweet when the crowd started off booing you and rooting for the redcoats. I also get the impression that life in the French camp is more relaxed and uniforms more of a campaign look, certainly in the 45eme no one minds if your not a chocolate box soldier.

Plus French uniforms; way cooler!

The hobby needs more French, certain British regiments *coughs* are quite oversubscribed so join the conquerors of Europe instead.

Having studied history any notion of 'them and us' is strange to me, as is the patriotic notion of 'my country; right or wrong.' so that combined with the above makes the French a fine choice.
The ideals of the revolution may have been undermined by the Empire but for many (especially a soldier of my age) memories of fraternite, equalitie, liberte! still cling on whilst the British seem intent on protecting their money/trade and helping the Spanish whose society is practically medieval. The lives of many French commanders read like adventure novels, the Marshals rose from all sorts of backgrounds, the sort of fiction that is Sharpe for the British is actual reality for many French officers, there are so many colourful characters.

vive l'empereur! is a fine thing to shout.

Baptism of fire.

So I left the house in the thin morning light, in kit, sack thrown over one shoulder, with a journey from Brighton to Nottingham ahead. First fail: My connecting train had been cancelled. Fortunately myself and another chap at the station agreed to share a taxi to Brighton and both got our trains okay. Going up in all the kit I had was a practical matter (and quite fun) as I also had a sackful of stuff to carry and didn't want to take a full change of clothes.

A useful thing here was a leather wallet on a string I picked up, you will need to put your tickets, money, phone and cards etc in something that can also be concealed whn required. I had booked an early train although the Saturday was mainly a setting up day for a display on the Sunday and bank holiday Monday, so when I got off the train (leaving the gang of medical/law students on a stag weekend whom I had shared much of the the voyage with, they were like a pack of junior British officers going on leave, football, cricket, drink, rugby, drink etc) I had some time and looked at Nottingham castle, had a drink in ye olde trip to Jerusalem, allegedly Britain's oldest pub and made my way towards Woolaton which lay on the outskirts of Nottingham, so googlemap told me.

I also had 'that' conversation for the first time with a very nice chap when we both got caught in a sudden downpour, 'Why are you dressed like that? Why Napoleonic stuff? and Why French? 

I had memorized the route, roughly, as I realised even with my phone put away when in camp it was unlikely to hold battery life for 48 hours, later I would buy a spare battery and swap it when the first ran low). A couple of people thought I was a pirate and a man with a big moustaches shouted Vive le France! out of his van. 
I arrived. I found the French campsite by Woolaton hall (which you might recognise from Batman) and met Duncan and a couple of others, the first to be putting up tents. Then had a sit down, refilled my canteen and had more of the dry bread and sausage that would become my staple fare.
More folk arrived. The Flag went up. I borrowed the habit, giberne (cartridge belt) shako and musket that would complete my kit. Beer cans cracked open. I felt very welcome, chatted here and there. Then it was off to the pub for dinner.
The backroom was soon full of Frenchmen and women whilst quite coincidently some American WWII reenactors appeared in the main bar, visiting the place where the unit they portray had been billeted. Local people were all very interested.

Back at camp I crashed out under an awning. For several reasons I had no tent (I was kindly offered a plastic tent and an option of sharing but declined), firstly I didn't feel I'd need one, secondly I couldn't afford a proper one and thirdly it would have been a great bundle to carry, also I liked the idea of being a Soldier with his gear on his back and that a tent would have been a bit of a luxury often left behind on the march, if available at all. I slept quite well and awoke at dawn, seeing a stag and hind just standing there in the morning mist.

I am very proud of this picture. First time fully kitted up in the French camp, away in the background you can see the British camp, where they deserve to be at the bottom of the hill! 

Drill. I was a bit worried, drill always seemed complicated and visions of Private Pile from Full metal jacket came into my head. Everyone would be well drilled like a military machine and there would be me struggling to turn the right way as commands were given in French.    It was fine. I made a few mistakes but new guys are put in the back row and always with someone at hand to help, plus much of it is just copying everyone else.. I mainly listened to a gauche or a droit.. for a clue as to which way we would be going.  After this me and a few new or out of practice guys got a go on our own, enough to be able to get by in the event that afternoon.

Firstly we had to be in an artillery display showing the effect of different shot on a body of men, lots of falling down and dying involved. We got a nice big BooOOOooo as we came on. With only twenty minutes till the skirmish we fell out under some trees, it was lovely waiting for the off and making small talk, wondering what would happen.
After an artillery duel we came on and the battle drifted back and forth, I stood in line, second rank and (pretended) to aim and fire, timing my shots with the real shooters around me, smelling the smoke for the first time. Time goes quite quickly, and even standing waiting to go forward is exciting, your world is primarily the people immediately besides you. The French side had the best of it that day, red and green coats lay strewn about the field and we marched back up the hill to our camp.

I was going on holiday the next day and after a bit of chatting and handshaking was on my way back to the station, having had a great weekend.

First faltering steps...

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!