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!