Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Back to the future.

So gentle reader, tis the cusp of a new year, so pour yourself a brandy and join me in looking into the past and the future...

Gear wise I think I can now tick everything off the list, having yesterday received a pair of Brogans (shoes) from Mcfarthingbowls . Who were actually also the first company I ever bought anything from, a canteen, bowl and spoon. It was almost this time last year that I got the 45eme tattoo, yes, marked for life now.

Hoogstraten was the foreign adventure of the year and Fort Amherst the most novel, as in adventure novel, rife with anecdotes.  Who knows what the new year will bring? well, here are some clues...

                                           (que dramatic Dino Laurentis music)

is the elephant in the room when talking about 2015, the almost last battle of the bicentinials and of course a very anglocentric one. there was already talk of it when I started and it was doubtless a contributing factor to me getting involved whilst some of the 200 year events were not yet passed.

Generally there is a lot of moaning about it.

The gist of such complaints it is that the tourist board has taken over the event as a money spinner, and the reenactors are expected to be in full on camp mode from 9 to 5 and then fight the battles in the evenings (separate tickets are required to see the camps and then the battle), by the end of which it will be dark. Some add to this the fear that this will seriously cut into drinking time.

Personally Im still looking forward to it. The organisers may be seriously trying to marshal everything but they are literally dealing with three armies and a bigger army again of tourists/visitors. We can make our own fun, we will be there with friends on a historic occasion and there will be good company, food and drink. Participants can be grumpy or try and make the most of it, personally I am hoping for the best, and people like moaning, especially on the internet.

Experienced reenactors everywhere can be heard saying 'Oooh, it wont be like Waterloo '98, that were a fine year that was.' 

One thing that does niggle me slightly is press releases and newspapers talking about it being the biggest reenactment EVER when im sure some Gettysburgs have been HUGE and Leipzig had more participants than the maximum numbers for Waterloo (you had to apply online to get a place for Waterloo, which incidently no one has yet had verified but having been involved in 'The road to Waterloo' events and the British Napoleonic Associations main French unit puts us in good stead).

Whatever happens we can say 'We were there.'

and then?   in a way which events are organised/attended once it is over will become freer, not being overshadowed.  Could go anywhere! For the French forces it will be nice to go back to the years of victory.

I do worry a bit about age in general though, in ten years time most of the 45eme will be, well definitely beyond the average age of even veteran French soldiers and most of our new recruits are not much younger, indeed our youngest are the children of the regiment.  I think being a French unit in England contributes to this as older (and wiser!) folk are more open minded and less prone to peer presure, you want to fight for the Emperor you do so! Younger reenactors are often idealisticly patriotic and less willing to put up with 'froggie' comments.

Older Napoleonic enthusiasts had the film Waterloo with its fairly even handed portrayal of armies, and a sympathetic Napoleon, then there was the Duellists (with French protagonists) and Colonel Chambert, there was the adventures of Brigadier Gerard and the Seven men of Gascony. The era of the French hero on stage, screen and literature, though history books, more than historical novels, informed the multitudes.
As mentioned previously we now have Sharpe, on TV and in novels, as well as Hornblower and Master and commander.. all beating the French for King and Country and maybe this really has had an effect on recruitment. The 85eme are a 'French' group with lots of Dutch and Belgian members and they seem to have a lot more young faces in the ranks.

                                                           and I still wield two battle axes!
                                                                (so dont call me Gandalf)

One of the biggest Napoleonic events in the UK is the battle of the nations, this year at Wollaton where I turned up for my first ever event in great coat and bicorne and everything in a sack. The campagne de la Bossiere-ecole is another temptation, an international campaign in France with everyone out under the stars and living out of their 'pack.  I am in the throes of getting a potential new job, or possibly my old job, and either way I can see myself turning up on day one with a long list of holiday dates 'already booked', yeah.. I cant really do ..  June. 

                                                        EN AVANTE! MARCH INTO 2015!

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Marchons! Marchons!

   The Lord Mayor's parade! A quick jaunt up to Blackfriars and stroll across to the rendezous point.

                                      The Lord Mayor personally welcomes us to the occasion.

                                                            What it actually looked like.

Before and after the event the streets seemed strangely empty, granted it was about 8.30 or so when I arrived but there was barely anyone but Police and stewards to be seen. not even people who looked like they were in the parade until I clapped eyes on a couple of Highlanders and a fusilier and knew I must be in the right place.

Many salutations followed and people trying to sort out their backpacks, stow gunbags and balance blankets/greatcoats. Given the possible downpours I brought my greatcoat (for afterwards) which made a bigger, heavier bundle than the usual blanket and I used a handkerchief to further try and keep it in the right place and not sag untidily, and it seemed to work quiet well.

We were off! Drums beat, bugles sounded, bagpipes parbleblaabled. All set in formations we naturally were given the order to stand down for about twenty minutes.
Then away at a surprisingly thrifty pace and we were soon in the thick of it, a good turn out of people, cheering and occasionally booing and flag waving! occasionally with French ones but this may have purely been due to random flags being handed out by some company or other. Union flags and whistles could be bought from one of the many street traders before the police made them clear off.

There was much singing, mainly inspired by a young Dutch chap amongst us from the 85th who has a lovely singing voice, Jaunty Alloette being the most popular as more of us could actually remember or pick up the words, although the onion song got a few renditions.
I have tried learning songs but can only ever remember the chouus, I think being in French and often at a slightly odd metre makes them hard to remember.. plus a song in English presents visual reminders to what comes next.. if you think of 'The grand old Duke of York..' you tend to see his ten thousand men being marched up to the top of a hill, and down again... and rhyming with it.

Then there were the hearty 'VIVE L'EMPOREUR!'s generally given three times everytime a particularly crowded stretch was passed.  We certainly made more noise than the British and think this gave as a nice gallic swagger. Apparently John Snow said he liked us best.

That swagger did sag a little it must be said as we approached the half way mark, the songs went quiet and the Vives were fewer and far between. The straps of my pack were biting somewhat but I managed to bash the back of my shoe back on when someone stepped on it, no one fell out during the march which was all good. The half way break was much welcome, and many a Japanese tourist politely bustled up and asked very politely for a photo with us.

                                            Is that the Prussians? Grouchy isn't answering!

Again it was form up and wait. Then we were off again, roughly back to where we had started, and once more with some songs. As said there were occasional groups of boo-ers who were usually met by a counter cheer or vive L'France from us although I did find myself pondering the situation of being a group representing French would-be invaders in a very traditional British occasion with lots of union flags fluttering and on the eve of Rememberence Sunday. One call for a mass Vive L'France fell a bit flat as most members probably were not sure of it's appropriateness. By now my throat was getting dry again and couldn't really get a bottle of water out and the top off whilst holding my musket in position, so it had to wait.. and then without ceremony it was all over. Wisely groups were dispersed to different break up points.

 Bayonets were stowed, Water taken, and the pleasant promise of going for a pint mooted. They seemed to have hidden all the pubs until we found an old tavern tucked away down a narrow predestrian side street. My crackly voice was repaired by a smooth Guiness. It's good for you you know.

It was a grand day out and the last event for the 45eme of the season. The weather held for the most part until I was literally five minutes from home. The rain and tight straps leaving two pinkish stripes on my shirt and today I have slightly stiff legs, and many good memories.

Roll on next year. Big things await.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Dover III.

Third time off to Dover!  I had been working late the night before so this meant I had not been able to go for the Saturday and camp over, and so was arriving on the Sunday morning as were the rest of the 45th, already set up by the British as I arrived..

I said my hellos and sorted out some last bits of kit, trying to find a convenient place to stick my bayonet (other than in an Englishman), I still need to get a proper holder. Then their was a march up to the top display area and a bit of drill infront of the crowd. Then marched back for a spot of lunch before the afternoon skirmish.
Food wrappers/plastic bottles are starting to become a bit of a bugbear for me when people are eating, because it is usually just as the public are milling around. Drinks at least could be poured into tin cups or appropriate holders and food emptied onto plates but other than whipping away empties I would feel a bit awkward making a fuss.

The usual redcoats (79th Highlanders, Highland Light bods, and 1st Footguards) were joined by a few Riflemen, including two friendly faces from Amherst. The rifles make up a large number in the British camp but also draw a lot of flak because they often outnumber the redcoats and Sharpe gets blamed for their popularity! I was surprised at how much a member of public disliked them and said they'd come to take over the event. I would never have joined the Rifles personally but they are not going to turn people away and I'm sure there are some amongst them who also tut at would-be-sharpes just as US Airborne re-enactors proably tut at people who joined up to be in 'Band of Brothers' yet find themselves refering to the show when explaining things to the public.

                                         Actually re-enactment Riflemen are never this scruffy!

The afternoon skirmish was pretty much a re-play of last time, we emerge and take out the guards before seising the fort.. I got to do my 'Rise up people of Dover! Let me hear you cheer!' speech which went down quite well. It was a good crowd given the only sunny day that weekend. We then skimished with the British coming on.

After my first shot I seemed to misfire every other attempt and considered changing the flint but thought most of the brief battle would be over by then. Duncan and a couple of the others chased the rifles off with a charge then said 'When you've fired, you can follow us down.'  I nodded. then thought he said 'When they've fired you can fall down.'  Which was it?    I was half way up a big grassy embankment so falling down seemed the more apt and so after a couple of shots did a dramatic death, rolling down to the bottom of the slope.

With plenty of cartridges left over a couple of us chose to fire off a few rounds for fun, I changed my flint and promptly fired four shots in a row. I wished I'd done that before the skirmish and in future will put in a new flint everytime. Will ask for a bag of flints for Xmas.

                                                     Oh Non! we've missed the ferry home.

Soon after it was packing up time. It all seemed over quite quickly but definitely worth turning up for. My last firing event of the season so gave the musket a good clean and bit of extra oil although she will be coming out for the Lord Mayor's parade next month...

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

The Prisoner of Amherst.

Fort Amherst, Chatham, is the largest Napoleonic fort in England and housed over 3000 souls at its height, built to protect the docks and any invasion force attempting to come up the Medway. Some French (and some American) prisoners were kept there though many more were kept on the prison hulks, condemned ships with no masts where life was harsh and too often short. The Church opposite the fort was built on the site where hundreds of prisoners were buried. Chatham is also associated with the Royal engineers, once a military town, their barracks is the only remaining army base today.

On the weekend of 19/20/21st September the Fort hosted a campaign weekend, garrisoned by British troops whom amongst their usual drilling and garrison duties had to look after a band of French prisoners, whom did they best to be a right pain in the arse.  In previous posts I have done a linear account of events, with this I shall instead merely list the number of vignettes and antics witnessed as some of it has become quite a blur, for both Guards and prisoners there was rarely a let up from activity and vigilance..

One of our first tasks as prisoners was pulling out all the cannons and limbers from the artillery shed and then cleaning them.  Most of the guards were quite amiable, except rifleman Grumpy, the opposite of Rifleman smiley, so it was amusing when he spent five minutes demanding a prisoner come out of an actually empty shed.
This task complete the garrison commander and some British officers wished to see us on parade, which we did, and I was questioned about how we were being treated. Just as the Major was going Sapper stepped forward and said "Excuse me, you might be wanting these. it's the firing pins to your cannon."
"oh, which one?"
"All of them."
Poor Corporal Law, whose watch it had been, wished that the earth could have opened up and swallowed him.

That night we also managed to steal one of the cannons (which are meant to be regularly accounted for) and conceal it in a tunnel, it remained missing till midday and only then when some clues had been dropped.

There is a lot of chalk at Chatham. Come Sunday morning the British woke up to find a lot of daubings. The piece de resistance of this was a four foot bumblebee and the words 'VIVE L'EMPEREUR! written in 3 foot high letters over the main parade ground. It was a joy to behold. Prisoner work that morning was largely scrubbing off chalk.

Our main artist, Vince, was later caught with some chalk. As the stern rifleman walked away Vince reached forward to apologise to the man, who tutted, and walked away..  with two perfect white hand prints on the back of his jacket. Chalking rifleman was added to the list of sports, along with drinking their tea.

Gunner Bob. 'Bob' was a master of sneakiness and escapes, at one point simply walking across the yard (passed guards) and asking some passers by to open the gate before walking off up the road, also a master of disguise as he laid hands on an artillerymans jacket and a Rifles cap and donned the disguise before kneeling, head down, to study a gun carriage, until one of the crew actually stooped down to do up Bobs epaulettes before noticing something was amiss and realisation dawned.

On the Sunday during a brief ad hoc escape (and after being told my parole had been withdrawn after yesterday) I bolted into the top entrance of the British quarters. Other than go further and get caught I stumbled upon the officer's mess and took great joy in sitting in the commanding Officer's chair, eating his cake and using his fine china until the stomp, stomp, stomp of booted feet found me and I had to rejoin my fellows.

The big escape on the Saturday was set to occur as we exited the top entrance of the tunnel system, on the use of the code word 'Haxo' (French engineer General) we overthrew the guards and tide them up before spitting up. some to make for the escape point and some (including myself) to try and tie up (not literally this time) more guards by disappearing into the tunnels. In vain we searched for a workable exit (without a 20ft drop) and I decided to go up the winding stairs into the pitch black (feeling with my stick) which I hoped would come out on the top gun platform. Alas my fumbling came upon the hatch but it was long since sealed up so I sat and waited, eventually hearing footsteps and my co-escapee, Meg, captured at the bottom of the stairs.  in movie fashion the footsteps and voices grew closer and I hoped if I crouched low in the dark they would not see me. closer, closer. Stopped. voices. Then receding footsteps. Had they really gone? I waited longer.
More footsteps. keys jingling. What little light I could see below went out. The caretaker was locking up and turning the lights out!
Discretion seemed the better part of valour and I got him to let me out.  A rifleman near the entrance raised the alarm and I 'fired' at him with my stick, driving him to cover and ran with three more on my heels making it a fair way and diving under a gate until I came to the fort edge/corner, got cludded with a rifle but carried on a bit further before being hemmed in.  The scornful sergeant later complained of pains in his ankles from running so much.
Turns out I was the last one found and I got a bit of a cheer. Some of the chaps reached the escape point quickly but finding no one there went back on the run. Andy even banging on a gate with his shovel and shouting at some Rifles who knew they couldn't get the gate open until he was heading off in the opposite direction. It was chaos for them.

The British suspected we had a gun in our room. They were going to search it (again). Properly. They never found a gun. They found about eight. a comedy-eque pile of carbines, pistols, knives and swords, mounting up in the courtyard. More embarrasment and grief for the British, and there were still a couple left!

Sundays big escape involved us being delivered some bags of laundry to do by a French sympathiser, amongst which were two full rifle uniforms and a couple of guns. I managed to add a pistol to this that a child (not being subject to discipline) had left in the courtyard and despite three Riflemen being in the vicinity I managed to purloin it and tuck it in the back of my trousers. The habit long being great for hiding things under.
We broke out of our lodgings when there were minimal guards, me pulling my pistol on Rifleman smiley whom I gladly didn't have to shoot. Our 'Guards' then escorted us through the kitchens and up the stairs, I managed to add a sword/belt to my attire on the way. At the top the Commanding Officer whose cake I had eaten was in the mess and gave the words 'You shall never take me alive!' before three Frenchmen shrugged 'okay' and shot him.
Sadly our escape co-incided with a number of riflemen being on the upper parade ground which cannot be got round. The alarm was raised and a lot of firing and ducking. a Rifleman hurled himself round a corner at me and tried to seise my pistol, we grappled but he got pushed backwards over my knee, seemingly falling in slow motion, at the same moment as i drew my sword in one smooth moment and dispatched him. It was a fabulous moment.

 We escaped through the cafe to the bemusement of all involved and up the back road to the heights. I hurried on with sword and pistol feeling more like a pirate than the usual line infantryman. This was swash buckling adventure! opposed from both sides we took a good position on a corner that could not be outflanked, Livvy, our eight year old camp girl dutifully knifed a Sergeant behind a tree. I fired my pistol and rolled away on the bank as return fire blossomed and out flanked the rifles, picking one off from the side (after shouting to inform him I was there and was shooting him),  but without time to reload my hopes of slipping passed were dashed and I with a sigh of ' C'est le vie!' was back in the bag.

Having presented my sword to the rifleman who captured me he graciously gave it back to me on my word of parole. Two minutes later a red faced Sergeant ordered it removed once more and handed over us prisoners to a corporal who promptly returned my sword to me. Two minutes later a red faced British officer came passed and promptly took my sword off me again, despite my protests, I liked that sword.

Once again the British were furious. we were locked up properly again. When we were let out onto the yard amidst much pushing and shouting we were told to sit on the low wall. A lot of soldiers with loaded rifles were in a line. Doug said he thought my number was up this time and I paced up and down fully expecting to be shot. I was already psyching up for a goodbye speech but apparently the British army cannot execute anyone on a Sunday. So it was just a telling off.

Reflections on the weekend.  Firstly, it was great, really memorable.  I had been been elected as acting officer as at most events the 45eme out number the Sappers and miners so they attach themselves to us, also because drill and battlefield commands are not so familiar to their role. So they said they should continue to follow the 45e. on this occasion being me.  I was glad I packed a nice hat.

Fraternising with the NCOs and some officers was good and I overheard several good bits of information, they also overlooked me sometimes in searches (so I didn't have to hide the map they were looking for down my trousers after all) but on the other hand I had to remain dressed up more (Jacket and hat at all times) and let go several opportunities to bunk off on the first day because it wasn't really my place to do so, even though no one had formally taken my parole. Alas my memory for French commands was appalling. Turn right, followed by turn right, was my only way of making the column turn about face. Pointing and shouting became my friend.
It was a good change of role and I enjoyed playing up on making protests if my men were ill treated but generally being the amiable officer, shoes I had to grow into,  from 'Who wants to volunteer to do some washing up?' (oh, no one..) to 'Right, you. you. you. and you. Go and move that cannon.'

It was tiring for everyone. Our guards were either working or.. guarding.. with the real threat of us trying something, even just stealing a knife from the kitchen or disappearing round a corner, or plotting, meant they had to genuinely stay on their toes. Im sure there were further antics not listed here, when nor working, shirking or actually escaping, it was watching them, watching us.

Friends were made. One of our lovely yet most effective guards had been a school teacher for thirty years and claimed looking after us was just like being on a field trip with a class of ten year olds. He rarely missed a trick. The 3rd battalion was a lot more easy going and there NCOs more cordial than the !st (?) with their gruff Sergeant (everyone likes him really!) when they took over on Sunday morning their was a lot of cursing all round, although to be fair they knew what the other lot had been put through and were fore warned. The Sgt even took away my stick, although it was twice returned by an artillerymen I asked to get it, and confiscated again. I liked that stick.

After Sundays big escapade there was a nod, nod agreement that we (really) wouldn't be escaping again although there was still some work to do, a collective sigh and slumping of shoulders went through the fort. The fort flag was lowered late afternoon and a short speech given by Tony, who had organised the event and himself was worthy of much praise for his efforts.  Packing away commenced.

Later some of us sat and recalled some of the weekends shenanigans with much laughter, and I still catch myself smiling when I think of many of them. There is some promise of something similar being done again next year, I definitely won't be missing that one.

Monday, 8 September 2014


Fame can only await us brave six after our acting endevours on behalf of Horrible Histories!

An e-mail had gone out asking for volunteers to appear as extras in an episode of Horrible histories, probably entitled 'Waterloofest'.. which as i'm sure you can imagine is about the Napoleonic era, ending with a news report style battle of Waterloo. The location turned out to be Ham House, in Richmond on Thames.

I did my usual early train journey and the only person who sat across from me turned out to be a WWI/II reenactor who I chatted with, until a rather chirpy bloke joined in the conversation and kept asking the same questions and seemed to think we all made a living out of being in films and sleeping in caravans.
On arrival I was picked up and chauferred to the location (woohoo!) at Ham House in Richmond on Thames, it was all bigger and more involved than I had imagined, and we met some of the organisers and other folk got kitted up and enjoyed the catering unit/hospitality table whilst we waited. We had six French and six Brits in the end.

              '' Is that Scarlet Johannson and Robert De Niro having a sausage sandwich?"

As if at an event the need to stand around and wait for orders/something to happen possessed us all despite being told to relax and take a seat on the bus. Eventually we wandered off, visiting the house and going down by the river and it wasn't until after a very good lunch that we were called to action.

Our first scene was getting ready for battle in the background as Napoleon was interviewed on TV. That was our main function as Napoleon's minions to be in the background shots. Often with only last minute direction and trying to look like drilled soldiers when you realise 'we turn at the end' and no one has clarified which way or what position are we holding our muskets in after that? the Film people didn't care less of course and we all aware of 'Not pointing out historical inaccuracies.. its fun, just be soldiers..'   Most shots had 4 or 5 takes, often halting because we were on a major flightpath for Heathrow airport.

We pushed a (wooden) cannon about, limped off defeated, cheered Napoleon, marched back and forth, did some cheering.. does that count as a speaking part on my CV?

There were a couple of recognisable actor types, Napoleon being played by Jim Howick who was Mark's love rival for Dobbie in Peep show, and regular Horrible Histories actor.. also I have just discovered briefly in Hellboy as Nerdy soldier no.1.   
As afternoon turned to early evening we moved into the house where filming had been done the day before, well two of us did as evidently this was the last shot of the day. We had our hair done, something to do with not catching the light from the window. I had to take a message and march out of the office, it is amazing how everyday things like turning round and walking out without catching the back of a chair or looking at the camera suddenly become something requiring concentration.

   John, who often plays Napoleon at UK events, restraining himself from giving actor Napoleon some tips.

  And it was all done up, I had had a great day and we were all well treated, and paid for it! and would gladly have done it all again the next day, infact I am just about to look into signing up for film work, you never know..   someone at the BBC might be looking at my picture right now..  'We want to remake Sharpe but with a French hero...'  

Monday, 28 July 2014

Redoubt Return.

'Just a little further..' I thought 'and I'll see how far I am along the seafront before I walk along to the Redoubt.'

Then I heard the drums...  and there they were, the fabulous 45th marching along Eastbourne seafront towards me. I leant against a railing and watched them, musket over shoulder, shako under arm, pack on.  'Bonjour sir!'
 'aaah Rhandolph, would you care to fall in?'
 'Yes sir.' and I tagged on the marching column, back in the ranks, fall into step, comrades!'

We were guests at the Redoubt for the weekend along with the 1st footguards and 79th highlanders, chaps we know quite well and were at Dover with just a fortnight ago. Sometimes you don't see that much of 'the other side' but these events you are pretty much together before and after the brief time of doing 'the battle' which dosn't give much time to socialise bar a few words over the top of crossed muskets. I got to handle a brown bess and compare it to a Charleville, not just the weight and length but the construction, the 'bess being a fraction quicker to load due to being a bit shorter and able to take both British and French shot but the Charleville being a bit more robust (read; heavy) and easier to take apart for cleaning.

At one point I was confronted by a man with a film camera who wanted a brief interview about re-enactment and then 'What is the importance of drumming?'. I think I answered adequately but of course thought of some better points later, I didn't get to ask what the film was for. 

The skirmish the first day saw us coming out of the tunnel from the direction of the sea and raiding the redoubt, there was much wheeling and firing but surprise was on our side. The second wave of redcoats came in and were firing down from the walkway before coming down and being knocked out in the fray. As on three occasions we have had people shot after being taken prisoner (often me!) it was time to return the favour (although for pantomime fun it felt odd, I think I prefer being shot). Andrew, the 79ths colonel, made a great show (and lots of noise) of protest.

That night we, the French,  all gathered at the Belgium cafe and I had Russian stroganoff mussels and many tales were told (see last post).

Those of us staying at the Redoubt got to sleep in the sea-side entrance tunnel with only one instance of snoring and a drunken scotsman coming back from the kebab shop. Surprisingly I didn't have any cheese-related dreams as a couple of times I became aware that my pack still contained half a wedge of Brie which had so far endured a days travel in the warm weather and was now idling quite close to my nose.  Crepes for breakfast to the backdrop of some sword fighting.

Some drilling went well and practice firing and loading, with timed rounds, from first to last. I was quite pleased with my time, the idea is to get everyone used to loading with a degree of stress so that things that go smoothly when not on the field might be improved upon.

Which notion was demonstrated in the second days skirmish, rather like yesterday in reverse, with myself rasing the alarm and dashing down the steps. The first pivoting went a bit pear shaped which seemed to arise from some folk hearing left (a Gauche!) but seeing motions to the right, then suddenly redcoats seemed to be everywhere. I was killed in a charge and fell upon something soft which later proved to be my tincup whch was quite squished out of shape.


There were many other things to see, surgery, a duel and a flogging, kids drill, and we had our display out which provoked many questions. One young chaps was asking about glasses and was quite incredulous that they had glasses then, another ex-army guy was very keen on asking about weapon performance and one lady questioned the morality of doing reenactment at all.. was it making light of so many terrible things?, which I managed to answer to my own satisfaction without getting into too deep a debate... and meeting the balance of showing people the weapons without them getting too hands on/carried away, especially with kids, I went through through how muskets worked with people several times. If you dont like talking to people don't go out there!

A short sharp shower saw a sudden display of interested in the display (coincidently one of the few places out of the rain!) and then at four o'clock everything wound down and a big group photo was taken, which hopefully I can stick up here when it makes an appearance. It was a good event and I hope will be repeated next year.

I did manage to eat the last vestiges of Brie before leaving.

War Stories.

Whereever reenactors may gather, and especially if the drink is flowing, which it usually is after the days soldierly work is done (and the public gone home) tales of former events will undoubtably be voiced and often shared memories be called upon.. 'You were there weren't you Bob? at Eaton-on-the-wold in 2003 when Brian Gaskit got blown up in a hot air balloon and landed in a porta-loo?' 
such are the epic tales told round the fire, the war stories.

One from the weekend (as I recollect it) was the French commander at a Waterloo event who marched a brigade out in the rain and had to stop and wait, a practice (in theory at least) at the time was for muskets to be laid down so that they might get less wet.. this was done but they were not quite in a straight line so that the commander demanded it be done again, during which time the enemy were advancing closer and closer and someone had to point this out.. leading to panic-ed orders and a hasty volley.. naturally now ineffective after having had the muskets lying on the wet ground. D'oh! I don't think anyone knew who this commander was but evidently he could afford the uniform and the horse so..

The troops at Marengo (?) who were struggling up a mountain path in the Italian sun only to be overtaken by an artillery crew (on foot) pushing and pulling their cannon up the mountain side.. and arriving at the top before anyone else. Men of steel!

A slightly less amusing tale was of the soldier in a regiment who kept loading and firing and having a flash in the pan.. without noticing and continuing to load until he had six rounds rammed down the barrel! it was fortunate indeed that the battle came to a close or someone noticed because if the gun had fired the barrel would most likely have exploded like a pipe bomb. I asked what happened to the guy and he apparently left the unit (but joined another British one).. I wonder how voluntary that leaving was. This story was told to be by a young chap whose father and grandfather were also both in the regiment.. makes me wonder if in fifty years what the record for this will be, and the stories passed down the generations.

Then the legend of one of our guys who after a fair amount of booze went to sleep in his tent but with his head sticking out the end, in the night it started to rain and noticing this he promptly got up to put his head inside the tent.. by lying down with his body on the outside and just his head inside, and went fastly back to sleep.  The same guy who fell asleep by a campfire and woke up to the smell of burning only to find his shoes (on his feet) were on fire, and desperately had to beg, borrow or steal some more for the following day as the ground was covered in snow.

Like real war stories they are both inspiring and make you want to collect stories of your own. Looking passed Waterloo200 there are battlefields of Europe I'd like to visit/fight on.. Aspern-Essling or Austerlitz for instance, which is often fought in the snow as the battle was in December in the Czech republik (as it is now) and of course everyone seems to have stories about Waterloos past, like the bemused locals of Placenoit who found the skirmishers spilling into the village and fighting in the village streets and came out to offer them drinks.. I wish I could have been there for 2005 as there is so much rumbling about next years bicentennial being a commercial excercise that quite a few folk seem to have lost most of their enthusiasm for it, but I still hope to go and be pleasantly surprised.. and in 2025 be sitting at a campfire telling some new recruits about 'ole '15.

Friday, 25 July 2014

A Rover at Dover.

I had looked forward to going to Woolaton Hall this year, as the aniversary of my first event, but it was not on. Hunton was my second, but it clashed with Painshill, so here was Dover!  a lovely event run by the Western heights preservation society. The 45th were only down for the Sunday, officially, but I decided to go as an advance guard and take part in the first day, if only to chat with visitors, see the goings on and say Hi to a few people I knew in the other units.

I did a recce on arrival, (after collapsing quietly for a few minutes to cool down, crikey it was good to get the great coat and pack off (which was over my jacket, waistcoat and shirt.. it was very warm and muggy and Im sure steam came out). Camping was in a different spot to last year and it didn't look like anyone could get into the main fort where most of the surviving structures were, so the canvas it would be unless I stumbled upon some hidden nook outside.
                                            The tunnel to the inner fort, this is the big end!

I left most of my camp kit/pack with the 4th Royal artillery as I went wondering again. There was some drill  Footguards and Camerons, a display of WWII weapons by some Paras and one of different kit worn by the Germans, and the artillery firing every two hours.

I was enjoying the day but during lulls I did feel a bit displaced, if your camp is your home and your unit is your family then I guess I was an orphan for the day (fortunately I tend to get adopted quite easily). I also went exploring and found more Victorian gun platforms and a shell magazine in the woods overlooking the sea.  and some furtive men in the car park/disused sheds.

As evening drew on everyone was drawn up to the footguard/79th camp which was at the top of a steep slope, earlier people had detoured slightly to go up and down a gentler incline, by the end of the evening people were generally just sliding down. A box of snuff did the rounds for those who partook, including one called Dynamite which was abit like snorting a fisherman's friend. An expected storm failed to turn up, and I quite merrily settled down to sleep.

It did rain a bit in the night and I had one of those moments when you wake up and for a few moments have forgotten where you are. I was pleased to say that the red ants seen throughout the day never made an appearance and at some point after dawn I heard Duncans voice as he was directed towards 'The French camp' and up I got.

Chat and coffee. and waiting for folk to turn up (hold ups on the Mwhateveritis) and set up our table and tent. We ended up with eight of us, although only four were firing fusiliers, so we had to think of good scenarios for putting up a decent fight against at least four times our number, but first was the unveiling of a commenorative stone by an Admiral whom I belive was also warden of the cinque ports. Typically after all forming up it rained for precisely the amount of time the satutes were meant to be fired, first volley.. okay.. second volley.. about one in four managed to fire. We then went through the 12 loading/firing steps as a display but only shouting 'Le bang!' at the end.

Everyone returned to camp (Mike by a longer route as he physically didn't think he would fit through the entance tunnel) and ate some communal provisions and sorted out our damp muskets but by now the sun was coming out. Speaking of muskets I was a bit embarrassed when I got up and found most of my lock had gone orange with rust overnight just due to the foggy air).

The skirmish! a bit like last year we were to rush out from a tunnel and surprise some of the redcoats, a few shots and a charge, Aaaaagh!  We then tried to rouse the spectators to rise up and support us but they weren't having any of it, not even my singing helped.

On came the enemy and we had a good skirmish but we ended up dead or captured and once again I was put in the position of pleading for my life (I'm a miserable pleader) but along with two fellows we were cruelly shot, I had to be shot twice. what a cheek.

Back to camp and an imprompu loading/firing competition and possibly a green jackets sniping at us, causing our officer to duck for cover.. not actually picking up a tomato.. (there were some professional photographers going round, this is one of theres as I obligued 'shooting' in their general direction).

Then it was au revoir, next event being Eastbourne (now tomorrow) which promises a good turn out.  Homeward bound.. one strange incident on the way home was a girl (about 19?) got on the train where I was sitting on a fold down seat.. she immediately looked and screamed like she'd seen something distressing (like a huge wasp or something).. I looked around me and couldn't see anything and then she screamed again, and said 'What is that?' pointing at what I thought was my cowhide musketbag.. I said 'It's a bag, like a case..' and she said 'Oh do you have a prostetic limb?'  I said 'er, No.'  and she just hurriedly walked off.  Leaving me entirely puzzled.  All I could work out was that as I was wearing my white kit except for black gaiters/shoes against a dark carpet that she might have looked down seen me as a man with no legs beneath the knee, just stumps, for a moment.. screamed then recovered.. but ? I don't know what was going on in her tiny mind, and never will.

Coming soon...

Friday, 11 July 2014

Questions, questions..

..and the answer is; white shoe polish.

I am going to an event tomorrow and doing my usual sort out and tidy up. Had a bash at the musket with fine sandpaper to remove any rust I could find, which was only really around the pan and frizzen and half of that was powder discolouration that came away, hey, I'd forgotten the pan was actually that colour.   Then I took out my giberne and, oh dear, that crossbelt used to be white.. indeed I thought it was last time I put it away, sort of.  (actually it dosn't look that bad in the photo, and against a blue jacket may appear lighter).

So I looked it up on the internet, and amongst other suggestions using white leather shoe polish seemed the commonest. I have learnt something else.  About a month ago I had to look up 'how to clean mildew out of fabric.'  Mainly boiling water, bit of bleach or vinegar, and sunlight... after discovering the damp days at Painshill had left my bonnet de police open to going abit mouldy on the insides.  Not much I can do with the crossbelt today then.I tried one suggestion of fine sandpaper but it seemed to be just eroding the leather, so best left.

It was a nice surprise to see the familar sight of my own regiment on the website banner too, at Living history worldwide.  infact the photo made me want to illustrate pretty much what I will be taking... most of the clothes are rolled up on the chair but the main space taker is the blanket and the canvas, water/drink and the greatcoat (not pictured) if I end up taking it.. although if I think I will need it I will probably wear it.. wearing as much as possible is always good.. and then the sun will come out.

 In total; Musket, in musket bag, bayonet, canteen, tin cup, plate, knife and fork, leather document pouch, cartidge belt (Giberne), notebook/pencil, bonnet de police, shako, canvas and pegs, musket tool, hessian sack, blanket, money/card/key pouch, medicine pouch, phone charger, phone, botttle of wine, loaf of bread, wedge of cheese, two apples, fruit cake, musket cleaning kit, spare flints/pricker/rag, spare trousers, glasses/case.

The shako is a bugger unless you carry it too, I do wonder why they became popular with almost every army.. one minute bicornes (which must be far cheaper and easier to make) then suddenly shakos are the thing, with all their trimmings, plates, chords and pom poms.

Last weekend I had intended to go to Colchester Military tournement, a big multi-period event, I had uhhmmmed and arrrghed abit over this one because of distance and having a lot of other things on that weekend.. but decided to go, as we were short of numbers, especially firers. However when I went to buy train tickets in advance I was told engineering works were rife and this would have further put the kabosh on things, indeed a friend of mine who went with his Saxon group said their were practically no trains on the Sunday, so maybe I dodged a bullet.

Tomorrow is a return to Dover Western heights, which I went to last year (the 45eme are there on Sunday but the event is both days), and the weather is set to be wet. The rolled up item at the back of the picture is my canvas and I am wondered whether to take it, probably yes, but my hopes will be to find a roof.. even if it only has three tumble down walls of an old casement round it. Doubtless you will hear next week! Also tomorrow is a Battle prom at Blenheim house.. I would really like to get to one of these for the whole show, skirmish, parade, music.. with added cannons.. and firework finale but which ever way I came at it logistically it was a journey up to Oxfordshire and up to the park and back, the earliest I could have left and got back to Brighton (to get up early for first train to Dover for the Sunday) would have meant only getting about half an hour of the prom and with getting-from-country-house-to-train-station worries possibly marring that. so probably for the best I concentrate on Dover.

and get on with packing. Now.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

In an English country Garden. A F%^&ing Huge English country garden.

Painshill! Long anticipated by many due to the number of the unit coming as well as a joint birthday party in the evening sun, except for the pounding rain which people woke up to on the Saturday morning.

I'd packed most of my stuff the night before and this one did not require an early start so I sat on the train to Clapham Junction and then Leatherhead, perfecting the art of sitting (reasonably) comfortably whilst wearing a full pack. I met dear John Flapejacque at the station for the last leg of the trip. The rain returned as we started to try and put up the camp so there was a brief repose in the Offices tent (with biscuits) for those already on site as we waited for it to pass, and the sun indeed came out.

Tents and awnings up I had to chose a spot for my own canvas.. literally a sheet of tent canvas but (hopefully) enough to cover a recumbrent self and gear during inclement weather, other than a short sharp shower at Eastbourne I had been pretty lucky with the weather so far. This would be a fine test.

More familiar faces were arriving and some new ones (Hello Ian!). I wandered over to a big, low tree which I had considered as a Bivouac site to find a piquet of riflemen setting up, to keep an eye on the French! I had promised one of them some lovely brack bread that my wife had made in exchange for some hardtack biscuits. This might seem a one sided exchange but I wanted to try them. Gosh, they are tough, to snap one in half you have to put some oomph into it and chewing one is labourious, they taste abit like someone had condensed five rivita into one.I plan to keep the one I've got left to see how long it remains edible.. or weevils emerge.

That night was party night as two of our unit had 100 years of birthday between them to celebrate and soon the barbeque was smoking and the beer barrels were staved in, just to be cliche there were also frogs legs and snails going round. A great time was had, but nothing silly, really.

I certainly slept well that night. Painshill park is a large landscape garden and another great thing about renactment is you get invited to stay in these places and you can go for a wander before the place is even open to the public, I went for a walk in the morning sun and saw some lovely views.

After breakfast; drill and accreditation. The latter is basically making sure you know enough drill and firing procedures, especially in relation to health and safety, with firing you should be fine unless you either point the musket at someone or put your hand over the barrel when loading. Some units are a lot more formal than others, Ive seen one group giving out test papers, again each to their own.

By now there were more public around and we headed for lunch and to make up cartridges. Then it was form up for battle!
The battle area was long but looked fairly narrow being a roadway down a valley, opening up before a lake. We were turned instead up a track and onto the top of the hillside/ridge overlooking the roadway, behind some trees, and just besides the light artillery. It was going to be an Ambush!

The artillery opening the fire and the Voltigeurs of the 69th going forward firing, we soon advanced down the hill (apparently a bit late but the trees prevented us from seeing what was going on) and wheeled to give some volley fire before closing to melee and jeer at some redcoats 'You woudn't hit a man with glasses would you?' I asked my opposite number as we locked muskets 'No, would you?' 'oh No' 'Okay, lets just tusssle on the spot, raaaaagh!'

Being pushed back we wheeled and faced a formed up unit of riflemen who gave some excellent vollies that should really have swept a lot of us from the field but our lives had to be conserved, later it was agreed we should at least have a couple of blokes (probably non firers) fall out wounded, if only to stagger up again. My section went into open order and firing at will until we dropped back and were promptly charged by the Rifles.. we were to take some casulaties, so faced by two of the Green devils I went down. All I could see from then on was grass but apparently we won!

Back at camp it was time to clean muskets, the full monty. It was nice to be able to help people who had not done this before, even though I was in that very camp myself at Hoogstraten. Another pleasant evening drew in with food and drink and games and sing songs. It is great that everyone comes together and whilst the 21st century does make an appearance after joe public has gone home it is still camp activities that would not have been out fo place in the day (except the water ballooons maybe) that go on, people don't slope off to watch TV on an ipad or make long phonecalls or even read books and most of us ended up sitting round the fire chatting, singing and playing word games.

Earlier in the evening  it had been proposed that a small patrol go out at the crack of dawn to infiltrate the British camp and give the Riflemen on piquet duty something to do.. James and I even did a recce up a track through the woods that came out at the back of the British camp so that we could infiltrate, it felt like a real espionage operation and as we were in our whites we might not even be recognised as French.. although Im sure this was only in our minds.. we even took our hats off... Ideally we would be able to fire a few shots and I loved the idea of sleepy British in their tents going 'What the..? are we under attack or something? sound the muster!' but sadly the Rifles Sergeant asked his guys and they were not up for another night of piquet duty. Maybe another time.

I retired to my bed and at some point became aware of water on my face, I had wiggled out of the top of my canvas and it was just starting to rain.. then grew heavier. I struggled to pull everything under the waterproof cover, my pack was already my pillow but I grew in my breadbag and any of my coat that was poking out, and made sure my musket (behind me, in its bag, was all tucked in) and so got back to sleep with the sound of rain falling just by my ears ,though I discovered the top of my bonnet de police had escaped and got quite damp, oh and my pom pom was soggy.  But overall I was pleased.

 Drill on the second day was largely practicing conversions from line to column and back again and everything seemed to go smoothly, drill on the second day of an event always seems to go better and my theory is that on the first day you are a lot more individually minded and perhaps overthink responses.. by day two you are acting as a unit and reacting with less forethought, your memory of the French commands is also back in place too, recognising the command even if you don't know what the actual words are.

For me the second battle was also better, despite the rainy conditions I didn't have any problems firing off quite a few rounds, and there is a real satisfaction in getting to fire half a dozen rounds off in a stretch. Suddenly we were under attack by cavalry, we have never practiced forming square because for practical reasons unless you have atleast two ranks of four on each side (32 men) it just looks more like a 'A huddle' so instead we simply turn the rear rank about and present muskets, a Hussar attacked me and Duncan (the officer) and I crossed muskets with his sabre before he galloped off to try elsewhere.
                          The Corporal scouts ahead.. cavalry can be seen in the distance.

After this we were charged by redcoats, losing quite a few men but falling back before they came on again before I bought it.  I think I have died in every battle I've been in.. as a non-firer you are often asked to be amongst the casualties so the firing people can put on a show till the last (and pretending to fire is much more obvious when not camouflaged by the smoke of others). Now I think I've come to see it as a volunteering thing for the good of the event. You hear both sides grumble sometimes about how 'the other side refused to die' but I suspect it is more to do with confusion and keeping numbers up for a while than stubborness on most peoples part.

After the battle there were still quite a few public about but the weather and the main event being over they soon seemed to melt away and word came that we could pack up camp, everyone really pulled together and seemed to just get on with doing something and it wasn't long till cars were pulling up and damp canvas' stowed away with pots and pans and chairs and muskets and shakoes and blankets and everything else. Au revoir!

I really enjoyed this event and felt at the end I'd reached a bit of a plateau, that I wasn't a newbie anymore.. I think because I'd been able to help some of the new guys I realised how much I'd picked up myself and on both drill days I'd managed not to blunder into anyone or turn the wrong way and even when using the twiddly ramrod felt I was firing a little bit quicker.
On the way home I was felt almost oblivious to being in kit, having had it on for three days, often amongst the public, it just felt so normal. I just wanted to sit on the train and zone out however a chap asked if he could take a photo which I was more than happy to oblige, and he noted the train was the 18.12. He was an Elvis impersonator from East Croydon and we had a good chat, me going into my store of 'fascinating facts' about the hobby and the history.

Good days.