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.