Friday, 16 June 2017

MUSH

Many moons ago when the internet was relatively young, there was a thing called a MUSH.. a multiple user shared halucination. A game basically set in whatever background the players wanted, like Star Wars for instance.
Reenactment is a lot like a mush because it relies on willing participation of a great number of people any of whom could go out of character/setting and off on a random tangent, it was also mainly run by narrative agreement, no one could knock your character unconscious for instance unless you went along with them doing it, You have to play the game, be part of a bigger story but still with some leeway to act individually. We are all here to have fun.

In reenactment nothing is really enforced by law (unless it is unsafe). I have never seen anyone refused from taking part due to poor kit but this is because people want to support the hobby and experience the life, including proper gear, and maybe I have been fortunate in my experience.
 If you see a packet of hobnobs on your camp table do you..
A) Cover them up because they are spoiling it for your sense of time/place.
B) Cover them up for the public really, it's expected of the group.
C) Leave them because you are having lunch and people shouldn't have to do things at lunch. like at work.
D) Put a pair of jeans and a tee shirt on and sit and eat the biscuits. if you are not being in reenactor mode people shouldn't mind (see Jena 2016) and your fellows are probably too polite to tell you to go elsewhere. 

                                         Sentiment good, but you've still spoilt that photo!

Playing the game is meeting a certain standard and taking part seriously.. yet also not TOO seriously. Your not really in the army, respect your officer but remember his name is Gary and he's a shoe salesman from Norwich.

I have also had members of the public say that some groups are friendly to the public whilst others blank them completely, I have seen this, seems to differ from unit to unit. Sometimes people are busy, some people are shy, but this should seldom reflect on the whole group. if you are all making rounds up have one person tell those loitering public what you are doing and why. They have come to see you. 

This weekend gone we fought several units of Austrians and they played the game well. They knew what was required of them and when they had to take casualties and be thrown out of the town, that is exactly what happened. They did it with a (concealed from the public) smile and didn't need repeated assaults before making a reluctant retreat. No one is going to think less of your unit and its pretend fighting skillz because in the officer's meeting that morning it was decided that unit x would be beaten up. If you want to play to win go and do airsoft. This is more like theatre with a bit of improv than a sport.

                                                         We are all here to have fun, that does not mean lowering standards, but remembering why you are here and why people come along to shows. There is a hazy wall between whatever century you are in and the rest of the world, sometimes it must be broken for the public, sometimes for other reenactors, the challenge is knowing when it is the right time.

                                                              Play the game!


Thursday, 15 June 2017

Significant other.

Another question I have found often posed, usually from other reenactors, is... 'So, your wife not interested in coming along?'

This is usually met with a faltering 'Er... no.' as I choose where to begin, it is usually with the camping bit. When we were younger we went camping a few times but the appeal began to wain for her, especially after one particularly wet weekend in Dorset, trying to get the tent set up in a downpour. Now we have a bit more disposable income there is these things called 'Hotels'.


She also has no real interest in Napoleonic history, I know there is the 'Jane Austen' card that some suggest as a means of getting those not interested in cannons and cartouches involved (for Napoleonic period), possibly with fancy dancing and dresses thrown in.. but then I'm not interested in that bit either! and I don't recall Elizabeth Bennet sitting on a log by the campfire with a tankard of grog. Nor is she interested in being a soldier.

Are we too late for the Jane Austen weekend?

Also if she did come along she'd need food and a tent, a proper Napoleonic tent, which is quite an investment even before camp bed, lantern, flatscreen television, etc.. and where do I go? I like sleeping outside which would be a bit odd if your partner is sleeping in a tent five feet away, and eating separately.


She did come to the AGM and met people, enough to get an impression, and takes an interest in my tales from the front line and who is who.. but has no desire to be part of those stories involving mud, smoke, sweat, mishaps, turnips and year old biscuits.

'Are we having fun yet?'

Also as another non-partner bringing comrade put it she recognizes that THIS IS MY THING. I go off and run around with guns and swords and see friends, have a couple of drinks and a sing song, get away from normal life, wander around the country and the camp, come back and then be put in a hot bath.

.                                                  

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Italian Odyssey


Nine people, one minibus and over 800 miles each way! Off to Marengo on the 45eme road trip of 2017. I was pleased to see everyone had generally gone along with traveling light and a good job too as the big boot was pretty full up. 
We had a stop over in the south of France and then through Mount Blanc and into Italy. Saw fort Bard on the way, which was besieged during the French advance. also drank coffee and went to worst service station of the trip. Most services on route were good quality and distinctly lacking in the crowds, fruit machines and Burger kings that UK services all seem to have. 
It seemed a real trek in a bus, what must it have been like for thousands of men on foot, with wagons and horses and heavy artillery pieces to shift over crude mountain roads in the snow? 


            The Eurotunnel, then the plains of northern France, the Jura mountains, then the alps.. Before Mount Blanc we saw three eagles wheeling overhead, a good omen.


Fort Bard (largely rebuilt)

We arrived early Friday afternoon. Our one tent and awning was put up. orientated selves. Saw statue of Napoleon and monument to Desaix who was mortally wounded at the moment of victory.  Met some of the others and went into town, which was basically one street. A couple of drinks, free snacks, some going on for a pizza. At camp I thought it would be fun to have a saunter around the Austrian camp and count their tents and big guns, military intelligence!  Then it was crash out in the straw.


   Statue of First consul Bonaparte, would probably have thought becoming Emperor was absurd!


An Austria landwehr being punished with a wooden spoon! As far as I know all the 'Austrians' were Croatians, Poles and Czechs.

                                                   
                                                        

The itininery for the weekend changed from hour to hour yet everything seemed to work out well once it kicked off. After some drill the Saturday skirmish became an event for Officers and NCOs only yet no one knew exactly what it was until it turned out to be a small battle on the road down to the museum. Myself and Nigel, not being 'involved' as such decided to do crowd control and spectate a bit. a couple of light cannons duelled, at one point firing over some close by skirmishers who were simply told to 'Duck down a bit' when they fired. Then infantry fired a couple of vollies and rotated. The Austrians were pushed off the road into town.



Everyone seemed to be enjoying the skirmish and I felt one more push would be the end so decided to sod standing on the side lines, I'm going in!  and found myself crossing muskets with a young Hungarian before his officer whiskered him away, the last to retreat down the road passed the famous tower of Marengo.

                   
                                                    Hmmmm, that tower looks familiar?

             
Sunday morning saw a memorial ceremony in the square around the Napoleon statue, with some inevitable local dignitaries, including a mayor in pink sunglasses and a gucci handbag, then something of a wait to go straight into battle. an artillery and skirmishing duel kicked off until the Austrians started pushing us back, and cavalry forced us into square before our own dragoons drove them away.. but the day was going the Austrian way and we left the field.
Only to come back to the rescue as Desaix' troops and forming one long line for a crashing volley then advance, a couple of 'dead' Hungarians split the line up and a few of us found us capturing the last enemy troops around their standard, which we motioned was quite safe despite our enthusiasm. And that was that. it was very hot and when bottles of water were dished out some of it went over our heads and down our necks!

 

Job done we retired to the park/garden for a couple of drinks in the dappled shade. this was a popular idea and the shack soon ran out of beer, fortunately we had wine and I used it to revive some stale bread.


As one of the last things to do I resolved to go over to the Austrian camp and thank them for their efforts, standing in the camp centre by their main flag 'Soldaten von Ostereich! Dankershon von alles der Franzolen. Prost!" and after raising my drink I turned and kissed the corner of their flag. It seemed to go down very well. I should be in the diplomatic corp me. 


The night of the mozzies followed by the magnificent morning of dawn over the mountains.


It was a great event, friendly people, and the journey back and forth was an experience too. 1800 is the earliest event many of us had done and we enjoyed the scuffier, and stripier, look with bicornes instead of shakoes, which are both comfier and easier to transport. I bought a nice red 'Liberty bonnet' which would be good for revolutionary stuff too. This was definitely the 45eme adventure of the year. I'd do it again but there are so many other places to go.. Arcole, Austerlitz, Wagram, Valmy, Castlebar.. who knows, so many battles, so little time!


Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Invasion Kent, the Eagle has landed!

Hole park lies in the heart of Kent, where moss lichened church spires rise over sleepy villages, the local yoeman always has a drop of Watney's red barrel on tap, and folk keep olive oil and white wine in the pantry, just next to the shotgun.
Here would be the second invasion Kent event after the success of last year.

I will provide some vignettes of the weekend as I am a bit pressed for time, back Monday evening, busy Tuesday, writing this now and off to Belgium not long after work tomorrow. Got to keep up!

 I arrived Sunday mid morning and was happy to go and stand sentry at the bridge between camps, Waterloo bridge to them, Austerlitz bridge to us. Because we had the country house, the traders and most importantly the ice cream van on our side there was a constant flow of British/allied types back and forth.

 Whilst we don't usually do saluting much in the 45eme it is good form to acknowledge the other sides officers and colours by presenting arms and I soon came to recognise all the officers and so smooth at presenting arms that my frizzen was just coasting snuggly into my naval each time.

                        

 Also I learnt that you don't have to salute an officer who isn't wearing a hat, he has already lowered himself so far by this act you can ignore him. 

Speaking of learning we had a new chap in the ranks and he came to take over. It was good to be able to pass on some simple drill and tips, and vocalising orders instead of just responding to them helps them stick in the head.


On the Monday I was near the bridge and a couple of comrades when our very own Napoleon-a-like John came over and we resolved to take it. He was quite deadpan as he told the surprised and wary British sentry where to go. The Emporer and myself on point we awaited the response. Sure enough a squad of redcoats lead by their commander in chief were soon assembled and marching on us so I withdrew at a suitably dignified pace. Still it caused a stir on both sides of the ditch.

                           
                          The Sunday night tug of war.

Both battles will be remembered, but for very different reasons. Sunday would be the French victory and in typical style the British marched on and were repulsed, ourselves helped by about seven cannons, and once repelled the British withdrew to the far side of the field.
And stayed there.
To encouraged them we fell back nearer the crowd line behind us. Still nothing.
Eventually the drums were heard, causing one of the loudest cheers they'd ever got from the French. They advanced up the long slope, but never reached us. Often in neatly unit-identifiable groups, they fell to the guns until it all ground to a halt as if against the wind and a few survivors wandered off the other way. Right. Okay.




Monday was a great battle, intense and visually impressive. As my ankle was playing up from overdoing it the day before I decided to die early and dramatically to a cannon shot. Soon after some friendly riflemen dragged myself and a dead comrade over to a barricade so we were not in the fire arc of a battery of guns. Propped up I could see the valiant French falling back, making the British pay for every foot. A skein of smoke veiled all, the ground shook from the guns and rockets shrieked overhead. It really was a sight to see as the French turned on an artillery battery then fought to the last behind a second redoubt. Sometimes everything just comes together and that was exactly what happened on the Monday. Quite remarkable.

Let us hope facing the Prussians at Ligny will be as satisfying, hopefully with a few more of them after last year's floods stymied a lot of travel. Our penny packet of soldats will go onwards, with the eagles to Belgium! 

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Left foot sideways.


(Dover once more..)

The 45eme had decided at the AGM to look into making a promotional video, both for potential recruits and any organisation or historic venue or event that might benefit from a top troupe of French infantrymen being in tow.
Just after arriving at Dover Western heights for the first weekend when it didn't rain on one day or another... We were off to do some shooting, in both senses, in the woods nearby. (yes, I know you fire a musket ball and shoot an arrow, but if your going to be picky a gun is only really a gun if its on wheels!).

 

Through out the weekend we did about five brief scenes, one with some British who apparently refused to die. Nothing new there! And a couple with proper face planting falls or misfiring at a dramatic moment.  It will all be married up and hopefully treated to some cunning editing and an inspirational soundtrack.

                                         'Go on, you are a star, let me feed you a grape!'

Owing to traffic problems we didn't have all the set up for a camp scene including some music, and gambling, and food, and orders being written.. These would be done on the leisurely Sunday morning. There followed some drill though we instead did a brief talk and had a firing competition. I had no misfires but lost some seconds rummaging for cartridges as some unfilled tubes, and some spare flints,  were also in my giberne.

I confess I have alluded to Dover, as a town, being a bit grim previously and was pleased to see the Banksy EU painting and eat at a quite pleasant bar/restaurant right on the quays although a couple of us did have to charm a bunch of guys making 'French' comments.. the leader of which looked like the bloke from Bad manners in a suit and claimed to be the mayor of Dover. I had the seafood spagetti and a few German beers.



Back at camp we had an excellent view of a fireworks display down over the harbour and then a couple of us went up to explore around the main fort.


Despite having a mini torch I stepped off a step into a earth worn area and didn't see a small border around it.. foot hits, foot turns, sprawl in undignified manner. Get up. Hmm, ankle little bit ouchy but never mind. Next day, still a bit tender. Go to St John's  and it was swollen up, they didn't like the look of it but my feeling was it wasn't that bad.


I would get by well enough by favouring the other foot, and using my musket as a prop on slopes. Something day after day of drill knocks out of people is initiative, but reenactors of course don't get drill day after day. At one point when Duncan was talking about uniforms to the crowd he alluded to having a volunteer from the ranks.. followed by a pause.. is he asking for a volunteer? silence. I step forward. oh no, he isn't asking for a volunteer. Steps back. Feels like an idiot. Vows never to do anything again without direct instruction. Probably.


The afternoon skirmish was shortly after this, and our modest numbers were greatly improved by the Romney marsh smugglers, some of whom were also in the British 16th but happier to join us. Smugglers on the coast were a power to themselves laying siege to excise houses even as boats were unloaded a hundred yards away, and often had dealings with the French to obtain the very goods for smuggling in and out. Some French prisoners are recorded as having escaped from England on Smuggler's boats.


It's always a good skirmish, and for us it was pretty much all individual action, small pockets and a line of the enemy being engaged. Despite having just changed my flint it wouldn't spark until I changed it again, then I got a few more shots off. A party of the smugglers died facing the redcoats, the last in a valiant charge.. and then the enemy numbers could, with enough fire, not fail to miss us and I fell casualty.. momentarily struggling with my last gasps to get the sun out of my face.


All done I had been asked to pop back to see the St. John's people.. alas still swollen and they wanted me to go to A & E, not just when back home, but now, on the way home. That didn't happen, as a post note it turned out to be two torn ligaments, swelling gone down a bit but bruised. Orders to not strain it for up to four weeks, next week I shall se how it feels..  for Hole park, probably the biggest Napoleonic gathering in the UK. See you then!

Monday, 10 April 2017

Ickworth 2017

I feel rather beaten up today and I haven't even been beaten up, cut down with a sword once and dragged along the ground on a rope, but not actually beaten up.

On a side note I am writing this on my tiny phone because my obsolete decaying computer apparently won't save pictures to put on the blog, and the cat wont give me any peace. So I apologise if the format goes a bit funny.

My first event of the year, was really hyped up for it. Quite a big event and sure to see a lot of familiar faces, weather forecast was good too, no dropping below zero business this year.

Three of us set off early. Then the car died.


A long story unfolded but we arrived in the afternoon.  Arriving in style literally minutes before marching off to the field...

 
The only way to go to war.

It all comes back to you pretty quick and I realised I'd loaded my musket without a thought. First volley off, good to be back in the ranks.

We can tell how well 'The plan' is going by the amount of profanity from the Captain and it was clear units had gone awry, some cavalry horses also decided to join the audience. It was one of those days. We beat some riflemen to death and advanced down the field. Getting quite a few rounds off. In another melee I found myself behind the first line, cludded one officer and came to blows with another..
'Hello Rhandolph, do you know whose supposed to win today? I haven't a clue.'
'No, I don't think it was decided. You can kill me if you want.'
'Ohh, okay.'
'AĆ aaaaaaaagh.'

I say you rabble, stop there!

Back to camp, water, clean muskets. Get food on. I brought some turnips and a purple French carrot but had planned to boil the turnips earlier but late arrival stopped this, also I only had a shallow pan so it half boil, half baked sort of effort. Worked in the end though.



That evening there was a tug of war contest between camps, it was during this that I ended up hanging off a rope 'like a sloth' and being dragged along. Sadly the British had the best of it, although the artillery were best of all, all that time dragging and pushing cannons about pays off.


The evening got a bit cooler and it was sitting round the fire, a bit of singing, some strange concoctions being passed about. Then time for bed. When I woke up I found I was under a strange blanket, Alex had kindly come over and put an extra blanket over me. Aaah.


Sunday, what a busy day. Breakfast left overs and black coffee. Parade up to the house. Drill practice including a new formation change which I was pleased to pick up. Sentry duty. Then some filming for a promotion video.. about half a dozen of us and a borrowed redcoat, I didn't feel it really captured the experience, you need more bodies. Oh well, maybe part two of filming next month and editorial magic will deliver the goods.


Once again we arrived at the field of Mars in time to wait about. Then on came the cavalry, who made a swirling melee before riflemen appeared and drove them away. A battery of light guns opened up at us, and we advanced close enough to trade shots with a huddle of Scots and the rifles, who fell back, but then came British reinforcements and we were pushed back and forward. Firing away, they were great cartridges, tightly rolled and full. One of my aches today is my right shoulder with a slight sore patch and I wondered if it could have been from the musket firing.. but to be honest I think it is more likely from the strap of my pack on that side. 

For the second time in the weekend some  riflemen were trounced, with Captain Miles fighting their officer.  Outnumbered we could not take casualties too soon but as the enemy loomed and we were near the crowdline the end was nigh. 'Start to take casualties with the next volley!' 
The volley thundered.
No one went down.
'Oh I thought you were doing it.'
Next one though was more lethal, an actual mound of dead started to form until told to best leave it before anyone got squashed. A few survivors may have made it from the field.

Lacking any photos I have substituted an artist's impression of the final scene.

One thing remarked upon was the number of British officers, Ickworth has a lot of British units, but not necessarily with a lot of men, but always an officer, and a couple of officers who didn't seem to have units.. so when formed up a small block of redcoats can have about three or four big hats, that or a very small units whom personally I think should either skirmish or attach themselves to another small unit. A unit with less than six does look a bit silly sometimes especially if it includes a colour bearer and an officer.

And so packing up time, I was feeling a bit drained by now. A good start to the season though. May and all of June look to be hectic, with five events in six weeks in four different countries, A reenactors life for me! 

Monday, 17 October 2016

Prussia falls!


Last event of the year. Jena, Germany, 210 years since the battles of Jena and Auerstadt! A battle that I didn't know that much about before heading up on it for this outing, and it all started with a car to the coach to the ferry and more coach with an airing of 'Pride and prejudice and zombies'. We arrived at five o'clock on a very cold, dark morning. The sun would soon rise over the great rolling landscape of Thuringia though.


This was my first 'early' event and we all swapped our shakos for bicornes, although mine was a bit of a sad old civilian style, I signed up late for Jena! I also decided on the stripey trousers to add to the effect although 1806 was already far from the days of the ragged armies of Italy... but which way to wear it? Sidelong? fore and aft? a jaunty angel?  I went for jaunty, partly as the back peak kept being knocked by my rolled up blanket when straight and the left side got knocked by shouldering the musket if straight across. you can't beat jaunty.


One of my favourite bits was that morning, just taking a walk with two of the other guys up to the long ridge, now lined by small trees and plaques bearing statements by Europeans about the mistakes of the past and hopes for the future, and the odd battle memorial. From the ridge you get a fantastic view of where the French would have come across from the south and south-east, including the Dornburg hill and Trafenburg, both of which are less pronounced than they appear in contemporary pictures. There is a windmill at one end of the ridge which was rebuilt by locals to replace the original a few years ago and makes a great reference point.


Having strolled into Vierzehnheiligen and having a bit of spare time I grabbed my sack and thought to look at how far it was to Isserstadt where there were supplies (the coach had been unable to stop for any, although there were apples everywhere!). No sign of it on the horizon, but I kept going. Soon after a car pulled up and (presumably) asked where I was going.. I explained and was told to hop in! Dropped off outside the shop I offered my thanks but was quietly concerned at how far away I might be from camp. However the walk back proved fairly straight forward, the church tower being visible from half way back and then being given another lift. German people always seem so helpful.


Later on it was wondered if there would be enough food for a dinner and lunch.. which made me ponder the French army of the day where food was theoretically provided from above.. but a soldier that couldn't secure food for themselves was likely to risk going hungry. I can think of at least one soldat who would have probably died without being fed and watered by his superiors!

We were meant to be marching out to the battlefield at Cospeda and doing an hour and a half of brigade drill before some food and then the hour and a half battle. In reality by the time we had done a pleasant(ish) route March there it was getting late and we went straight into the sausage-bread-beer lunch. It's funny that some events say no drink! whilst here they give it away, sure it is only one but it took so long to dish out the provisions I'm sure a few seconds were sneaked in.
Things went from askew to farcical in the next half hour as our brigade commander (whom I'd mentioned in a previous post for marching us up and down in specific and theoretical ways.) maneuvered us about. We literally marched down and back up and across the hill and waited (along with the audience) to get engaged as the cannons to our front fired across the gentle valley. There had been a rumour that not all units were going to get to do much.


Finally we were on the march, closing with the enemy. A white coated Saxon battalion just ahead and across to our right presented themselves. We stood around a bit. Any of Napoleon's firebrands or any wargamer would have seen the picture and pushed us into the convenient gap in the line to start volley fire but it seemed to take some hints from the lesser mortals before this happened. Much better, we were firing vollies, niggles are forgotten when the shooting starts!   Some pretty fireworks went off and further up the field a startled deer was seen streaking across the field. Cannons were roaring at us from across the field.


Sadly the deer was not the only animal to be startled as a rider came off their horse and was injured just behind the Prussian line and an emergency vehicle rolled on to see to them. On the right a great cheer and rush went forward as the Prussian line gave and the French there went forward but on our part the troops surrendered with more of a sigh than a scream. That was it then. Historically we'd be pleased at our marginal involvement. Indeed there were few visible casualties, I had been told at a previous event everyone had been given a number and if it was called you died! good way of imposing a sense of fate on participants, will I get through this one or fall at the first volley?

So we we're marching back to camp, by a quicker route than we came in on, and there were plenty of people there until we got onto a track across the fields, marching at a keener rate than the poor motorists trying to get out along the country roads.


Second night was mild compared to the first, when I had armoured myself against the frost with long coat and hat on and double blankets and a (faux) furry shawl/poncho thing and it all worked very well. I think this would keep off all but a Russian winter, which is good to know. The straw is also a help but UK events don't have it.


For breakfast I cooked some butternut squash, I wasn't sure how peeling and halving it before spitting it on a bayonet was going to turn out, I feared it was going to be black on the outside and uncooked in the middle but on peeling away the skin of black it was lovely and well cooked, will make it a regular provision next year, is quite hardy too.  My bottle of Barwurz 'Traditional Bavarian root schnaps' was spurned by all. Poor Barwurz.

Sunday was a day of rest, there was a formal ceremony at the church in Vierzehnheiligen but due to space only a few regiments were in attendance, a few of us went to watch though. Amidst the dignitaries and generals, including the Emperor, there were quite a crowd of locals turning out, it was all very respectful yet friendly.


I wasn't sure what to do with the rest of the day (packing up about half three) and wandered back up to sit under a tree on the Europaweg and have a drink and look out over the landscape, occasionally passed by a strolling silver haired couple hand in hand or little groups of cyclists or horse riders, many of whom said hello. It was lovely, though I suddenly felt a bit maudlin about the whole Europe thing, so went to find cake. There must be cake.


All in all it was a good weekend, glad I signed up for it, and just being there was a top draw. The disorganisation around the battle and not really feeling like we did much on the field were a little bit of a down side.
I also felt mildly embarrassed that as there were no official duties on the Sunday the public were wandering through an 'Historical camp' heavy with plastic beer crates and bin bags and a motley mix of fully dressed grenadiers sitting next to blokes in t-shirts and combat trousers. I fully appreciate some folk had to get away early but with a lot of public around at lunchtime maybe ask units to stay in kit until one o'clock at least but over all a good time was had and saw the season draw to a suitable close.

Possibilities are already a foot for 2017, Marengo in Italy has been whispered about even though I"m not aware of an organisation going on for the event.. I've booked time off for Brettan (Landskneckt fest) and James and I are keen to do at least one campaign event in France. In the mean time like minded Generals of little men are keen to get together for some war games over the winter. So if you'd excuse me I have some Hungarians to paint.

VIVE L'EMPEREUR!