I have spent over forty years dressing up in odd clothes and pretending to be a soldier from the past. Here are a few memories triggered by watching an old video recording.
Blindheim 2004 (300th anniversary)
Watching the Austrian artillery using “semi-original” (cast in 1860) guns. Their loading method was:
Loose powder loaded from scoop
No wet swab, no wad, priming loose from flask.
I was watching an accident waiting to happen. I tried to talk to their officer (in German) but he was not interested. I was a mere Englishman who knew nothing. He could not know that I had previously been trained for and been in action as a gunner from 60 years ago historically.
I called a meeting of the commanders of all the multinational participating groups, who had never before met in person. We had groups ranging over 100 years of history from Sweden, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Hungary, Italy, USA and Britain. After my suggestion that we should have a group drill session to establish (at the very least) hand-to hand combat rules, which turned out to be (to our surprise) standard English Civil War re-enactment pike press methods, some Dutch guy suggested that I should run the allied army. Promotion from Corporal to Supreme Commander Allied Forces Europe within 10 minutes!
My army included two Norwegian drummers, two Americans as British grenadiers (with working grenades), half a dozen Dutch Guards, half a dozen “Scottish” infantry from England, three English mounted dragoons and about thirty Italian infantry and a couple of cannon. Not a massive force, but I guess that the Duke of Marlborough could not have been more linguistically challenged.
Some of the Italians were using plug bayonets with Brown Bess carbines, albeit somewhat unhistorical). In the first engagement one had a misfire, then after beating off his helpful friends, stuffed the bayonet into his still loaded carbine and advanced. He was now carrying the equivalent of a WW2 PIAT waiting to be discharged
After the battle I called another meeting to (re)discuss safety. By the end we all decided that “any foreign re-enactor should be considered as inherently dangerous until proved otherwise.”, by which tenet we fought the remainder of the Marlburian Wars in Europe in a gentlemanly style without any injuries. “Foreign” clearly included the British contingent in the eyes of our new friends.
I established at that battle an excellent relationship with my “French” counterpart Didier – a Breton who refused to admit to being French. We commanded the opposing multinational armies at each of the “Big Four” Marlburian battles (Blenheim, Ramillies, Oudenaarde and Malplaquet), as well as at several other smaller engagements. At Almansa, by a quirk of history, I played the Frenchman running an Anglo-Portuguese army. He played the Englishman running a Franco-Spanish army.
Two lasting personal memories from re-enacting the wars of 1701-1714 were:
At Almansa II when two Italians came to my tent immediately after de-bussing from Italy. “Paul. We are so glad you are here. We thought we might have to fight under our own officer.”
At Oudenaarde where having allowed the Russian contingent(?) to carry their dead officer* from the field in time to pack up and get the ‘plane back to St. Petersburg from Brussels, my Dutch pal Bobby came to me, resplendent on my horse. “Sir, now that our wing commander is dead, what shall we do for the rest of the afternoon?” Me: “Ah – yes, um. You’re in charge now. Hold on, there will be a plan along in a minute.”
I last saw Bobby in charge of an inordinate number of cannon at Waterloo in 2015. I was a supernumery staff officer with lots of off-field duties and a mere spectator on the field. But that’s another story.
*Another personal story. Boris, our Russian contingent commander, came to me after the main briefing. He asked: “Do you think the Dutch, English and Norwegians will accept me as a commander?” I replied: “They voted you in. You are in charge. Welcome to my world.”