May 17th -19th, 2019
By Andrew Tingey.
Prelude and Forecasting
The first thing to say is that living history events start several days before the event itself. As Cannon Hall is my 6th event, I’m starting to get some idea of what to expect and and becoming much better at deciding what to take..of which more later. The banter will start, and the organization usually begins, several days in advance with the issue of the Warning Order, effectively instructions on where to go and the general plan for the event. Arrangements for tents, missing kit, practicalities and questions all start appearing on Facebook. Then there’s the weather – the all important checking of the weekend forecast from about 7 days out, hopelessly inaccurate of course (at least that’s what you tell yourself when almost constant rain is predicted). Satisfied that I vaguely know what’s going on I can think about getting the various bits of equipment together.
Buffing up and Packing
The 5/60th rifleman’s kit includes various bits of brasswork that tarnish if not regularly polished. I’m sure I felt this was a chore at the beginning, but that feeling is long gone and I find shining up the various bits of golden metal on rifle and badge strangely relaxing and even therapeutic…a few minutes with the right technique and everything looks satisfyingly new again. Leatherwork often needs a spruce up too but never seems as much fun to polish for some reason!
I’ve never been a good packer, for holidays or business trips, but a re-enactment event focusses the mind. I actually got most of the items together on Thursday evening but working from a list is the best way I’ve found. You soon learn to put the stuff you need first on top! Even then the temptation is to take too much stuff – it’s amazing what re-enactment sites sell – and no I DON’T need to take that copper rum tot cup I have…
The unknown is my new tent – i.e. will it fit in car. Wave of relief as it does and there’s still room for something else.
Journey and Arrival
Quite a long journey from Sussex for me but it is uneventful. I took the decision not to travel up in kit which avoids the slightly quizzical looks at motorway services.
Arrived at Cannon Hall early afternoon to experience one of things that makes re-enacting one of the best hobbies out there. Tired from the journey it’s still great to see friends again after several weeks and they both stop what they are doing to help with my tent.
This spirit of mucking in and helping each other is part of what it’s all about. The tent is up in about 30 minutes and the first beer of the weekend is duly cracked open – time to experience the sights, noises and smells of the camp coming together, tent pegs being hammered in, cooking fires being lit, the waft of wood-smoke, equipment and kit being readied. I watch a cannon being towed in behind a Volvo. Not something you see every day!
Our Quartermaster excels with tonight’s menu – Georgian chicken curry and rice cooked on an open fire. More beer consumed and some great conversation around the camp fire. Does it get any better??
The day closes and we all get some sleep before the real stuff starts tomorrow.
Saturday 18th May
Slept reasonably and up at around 7am. Someone has already set a fire and hot water is available for a much needed coffee. Everyone starts to get into period uniform and the sense of anticipation begins to build.
The morning is a busy one – unit drill, joint drill with 2/95 (Rifles) and the Brigade drill for the public. Feels like a decent workout as you’re carrying a fair bit of equipment by now and supporting an Infantry (Baker) Rifle at the shoulder for a good deal of it. Our group pride ourselves on accurate period drill and those days spent practicing ensure that we put up a good show.
The weather on Saturday morning is grey and misty and so the crowds are light but there is the opportunity to interact with members of the public before tucking into a lunch of chorizo, macaroni and chicken pie, ham, cheese, bread and apples.
Unusually, there are some free range chickens wandering around belonging to another living history group…have to admit it lent the camp some extra period authenticity!
I still get a real buzz when the units form up to re-enact the battle itself. Whilst there’s a general plan (we know the French army win today) the battles can be unpredictable and that adds to the fun. We are instructed to take casualties and I start to think about how I’ll die in the battle.
The battle itself is amazing – 18 files of skirmishers using Light Infantry tactics against the French columns, our drill again coming to the fore. I fire off over a dozen shots from my rifle before faking my spectacular death courtesy of a shot from the Imperial Guard. There’s applause from the crowd and a salute from the re-enactors. Great day all in all!
The battles themselves are a real assault on the senses, cannon firing, cavalry galloping around, orders barked and the constant sound of muskets and rifles firing and emitting great gouts of smoke. It can be a real effort to concentrate on your position and listen out for unit orders.
Dinner is steak braised in port sauce and is another masterstroke by our Quartermaster!
In the evening the 33rd organize a party and both Allied and French troops attend. Period music, dancing, port, beer and snacks make it a great night. Nice to see a lot of re-enactors families present too. The evening ends with a last drink around our unit campfire before we do it all again tomorrow.
Sunday 19th May
The day begins much as Saturday did but the weather is noticeably better. The sun even threatens to come though! Those doom-laden weather forecasts were wrong again…
In the morning we try and re-create the cover of a book about the regiment we portray by our Chairman, Rob Griffith. After fifteen minutes of careful posing we’ve made a decent representation of it – one for our Instagram account
After drill and light lunch it is noticeable how many more people have attended today – a crowd of 200-300 are around I’d estimate. I catch up with some friends who immediately want pictures as they haven’t seen me in period kit before.
We form up for battle again, this time it’s our turn for victory. My rifle decides not to fire after working perfectly the previous day so I do the honourable thing and take a hit early, hamming up being shot by the French again. A nearby artillery crew make a show of rescuing me and dragging me over to a nearby tree – great banter between us as they do. Am slightly perturbed that they want to sit me down on top of a burning piece of slow match…
I look on slightly enviously as my unit charge and capture a French cannon, but I rejoin for the victorious parade off the field.
After the camp closes to the public we clear up and re-pack all our kit, again everyone helps everyone else, fantastic to see such team spirit.
By 4pm it’s all over and I’m on the road home – dirty, yes (takes two showers to get rid of gunpowder!), tired, yes, feeling unfit, yes but with some great memories that will last until the build up of the next event. Can’t come soon enough!