Sunday, 26 October 2014

World War I Education Day at Fanshawe Pioneer Village

My family and I belong to the King's Company of Historical Reenactors, which is the umbrella group for our War of 1812 unit: Croghan's Company, 17th US Infantry. The King's Company also has reenacted the French and Indian War and now World War I. The First World War reenactment is done in connection with a group called History Matters, and besides the Newville, PA "live-in-the-trenches" reenactment, History Matters also sponsors and runs education days for local Grade 10 classes from a number of nearby schools. Last Monday, we were out in various uniforms and outfits to help teach the students about that war, which did so much to shape and cement the Canadian identity.

The cost of uniforms is prohibitive (in my opinion) and the purchase of a period firearm requires a Possession and Aquisition License in Canada as well as a serious amount of coin for the weapon and the blank ammunition. Weapons include the British Short Magazine Lee-Enfield (SMLE which is still in use by the Canadian Arctic Rangers), the Canadian Ross (don't look at it wrong or it'll jam), the German 97K Mauser, and the French Label (which as NO SAFETY so the chamber is left open!) In the future, I believe there are plans to obtain a Mosin-Nagant M91 Rifle to show some Russia to the students. (More on this later.)

Various stations are set up, from the opening Military "Fashion Show" through Military Chaplain, Work Detail, Close-order Drill, Roadblock, Sniper/Tunneler/Stormtrooper to the station my wife, daughter, and I staff: the de-lousing and laundry station. I dress in a work smock, dark trousers, and Adrian helmet (which gives me a massive headache) or peaked cap and I spray the students with simple compressed air from a pump-up sprayer to "de-louse" them.  We teach them about the prevelance of lice in all armies, the consequences of infestation like "trench fever", and how to get rid of the cooties from the body and the clothes.

Nope... far more unpleasant.
Just after lunch, all the students take part in "the Assault on Vimey Ridge." After a "mad minute" of blank firing from the reenactors in Canadian uniform with SMLE's, the whole crowd goes forward in an assault. Every so often, a student or a number of students are designated as casualties and drop to the ground. This is supposed to show them what an assault was like and then how man casualties might be taken in such an advance.

Some of the students take this quite seriously, others less so. Their loss, I say. It is a lively and vibrant way to teach history and I wish this had been done when I was in school. 

Now more photos, courtesy of Jeff Brown, who does the planning of this whole thing.

Justin as a French "Poilu"
The uniform is accurate and the pack is massive. The puttees are a real pain.

The Forward Aid Post which serves as the Stretcher Bearer station. Jeff made the bricks out of styrofoam and the sandbags are real sandbags...  not too hard to come by.

Joe in full Stosstruppen ("Stormtrooper") kit. This includes bags of grenades, the 98K Mauser, an assault shovel (handle over his left shoulder), trench knife on the belt, and sacking-covered Stahlhelm. Joe usually does the underground war, describing the mines dug by both sides under enemy positions.

The German roadblock. The two Landsherrs stop the students and roust them, asking for ID, checking bags, yelling broken German phrases such as "Halt!", "Los!", "'Rous!", "Actung! Minen!", and the all-purpose "Schnell!" (I'm their language consultant.) They are carrying replica 98Ks and the guy on the left is my son, Rob. (Yes, he's in a WWII helmet; now leave me alone!)

Felicity and Matthew as Belgian refugees. The roadblock troops mess up their belonging and Rob throws Matthew (gently) across the path during the vignette.

Rob goes through the pityful belongings of the Belgians and their wheelbarrow. He never finds anything. Maybe if they put a Snickers bar in the barrow he'd leave them alone the next time.

The German bunker during the Vimey Ridge assault. They put the smoke machine inside it which helped to concentrate the smoke during the exercise. Reenactors in German uniforms are scattered around the field in emplacements to surrender or to run away as the assault comes forward.
My daughter, Katie, hangs clothes in the laundry. The laundry station takes place in a brewery which historically would have been the site of such a thing since there would have been a ready water supply and large vats to soak the men in... for a while. We love to watch the students squirm when they realize that all the men going through delousing used the same water over and over again, getting colder all the time.

My wife, Beth, "irons" a uniform shirt with an old cast-iron iron. This was done to get the bugs and their eggs out of the clothing rather than to get rid of wrinkles. Lice like to lay eggs in the seams of clothing. Lots of eggs.
This site is "Justin-approved"!

Copies of this "delousing chit" were given to each the teacher for each group of students. This is a German one with a silly cartoon. Basically, the chit says "This (name) was today in the healthy delousing station deloused." (My German is rather crude, especially if it's printed in the old German print.) It's signed and sealed by a medical officer. You weren't allowed back to your unit (and friends) without this. If you lost it, you'd be deloused again. If you lost it AGAIN, I imagine you'd be discussing it with the military police.
At the front, the men did a sort of crude delousing by running a lit candle along the seams of their clothing which kills the live bugs but not the eggs. This execise was referred to as a "chat" and it also was a time of socializing for the troops
In the future, Jeff hopes to include Katie in a station to talk about the women who took part in combat, especially the Russian "Women's Battalions of Death." (Look it up; it's quite interesting.) So he want Katie to get her PAL and he'll get a Mosin-Nagant for her to display and carry, as well as a proper Russian uniform. There were Russian troops on the Western Front in the trenches in France, but none of the Death Battalions.

This is not a World War I photo, sure. But the absurdity of it appeals to me.


  1. I used to follow your Kings Company website. Nice to know I now follow your blog.

    1. I'm happy to know this and to be of service. The King's Company website is not working. For some reason, it can't be updated.

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