Wednesday, 29 April 2015

World War I Education Day at Fanshawe Pioneer Village

 Every so often (okay, twice a year), I help out at a Education Day at the Fanshawe Pioneer Village on the north end of London, ON. This is a service offered to local high schools as they learn about the so-called "Great War" at the beginning of the last century. (That's beginning to sound like ancient history somehow.) This is put on by the History Matters organization with grew out of the reenacting group I belong to. This past Monday, I assisted by taking photos. I don't have a uniform for any of the belligerants, since I'm of a large size and the prices are prohibative in any event. There's talk of setting me up as a civilian for a static display, with sounds pretty good.

The First World War was very important for Canada. It was the first conflict where Canada sent troops as an independant ally of Great Britain rather than as Imperial Colonial troops. It's been said, with some great truth, that Canada became a nation at Vimy Ridge.

The day starts with a military "fashion show" where various uniforms are displayed on the reenactors. Then the groups break up and go to stations such as "the art of the trench raid", "the soldier's canteen", "mounted cavalry combat", "Battle School", and the all-time favourite of the students, "The General Store" where much tablet fudge is consumed!

First some photos of the "Fashion Show":

Early war German soldier with the leather Picklehaub and the fur pack.

Mid-war German soldier. the Mauser 98K and the Stahlhelm have been added.

Late war German Stormtrooper (Stosstruppen)
He has had most of the trim removed from his tunic and is wearing captured British
"Ammunition" boots and puttees. He is missing the twin grenade bags carried on the chest.

Canadian Soldier. He is wearing the dress cap with the Brody helmet slung on his shoulder.
The small box respirator is on his chest and he's armed with the SMLE rifle.

Canadian trench raider.
His cap is reversed to confuse the enemy in the dark; the reversed cap looks remarkably like the
German fatigue cap. His large Mills bomb holders are on his chest.

The French Poilu in Horizon Blue with the Adrian helmet and Berthier rifle
(That rifle had no safety!)

Canadian Regimental Medical officer
A new character for this year!

Canadian Medical Orderly or stretcher bearer

Canadian Nursing Sister
These nurses were all commissioned officers. We call them "the Bluebirds."
A Volunteer Aid Detatchment woman
These were civilian women who served as laundresses, hospital attendants, ambulance drivers,
and other auxiliary positions. Her dress is grey rather than the Nursing Sister's blue.
{By the way, this reenactor is my wife!}

Civilian munitions factory worker
The women in these factories were exposed to many toxic substance, some of which
turned their skin yellow. Hence, they were called "Canaries."

The Canadian 1st Hussars in full dress.
This new station told of the role of cavalry in WWI. There was also a man in khaki who
described how the cavalry fought.

The Russian Women's Battalions of Death
One of the remarks at these Ed Days has been the lack of female presence. Discussion of the Nursing
Sisters and VAD were added, but this reenactor shows a combat role for women, particularly on the
Eastern Front. There were many positive remarks on this new addition.

A Belgian refugee... who is continually roughed up by the German road block.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission sculptor
This new station discussed the cemetaries in Europe, how they were laid out, arranged, and maintained.
This reenactor recreates a veteran now a civilian who was employed as a headstone carver.

After the "Fashion Show", the student groups followed a rotating schedule of stations to learn many of the aspects of the history of World War I.

At the battle school, the students learn to handle barbed wire (knotted shoe laces), machine guns,
toy grenades, and the ever-present and always-warned-of land mines.
(We really don't have any such thing.)

Canadian and Russian instructors put the students through the Battle School.

The Bunker on the field.
This is a styrofoam and wood construct that disassembles for transport,
'cause this is a travelin' show!

The road block in a quiet moment.
Matthew throws a big "thumbs up."

The presentor the this history of the 1st Hussars in full dress.
He is a civilian member of the parade troop that turns out for important occasions,
mounted in full dress.

The colours of the 1st Hussars.

At the canteen (estaniment), this Poilu relaxes with his hostess over
wine, cheese, and cigarettes.

Another member of the 1st Hussars demonstrating lance drill.
This gentleman is actually a major in the 1st Hussars, a reserve (militia) armoured regiment
of the Canadian Forces, which has its headquarters in London, ON.

The reenactors prepare for rapid fire at the after-lunch "storming of Vimy Ridge."
The armed reenactors fire off one magazine of blank cartridges as a prelude to the
advance of all the students in the assault.

Our "Germans" relax in their trench before the "Art of the Trench Raid" demonstration.
The Pioneer Village permitted History Matters to dig a 200 foot trench system which was
made as authentic as possible with sand bags, corrugated metal walls, rubber rats, and a
partial skeleton of "Napoleon Blownapart."

Fake grenades, SMLE rifles, and Lewis Gun await the use by the students.

A side view of the trench.

One of the reenactors prepares his assault section on the right flank of the attack.

Corporal Brown and Private Derrick look over the "recruits."

I was dead tired at the end of the day, but it felt good to be part of this educational event. In the summer, there will be a weekend at the Village devoted to this sort of display/reenactment event, which will be open to the general public. 

A few more photos are always in order. (A few of these were taken by my wife.)

The uniformed reenactors prepare for the Assault on Vimy Ridge.

The reenactors fire off a magazine - for effect!

Our friend, Nick, explains a display of the way the war graves were laid out.
The reenactors line up for the Fashion Show.
The real enemy!
A groundhog at full speed. Their holes are everywhere!

My daughter, Katie, and my son, Rob yuck it up for the camera.
Rob often protrays a Stormtrooper although he as portrayed a Canadian stretcher bearer, here and at Newville, PA,
where there is a HUGE WWI reenactment twice a year.
Katie (or I should say "Katherina Ivanova") seemed to enjoy this role, although she got a bit chilled at times.

This weekend --- back to the War of 1812 at the Longwoods Conservation Area.

First Sergeant Goldsworthy, Croghan's Company, 17th US Infantry... at your service!


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Ray! I'm still learning to really handle a camera. Lucky for me, I had good subjects!

  2. Very nice photos, Good to see the various uniforms on display, gives a better, balanced view of the war.

    1. We thought so, too. I think the variety makes it more interesting for the students who attend. The teachers were (and usually are) quite complimentary.
      Thanks for the boost!