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.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Teaching at Grimsby

Last Saturday, Andy, Martin, Beth, and I journeyed to Grimsby, ON, to take part in a unique situation. We were asked to come and put on an 1812-themed wargame at the Grimsby Public Library/Art Gallery. We were there with four other gamesmasters to present a unique opportunity to learn about that portion of the nation's history.

Wayne Kerr presented "Lords of the Lake", a Great Lakes sailing ship game using an adaptation of the well-known Wooden Ships and Iron Men rules. Stephen Arthurs, who invited us to this shindig, set up the Battle of Baltimore on a groaning table full of figures, buildings, and sailing ships in 15mm using an adaptation of the old classic, Fire and Steel. Brian Hearnden showed us the Battle of Chippawa using British Grenadier rules. Dan Abbot's table laid out the Battle of Queenston Heights with a home-made set of rules. Our crowd ran "Once Upon a Time in Western Upper Canada", a patrol/skirmish game using our adaptation of Iron Ivan's This Very Ground. Andy and Martin played the first game with some of the locals and Martin and Beth played the second game. I gamesmastered both times. (All photos courtesy of Beth and Andy.)

Although I had prepared patrols for up to ten people, we had four for our first game. Each unit had an NCO and ten or eleven men, as well as a distinct mission to accomplish. Rather than confusing things with various morale values, I made all the troops regulars. The encounters with wild things could cause you to be pinned if your courage failed, but very little would attack you... unless you encountered humans or you did something dumb like shoot at the bear or moose. There were also surprises hidden on the board. As it turned out, one of the players was able to achieve his mission and with that won the morning game.

Our games were a part of this museum show about the War of 1812, which included paintings, dioramas, and photos.

The patrols await deployment - 5 Crown and 5 US

The table - All the green felt was considered light woods. The areas covered by the smaller felt patches were heavy woods and the areas bordered by the blue yarn were declared to be open stretches and clearings. It made for a congested table... as it should be for 1812 patrols!

Martin's troops advance up the road in search of supplies. Andy's enter to map the southeast quadrant of the board. The other player was to take and hold the bridge. He ran into the native warband in the clearing near the forest. The issue was the natives spoke no English! I said he had to make his message clear through interpretive modern dance; the look on his face made the day. Still he had to communicate with gestures. He did alright; the warriors recognised him as an ally!

A different angle.

Andy's patrol encounters beef-on-the-hoof.

Martin's patrol met an officer of Royal Engineers who commandeered the unit to search for a ford in the stream. Some of his troops were engaged in collecting honey from the encountered bee hives so his cart was not taken by the Engineer.

Action at the bridge!

A wider view. Andy's troops are in the linen summer jacket of the US forces which makes for distinctive unit.

Half of the Crown forces were on either side of the bridge, but Andy came at them with the bayonet and took the bridge before we broke for lunch.

One view of one of the "surprises." The US Rifles patrol - whose mission was to disperse or destroy the native warband - came out of the tavern (after imbibing) and encountered... well, you can see what  was there. The Redcoats were waiting as well and both sides were a bit stunned by the appearance of the TARDIS. It was a "just for fun" addition with no bearing on the game except to laugh!

Another view of the same encounter.

Wayne's battle on the Lakes goes on.

This was his educational display. There was a lot of fighting on Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, mostly with small ship flotillas.

Stephen's assault on Baltimore was quite colourful. It included ships, amphibious landings, and a load of US Artillery.

Baltimore harbour was well defended.

... and a centre of commerce as well as a haven for privateers!

The Royal Navy advances!

Away boats! (The box-like affair is a periscope for seeing things at figure-eye level.)

There were American artillery emplacements all over the board!

Brian's game of the Battle of Chippewa was enticing. My biggest problem in gamesmastering is not being able to see or play other games!

The British line prepares to advance.

That's a big cannon. If I recall correctly, some of the British guns at that battle were 18-pounders and larger.

The American line, light dragoons, and militia/volunteers surge forward.

The native allies in the woods. The tribes were so appalled by the slaughter at Chippewa and Lundy's Lane that some declared their neutrality following the battles.

"By God, those are regulars!"

A view of Dan's Queenston Heights offering. The Canadian militia was to delay the US advance long enough for the British regulars to arrive.

Quite some advance! From this angle, it looks like a flood!

Our game and Wayne's were set up in the library entry way and the others were in the museum proper.

In the afternoon game on our table, Beth led the Upper Canada Incorporated Militia (rated as regulars for ease of play) on a hunt for provisions. They first went to the tavern.

Meanwhile, our most intrepid captain, Jordan, led the Glengarry Light Infantry Fencibles on a search for the native warband. She did a fine job and actually succeeded in her mission, using sign language to get the warband to join her troops. She really seemed to enjoy herself. By the way, Bigfoot made an appearance in this game rather than Doctor Who or Yoda, who was also available.

While Beth was going in the back door of the tavern, Martin was leading his US patrol in the front door. The building was large enough that Beth really did not see his troops approaching! She won the fight and captured two US soldiers, which she and Martin promptly declared to be Kevin and myself! (Kevin wished to come but was unable to due to family obligations.)

In the left foreground, the prisoners are marched off.
The day was fun and I hope the library/art gallery staff felt the same. My thanks to Stephen for inviting us and to all those who played our games. It was a unique way to learn about the history of the area.

In light of recent events...

I'm sure my astute readers have all heard of the events in Canada this week. Two soldiers were run down (one later died) in Quebec by a person believed to be a radical Islamic militant, who was later killed by the local police. Yesterday, a young Army reservist was shot and killed while standing guard at the Canadian War Memorial and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa. The shooter then entered the Parliament building and was himself shot and killed by the Sergeant-at-Arms of the Parliament, a former Mounted Police constable, in an exchange of gunfire. This morning there have been shots fired at vehicles along Highway 401 east of Toronto. This third item may not have anything to do with the first two, but the timing alone makes it suspect, if the event is real at all. I cannot offer any confirmation at this time.

Some ask "What is happening?" This is the reality of the modern world. Some voices blame members of certain religious groups. Others see a plot by governments to limit individual rights and gain more power and control. Some are jumping to horrendous conclusions with meagre evidence. I don't wish to do any of these things.

I'm glad to note that the Canadian Parliament is back in session this morning and is taking care of legislative business as much as it ever does. That is probably the best thing that could happen in that place. Refusing to be disrupted is an act of resistance and business as usual is a defusing of terror. Things will not be the same as they were before all this and yet there is no reason to panic. (I've been told that some schools in the US are closed for fear of the ebola virus. A comedian jokingly and realistically reminded us that more Americans have married Kim Kardashian than have died of ebola. Note the emphasis on Americans; for Africa, this in no laughing matter. For the USA, panic is far less realistic.)

Why am I saying this? Speaking out of a black mood, I remind myself that whatever I might say is of little worth in the great scheme of things. My musings on painted bits of metal, resin, and plastic and how I push them around a table-top is a self-indulgent exercise. Important things happen around me and I surely have little awareness of them and even less control over them. I am a small person in the midst of much larger events. I will continue to "blog" what I usually do but always with the memory that what I write about is... less important.

I wanted to say this before I blog anything else so that anyone who reads this will know that I take serious things seriously and I'm as confused as anyone else.

God help us all. God be with us all. I pray for ALL those who have lost their lives and for their families.

Rest in Peace, Cpl. Nathan Cirillo
Argyl and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada

Sunday, 12 October 2014

The Fanshawe event returns!

The reenactment at Fanshawe Pioneer Village in London, ON had been suspended for the past two years in order to let the bicentennial sites build participation. This year - 2014 - it returned. The folks from the Village were satisfied although the numbers of both reenactors and spectators were down. They felt it was a good start to a reinstate event. Who am I to argue? Besides, I had too much fun.
     We set camp on Friday but the reenactment took place on Saturday, October 4, and Sunday, October 5. The weather was quite cold (8°C with a wind chill of 4°C), damp, and windy. Those who came out were not deterred by this. The camps were small, and we ended up having only one open field battle and three village skirmishes in an among the buildings of the Village. (Usually there are two of each.)
     Morning in the US camp began with the raising of the flag and some manual of arms drill. About half of the US forces of the day were re-uniformed Crown forces... like the Royal Kentuckians aka The Royal Scots in red-trimmed black hunting frocks. A small skirmish in the town followed that. (Photos courtesy of my wife, Beth, who only had a small camera and her cell-phone camera that day.)

Kevin and I served as colour guard with Henry, the brigade surgeon. 

Major Phil explains what's going to happen.
From the left, 17th US, 16th US, "the Royal Kentuckians", the Tennessee Rangers (aka the British Indian Dept.) and Caldwell's Rangers.

As colour sergeant, I attempted to unlash the halyard. The flag did stay up all day!

Attention to orders! Then arms drill.
US Battalion HQ
the 17th two tents and the surgeon's tent up against the barn

The 16th give fire to cover the retreat of the US forces in Saturday morning's battle.

At the far right, our good friend, Mark gives orders to his unit.
He started the day as a ranker, became sergeant for the 16th, and then battalion Sergeant Major since he was senior sergeant on the US side. He's moving up in the world!

Major Phil, Captain Brad, and Captain Henry observe the troops at their work. Brad is an officer with the Royal Scots who changed sides for the day.
After a hearty lunch of Mr. Jefferson's style of Mac-and-cheese, there was an open field battle. The US troops marched through some waist-high grass to get to the field and we marched on alongside the artillery and the special effects fireworks. In the afternoon, the US got to win! Following the battle, there was musket cleaning and supper making. Beth made a delicious and warming chicken noodle soup with extra rice. (So what if it wasn't from scratch? You, dear reader, would've gladly eaten it on that cold field!)

Both sides exchange fire. On the far left, the US light troops attempt to flank the Crown forces.

A closer view of the US line. Captain James of the 16th orders his unit to reload. The skirmishing rangers keep up an annoying fire. At the far right, Captain Henry oversees the 17th's reloading. He said he didn't really know the drill since he was serving as a field officer rather than a surgeon. I told him not to worry; the sergeant's job was to make the officer look good.

You can see how meagre the sides were at this event. Next year will be better!

A truce is called and each side salutes the other.

We all formed one line and were to fire a full volley for the crowd.

And that's just what we did!
Sunday morning, I was at church... as I should be being the congregation's pastor and all. When I arrived at the Village, the morning skirmish was over. The afternoon battle us usually a field battle with the Crown forces win, saving the village from looting and burning. (One of our first rules is "Pillage, THEN burn!") Because of the weather and the small numbers, it was switched to a village skirmish. The combined 16th/17th was to perform a bayonet charge and all die valiantly. Those were our orders.

Fighting on the Village Green! Major Phil oversees the work of the US line.

The forces of the Crown advance. Major Phil confers with Sergeant Major Mark on the next move.

The gun in the background was captured by the Redcoats. The crew took off their jackets and turned the gun around since they were Crown forces now! Manning the guns is a speciality which not everyone can do, so for safety's sake, the gunners turned coat. (Literally!)

More movement! The combined 16th/17th/Canadian Volunteers get order form SM Mark. The Royal Kentuckians march back as Major Phil gives them directions.

Some US Rangers reload in front of Major Phil while the combined unit prepares to fire and charge. In the background, another few Rangers watch the rear since some Native Allies were creeping up on us.

Firing another shot.
This was as far back as we'd go.

Ready! Take aim! FIRE! Come to the port! Charge your bayonets!
(We didn't use bayonets really. Somebody could get hurt! Mainly, us!)

As the entire unit dies, I stagger off to die under a tractor.

Brave boys, we hardly knew ye!

Many Strings leads some of the British Indian Department to snipe at the rear of the US forces.
We closed up shop soon after the battle finished. Some of the crowd had stumbled onto this event, having come up to the conservation area without knowing of the reenactment, and they enjoyed it.
I'm looking forward to this event next year. I think it'll be bigger once word gets out. This event is usually the last of the season for this part of Ontario. We actually had some sleet on Saturday, so you can see why this is the final event. Winter comes soon and stays a while.

Now some photos from various sources. (My thanks to Laughing Devil Photography, Dave Westhouse, and Linda Lee. If I missed someone, my apologies to you. Please let me know and I'll correct the oversight.)

The 17th's camp on Saturday evening. The sun came out but it was still cold and breezy. Mark is sharing some peach crisp with us. Kim/Many Strings is enjoying Tina's beef stew. Beth, Kevin, and I are enjoying our meal as well.
"The Royal Kentuckians"
Captain Roy and Major Phil confer on strategy... or maybe on where to get cheap beer.
Sergeant Major Mark and the boys of the 16th on the firing line.
The Crown Forces on parade under the ever-watchful eye of the Regimental Sergeant Major (the four-striper out front.)
At the end of the day on Sunday, the US flag flying on the Village square was taken down with proper ceremony and replaced by the Union flag. Here Henry, Mark, myself, and Kevin serve as colour guard for the Stars and Stripes.
The Crown forces salute the colours. Captain Dave is on the far left and Colonel Hal in out front.

Major Phil and Captain Brad lead the troops to battle.

Them guys mean business! the BID and the Native Allies move to capture the guns on Sunday.

The US forces

The Crown forces... with music!

The Rat Catcher. I don't know if he is on staff or a volunteer at the Village but he wanders around with a cage full of rubber rats and asks for information on more rats to catch. He's really a fun guy to be around.
Our last reenacting event will be a small one in November. Our town of St. Thomas was burned on November 11, 2014 by US raider under Brigader McArthur. So there'll be something on that upcoming.