Archive - 2009
Southern Shakedown, The Trench Experience, National Shooting Centre, Bisley, Sunday 29th March
This was a successful meeting for Sassenachs and southern softies in which we got Ian and Robbie into kit for the first time, and were joined by Robin in Black Watch kit to help make up a quorum for drill. We were able to do some elementary drill and take some group photos for publicity purposes.
Fort Schonenbourg, Maginot Line, 1st–3rd May
Tom was the only representative of the Gordons at this miniature multi-period event, but had an entertaining time informing the mostly French visitors of the Highland uniform in the Great War, doing what he could to foster the Auld Alliance. The weekend was very good socially with friendships made with other re-enactors. The highlight, however, was a guided tour of the Fort with an explanation of its form and function by our expert French guide, Marc. The Fort is of course largely underground, complete with its own railway system, We were able to see not only inside the gun turrets but also the living quarters, kitchens and hospital for the soldiers stationed in the Fort.
Black Country Museum 6th/7th June
We were invited to participate in this event by the Great War Society, in place of the scheduled event at Beamish, which was cancelled because of the economic crisis. The museum is a superb venue with many period buildings providing the opportunity for atmospheric photographs. Sean and Colin came along for their first event, and, despite the constant rain, we were able to practise some basic drill as well as entertain the public doing ‘show and tell’. In addition, we acquired a valuable new recruit in the shape of Phil, a friend of Doug.
Eden Camp 27th/28th June
This event was better attended. Dave and Ailsa came along for their first event, and, like Ian and Tom, were present throughout. Phil joined us on the Saturday, for his first event, and Colin on the Sunday. Again, the old prison camp provides an atmospheric setting. As well as being able to practise drill, we effectively gave our first unit displays to the public two or three times a day, and these were very successful, attracting crowds of around a hundred on a couple of occasions. It was particularly good to see how confident individual unit members were in giving presentations, showing what a strong team we have for the future. It was particularly good to see Ailsa in her nurse’s uniform – a side we should develop in the future as we get more recruits. We also had a very pleasant meal in Malton on the Saturday evening. The Camp’s manager was very pleased with both our performance and behaviour and we will be welcomed back.
Festival of History, Kelmarsh Hall, near Northampton, 25th/26th July
A reasonable turn-out for English Heritage’s most prestigious event of the year, with Dave, Ailsa and Lynsey making the long trek down to join Tom and Sean. This was Lynsey’s first event with the Gordons. In addition we were joined for the weekend, or parts of it, by Rob Langham of the Old Contemptibles, Andrew Upton from VMGS, Martin Lambert from GWS and Pete Hobbs as M.O. from the 10th Essex. Pete was able to combine to good effect in ‘show and tell’ with Ailsa, while Andrew held visitors spellbound with his in-depth knowledge of the Vickers machine-gun. Martin usefully made up our squad numbers, dressed as he was in London Scottish kit, and was so pleased with the opportunity to get his kilt on again that he has decided to join us, bringing in some useful experience. I have given him permission to continue to wear his London Scottish kit, as the two regiments were allied, and indeed, after the disaster on the retreat from Mons, the 1st battalion Gordon Highlanders was partially brought up to strength using drafts from the London Scottish. We were able to do impromptu mini-displays in the camp-site for passing groups of punters, and on several occasion had a reasonable crowd watching. Highlights were the bayonet-drill and Doc Hobbs’ briefing to the boys about the perils of female company behind the lines. We were also invited on the Sunday to join in the arena display by the Birmingham Pals and Manchesters – although a breakdown of communication somewhere meant that we failed to get recognition. Hopefully next time! At least we were recognised on the grand march, which was great fun and particularly enjoyed by those who had never done it before. I haven’t had any feedback yet from EH on our performance, but when it comes to next year’s events, I hope we will get due recognition for what was I believe a good all-round effort. I don’t have any photos of this event by the way. Can anyone help?
Gordon Highlanders Museum, 30th August
A select team, consisting of Tom, Dave, Ailsa, and Robbie, with Steve in attendance as logistic support, gave a presentation on the unit to the Gordon Highlanders Museum in Aberdeen. We concentrated on what we do, why we do it, how we do it, where we are aiming to get to, and how we might co-operate in future with the Museum. We chose to present ‘how’ we do it by actually doing it, with Dave demonstrating the uniform, Robbie the equipment and Ailsa the women’s role. We also set up the portable display boards. Although attendance was limited by another event at Huntly the same day, we had present both the Curator, Jesper and the Education Officer, Aurelie Bureau, as well as several local volunteers. Hospitality was excellent, and included a guided tour round the museum by Jesper. The presentation itself was very well received, and there was universal support for what we are trying to do. It is very likely that we will be invited to do a full-scale event at Aberdeen next year, and there will probably also be the opportunity for our Scottish members to take part in mini-events for the museum from time to time. Then hopefully, some time in the future, we will be able to recruit a few members in the vicinity who will be able to support the Museum more easily on a regular basis. The Museum should be able to help in this way by displaying our recruiting leaflet.
“Forces at the Fort”, Fort George, near Inverness, 1st/2nd August
This was both our first event with Historic Scotland and our first paid event. We just managed to turn out the required numbers, with Steve present in Tommy kit as a bonus. The Gordons Museum team were joined by Lynsey and Ian. Fort George is a massive bastioned fortress, constructed in the mid-18th Century, after the suppression of the last Jacobite Rebellion, in order to keep the clans in order. In reality it was scarcely needed because, by the time it was complete, Highland clansmen were serving loyally with distinction in the British Army, so the whole thing was a bit of a white elephant. It is however a magnificent elephant, outwardly at least almost exactly as built. It is still used as a barracks by the Army, currently the 3rd Bn RRS (The Black Watch), although they were mostly absent serving in Afghanistan when we were there.
There were rather fewer living history groups involved than I had expected, and in the end, as VMGS had pulled out, we were the sole group representing the Great War. Just as well that we had enough bodies to put together an arena display, our first as a unit. This worked well, with the bayonet practice, particularly Robbie’s efforts, being especially popular. It seems that the punters like violence! Ailsa’s by now customary professional job in describing the nurses was well received, and we also paid tribute to Harry Patch and created a living tableau of a line of blinded gas victims which worked well. These poignant moments actually dominated the press report of the event, although the picture chosen was regrettably of the redcoats! – no doubt because they are more colourful! We also did ‘show and tell’ throughout the day in the camp-site, and I was particularly pleased to see how all our members, without exception, entered into this with both enthusiasm and ability, demonstrating just what a strong team we have. We also set up the display boards in the magazine, but I’m not sure how useful this was in this instance – I’ll seek feedback from HS. However, this was a hugely important event for us, in establishing our relationship with Historic Scotland. In this respect, I believe it was an unqualified success.
Caerlaverock Castle, near Dumfries, 22nd/23rd August
Our second HS event was a multi-period event at Caerlaverock Castle, near Dumfries, in which once again we provided the Great War interest. Again we had a reasonable turnout, with Dave and Ailsa, Lynsey, Tom, Ian and Phil. The setting is magnificent, but we were unlucky with the weather on the Sunday, when it rained virtually all day, reducing the number of visitors to a trickle. The sunny picture was taken on the Monday morning! Nevertheless, we were able to carry on with both our arena display, abbreviated on the Sunday, and ‘show and tell’, much to the satisfaction of Historic Scotland, with whom I believe we successfully consolidated our position. An experiment to set up the plastic barbed wire as a miniature assault course proved very popular with the children – at least on the Saturday, before it became too wet! We had a pleasant meal together too on the Saturday evening in the local inn. We were also lucky enough to pick up another member, Stewart, who we hope to see in kit as early as St Andrew’s weekend at Edinburgh Castle
Henley Fort, near Guildford 12th/13th September
Disappointingly, only Tom was able to turn out for this event, but fortunately Robin from the 10th Essex, who lives locally, was able to turn out as Black Watch, which helped spare our blushes somewhat. The Fort itself was built in the late 19th century as one of a chain of Forts designed to protect the approaches to London from French invasion – rather like the better known Palmerston Forts around Portsmouth were designed to protect the naval base from an attack by land. Henley Fort itself was defendable, but used essentially as a magazine. The fort is not usually open to the public, but was specially opened as part of Guildford Heritage Weekend. Over 400 visitors called in during the weekend, and we entertained them with both ‘show and tell’ and the static display, which was set up inside a robust marquee. Visitors included the Mayor of Guildford and her party, who seemed genuinely interested in both the fort and what we were doing. The youngsters’ kit from QVS Dunblane proved a hit, and we had several miniature Surrey Highlanders parading about, unfortunately too young to recruit!
Armistice Event, Gordon Highlanders Museum, Aberdeen Saturday 7th November
A Gordon Highlanders ‘Mini Event’ was held at the Gordon Highlanders Museum on 7th November, with Ailsa and Dave representing the group. Being so close to Remembrance Day a good turn out was expected, and, for the time of year, was had.
We had been asked to simply bring as much as we could- and we did! Ailsa brought her surgical kit, whilst Dave brought 1908 and 1903 webbing, gas masks and all the other usual pack fillers we hawk about to events! The script for the day was simply show and tell. The event had been well publicised by the museum to recently visiting school groups, and due to this, we had a good number of younger folk through. They really enjoyed looking at original artefacts and trying on uniform and webbing- some of which was kindly provided by the museum’s education department. For many it was an opportunity for parents and grandparents to talk about a family member who had fallen in the Great War, or in other more recent conflicts.
Though the day coincided with the much vaunted opening of a shopping centre in downtown Aberdeen, there were over 50 people through, and due to this, (and true to the spirit of the friendly family atmosphere of the museum), we were able to stop and have a good chat with them all. The majority were local folk- all had a connection with the Gordons, either through their own personal service, or through that of a family member in the past.
As all good events should be, this was a fabulous opportunity to learn from those who soldiered with the Gordons in real life, and Dave picked up dozens of wee hints and tips, from bulling boots to polishing badges and everything in between. It’s really this sort of detail that allows one to get back and understand the lives and daily routines of the serving soldiers of 1914-1918, and gives the living historian opportunity to be something more than a clothes horse for an old uniform.
Overall, the museum was happy with the day, and the group can look forwards to more exciting events with them in the future.
National War Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh Castle, St Andrew’s Weekend 28th- 30th November
Our last event of the year was also probably our best, for which many thanks are owed to Dave, who not only got us the event in the first place through his contacts in NMS, but also did much of the back-up hard work. This included an inspired choice of accommodation in the Smart City Hostel, just off the Royal Mile, and a very suitable room in the Peacock Inn for our Regimental Dinner. We also had our highest turnout yet, with Tom, Ian and Colin travelling up from south of the border, to join Dave, Ailsa, Stewart and Rob. We were also kindly joined by Rob’s wife Lizzie as a suffragette. Lizzie hasn’t actually joined us yet, and needs to be gently “convinced”. Rob and Stewart were both doing their first events. We were able to lend spare kit to Rob, while Stewart had managed to put the bulk of his own together in record time after Caerlaverock. Both did brilliantly well as natural communicators and will be great assets to the unit. Stewart was a particular hit with the ladies, a situation which he did not discourage.
The weekend started really well with all hands assisting to unload the car. Our operating area was Hospital Square, where a large marquee was set up, in which we set up the display-boards, Dave’s table of items of kit, and the youngster’s kit. All proved very popular, and well worth the effort to bring and set up. Colin, Ian, Ailsa and others were busy pretty well full-time at the kit-table; there were always people looking at the display-boards - and actually reading some of the captions(!) – and at one stage we had three miniature Highlanders dressed in QVS kit at the same time, so we gave them some impromptu drill. From time to time we did short informal presentations. Otherwise it was mounting guards, promenading, doing ‘show and tell’ or chatting up the ladies…... As a result we now feature in several photo’s on Flickr.com!
The one down-side was that it was dreadfully cold, especially on the Sunday when there was a fairly strong breeze and occasional sleet. Saturday and Monday were both cold but fine by comparison. The kilt proved how warm it keeps everything except the knees. If we needed any extra clothing it was woolly mitts for the hands, though after a time the cold would penetrate to your feet. Unlike the soldiers in the trenches though, we were able to take breaks in a spare room in the Museum, and to bring out copious amounts of tea. It made you realise just how rotten it must have been for the Jocks in the trenches in the winter, and how much both tea and the rum ration would have meant to them.
Socially the weekend got off to a great start on the Friday evening in Deacon Brodie’s and continued in the same vein throughout. On Saturday evening we had our Regimental Dinner in a private room in the Peacock Inn, where we were joined by Lynsey, who had been detained at work for the weekend by the MOD. This was very successful, although we could do with a stronger attendance for an annual event. We were entertained splendidly after the meal by Ailsa on the fiddle and perhaps less professionally, but nevertheless enjoyably, by various other performers, Stewart’s Rex Harrison take on ‘A Gordon for me’ being probably the most notable! In addition, we were able to present Dave with the Endeavour Award for 2009, in a sort of ‘virtual ceremony’ as Tom had left it at the Castle!
It was obvious that everybody enjoyed the weekend. Even better, so did the Museum, and we have been invited back to perform next year, but this time in August! So, not only an enjoyable weekend, but a highly successful one too. Well done, everyone!