The 10th Essex are delighted to announce that Ian Hislop has agreed to become our patron after visiting our trench display and tour at Chalke Valley History festival 2013. Mr Hislop is passionate about The Great War and has produced a number of excellent television documentaries and docu-dramas including "The Wipers Times, shown late last year.
Mr Hislop said: “I visited the 10th Essex at Chalke Valley History Festival and was extremely impressed with their presentation. The attention to detail and depth of knowledge of their members really came across to the public in a very engaging way. They do their utmost to open a doorway to the past to give a well-balanced glimpse into the lives of the Tommys they represent. I’m delighted to act as the group’s patron and support their aims to inform and educate about the Great War and those who fought in it.”
and you can't get much better than that!
In June, The 10th Essex spent two weeks at the magnificent Chalke Valley History Festival - and we loved every minute of it...
As you will know, the 10th Essex are probably the best interactive living history group of any period - and certainly one of the hardest working. These two traits were pushed to the maximum at Chalke Valley History Festival 2013, which saw us taking members of the public through the 10th Essex trench during the event weekend, as well as three full-on days of educational visits by local schools. All this after a 5-day trench and aerodrome camp build!
Chalke Valley History Festival is a unique event bringing together the very best Living History and re-enactment groups, professional speakers and historians in the splendid surroundings of a wonderful valley in Wiltshire.
The 10th Essex build-team arrived five days before the start of the festival and set about building their encampment, much to the bewilderment of the organisers who weren't quite sure what it was we were up to...
After completion of the build we embarked on an itinerary of educational visits, show-and-tell and LOTS of questions and answers. Evenings were spent unwinding in the beer-tent, answering questions and entering into discussion on all things Great war and Remembrance with the lecture-visiting public.
On to the main event - the public weekend which saw thousands (and thousands) of people descend on the site. Our trench tours were very well recieved and visited by a lot of noteable people (including Stuart Pearce!), preceeded by the as ever excellent RFC display - and in fact the RFC display alone proved so popular that the chaps were inundated with questions which they had just enough time to answer before embarking on another display!With thanks to Alan Jennings
Our motto is "Education, not Entertainment" - and we are keen to express the fact that "whilst we don't do it for fun, we have fun whilst we do it". Chalke Valley History Festival has to be one of our best events so far - not only for the fact that we had so many appreciative and interested parties pass through our encampment but also because the entire experience, from the trench build through the interpretation to the take-down and pack-up was something we won't forget - and we very much hope that we can do it all again next year!
A year ago almost to the day we posted news regarding our involvement in the short-film "Coward".
The film has been released and is viewable on Youtube - but you don't have to go there to find it, you can watch it here!
In October, three intrepid chaps from The 10th Essex embarked on a journey in and around Messines. Here is their report:
Friday 5th October 2012:
The chaps said their farewells to family and friends before heading to the depot. Arrived at Gillingham and caught the transports to take us to the station. Very comfortable journey to France although I slept through most of the crossing due to the early start. Disembarked at Calais and proceeded to Wipers with the replacements draft. Weather very inclement, not a good start as all ranks were cold, wet and hungry. On the move for about an hour and had a short halt at Wormhout. Took a soaking before taking shelter in a barn. Heavy rain continued throughout the journey.
Arrived at concentration area for reinforcements and moved straight into the trenches opposite the previously fortified Bayernwald in the Kemmel sector for schooling in trench routine. Saw the craters created by the stunt at Messines in June (1917).
Spit and polish parade and a brief service before we started out from our billets night on a march from the reserve lines near Plugstreet Wood to Hyde Park Corner. The ration party failed to arrive and the corporal, who was leading the party, had an idea to try our luck at nearby Messines. He incorrectly informed us of the distance as it turned out to be twice as long as he originally thought. Found an estaminet that was open and what a relief to get warm food and a drink before continuing the march to billets.
6th October 2012
No billets in Messines so started the return march to Plugstreet and relieved to find our billet, a hay barn that was only occupied by the cats. A long first day and all ranks welcomed the opportunity to get a decent rest before the testing march the coming morning. Morale remained high throughout despite the shelling.
Awoke to find that there was no move before 1200 so took the time to clean and prepare kit ready for the march to wipers. CQMS issued out rations and rum. Packs were fully laden now, large packs and greatcoats, then immediately prior to departure the rain started again. All unwanted kit was stowed in kit bags and placed on the CQMS' transports.
1215 - Started on route march to Wipers. Rained for the first hour this only added to the discomfort of the heavy packs. Continued on to Messines and passed through the old German front lines and through the ruins of Messines. Movement quite slow through Messines due to the destruction of the roads, rebuilding in progress but the engineers are hampered by the conditions Pushed on past Messines.
First halt was near the site of the London Scottish action of 1914, very quiet now, just a memorial to mark the site of action. Smoked the last of my fags!
The march was fairly uneventful and saw a few aircraft but didn't recognise the markings. Rain stopped and weather turned mild just before we arrived at the second halt at St Eloi. Occasional stray rounds were heard. Met up with a party of New Zealanders who had just returned from a spot of blighty leave, had a chat and had a photograph taken with them. Exchanged a cap badge before moving off.
Pace slackened off a bit much to the relief of most ranks. the third halt was at Bedford house near the casualty clearing station. The order for an enforced rest of 45 minutes was gratefully received. Found a quiet spot to lay out and eat our rations. Close by was a military cemetery and we found the grave of 21716 J R Sowells who was a lance corporal in the 10th when he was killed in action on 11 August 1917 , we paid our respects with a present arms and a moments silence. It's the least one could do for one of our own.
Our cold bodies ached as we picked up our heavy wet packs to continue with the next leg of the march to Wipers. There was a fair amount of movement of transports and troops as we closed on wipers. Entered the city through the Lille gate and continued through the market square, passing the famed ruins of cloth hall to the Menin gate. Paid our respects to the fallen and located more 10th Essex men before heading to an estaminet in the ramparts for well-earned refreshments.
Sunday 7th October
Had to wait in the estaminet for our orders for several hours but took the opportunity to rehydrate ourselves whilst we waited for transports to arrive and move us to our billets. Managed to forage food at one of the stops, not quite sure what meat it was but it was hot and plentiful washed down with a glass of the mademoiselles finest beer. Unusually no stray dogs were around to bother us.
Finally found our billets at midnight and made for the hay barn, spirits seemed very high as we set out kit down and eagerly laid out our blankets as we were ready for a kip at this point. Prepared to march on our original orders only to find that transport was waiting to move us closer to the kemmel sector. Arrived at rest camp and received a lesson of instruction in various small arms as well as a welcome meal before our onward journey.
Once again, transports were waiting to take us to the station and eventually arrived ten minutes prior to the train departing, a close shave indeed otherwise we may have been delayed there for another twelve hours.
And so ended our time in the wipers sector and wondered just when would we be back here again.........................
Always hard work, never a chore - our display at Military Odyssey is always audacious and ambitious but public reaction confirms that it never fails to deliver. So this year - and with the 95th anniversary of The Battle of Messines having just passed, it was a good topic for us to approach. But how? The main aspect of the battle in 1917 involved miles of saps and tunnels and huge detonations of hundreds of thousand pounds of high-explosive. How on earth could we portray that?
Our primary objectives are visual rememberance, historical outreach and interaction. Our Military Odyssey displays always try to combine these with a respectful scenario in a suitably constructed setting. This year was no exception and with some careful planning we used our trench-materials to construct a cramped, dark and damp tunnel complex, 1.8 metres high, 80cm across and 100 metres long, with a large explosive chamber in the middle. This tunnel was almost entirely blacked out and constructed with timber bracings to make it look as close to an underground sap as we could make it. Next we filled it with sound, smoke and lighting effects and took the public through it - twenty at a time (in single file!) - to explain the aspects of Great War tunnelling. It was a brave plan but again one that was met with satisfaction from the public, all of whom gave an appreciation of the men that did it for real or were simply in awe of an aspect of The Great War that they weren't aware of until then.
Of course it was neither in Belgium 1917 nor below ground - but it served to show a receptive and sometimes very nervous public the sort of conditions that those brave Royal Engineer Companies worked in. And after being lectured for a few minutes in the completely dark detonation chamber - and with an absolute minimum of light - they were lead out in double-quick-time after German counter-tunnellers had located them...
Even our Royal Flying Corps Display, always a feature of Military Odyssey, was used to show the type of role that the airman above Messines undertook, with artillery spotting and aerial photography featuring heavily - and with two crews working on the display, more of the public than ever watched the RFC "take to the skies". Humorous it may be - but we are always at pains to impress upon the visiting public the very serious side to life in The RFC. It is a message they never fail to understand.
As with last year, our public display coincided with our arena display. This year it of course involved the opening moves in The Battle of Messines. The "Action" on the field was closely co-ordinated with an informative narration and scene-setting. Gary Howard at Military Oddysey, when we approached him back in December with our ideas, was keen to help us achieve our aim of a massive detonation to provide the impression of one of the explosive mines being detonated - and so he did, with a 6kg shaped charge packed with hundreds of kilos of peat and wood-chips and topped off with a few bags of petrol, the resultant explosion shook the entire site - not with a massive "bang" (although it was big enough!) but a shockwave that made the roofs of the indoor trading areas shake and set off more than a few car-alarms in the car-parks.
But this was not an excuse for a big bang - the narration explained the enormity of the task undertaken, the loss of life exacted and the outcome of the battle. Again we changed the expected format of the main arena - moving from "front to back" rather than "left to right" and providing the public with a unique display of the firing action of a Maxim and the devestating firiing rate of The Vickers and Lewis. Our display culminated in British and German soldier alike, standing together in an act of remembrance and served to remember those on all sides that were lost during The Battle, The War and the survivors - all of whom have now left us...
We are always mindful - and re-iterate often - that our aim is not simply to entertain but to educate and inform. As our reputation grows we are always pushed to find new and innovative ways to get our message across. Applying the principle that previous achievement does not ensure future success, we are always thinking of ways that our displays can be enhanced - so who knows what we will come up with next year..?
All in all a complete success - and we would very much like to thank Graham and his technical team for their work behind the scenes, Matt and his catering team for feeding over 50 people - on time - every time - and for the Military Odyssey Team and Marshalls for their help, assistance... and Babycham!
We would like to thank all who took part in this years event, from the initial planning and build to the cooking, pitching, show and tell, educational displays, the tunnel scenario, the techies, the ladies (keeping the chaps smiling, taking vital photographs, providing refreshments and looking good!) and all who helped to dismantle everything within 3 hours after the public went home!
A big thank you to the Marshals for their hospitality and help, from start to finish. To show them our gratitude we took them on a final run through the Great War Experience, beginning with the RFC display and ending with well... a HUGE surprise!
Thanks all! More updates to follow shortly for Military Odyssey 2012
Our next event this weekend at Reigate Fort is featured in Redhill & Reigate Life.
"Historic Reigate Fort is set to become a battlefield next month as the centre of a re-enactment of the days of the Great War. Visitors to the National Trust fort on Saturday, June 16, and Sunday, June 17, will be transported back to life as it was in 1916 - the grim mid-way point of World War One.
The display is being mounted by the acclaimed 10th Essex Great War Living History Group.Members will be staging presentations on trench warfare and the gritty aspects of life on the front-line. Visitors will be able to see and smell the rations that the soldiers would have been given, feel their scratchy uniforms and hear the power of the guns that would have surrounded their day-to-day trench life.
Stories of the war will also be told in the canvas bell tents set up, and the rigorous and arduous training that each Tommy underwent will be explained. Experts will also be on hand to identify and value World War One memorabilia, such as medals.
Reigate Fort ranger Marc Russell, said: “I’m fascinated by this period in history and this event is a great opportunity to share the little-known history of the fort with our visitors.” He said: “The 10th Essex make such an impression and are so knowledgeable it really is like stepping back in time.”
The Great War Experience will be running on both days from 10.30am to 4pm and will be a short walk from the Wray Lane car park in Reigate.
Tickets can be bought on the day priced £5 for adults and £2.50 for children, with no need to pre-book.
For more details call 01342 843225.
Reigate Fort stands on Reigate Hill and was one of a series of mobilisation centres built between 1890 and 1903 to protect London. The centres, forming a defensive line along the North Downs, were built to protect the capital from a feared invasion.
Reigate Fort was used in World War One for ammunition storage. It has been looked after by the National Trust since 1932, and was restored in 2000."
Plans for the Family Fun Day are progressing well and the organisers are confident that the military themed day will provide plenty of entertainment for everyone. Visitors will be able to travel back in time to the 13th century with Milites de Bec, re-enactors of the life of Normans and Anglo-Normans during this period. They will also be able to find out what life was like in the 15th Century with the displays and guns of The Kyngs Ordynaunce re-enactment group. The Napoleonic era will be evoked with the First Footguards Living History Group who portray Wellington’s foot guards at the time of Waterloo and the 79th Cameron Highlanders Living History group who will re-enact life as it would have been during the Peninsular wars and up to the Battle of Waterloo. The 10th Essex WW1 Living History Group will set up a WWI encampment and perform an arena display depicting the lot of the British Soldier in WWI with the added extra of a WWI bi-plane – played out like a little playlet- demonstrating the hazards of flying over the Western Front. The Homefront Vintage Double Decker Red Bus will be offering a living history experience with the combination of the buses' recreation of 1940’s scenes coupled with a team of re-enactors....
Yes, a great day was had by all!
It's not every day a living history group gets to march down The Mall, give an "Eye's Left" at Buckingham Palace, pass through Canada Gate and form an honour guard at The Canadian Memorial. However thanks to some superb oragnisation but EF Tours and The Shornecliff Trust, we were able to provide the uniformed presence to do just that! Marching at the head of 1000 proud and appreciative Canadian students, we took part in a moving and poignant act of remembrance on Good Friday in the centre of London. Aside from the great honour bestowed upon us as a group, we were incredibly impressed with the attitude of the students who had created several flags of remembrance, gave speeches and conducted themselves impeccably (leaving several of us wondering if English school-children would be capable of the same!)
The Battle of Vimy Ridge was fought between the 9th and 12th of April 1917 - and was the first time that Canadian Soldiers fought under their own command. The Canadian Corps succeded in capturing their objectives and etched their name into the history of The Great War. It was the 95th anniversary of this battle that was commemerated on the 5th of April 2012.
From an initial requirement of six men for the honour-guard our group stepped forward to a man to take part. For all of the participants of The 10th Essex and our friends of The Gordon Highlanders it was an absolute honour to be included in this event and we would like to thank David Evans of EF Tours and Chris Shaw from Shornecliffe Redoubt for inviting us.