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An Introduction to re-enactment
An introduction to the hobby
Many thanks to Paul Dalby for submitting this article.

A phenomenon which grew up in the last quarter of the 20th Century was the hobby/pastime/obsession known as Re-enactment.
A myriad of historical periods were available to choose from and those gaining immediate predominance were Roman, Medieval, English Civil War, American Civil War and the Second World War.

In the UK there is the finest array of groups recreating many eras and the scene is one of healthy competition and constant improvement. When it comes to most periods, they are outside living memory so sources of reference must come from written accounts, preserved evidence and archaeology. With World War II however, this is somewhat different. There are at the time of writing this, still many veterans who fought alive. There are also many millions of people who were children or under age for conscription but who still experienced the conflict, be it first hand or through their families. Evidence is therefore plentiful, the spoken word can be listened to and another important factor is introduced - Film footage. Recorded documentary evidence is readily available. WWII was the first really documented war in terms of media. Propaganda was heavily employed and newsreels were used for morale boosting purposes as well as training, intelligence, subterfuge and deception.

SBG defending a trenchThe main protagonists in WWII were of course the Nazis and their Allies and the British, Americans and Soviets along with their Allied Nations. Whilst it can be easily understood that a re-enactor would wish to portray a Tommy, a G.I or even an Ivan - some folk may have difficulty getting to grips with the reasons behind someone wanting to portray a solider of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy or Imperialist Japan. The immediate assumption may be that the person doing so glorifies in Right wing idealism and may be inclined towards those extremist views. This is not so. Whilst it is fact that such people do still exist, they are seldom it at all to be found engaging in bona fide, organised re-enactments of the type undertaken by the rank and file re-enactors. Why? The reason is simple. The people engaged in this hobby are military and historical enthusiasts, Collectors of Militaria, Restorers and Operators of Military Vehicles, Modellers and photographers. The furthest thing from an Axis Re-enactor's mind is rekindling the flames of racism, genocide and hatred. There is a great awareness of these factors and as a result, an Axis re-enactor will usually be very well informed and if questioned, able to discuss the Holocaust, it's cause and effect and the resulting aftermath with the interested party. Just as a British or American re-enactor will research his or her unit's history, campaigns, deployment, uniform and equipment scales of issue etc., a German re-enactor will be able to tell the observer all about his/her chosen unit and associated detail.

What usually attracts a person to portraying "The Dark Side" is not a love of Hitler or a fetish for leather as is often portrayed in the gutter press. German industry and science has for centuries been seen as efficient, functional and innovative. If an individual kerns towards the technical side of things, he or she will inevitable be drawn towards design, functionality and innovation! This can be summed up in the pre war German products such as Mercedes Benz motor cars, the great Airships of the Zeppelin Company, aircraft manufacture, cameras, optics... the list is exhaustive.

War is not only a cruel and devastating phenomenon. It also pushes technological development far beyond normal bounds. German scientists and engineers developed some of the most astounding machines and devices which are still being used today, be they in their original form or as modern derivatives. Sitting and talking with many "German" re-enactors, the author has found that one common theme which runs through the community is that of admiration for the superb design and technology employed by Germans during WWII. Germans designed the first General Purpose machine Gun, culminating in the MG42 which is still unsurpassed as the best fixed barrel belt fed machine gun in the world. Germans built submarines and developed schnorkel technology. Germans developed jet aircraft and guided missiles. Germans perfected all arms combat using mixed battlegroup tactics - Something employed by all armies today. Germans developed and issued purpose made camouflage garments. Germans perfected the assault rifle and were the first to issue them in great numbers. The German Army of the Third Reich was, without doubt the most fearsome, professional and successful army known to the World to date. It was beaten by not by poor leadership within the Officer Corps. It was decimated by a crazed leader, political infighting and sheer weight of numbers from the combined forces of the Allies. The German Soldier as a result suffered immediately post war as a result of propaganda and the shame of being linked to several sets of the greatest atrocities then perpetrated on mankind. The German Soldier was stereotyped as a Nazi beast and therefore shrank back into the shadows to suffer the same enforced guilt as the rest of his nation. Not for him the parades and medals of the victors. Not for many of them even, a pension!

German Soldiers did number amongst their ranks, ardent Nazis. But the greater number were ordinary Germans. Blinded or duped or simply patriotic enough to enlist, be conscripted or volunteer to server their country just like the men arrayed against them. Today it is easy to sit and examine the vile policies and events perpetrated in the Name of National Socialism and tar the Germans of that era all with the same broad brush. Whilst we must NEVER forget and never attempt to excuse the forced deportations, torture, industrialised murder, terror and other atrocities carried out in the name of Adolf Hitler and his Germany, we must now, in the 21st century, look back at ordinary Germans and without unduly sympathising or lessening the events of the 1940s, look at the suffering of the unwilling Germans. We must re-examine the part played by ordinary men who never saw a death camp or a hanging. Never herded families onto trains. Never smashed in doors in the dead of night and beat the inhabitants into revealing the names of resistance fighters etc. We must look at people such as the veterans we have found in the UK and abroad who were young boys, full of life and ideals. Who took up arms for what they genuinely believed was a noble cause until it all crashed down around them. They were let down. They were deceived by the Nazis too... They did not see memorials built to them. They went back to live in a Germany that didn't want to know. That hid them away or ignored them. Families didn't ask "What did you do in the war Opa?" because schools taught children that the War was a bad time and should be forgotten. Many men never went back to Germany and the author has personally heard many say "There was nothing left for me to go back to"

So it is completely strange that in the countries which fought the hardest against them and had the most to lose from them that people today, research their uniforms, their lives, their weapons and tactics. People rebuild their tanks and cars. People learn their language and then they get together and recreate tiny, sanitised slices of their experiences... ultimately for enjoyment if we are honest. For a hobby, a pastime. But just beneath the surface of that is not a dark desire to build a Fourth Reich, nor does it need justifying ...It is a fascination and ultimately a tribute to two diametrically opposed things. One - the men who lost. And Two - the system that won and is libertarian enough to allow us to actually portray those who, 60'odd years ago now, would for good or for bad, have changed the face of the world to something we can only speculate upon.

So next time you see an SS trooper, a Fallschirmjager or an Army Panzergrenadier and you think "tosser" Just take a moment. What you are looking at is primarily, a hobbyist. Just like the centurion at the ice cream van, the Pikeman in the beer tent or the MVT enthusiast driving his jeep around in flip flops and shorts... The man you are looking at is an enthusiast, not a wannabee or a walt. He is the same as the hang glider pilot, the water skier, the deep sea fisherman. He has an interest and dares to be different. He's not in town getting drunk and fighting. He's there at the event you are attending, enjoying himself and giving many other people the opportunity to share with him something unique and ultimately educational. He's also preserving something that will eventually be lost and consigned to newsreel footage and subjectively written books.. He also draws a fascinating parallel. As with the soldiers facing each other in 1939-45 - He is a man just like you and me ... nothing else.

[If you would like to add your own "why reenact" article, please be welcome! Either post on the forum or contact the webmaster.]
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