Why do people dress up as soldiers from the past?

It’s inspirational, entertaining, educational, oh, and, of course, loads of fun!

Historical re-enactments are a thriving business. Hardly a weekend goes by without there being an event, filled with a mix of costumed re-enactors, relics and battle simulations, to attend. But what drives people to learn so much about a period and actually do the dressing up?

“If you’re an officer in the 18th century, you’re a completely different class”, says Rob Elliot, “so I shouldn’t even speak to any of the other men. But that’s a bit boring for me.” Rob is sitting in a tent, being waited on by a serving girl. Today Rob Elliot is Lieftenant Elliot of His Majesty’s Thirteen Foot, circa 1745 And he’s having a great time.

“We do events all over the country and into Europe”, Rob added. “We’ve been to Italy, Spain, France, Germany… Last year we did a march across the West Highland Way in Scotland.”

“The best part is looking around all the different tents”, says Finlay Morgan, who’s come as a World War One solider. “You’ve got a lot here. You’ve got Vikings, French soldiers and the ‘Die Hards’, they’re the British soliders that fought in the Zulu war.” There are events specific to one period, or for a broader taste of what re-enactments offer, ‘multi period events.’ Here visitors can see Vikings sharpening their weapons, take part in World War One recruitment drives and witness running gun battles between the British and the French. And many of the participants take it very serious indeed.

John White, a former Chief Inspector, has a history degree, is now a Georgian Historian by trade and has turned his passion into a business. “I actually term myself a Performance Historian”, says John who frequently works at Edinburgh Castle. “From medieval monks of 1415, all the way through to a Great War recruiting sergeant, which I am today. I do kings, butlers, surgeons, executioners. It’s a passion and about allowing the public to, as near as possible, meet someone from the past and learn the nuances.”

“We always sleep in period tents”, says Mark Adams a former Courier. “I’ve been doing re-enactments for 34 years. My grandfather gave me his old helmet, and then I started collecting, and one thing led to another and I’ve been collecting and re-enacting ever since.”

But what’s the buzz, why do people go to all the trouble of dressing up and carting themselves around the country recreating these moments in time?

“There’s the opportunity to be in the open air”, says John’s wife, Denise White. “You get to visit historic venues all over the country for free. You also engage with the public, bringing history to life. It’s great for the children, very rewarding. There’s also the comradery of it.”

Rob agrees, “The social aspect’s great, everyone’s really friendly. If someone wants to join we’ll give them a taster weekend, come along, bring a bit of food and some beers and we’ll kit them out for the full weekend, and they can take part in the battles, drink around the fires and have parties with us in the evenings.” If you fancy getting involved it couldn’t be easier, most re-enactment groups are always looking for new members. It probably helps if you’ve got a passion for history in the first place though. “We’re learning all the time”, says Rob.

“We don’t know everything there is to know. We’re always looking at old diaries, drill manuals and receipts. That’s what’s so great, there’s always more to learn.”

Calling new recruits! Want to watch, learn or take part? 

Here’s what you need to know

 1) Alan Breck’s Prestonpans Volunteer Regiment get involved in living history events and war reenactments throughout Scotland and beyond. Get a taste here 

 2) Fancy joining the Her Majesty’s 19th Regiment of Foot? Click here and learn about this nationwide group of Crimean War re-enactors.

 3) Head over to Historic UK In their Living History section they have great information about up and coming events, many involving historical re-enactment.

 4) The Re-enactment Mercenaries are based in both Leeds and Manchester. They are a fighting display group, with a wealth of experience. Contact them here

 5) On December 16, there’s a rededication ceremony of the Solider’s Gate being held at Manchester Victoria Station. Pop along and meet members of the Great War Society. Visit their site for more information 

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