I’m getting very excited about the living history we are laying on at this year’s Chalke Valley History Festival. As usual, we will be show-casing a wide range of different periods from Romans onwards, but we’re going especially big with the Second World War.
Centrepiece is going to be a troop of Sherman tanks including – and this I’m really excited about – a Sherman Firefly! They will be there all week, but it is at the festival weekend that they will be going into battle.
We’re hoping to use some of the very WWII re-enactors, possibly even some modern-day soldiers put into 1944 uniforms, and create a battle scenario that is both authentic and demonstrates how British troops would have used armour, artillery and infantry together to subdue an enemy ambush.
Project managing this is my mate Tobin Jones, a serious collector of British wartime vehicles and the man responsible for putting on many of the battle displays at the War & Peace Show down in Kent. I first got to know Tobin when we were filming Normandy 44 for the BBC and we came and fired his 17-pounder. Also helping is another old friend, James Shopland, who runs the quite brilliant Dig for Victory Show just south of Bristol each June. So we’re in good hands.
We’re also calling on some other experts: Ben Kite, currently serving in the British Army and author of the brilliant Stout Hearts about the British Army in Normandy in 1944; and Stuart Tootal, former brigade commander in Afghanistan; and finally, David Render, who served in the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry from Normandy until the end of the war.
Finally, we’re bringing a bit of an air element too, which is where another great pal and expert, Paul Beaver comes in. Amongst the Spitfires, Corsair, Kittyhawk, Lancaster and Swordfish that will be flying at Chalke Valley, we also have an Auster, which we will be incorporating into our battle scenario.
So this is what we’re working towards:
Along a hedge line, a German ambush lies in wait. The men have machine-guns, mortars and an anti-tank gun artillery piece.
Overhead, an Auster reconnaissance plane circles.
Soon after, British infantry probe forward, but immediately come under attack. They fall back and call in fire support.
Up on the hill, British guns open fire – a 17-pounder and a couple of 25-pounder field guns.
The infantry probe forward again, but the Germans are well dug-in and again the infantry are stalled. They now call in the armour.
Four tanks move down the central track and then split. In the ensuing battle, tanks and infantry work together to neutralise the enemy position.
We will have lots of bangs, the Shermans will look spectacular and there will be smoke, fire bursts and so on.
Commentary will be throughout the site and I’m hoping we will have someone pretty well-known to ask the questions about what is happening and why.
AND THAT’S NOT ALL…
We will also have our Commando training camp throughout the weekend and I’m looking into the possibility of running a ferry service from the campsite in a wartime truck.
And then there’s the Blitz Party: the Bombshell Babes, the D-Day Darlings and the London Swing Orchestra. We’re also planning to have a searchlight and a firing 3.7 inch heavy anti-aircraft gun so that at 10pm, there will be a brief air raid alert.
Really, what’s not to like? I absolutely can’t wait.