“I’m a time traveller.” Well, at least that is what I told the child who asked me why I was wearing medieval clothing when I was waiting for a fellow re-enactor to pick me up for an event. The child then ran off excitedly to his mother, who in turn gave me a funny look, something I have grown used to and on some levels enjoy. I am not entirely certain why I chose that to be my way of explaining myself, especially since “I’m a re-enactor” is far more plausible, but the more I think on it, the more I feel I would not change the remark. After all, as living historians, we are the closest thing there is. For instance, the person who first engaged my interest in re-enactment when I was in my mid-teens had stormed the beaches of Normandy, drank the Spanish Main dry, pillaged monasteries, and both fought for and against the Roman Empire all while onlookers cheered and applauded as they enjoyed their educational day out. Although that is not exactly going from one timeline to another, it is close enough.
A few years ago I found myself presented with the opportunity to join a re-enactment group in my own town. I had been searching for a number of years for such a group but with lack of information and recourses it became to feel like it was some kind of secret thing. Almost as if it were only those born into could do. However, like a spy approaching a potential recruit, I was subtly handed a business card with time and address. I have always suffered with social anxiety that makes it difficult for me to go out of my well-constructed comfort zones, yet with this I was propelled to act as I knew this was my chance to finally do the hobby I had almost given up hope on doing (not to mention that my mid-teen self would have never forgiven me for passing up the thing they would think about during particularly boring maths lessons). I did not know what to expect but in all honesty, I just did not care, the important thing was I finally had my dreams given reality.
The group I belong to is a small one, but it has such a big heart. As I mentioned before, in the past social anxiety proved victor in my battles, meaning my friends have always been few in number, but amongst these people who share a similar passion for history as myself, I felt none of the familiar spine chilling bites of anxiety's embrace. In short, I felt welcome and that is what is most important as it meant I could develop a mutual trust and respect which has proven itself a necessity when swinging weaponry at each other. It is always useful to make sure that you are friends with the person swinging a sword at you lest an “accident” occur.
Talking of accidents I always feel the need to clarify that we use blunt weaponry. For obvious reasons, really, as firstly on legal grounds and secondly (something that often needs to be explained in depth to the public who remarkably do not seem to understand) we are NOT actually trying to kill each other. So if an injury happens, then it is just minor with the worst being a broken bone from impact… right? Wrong! As all those that use them for the purpose of re-enactment know, it is always important to remember no matter what, that a sword, even a blunt one, is still a sword and swords were invented with the purpose of killing. Not too dissimilar to the notion that when at a shooting range you are to treat every gun as if it is loaded even if you took the magazine out yourself.
Sometimes the thrill of blades clashing, crowd cheering, and the adrenalin that provides the thrill of the day, but other times it comes from the satisfaction of seeing the excitement of a child showing that I have captured their imagination and given them a reason to love history that the damp books in their school library never would. One particular thing I have begun to notice at re-enactment events is that without fail there is always a young girl (usually between 8 and 12) who comes up to either me or my friend and asks us with puppy dog eyes often fresh with tears from the mockery of a brother, “can a girl be a warrior too?” I then go through a full cycle of emotions; my heart breaks that this young lady feels the need to basically ask, “am I allowed to be powerful?” whereas a boy the same age (and this also happens) will just come up and declare, “I am a warrior!!” Society tells boys, “you are strong,” but it tells girls, “you must ask permission,” which makes me angry because I strongly believe that both should be allowed the self-pride of youth. Then comes the moment I say, “Yes, of course *historical figure* was a woman warrior” and the smile of excitement that always appears on the young girl's face could melt the coldest of hearts. This is something that has been mentioned a number of times recently with the passing of a number of prominent battlefield anniversaries.
The fact is when we are re-enacting a scene from history we are stepping into the shoes of those who had to do it for real so we must be respectful and keep their memories alive through our actions, but I put it to you that we also have another responsibility (one that affects the living not the dead) and that is to make sure all members of the next generation are inspired enough by history to continue the legacy of remembrance. So of course I will make sure the little girl knows she can be a warrior; after all, without young girls falling in love with women soldiers from history, then in the future who will play Joan of Arc, Boudicca, or even Lyudmila Pavlichenko?
Re-enacting has provided a much needed release from reality. I love making history come to life, partly because I am able to share a passion with the world but mostly, because it’s fun!