One of the most popular displays was, somewhat predictably, the weaponry. Ranging from the Lee Enfield infantry rifle to the Lewis machine gun, there was a seemingly endless queue to hold and look down the sights of these historic weapons. Having hefted the Lewis I was somewhat surprised at how light it actually was, until one of the regiment members reminded me that it was unloaded and I didn’t have to carry it all day.
On Sunday 23rd of July, I took a trip back in time to 1917 when I went to Life On The Home Front Day at Cusworth Hall. Actually, my trip back in time began even earlier, as the bus I intended to catch wasn’t running and thus I had a decent trek to get there.
Nevertheless, once I arrived I found myself in the middle of a First World War Camp. To one side, a coal stove smoked merrily away (presumably preparing tea, the fuel of the British Empire). To the other, the Manchester Regiment manned various displays including wartime artefacts such as tins of potted meat, artillery shells, gas masks and a gas warning rattle.
Better than holding this century-old murder machine, however, was the display put on by the Manchester Regiment. After a rundown of the British Tommy’s standard gear, narrated by a man dressed as a field officer who both looked and sounded exactly as I’d imagined a First World War officer to sound, we were treated to a display of a gas attack, followed by a mission to lay out fresh razor wire.
Once the razor wire was laid, the next display of living history was a raid on an enemy position for prisoners, intelligence or other goodies. The gunfire was intense and followed up by a bayonet charge. We never did find out if the operation was a success, though.
But the event was not all gunfire, moustaches and tea. The WI (Women’s Institute) were doing their part on the home front, demonstrating pickling. Feeling rather hungry, I then moved on to find the wartime baking samples had long since disappeared to people quicker off the mark than I.
After observing the traditional fairground (another popular event), the dress-up costume stall and examining the artefacts in the Great War on Tour tent, I moved down the hill for a horseback demonstration of war-horse training and the role upper class women played in it. Though fascinating, I’m not convinced these particular horses were cut out for the war-horse life as the red safety tape scared them until it was taken down.
Though I studied the Great War in school more years ago than I’d care to admit, Life On The Home Front Day taught me a few things I would not otherwise have known. That the army largely ran on corned beef, cheese and tea, for one. Being able to interact with the past and partake in the living history was definitely a grand experience.