Every year around the beginning of June, the Great Central Railway devotes a weekend to the wartime heroics of another generation with the Wartime Weekend. This year was no exception and from the June 3rd to June 5th the stations were transformed to yesteryear. Each station holds a theme: Loughborough is the "Home Guard" ; Quorn and Woodhouse the Allies; Leicester North the French Resistance and Americans and finally Rothley under occupied Germany, where our story starts.
Some eight months previously groups of volunteers got together to plan and sort out the details for the Weekend and the various activities. This involves inviting vendors and the re-enactor groups to participate as well as the logistics for the safe handling of the event.
The groups invited for Rothley are from the German Re-enacting Community who have the unenviable task of being not only the ‘baddies’ but also putting on a good show for the ‘baddies’.
The idea that the groups will strut around portraying the ‘nasties’ you see in all the old movies is far from the truth. Each of the groups has a structure following in most part the dress and discipline of the period. All kit and equipment, even if a replica, is authentic to the period. The vehicles although most are copies are in the original colours and markings and occasionally original equipment with a value of thousands of pounds will be on display. Rothley provides not only a glimpse of everyday life for German soldier of WW2 but also has: a hospital unit from the front complete with spare limbs, nursing and support staff; radio communications sets; a cook and staple food; commentary at each display and parades and demonstrations. The overall effect, with the station platform dressed accordingly and patrolled by guards, is probably one of the most chillingly authentic moments visitors encounter. To enhance the effect we also have our local Barrow singer, Katherine Pledger (Liberty Pink) with a medley of wartime German songs and on sale on the platform excellent German wheat beers .
The highlight of the day is the battle. Around mid-afternoon the re-enactors simulate a combat of the period with pyro's, vehicles, bangs and all the sounds of combat. A lot of re-enactors have their own blank-firing period weapons and the special licenses needed for same.
And what is my part in all this? I try to make sure that everyone is in place, knows what is expected of them, and in turn the re-enactors expect all safety measures are kept and that most importantly the public is entertained to their expectations.
The re-enactors themselves pack- up after a show; return to normal jobs and the hum drum of 9-5. But for the previous 48 hours will have "done something different for the weekend" and how many of us can say that these days?