My report on this weekend’s antics in Northamptonshire!
Right, having mostly recovered from the weekend it is now time to share my thoughts on a wonderful event with you – the lovely people of the internet. Also, a quick word before I start on this. My last entry about stupid questions from the public has hit over 170 reads. Can I say from the bottom of my heart a huge thank you to all those who read it, enjoyed it, and wanted to make their thoughts known on here or on facebook. It means a great deal that this little thing I started to keep myself busy has garnered that much attention. Now, on with the show!
A little bit of context first. Weedon Bec is a village in southern Northamptonshire housing one of the most forgotten buildings in British military history. In 1803, with France building its forces for an invasion of Britain, it was decided to construct an arms and munitions depot as far away from the coast as was possible. The exact point is is Derbyshire, Weedon Bec is only 40 odd miles from there – but was still central enough to be deemed an appropriate spot for a central store, which was constructed in 1805-6. The depot consists of 8 warehouses and 4 powder stores, all connected via a central canal with portcullises at both entrances. It’s an imposing complex, and was at one point apparently counted so integral that it was going to become the Royal Residence if London fell. It was in use until the 1960s, but during its time serving as the central ordnance depot for Victoria’s Empire regularly held nearly 1 million rifles on its premises before they were despatched to all 4 corners of the Empire.
That said, we can begin. The last time the 44th was there for an event, we were camped on the canal – on top of turf which can’t have been deeper than half a foot. For this reason, and to make space for quite literally thousands (I may be exaggerating) of classic cars, we were put in the far corner of the depot complex. Billeted between some Polish paratroopers, 3 very large mules, and a small detachment of WW1-era Northants infantry, it was a snug campsite and was a lovely sheltered place to be staying.
The first night Dominic and I put my tent up, and then left to go and stay in Weymouth with friends – so twas just me. Well, then I wandered down to Ed (our CO)’s house, barely 10 minutes away, for a small chat, before Jack (the one other staying on site, who’d arrived at that point) and I retired to the campsite. I opted to walk, and as I walked past one of the warehouses in the depot I heard the sounds of laughter and merriment from the upper floor. I looked up, and there were several people sitting half hanging out one of the huge windows. I greeted them, and it transpired that it was someone’s birthday. They invited me up! I said I would return, but when I got to the campsite Rob had arrived. So I busied myself getting the fire out for the weekend, we helped Rob get his tent up – and then I returned to the party! What I didn’t realise is that almost all the warehouse upper floors are rented out by various companies. These people were part of a photography studio who rented out this particular space, and the guy who runs it had turned 50 last week – so they’d thrown him a surprise party. Twas a lovely affair, and they didn’t seem to mind at all that the birthday boy had invited a stranger! I retired around midnight, after sampling some absolutely lovely scotch.
The next day began with a hearty breakfast of bacon butties courtesy of Angela, and then began the preparations for the day ahead. This mostly consisted of setting up Steve, our Sgt,’s tent, clearing the camp of modern paraphernalia, and getting the fire in a fit state to be lit when required. We also had another 2 redcoats join us for the Saturday – generally a very chilled day. We did flag at 10.30, a firing display at 12, and then Rob, Matt and I went on a little wander. We had some Chinese food (consumed authentically of course!) before exploring the stalls the warehouses were playing host to. There was a lovely variety, although it did transpire that we missed one last warehouse of craft supplies. The later firing demonstration we did saw me get 4 shots off in 65 seconds! Almost 4 in a minute!
After flag down, and the public had gone, we began the drinking and merriment in earnest – with eager support from the WW1 chaps next door who I found to be most agreeable. We walked to the pub for dinner for 7.30, and it was a lovely experience to be able to buy us all a round. I’m pretty sure it’s the first time I’ve ever done that. The meal (I had a 12oz rump steak, rare) was exquisite, all supplied with copious amount of hobgoblin on tap, and came out at £10 a head (not including drinks)! Very satisfied with the Heart of England – a plug they well deserve! We then returned to camp for a fire and some more less intense drinking.
The second day began with a slight hangover, for me. Not a huge one, but enough that I wasn’t feeling 100% for a good few hours after awakening. The quite extensive drinking had taken its toll – but a toll that was shaken rather well after a small nap, and a rather lavish breakfast. Brace yourself: 3 sausage, 3 eggs, 3 bacon, 3 black pudding, 3 slices of buttered bread, mushrooms, beans, and 2 tomatoes. Extensive, even defeating our young ensign, but it ensured I was recovered by the time of flag up! The rest of the day was much the same as the first. Matt and I enjoyed another wander round, this time discovering a bookshop courtesy of our daytripping other ensign Simon – at which I wasn’t able to restrain myself and found a copy of one of John Keegan’s works (a military historian I have much cause to reference in essays). I was also chosen to partake in a demonstration of firearms in the 19th century; showcasing the evolution from flintlock, to percussion cap, to breech loader, to bolt action. I was particularly happy with the morning’s performance by managing 4 shots in 62 seconds. So close now! The latter shooting display didn’t go as well, just scraping the 3 rounds a minute, but no matter…
All in all, a wonderful event – some new friends, some old ones met (it was particularly nice to see Alan!), and more public educated! Next, a medieval bash in Kent, and then onto my biggest multi-period event of the year at Detling.
Photo courtesy of Steven Hars