Being a re-enactor attracts many questions, especially if you’re a Second World War re-enactor. While many people may not understand what I do, and some even criticize it, it is something I have become quite passionate about.
I’ve always loved military history, especially the two World Wars. Re-enacting is living history; it’s a way for me to get closer to what I am most passionate about. What was it like to be a German soldier? From what is it like to sleep in a foxhole or to dig a trench, to doing extensive research into what made them tick, is something I find incredibly satisfying.
Naturally this has always been met with opposition; “But the Germans were all Nazis” or “They caused the Holocaust” and while this is true, I’ve always devoted my time as a re-enactor to try and help educate people to see past the stereotypes. Because of this, I’ve created a little list of little known facts about the Germans during the war, which I’ve frequently used to stun and shock when asked about my impression.
ONE: Not all German soldiers were Nazis
This has to be the most common misconception people have about the German army – that they were all Nazis. Saying that every German soldier was a Nazi is like saying that every current serving Australian soldier is a Liberal. The German army had roots in strong Prussian tradition, and part of this tradition was that every soldier was to reject any political ties. In the Wehrmacht (the German army), it was illegal for any soldier to be affiliated with, or a member of, a political party, including the Nazi party. People, of course, argue against this with, ‘the German uniform has a Swastika on it’, and this is true. However, people often forget or ignore that the Swastika was the official flag of Germany at the time. It is also worth mentioning that between 1933 and 1945 there were more than 25 assassination attempts on Adolf Hitler’s life, with nearly all the attempts made by German army, and even SS, officers.
Throughout 1944, the German U-Boat U-862 sailed around the coast of Australia, sinking American ships in Sydney and Fremantle. Launching from a U-Boat pen in the Japanese occupied East Indies, U-862 sailed down the coast of Western Australia, across the Great Australian Bite, around the coast of Tasmania then up to Sydney and across to New Zealand. There is an urban legend in New Zealand that while U-862 was secretly docked in the port of Napier in New Zealand, members of the crew snuck ashore and stole fresh milk from a farm. Whether or not this is true, we’ll never know.
THREE: The German army had Chaplains
I’ve seen first-hand the expressions of shock and disbelief when people see a man dressed, not only in a German uniform, but in the uniform of a Wehrmacht Chaplain. This is quickly followed by comments such as, ‘The Germans didn’t believe in God’ or ‘The Germans weren’t religious’. This is false. During the 30s and 40s, 95% of the German population were Christian, and during that time many Wehrmacht soldiers continued to belong to their churches. Even on their uniform, their belt buckles were inscribed with ‘Gott mit uns’, which translates to ‘God is with us’. Germany had a strong tradition of appointing Catholic field Chaplains in the army, and this continued throughout the Second World War. Hundreds of photos exist of German soldiers participating in field services conducted by Chaplains, and many civilian accounts exist of German soldiers taking part in mass at the local church.
FOUR: Foreign Volunteers in the SS
It is ironic that the Waffen-SS, an organization that prided itself on its German radical heritage, would eventually end up recruiting soldiers from all over the world to fight for Germany. At first, the Waffen-SS only allowed volunteers from acceptable European origins, such as Dutch, French, Danish, Norwegian and Belgian backgrounds. However, as the war progressed, so did the SS ‘Foreign Legions’ which would eventually include Latvian, Estonian, Ukrainian, Muslim, African, Indonesian and even Indian soldiers fighting for Germany against the Allies. The Waffen-SS even had British volunteers, who formed the British Friekorps.
FIVE: Operation Paperclip
Following the conclusion of the Second World War, many people believed it was the US that led the world’s technological advancement. This may or may not be true, but any and all success and progress that the US had following the war was because of one thing – German scientists. Nazi Germany was the pioneer in innovative technology such as, jet fighters and rocket science and while this may have come too late to help them in the war, the US was desperate to acquire this knowledge. The process of retrieving this knowledge came to be known as Operation Paperclip, a covert operation launched in 1945 with the aim of recruiting as many German scientists, technicians and engineers as possible before the Russians. Operation Paperclip was tremendously successful, with over 1500 scientists recruited, transported and employed in the US. In fact, most of the research relating to the Saturn V rockets and the Apollo spacecraft, came from Wernher von Braun, the scientist who had designed the V1 and V2 rockets.
Mitch Henson is a World War II Re-enactor with Army Group South. He is also studying history at university.
The Forme of Cury was compiled and written by the master chefs of King Richard II of England, around 1390 CE. It gives us a great insight into the foods that would have been served into the royal household. As such, many people of wealth and affluence would be seeking to emulate this.
However, many of the recipes are not for great feasts and I think it is reasonable to assume that this is every day cooking for the royal household. By understanding what our ancestors ate we can get a better picture of how they lived. Food has a great influence on how someone lives, for it is more than just sustenance it is a way of live for many.
The Cury – what is that?
It may come as a surprise to most people, but the word ‘curry’ or ‘cury’ is actually an English word – not an Indian word. Cury or curye was English – referring to the cooking of food. As referred in the book title, The Forme of Cury. The word was most likely a bastardisation of the french ‘curie’ (to cook).
Alan Davidson, in The Oxford Companion to Food, proposes that Europeans misunderstood the Tamil word kari – a thin soup-like spiced sauce – to refer to all dishes of this kind. Hence becoming the word curry.
At History Alive this year, my re-enactment group, Ex Libris cooked a few dishes over the weekend. One of which was Mawmeny a dish that appears in The Forme of Cury and a personal favourite of mine. I have made this before at home and it is delicious.
First we’ll discuss the original extract from the book.
The Original extract reads:
FOR TO MAKE MAWMENNY. XX.IX. XIIII. Take þe chese and of Flessh of Capouns or of Hennes. & hakke smale in a morter. take mylke of Almandes with þe broth of freissh Beef, oþer freissh flessh. & put the flessh in þe mylke oþer in the broth and set hem to þe frye. & alye hem up with flour of Ryse. or gastbon. or amydoun. as chargeant as with blanke desire. & with zolkes of ayren and safroun for to make it zelow. and when it is dressit in disshes with blank desire styk above clowes de gilofre. & strewe Powdour of galyngale above. and serue it forth.
That looks like a confusing mess, but with a bit of translation we can make sense of it.
Firstly, when the recipe is speaking about ‘Blanke Desire’ – it is referring to another dish that Mawmeny is supposed to be served with at the time so this can be disregarded.
Take the Cheese and of Flesh of Capon or of Hens and make small in a mortar. Take the milk of the Almonds with the broth of the flesh of the Beef, other fresh flesh. and put the flesh in the milk other in the broth and set them to be fry. And set them up with flour of rice or of gastbon or amydoun as chargeant as with blanke desire. And with egg yolks and saffron for to make it zelow. And when to serve it in dishes with blank desire stick above it Clove – gilliflower and strew powder of Galangal above it. and serve it forth.
That’s still really hard to follow and still confusing. Some of these things are easily understandable: almond milk, chicken and broth. But others still are confusing and speak in terms we no longer use or understand.
To clarify, amydoun is wheat grains that have been soaked in water, and then cooked and then dried to be used as a thickener. Gastbon is also known as wastrel bread – a good quality bread. To read more about medieval breads go here and here.
So I’ll simplify it again:
Take cheese and the meat of a chicken and pulverise in a mortar. Take some almond milk and beef broth, and other flesh. Put the flesh in the milk and the other in the broth and set them to fry. Thicken them with rice flour, or white flour or amydoun. Whisk in egg yolks and saffron. When serving, garnish it with cloves and galangal.
This is in no way helpful to us in a modern context, medieval recipes do not give measurements – there was no standardisation of cooking as we have it today. We do not get a teaspoon of this a cup of that. When it comes to reconstructing a medieval receipe, it tends to involved a lot of experimentation, and trial and error.
Many assumptions are made in culinary reconstruction. For starters, there are many different sources for Mawmeny, some that call for Greek wine and no almond milk. The first step is to find a modern reconstruction of a Mawmeny recipe to work from.
I got this recipe from Medieval Cookery:
- 1 pound chicken
- 2 cups almond milk
- 2 egg yolks
- 2 Tbsp. rice flour
- 1 Tbsp. sugar
- 1/4 tsp. galingale
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1/8 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp. cloves
- 1/8 tsp. mace
- pinch saffron
- Chop the chicken finely and place in a large pot.
- Whisk together almond milk egg yolks and rice flour, and add to chicken.
- Add spices and bring to a low boil. Simmer until thick, and serve hot.
Source [MS Harley 5401, S. Wallace (trans.)]: Mawmeny. Recipe brawne of capons or of hennys & dry þam wele, & taise þam small; þan take thyk mylk of almonds & put þe saide brawne þerto, & styr it wele ouer þe fyre, & seson it with suger & powder of canell, with mase & quibibs & anneys in confete, & serof it forth.
This is a later recipe, however we can see that the this original also did not have measurements. The writers make an assumption that their audience know how to cook, they are merely passing on how to achieve a dish.
When asked by people how much spice they should add my advice is the same for them in both a modern context as in a medieval one. Use enough that pleases your taste, if following the recipe the first time make sure you follow it close enough to understand the intention of the flavour. But don’t be afraid to add a bit more or less to suit your own palate. The medieval palate was as refined as ours, and they did crave flavour.
My interpretation of The Forme of Cury Chicken Mawmeny
- 500g chicken
- 1 cup beef stock
- 1 cups almond milk
- 2 egg yolks
- 2 Tbsp. rice flour
- pinch saffron
- 1/8 tsp cloves
- 1/4 tsp galangal
- Finely cut chicken and place in a large pot, whisk together almond milk, stock egg yolks and rice flour add to chicken.
- Bring to the boil.
- Serve hot and sprinkle with fine ground galangal and cloves.
You’ll note that I have left the cheese out of the mix for now for now as I am not too sure of the type I am supposed to be using and how much. I will be fiddling around with this, but if I would hazard a guess, I would say 100 grams of a basic cheddar.
Reconstruction of recipes is hit and miss, sometimes you make something great, other times it ends up in the sink. Those sink times you know you are on the wrong path so you go back to the shops and try again.
Feeling curious/brave? You can find a copy of The Forme of Cury from the University of Adelaide here.
Andrew Fraser is a 14th Century re-enactor with re-enactment group, Ex Libris. He loves talking about medieval cookery (Ed: and we enjoy reading it!). You can find him on his Modern Medieval Man blog and Facebook page.
If you’re wondering what this year’s WWI battle on the Riverfront Arena each day will be about, keep reading!
From the Battle of Amiens on the 8th of August 1918 until the Armistice on 11th of November 1918 is the period known as the ‘Hundred Days’. This was a time of almost constant advance for the Allied armies.
As the Allies were pursuing the Germans the greatest obstacle to crossing the Somme River to reach them was a natural feature – Mont St Quentin. Situated at a river bend dominating the countryside for kilometres in every direction, the Mont was only 100 metres high but was key to the German defence of the Somme line, and the last German stronghold. It overlooked the Somme River approximately 1.5 kilometres north of Péronne. Its location made it an ideal observation point and strategically the hill’s defenses guarded the north and western approaches to the town and key to the German defense of the Somme line and as such Lt. General Sir John Monash was keen to capture it and thus possess a valuable position.
This Australian operation is sometimes regarded as the finest achievement of the 1st AIF during the Great War. On night of 31 August, the 2nd Australian Division crossed the Somme River from the north-west and attacked Mont St Quentin at 5:00 am. The uphill terrain was difficult for the Australians and attacking across open ground made them vulnerable to attack from the German positions on the slopes above.
On 29-30 August the 5th Brigade comprising the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th Battalions of the 2nd Australian Division seized hills that dominated the river crossings and proposed approach route. Their numbers had been depleted during earlier fighting and the troops were exhausted. Each battalion’s strength was down to around 300 men.
The 17th Battalion on the right flank was to seize the village of Mont St Quentin and the small forest on the summit beyond the road. The 20th Battalion on the left flank was ordered to seize the line of the road down the northern slope to the Feuillaucourt Bridge and the 19th Battalion was to guard the right flank by occupying two parallel trenches which ran down the south western slope of Mont St Quentin and overlooked Peronne. The 18th Battalion was assigned the job of close support to the assault battalions.
Rifle grenades and trench mortars were used to outflank outpost positions. The battalions positioned to the right of the line of attack made a lot of noise to distract the Germans, while the centre and left battalions gained footholds on the hill and in the village of Feuillaucourt on the left of the line.
The demoralised Germans, fearing they were being attacked by a superior force, surrendered in large numbers. The 20th Battalion moved up to make a bayonet charge and captured the Gottleib trench. As the Australians reached the summit, large numbers of German soldiers were sent fleeing down the slopes. By 7am the troops had occupied the village of Mont St Quentin and the slope and summit of the hill. However, the small size of their forces meant that their hold on the position was tenuous.
The five German divisions defending Mont St Quentin were confused and dispersed by the ferocity of the Australian attack and many had fled.
By midnight on 31 August, the Australians had captured 14,500 prisoners and 170 guns since 8th of August. The next day on 1 September, Allied troops also broke through lines to Péronne by 8:20am.
However, the Germans quickly regrouped and launched a counter-attack and that first day of September saw fierce fighting and heavy losses. Germans attacked and heavily shelled Péronne with much of the fighting being hand-to-hand combat.
The outnumbered Australians were pushed back off the summit of Mont St Quentin, and lost Feuillaucourt. Relief battalions were sent and duly reinforced, all areas lost were retaken by the Australians, but at the cost of 3,000 casualties. One casualty, Private Alex Barclay of the 17th Battalion was shot in the head by a sniper’s bullet during the attack. Miraculously the bullet passed right through his skull and he survived to re-enlist in the Second World War.
On 1 September, the 6th Brigade consisting of the 21st, 22nd, 23rd and 24th Australian Battalions seized the summit on their second attempt. The 14th Brigade of the 5th Australian Division, which included the 53rd, 54th, 55th and 56th Battalions, captured the woods north of Péronne and after defeating a short-lived German attack took the main part of Péronne. An attempt to pass the northern side of the town was stopped by heavy fire from the ramparts. On 2 September, the 7th Brigade, which included the 25th, 26th, 27th and 28th Australian battalions, drove beyond Mont St Quentin and the 15th Brigade made up of the 57th, 58th, 59th and 60th Battalions seized the remainder of Péronne and the 3rd Division advanced on the northern flank. By the evening of 3 September, the Australians held Péronne, captured Flamicourt the next day and then advanced three kilometres to the east.
Monash said of the Mont St Quentin and Péronne campaign that it furnished the finest example in the war of spirited and successful infantry action conducted by three divisions operating simultaneously side by side.
Eight Victoria Crosses were awarded to Australians between 31 August and 2 September 1918.
The fight had also included battalions from every Australian state. British Commander General, Lord Rawlinson remarked that this feat by the Australian troops under Monash’s command was the greatest of the war.
Forced out of Péronne, the Germans had to retreat to their last line of defence, the Hindenberg Line.
So you’ve made the decision to bring the family to History Alive: A Journey Through Time on the Queen’s Birthday long weekend and you’re ready for an awesome day. But with 2000 years of history in one place, where do you begin?!
If you’re coming by car, you’ll need to drive to 91 Sandy Camp Road, park the car and take the free shuttle bus to Fort Lytton National Park. Or you can take the train to Wynnum North train station and take the free shuttle bus to Fort Lytton.
Accessible parking is available at Fort Lytton, please have your Australian Disability Parking Permit clearly visible so traffic management can wave you through.
The shuttle buses are provided by the Queensland Omnibus and Coach Society.
So what is happening at History Alive this year?
Below is just a sample of the events during the day. Make sure to check out the program here.
10am: The day kicks off with a World War I Memorial Service and the firing of Fort Lytton’s 64-pounder cannons to commemorate the Anzac Centenary, followed by a WWI scenario in the Riverfront Arena where you’ll get to see our WWI groups in action.
11am: Take a wander through the encampments and learn about 14th Century cooking with the Knights Order of Lion Rampant or head over to the Lytton Arena for a 1930-40s Dance workshop and show the kids some new (old) moves! Immediately afterward in the Lytton Arena Dance Kaleidescope will be hosting a Regency dance workshop so there is no excuse for not getting some fun exercise in for the day.
Noon: You can watch WWII re-enactors in action with an Eastern Front battle playing out in the Riverfront Arena. For those of us who are hopeless romantics, Company of the Phoenix is hosting a 15th Century betrothal ceremony in their encampment.
1pm: Lunch time! Go visit our food vendors for a yummy feed. There really is something for everyone. Pancakes on the Go, Roam’In Pizza and Hungarian Langos (to name just a few) will all be on hand to satisfy the whole tribe. A new addition this year is The Curious Caravan, a 1957 vintage caravan coffee bar. Do not miss it!
Once everyone is fuelled up for the rest of their adventure, head to the Riverfront Arena to catch a tribute to the Battle of Waterloo by La Belle Alliance, or work off some energy at the Lytton Arena with a Medieval dance workshop.
2pm: Knights! That’s all we need to say to get you back up to the Riverfront Arena to catch the 14th Century Tournament of War. Also, don’t miss the Costume Competition in the Lytton Arena. Open to all children up to the age of 14. Find more details here.
3pm: Learn some techniques in the noble art of fencing from the Prima Spada School of Fence in their encampments. The Saga Vikings close out the action in the Lytton Arena with Viking Shield Walls, while Army Group South have the final battle for the day on the Riverfront Arena with the Pacific Theatre Battle.
4pm: After a full day of fun the 64-pounders fire for the last time and we sadly say goodbye for another year and start getting excited for next year. Of course you can make a whole weekend of it and come on both Saturday and Sunday to make sure your family doesn’t miss a thing!
See you there!
I started re-enacting in 1991, when my girls were 5, 2 and 2; so they’ve been around the re-enactment scene for most of their lives.
Re-enactment has taught them to be self-reliant, to research and critique things (one of my daughters is a teacher), do risk assessments, make a fire, sew, embroider (one of my daughter’s first embroidery was better than my best after 20 years!), work timber, work metal (another of my daughters is a blacksmith), cook, negotiate and talk to people (visitors at events we attend).
Re-enactment has been a vehicle for passing on skills that a parent should pass on to a child and has made it easier, interesting, and more relevant.
After a few years’ sabbatical I started re-enacting again, this time with my father, my partner and two of my daughters (the third was living interstate at the time) and we had a small (but informative!) family-based re-enactment group going.
One of my daughters and I even dabbled in WWI re-enactment when another daughter moved overseas.
After taking another short break from re-enactment, daughter number three moved back to Brisbane – an opportunity to give the group bit of a re-vamp. Instead of a static display in our period tent ( made up of 25,000 words!) we decided to have the group portray an extended family’s living quarters traveling in 1229 on pilgrimage to the Holy Land (facilitated by the Knights Templar’s invitation to join them and be their ‘pilgrims’).
This has meant that, in between teaching and being a mother, my girls have been sewing costumes, embroidering, beading, leather working, (hand) sewing another tent…and all the other necessities to get a believable encampment up and running. My daughters have become adept researchers and can rattle off a list of museums and resources that make my eyes cross. They have also become used to the annoyance of re-making items when new information – that indicates it’s not as good as it could be (or is just plain wrong!)- comes to light.
Re-enactment has taught them that nothing’s certain, nothing’s set in stone, and to always have a back-up plan!
Now we’ve got the next generation coming along – my 4-year old grand-daughter is learning to sew, and she and her younger brother understand about knives and sharp things, fires, manners… and the cycle is beginning again.
Mother’s Day is so much more special when you have a connection like this with your children and grandchildren – I look forward to it every year.
Mim has been re-enacting for over 20 years and is currently part of re-enactment group, Oltramar. You can catch Mim and her daughters at History Alive: A Journey Through Time 2015 at the Knights Templar encampment.