21 October 2015

The Band of Brothers.

My English students in Germany will tell you that the phrase, "Band of Brothers" is to be found for the first time in Shakepeare's Henry V speech at the battle of Agincourt.

 I was surprised at how many were involved in the 151st reenactment of the Battle of Cedar Creak. There were between 3000 and 4000 camped on the actual battle field, and all in tents of the period.
Some units even had camp followers as you can see.

What was particularly enjoyable was the cameradery around the camp fire, after drill and fighting for the day was over.
All cooking was done over an open fire just like in 1864. I was particularly pleased to be able to pour  myself a coffee from a well worn and blackened coffee pot which sat on the fire into a tin mug just like I had seen Cowboys do in the many westerns I had watched as a boy.
The coffee on a cold morning tasted good too.

Like any good soldier I was forced to sew on buttons which had come adrift and I used my British Army issued "housewife" and the grey wool that came with it.
I was worried about the drill, but it soon transpired that the ANV did not worry too much about bullshit, or the stamping of feet, but got there somehow! Keeping step over the stubbly field was impossible in any case, but when it came to rifle drill we were second to none. I learnt how to fix bayonets, stack arms, shoulder arms, right shoulder shift, support arms, order arms, load, prime and fire my rifle. 

                                            Steve our gallant commander

                                    On parade with the 10th Bn ANV

       These two men made it possible for me to join, Dan and his brother-in-law Mike, who was also our cook and made sure we ate well.

The Saturday morning was taken up with company and battalion drill and then in the afternoon we reenacted the Battle of Second Kernstown. This involved a bit of a march over the rough ground to the other side of the battlefield. I have to say that my small hand had difficulty carrying the Lee Enflied rifle, which had been made in Italy. The real rifle of the period is actually much much lighter.  Our gallant company were quite good at firing in volleys, though as it was my first time at loading a muzzleloader I was not always reloaded in time. I got better as the weekend progressed.

In this battle we had the damned Yankees backed up to a creek, so they could not run and we fired volley after volley until they were all dead! Then we were ordered to follow through and cross the creek.  When I attempted to jump the creek I landed in mud up to my calves and lost my boot in the mud! When I went back to find it the other came out in it as well. Tom, the tallest in our company came back to help me and luckily found my first boot in the mud.

Since the boots were full of mud and water I did not put them back on, but walked over the stubble in stocking feet to our camp, as the battle was now over for the day.

Tom the boot finder and Tom the bearded Texan.
Since we had missed breakfast we had brunch and so our evening meal was hamburgers and some awesome beans made by Mark, our most talkative soldier.

It got quite cold in the night and went down to minus degrees centigrade. We now all sat round the camp fire and talked much of the night away huddled up in greatcoats or blankets. Bottles of Rye and Burbon were passed round and even a bottle of "Allen's Butterscotch Schnaps. This activity round the camp fire in the dark and cold cemented the cameradery. In the morning frost was on the ground and on those that had slept out in it.

On Sunday morning Dan and I had a wander over to the Suttler's tents and then we went and saw a living history museum in a house called Bell Grove. Here they had some of the original weapons of the time and where I discovered that the modern musket is so much heavier than the 1860's one.

Since it was a Sunday there were Church services held by real fire and brimstone preachers.

As always in an Army there was a great deal of hurry up and wait before the battle on Sunday.

                                    10th Bn ANV "O" Group before the battle.

A very mean looking Rebel, so I am glad Tom was on my side.

The Yankees won this battle and after it we all stood, removed headdress and honoured the dead.

For us this was then the end of the war.  We marched back to our camp and then came a sad farewell of this Band of Brothers. I will admit to feeling very sentimental when Steve came to shake hands and thank each of us for our participation.

We packed up and then left to go to an hotel in nearby Winchester, where at last we were able to shower and get the mud and black powder of battle, off of us.

The next day on the way back to Canada we visited Harper's Ferry.
Here we saw John Brown's Fort.

Then we went to the battlefield of Antietam where the most losses in one day of the War, 23,000, were suffered!

                                           In this cornfield 8000 men died.

The bloody lane at Antietam.

Reenacting is as close as I could come to experiencing what it was like to be a soldier in the 1860's. A bunch of guys from very different parts of Canada and the USA came together and formed without much ado a cohesive unit, much like I imagine the real thing would have been. We were proud of our unit and worked hard to maintain its reputation. Thus we were a Band of Brothers And I am privileged to have been one of them.

12 October 2015

A Canadian Thanksgiving

After nearly a month in Connecticut we were up early to get the train from Milford to New York. Sandy kindly got up in the middle of the night to take us all to the station. She also made sure we got on the right train as there were changes that Alan would not have noticed till too late! The journey to New York began in the dark, but it was light by the time we got there. A quick taxi ride from Grand Central Station took us to Pensylvania Station, where we had a wait before we were able to board the AMTRAK train to Montreal.
                                            The AMTRAK waiting room 

Our journey now took us along the Hudson River which was navigable for big ships and sail boats as far as Albany in New York State. We had fine views from our seat, though Alan did doze for some of the time.

At the border Alan had to show his passport and answer some questions put to him by a gun packing pretty femail immigration officer, who did notice us, but left us in peace! Then we watched the sun set as we finally approached Montreal.
On arrival it was a short walk for us to our Albergue where we spent the night.
Unbeknown to us under the bed was a heating element which ran all night and by morning the metal bedframe was so hot, Alan could have burnt himself on it! He was up before the other three gentleman in the room and had quite a stuffy head because of the extreme warmth in the small room.

After breakfast we packed and had a wander round town as we had plenty of time before Pat and Dan  came to collect us. It was a joyous meeting after some five months had passed since we parted in Santiago. We had a great lunch in "Dunns" a very special smoked meat sandwich restaurant in downtown Montreal. Then we set off to see the city from a hill top vantage point.
We then had a three and half hour drive to Brockville where we stopped in a great little restaurant for a pizza before going home to Pat and Dan's lovely home. We were given a lovely room at the front of the house.
We slept like only bears who hibernate would know, deeply. The next day was sadly overcast and cold, a truly Autumn day.
 Alan then spent the morning with Dan learning how to make black powder cartridges. Together they then made 125 of them.
 The afternoon was spent learning the finer points of baseball. The Toronto Blue Jays are the only Canadian baseball team which are playing in the major US league and they had made it to the post season playoffs. These playoffs are a best of five games series and we watched the first two being played in Toronto against the Texas Rangers. Sadly the Blue Jays lost the first two games!
The next day the sun came out and now we could really appreciate the views. 
We were up early as it was the Saturday before Thanksgiving to go to the market and shop, while Dan and his son Alex went to play golf. It was quite cold and Dan and Alex even had to wait an hour before playing as there was frost on the greens. The autumn sun though, worked on the flowers in the market like a super trouper theatre light and really put them in the spot!
We even found a bear masquerading as a bee showing off the beeswax candles to good effect.
Pat also bought an orange cauliflower which will probably be rich in vitamin A and is not something we or our BBF has seen before.

Sunday Alan went with Pat and Dan to the Thanksgiving Communion Service at the 180 year old St John' United Church.
They have a lovely pastor Reverend Heather who had a warm welcome for Alan. Pat in the quoir  was called upon to introduce him, which was a big surprise and made him standup so that all the very friendly congregation could see him and who they were talking about. It was a privilege, he said to take communion with them all.

Back at home we witnessed another tradition when Pat with the help of Alex and Chris hauled out the floating dock on their jetty for the winter. The boats, a canoe and two kayaks had already been brought up and stored under the deck out of the reach of the snow and ice which will come with the winter.

Nibbles before the dinner were brought out when the family began to gather and included something new to us, "watermelon radishes"! Alan said they were very tasty, but needed salt.
Pat had been working hard in the kitchen virtually all day from sun up, preparing the food. Cheryl, Pat' sister-in-law also provided even more food, though Pat did remark that, "there will not be enough!" Clearly an understatement, if ever there was one.
It was clearly an impressive spread and had to be recorded by almost everyone there.
Tradition was followed with Cheryl saying Grace, before they all helped themselves. With such good food and wine to wash it down, the conversation in such pleasant company was easy and entertaining. They were all bloated by the end of the meal and had only sufficient energy left to flop in front of the TV to watch the next set of games of the baseball playoffs between the Texas Rangers and the Toronto Blue Jays, which thankfully the Blue Jays won.
Today, Monday 12 October, it being the official Thansksgiving holiday in Canada, we all had a slow start. Some of the family had to return to their homes to work and so now the lovely house is quiet and feels almost empty, but the sun is shining still.
 Alan has said to us that he feels very privileged to have been made part of the Markovich family and he will never forget this year, as so much good has happened to him during it, so he has a lot to be thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.