Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Dig For Victory / Lacock at War 2013

Re-enactor cycling through Lacock
Last week I'd had a bit of a dilemma about which local 1940s-themed event to go to over the weekend, and in the end I decided to go to both. Perhaps my failed 40s hair set was an omen that neither Dig For Victory nor Lacock at War would be as I expected. I’d eagerly anticipated both, yet each was a bit of a letdown. I think it’s because neither felt quite complete as an event...
Display street at Dig for Victory 2013

The first, longer-established event was Dig For Victory, run by a group of enthusiasts called the Blitz Buddies. When I went to Dig For Victory a few years ago, it was small but sweet: there was a lovely amount of Home Front stuff, a limited but nice selection of military vehicles, and some re-enactors.

This year there was still a good Home Front display. You can see a couple of shots here; it was laid out in the form of a street, complete with masking tape on the windows to prevent flying glass in a bomb attack, and inside each shop window was a display of 1940s artefacts. Outside was a model Victory Garden. There were also a few stalls, including one excellent clothing stall in the shape of Cock-a-doodle Vintage. (I first saw them at the Vintage Nostalgia Show, and their stock is fantastic - not cheap, but really, really covetable, so if you're at Twinwood this weekend, look out for them.)

The 'dressmakers' display
The educational side of Dig For Victory was very well done. I really got the feeling that the Blitz Buddies really loved what they were doing and gave it their all. They've amassed a fascinating collection of objects, from cameras to sewing patterns, shoes to magazines. However, there were far fewer vehicles this year. I wondered if this was because the West Wiltshire Military Vehicle Trust has Lacock at War as its main event, so they were all at that.

The main problem with DFV, though, was the crowds: it’s a free event, held at a garden centre, and it was absolutely heaving. A shame, really, because it’s an event run with genuine enthusiasm, but Mr Robot and I didn’t feel like sitting down and watching the dancing or having a cup of tea because things were simply too hectic. Also, because so few visitors had bothered to dress for the event, it diluted things rather, so instead of feeling like a fun occasion people could come along to and be part of, it felt like a vintage zoo, where anyone in 40s clobber was simply there to be stared at. We made a quick dash to the other event.
US Navy Staff Car at Lacock at War 2013

It cost £3 each to get into the main show area at Lacock at War - for some reason I’d thought it was going to be free to enter, possibly because it was in a field in Lacock town. The large field had the capacity to handle a large crowd, and plastic walkways had been put down so it wasn't too muddy and mobility devices could trundle round easily. For seeing historic military vehicles it was absolutely excellent. There were some re-enactment groups there too. (Mr Robot and I were invited to join one of the re-enactment groups because of our outfits! We were both in woollies knitted from Susan Crawford patterns.)
Madeline Brown

The entertainment in the main marquee was very good; DJ Desert Fox was playing vintage records between sessions from singer Madeline Brown and burlesque artist Dulcie Demure. I was really impressed with Madeline Brown's voice. She has the strength and range for swing. There didn't seem to be any CDs on sale at the show (perhaps they were further inside the marquee - it was pretty crowded so we couldn't get very far in) but I may well order one from her website at some point. I did feel like there were more visitors with a genuine interest in the things on show at this event, rather than just ones who’d come along to gawp at something different.

Beautiful Douglas C-47 Dakota
Away from the main show area, in the historic town of Lacock itself you’d have occasional re-enactors pop up in the streets, such as a troupe of ‘Germans’ marching through, or a lady in military uniform sailing past on a vintage bike. Later in the day there was a flypast by a 1940s Dakota. I've seen it once this year, at the Trowbridge Military Weekend, but it's such a beautiful plane I don't think I'll ever get tired of seeing it. Despite that, a lot of Lacock at War simply didn’t have enough of a human dimension. There was a lot of stuff, but not many stories.

Well-earned cuppa...
In an ideal world, the two events would be combined, so you’d have the ‘hard facts’ of the military vehicles on show at Lacock at War and the more human, educational aspect of Dig for Victory. As it was, each event had lots to recommend it, but in the end both felt strangely lacking to visit.

All photos copyright PP Gettins.


Me, with failed hair set

Mr Robot, with successful beer

9 comments :

  1. Failed hair or no - you looked lovely! Shame it was a bit of a let down event wise.

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    1. Aw, thank you!

      It wasn't that either event was bad, but the whole thing would've been absolutely brilliant if they'd been staged together, and there had been a bit more on the living history side in Lacock itself. (Now I'm imagining bemused tourists hearing an air-raid siren!)

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  2. Such a shame the events were a let down.
    I miss going to events but have noticed when looking at photos after wards, the amount of re-enactors has really gone down. It used to be that the places holding them were swarming with people in period dress and it looked not unlike a film set but now it seems the members of the public are outweighing re-enactors.

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    1. Thing is, it's not that hard to come close to a 40s look, so most people can get into the spirit if they try - my skirt was £1.50 in a charity shop. I wish more people had made a little effort...

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  3. What a shame they didn't quite deliver.

    Mind you, I don't always enjoy events where everyone dresses period-appropriate. I have a strong interest in food and social history from 1900-1979. I don't dress 40s at all, it's not my period - and when people don't get it quite right, I know for a fact purists sneer so you can't really win. Sometimes I've been at events where I've been spoken down to as a 'tourist' when in fact I have more day to day interest than the person in the 'right clothes'.

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  4. as one of the reinactors taking part i think the DFV event was a total success! The fact that there were more public than reinactors is a sign of this! We do all do this in our own time for no financial reward and unlike some shows do not charge an entry fee! the main aim of what we do is to show respect and appreciation to those that suffered terribly so that we can live the way we do today and to enlighten those not old enough to have been aware of the sacrifices that were made during WW1 and WW2.

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    1. Hi Gary, I certainly didn't mean to cause offence - as I said, it was clear that the whole event was done with genuine love and enthusiasm. It was just far too crowded for me.

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  5. As one of those many people responsible for staging the Dig For Victory I must say that I'm delighted to hear that the only criticisms that can be levelled at the event are that it is too popular and welcomes all members of the public! Having said that I do think it's a shame that you seem to have missed the point a bit. The Dig for Victory isn't a re-enactment event as such (it takes place in a modern garden centre how could it be?) neither is it intended simply as a venue for people to dress up. It is a community/public free admission event put on entirely by volunteers (predominently The Blitz Buddies) who are as you say enthusiastic, but are also incredibly knowledgeable, and dedicated to educating and entertaining visitors in all aspects of the 1940s and WW2 with an emphasis on the Home Front and Civil defence as a fitting tribute to those who lived through those years. Many, many of our visitors that you believe were there to "gawp" did indeed live through those times or had loved ones who did, and had memories they wanted to share and re-live and we feel privalidged to allow them the opportunity to do so - they perhaps have more right to be there than anyone. As a group we are invloved with many other events through-out the country with more emphasis on re-enactment where public access is more restricted and correct period dress is expected in greater numbers, but the philosophy of this particular event is that all are welcome - be they members of the public in modern day dress, serious re-enactors and collectors, or of course people like yourself and your partner who like to try and make an effort to look the part - all are welcomed with open arms. It's a shame you didn't stay because you missed so much! There was music and dancing, a Pathe News Style Civil Defence show including demonstrations by the LDV, the WVS,the WLA and the AFS/NFS. an oldtime tea dance with dance lessons, a sing-a-long with our live pianist, an incredible ENSA style entertainment show, and with your obvious interest in dress how sad that you missed the opportunity to see the amazing 1940s fashion show staged by the Blitz Buddies group. It's a very rare and special opportunity to see a remarkably extensive and varied display of genuine original museum quality dress and accessories from the era which is researched and collected and correctly worn by the group. Also, while you were there, I'm sure that one of our ladies would have been delighted to help you with your hair and give you any other advice you asked for. They just love to share what they know and believe me they know a lot! Please do come again another time and maybe make the effort to stay for a while before criticising us in your blog. If you decide to come again, like all our other visitors who come year after year and leave smiling form ear to ear, you will be very welcome!

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  6. Dear Lucky Uncle George, thank you very much for your courteous response to my post. I've mentioned elsewhere on my blog that I have a great affection for DfV - I came in 2010 shortly after my grandmother died, and found seeing other people enjoying the music she loved a great consolation. I really hope I haven't hurt the feelings of anyone involved with the event, because I did think the displays were excellent, and I really do recognise the fact that it's all done voluntarily by enthusiasts. I commented to friends on Twitter before going that what I liked about DfV was that it was an event about everyone in WWII: the women, children and the elderly, as much as about men and weapons.

    Possibly we just picked the wrong time of day to come; it really was heaving, and we were as guilty as anyone of simply walking along staring at things - I'd have felt guilty for taking up 'someone else's space' had we stopped for any length of time, I felt the need to keep moving to make room for other people. Perhaps next time we can buy you tea and a bun to make up for any offence caused, which I promise was completely unintended.

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