20 November 2008
Amy Stanton reports on the War & Peace Show 2008. ...
There was something totally fitting about wandering around army stalls under a blue sky on a Sunday morning to the strains of Edith Piaf crooning ‘La vie en rose’. Yes, this kind of experience can only be had at the War & Peace show in Beltring, Kent.
Actually, this year’s show is widely rumoured to the penultimate event at the famous Hop Farm for after 2009 it will be looking for a new home. Where, no-one seems to know, but logic would dictate that the not-too-distant wartime Detling aerodrome might be a suitable venue. Stay tuned for an update.
Otherwise, the five-day extravaganza that attracts those keen on history, both military and civil but almost exclusively relating to WWII, served up the goods with usual aplomb. The elements were kinder this year so the fields were dry, an essential ingredient to the spectacle.
However, there were noticeably fewer visitors during the weekdays – or at least fewer visitors who were actually spending. This was the view of several stallholders and indeed most declared that it was the Continentals who were buying, obviously attracted by the weakness of the pound compared to the Euro.
If you were into the heavyweight stuff, then there were jeeps and the odd truck for sale, of course. Count on £9,000 for a decent post-war (Hotchkiss) 24volt jeep these days; if you really must have the period vehicle, though (which isn’t that much different, it has to be said), then £11,000 or more would buy a good Ford example. For the real connoisseur, William Galliers had brought along a pair of slat grille Willys jeeps, these being the early type: this kind of vintage transport was priced at £17,000, though!
Elsewhere, spare track for your American half-track was available as was rubber track for a Weasel, should you run one of those. Jeep tyres were going for £45 each (not dear, I suppose) whilst a basic jeep chassis and body would have set you back £800.
As ever, there were many, many stands retailing costumes and accessories, both modern and old, with just about everything in between. If you really wanted a machine gun there was plenty of (de-activated) choice, with a Lewis example starting at around £275. Grenades, mines, mortars, shells, rockets and spiky things for throwing under the tyres of passing transport: you could have taken your pick from scores of stalls. But there were toys, too.
Tony Barstow had a good tinplate Hornby signal box at just £25 and a shelf of lead station staff and passengers in various scales, along with some tinplate luggage in O gauge and some vending machines: he was asking £130 for the lot. A clockwork 0-4-0 shunter, again Hornby, was priced at £90. Slightly more bizarre was his NAAFI wall clock for which he was hoping to get £200.
Walking around the rows of stalls it soon became obvious that there is a growing interest in the fashion of the 1940s for several outfitters were sighted. Some deal in vintage clothing whilst others will tailor-make your costume. Why? Well, a highlight at the event is the evening dances, complete with period music and lashings of nostalgia.
I spotted a coupon list in one of these outfitters, which gave details of what exactly your clothing coupons would have bought back in 1941. A pair of socks was one coupon whilst five were needed for a skirt and 13 for a coat. Hard to imagine these days, isn’t it?
Dave Talbot’s stand was a cornucopia of collectables, ranging from period wooden filing cabinets (‘I’ve sold a couple this week’) to wooden propellers (£350 up) through bakelite telephones (£45-75) and just about everything in between. He had an old one-armed bandit rubbing shoulders with a nickel-plated Meccano set in a wooden box, this latter ticketed at £90. ‘I’ve had no interest in it, though,’ he admitted. And for those seeking the truly weird, how about part of a submarine’s instrument panel? That was £195.
David Beeby’s stall was small by comparison and more inclined towards the world of paper ephemera. That stated, he did have a splendidly evocative 1940s wireless, its wooden cabinet interrupted only by a circle of brocade-like material that hid the speaker. This was £70 but whether you could have still tuned into the Forces’ programme was debatable. Bagged fragments from a crashed Avro Lancaster were something different at £20; but rather more suitable for display was the Wartime Savings poster with its dramatic artwork at £30. A couple of wartime books also caught my eye: cartoonist David Langdon’s ‘Home Front Lines’ at £20 and another entitled ‘ARP and all that’ by C Kent Wright was just £15. A great wallow for those long winter evenings, perhaps?
In complete contrast was Jay and Paul’s stall: the pair trade under the Dug Up Co and everything for sale was, well, dug up – or at least rescued. Musket balls from the Waterloo era were £5 a bag but the brass and glass porthole from a WWII landing ship was £125 – and this had been salvaged from a scrapyard in France. As for shell nose fuses, these were available from WWI at a tenner a time and there was plenty of other arcane stuff, even nails from Roman times.
On the Sunday in question it was heartening to see some ex-Servicemen amongst those who had simply dressed up for the event. There has been criticism that shows like this tend to glamourise war – so what did an old soldier make of it?
John Dudley is now 84 and he saw action in Greece, Sicily and Italy. ‘I think it’s all a bit of a giggle,’ he answered. ‘When we were kids we played with popguns in the streets, so nothing’s really changed. These folk are old enough to know what they’re doing, so it doesn’t bother me.’ John actually takes part in organised coach trips each year to visit past battlefields, and he admits that the clientele tends to be older. ‘But I get a free ticket for this event every year – and I enjoy it.’