Phil Hodges offers tips on taking up re-enacting.

Fire and movement at the War & Peace Revival in 2013. © Mark Barnes for War History Online

So. You’re new to re-enacting, right?

Where do you start? 
Chances are you already know someone who is a re-enactor or at least has knowledge of all things militaria as re-enacting isn’t exactly something you fall into blindly, is it? 
You have to start somewhere and for most that is rushing out and buying a gun completely inadequate for the period you’re wishing to portray or you go out and buy the things you really could do without for a while. 
In most eras of living history; WW2, Vietnam or WW1 probably being the most popular themes for 20th Century depictions, there are heaps upon heaps of books, websites and forums to learn from. 
Not only will it educate and fascinate you along the way it’ll save you from making errors and embarrassing mistakes along the living history route. 
We’ve all been there, and despite what the ‘Old Guard’ say everyone started somewhere.

Research not only helps you get your look right and historically correct it can also save you hundreds if not thousands of pounds in the long run.
 Sounds far fetched? 
I can assure you that buying the wrong kit is far more common than you’d probably believe at first and its easy to go plastic happy with your flexible friend in this day and age of Internet shopping. 
So, with a whole world of shops and manufacturers offering treats galore, where do you start?

Well, a good place is your budget.
 How much have you got and how much are you willing pay? What must you spend the money on and where can you make do and mend? 
In the ten or so years I’ve been re-enacting I find loyalty is a good thing to have in the hobby. 
I spoke to two different dealers offering an array of goodies and asked what advice they’d give to newcomers to the hobby.  
If Richard Underwood was the Marks and Spencer food counter of the re-enacting world then Soldier of Fortune would easily be crowned the Tesco superstore! And I mean all this in the kindest of ways.
 Richard’s stock is simple; quality German WW2 kit with a dash of WW1. Simple maybe but the Rich’s quality and advice is second to none. Over the years Richard has supplied uniforms to film and TV productions such as Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, Valkyrie and more recently Fury! 

One of the fine products supplied by Richard Underwood.

That’s impressive to say the least. He says: “Quality and authenticity are very important, you don’t have to spend a great deal these days to get good kit”

Again, in these days of tightening the belt and watching the pennies I had to agree with this. Looking good and more importantly looking right is the key to re-enacting. Richard added  “The most frequent mistake I see is people simply don’t listen to the requirements of the group they are joining and just buy the cheapest things they can find on eBay. Often these aren’t even appropriate for the group they wish to join”

“Research is vital using proper sources, ie books and not just any image found on Google. 
It is important not only to get the right kit but also to see how it should be worn. Remember you are trying to portray a soldier, someone who has undergone stringent military training so you should attempt to conduct yourself as such. The Devil Is in The Detail ”

The fact that Richard is spot on here speaks volumes, for his knowledge and expertise are unrivalled. Unfortunately many don’t heed his advice. I find the fact that many re-enactors who are actually portraying soldiers don’t give their own appearance a second thought frightening.

Soldier of Fortune’s stock is equally as impressive.
 From British, American, French and German WW1 uniforms right the way through to WW2 there’s not much they don’t cover in their impressive inventory. They also have vast amounts of Vietnam era kit and plenty more covering conflicts right up to the modern day. It came as no surprise that among their many conquests of film, TV and stage were the Hollywood blockbusters Inglourious Basterds and Monuments Men; the TV mini series The Pacific and Band of Brothers along with the stage and film productions of War Horse to name but a few. That’s an Impressive calling card.

Their catalogue is full to bursting and, granted; quite unique, but I still wanted to get their opinion on what to buy. I spoke to Alun at SoF and asked him what in his mind was the one piece of kit in a re-enactors wardrobe to spend good money on?

“I would say its got to be a good pair of boots, it doesn’t matter if you’re a real soldier or re-enactor, the army marches on it’s a feet. Your boots need to fit, be comfortable and look the part as well.”

Just some of the kit available from Soldier of Fortune

Be they portraying a WW1 Tommy or a WW2 U.S Ranger do you think re-enactors get their buying right? Looking through your website it certainly wouldn’t be for lack of choice. What would you say to new or young re-enactors starting out?

“Don’t buy everything in one go, get the basics and build your kit up over the years. Replace bits as and when you can afford to and always endeavour to buy more accurate kit. That’s part of the fun, researching what you need, hunting it down, saving the money and then waiting for it to arrive to show to your mates”

If you could offer a single piece of advice to re-enactors what would it be Al?

“Have fun and enjoy taking part in re-enacting”

And there we have it ladies and gentlemen, some sound advice from experienced guys. And remember loyalty. These people don’t just want your money they want your custom over and over again, year in year out. Use their knowledge, talk to them and you’ll be happy and content for years to come.

An old re-enactment friend of mine once told me many years ago

“Buy right. Buy once” Advice I carry with me to this day.





Phil Hodges

Phil Hodges is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE