English Civil War Society at Basing House
You dress as though you lived long ago
Striding through the field to battle
At the cardboard turret in the field,
To support your troops in historic gear
And pretend that your costume makes it real.
And at night, for a weekend, you live in make-shift huts
And swill down the ale with your group;
Laugh raucously at the jesters who run through the crowd,
And at the feeble attempts of the newbies
To throw their spears at the mock opposition.
Two opposing camps in friendly rivalry
Acting out a battle at Basing House
Believing yourselves, almost, for a day, in the 1600s.
And we gather and we watch and choose sides
Cheering this way and that as the riders clash
And the spearmen push and fall aside as if dead.
And there is fake blood and fake wounded
And we admire the costumes and the action and the shouts
And are carried away at the action until a halt is called.
Leaving the field, we queue for our cars as you pack up
Looking forward to another performance, at another location
And did it bring the times alive for you, for us
This sanitised version of the cruelty of war wounds
And heads on spears?
Rather it made us nostalgic for what was brutal
Closed our eyes to what was real misery and fear
And made us think how wonderful it must have been
To walk this earth then
In touch with nature, living under the stars,
Fighting for a true cause.
When, in fact, the country was torn apart,
With mistrust brutality and betrayal,
And ordinary people were at the mercy of
Their Lord’s fickle, political whims.
Can we really live the life and
Pretend there was no starvation, no pain,
No torture; no violence;
That they could all go home at night
And live to fight another day?
The inspiration for this poem came from when I attended a wonderful afternoon at Basing House, Hampshire, where the English Civil War Society re-enacted the siege that took place there in 1643. There were stalls and ale for sale and it was very informative about the way the spears and weapons were made – in fact there were real blacksmiths and carpenters using the methods of the time to produce these. When the battles took place the horsemen (and women these days) showed tremendous skill in manoeuvring their horses and there was an obvious battle plan. I had a terrific afternoon and almost convinced myself it would be great to join this group. But I stopped myself. I asked myself whether making a war into an entertainment is the right way to go – if by sanitising the reality we deceive. The poem is the result.