A weeks ago I went to the famous War and Peace Show, held at The Hop Farm in Kent. It promotes itself as the largest military vehicle show in the world, and is usually held over five days.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, so went in with an open mind. Several weeks later, and I’m still not quite sure what to make of it. To me, it was an uneasy partnering of military and wartime social history mixed in with yahoo-we-love-guns-n-tanks displays. And the predominance of Nazi uniforms was disturbing.
I do understand from a re-enactment point of view, you need two sides. That is historically correct and makes perfect sense. What I couldn’t understand is why in that case there were no Japanese, or Viet Cong, or Koreans, or Iraquis, or Italians, and only a minute showing from the Russians. Considering this, why was the Nazi camp one of the largest (if not THE largest) in the show? And why such a disproportionate number of SS officers? The answer came from a source who mentioned that re-enactors she had talked to enjoyed dressing up in German uniforms because they were ‘smarter’. I don’t even know where to start with how wrong that is.
There was no mention of the Holocaust, no Jewish reenactors wearing Stars of David, nothing about concentration camps, or the development of the atomic bomb, or the Japanese treatment of Prisoner’s of War, or the bombing of Dresden, or trench foot, or lice, or Agent Orange, or in fact any of the less savoury aspects of war. It all seemed to be very much a show focussed on boys and their military toys.
There were parts I did enjoy. The Veterans Tent had cooking displays using rationed ingredients from the 1940s, music from the period, and authors signing books . We saw the original Bomber Boys, and had an interesting chat with Ann Kramer, who told us about her most recent books Women Wartime Spies and Landgirls and Their Impact. In amongst the stalls flogging camo to children, there were gems selling trench art, vintage clothing, reproduction dresses (including the ever fabulous Heyday), antique military equipment, and lots of second-hand books on the subject. There was a meet and greet with the original cast of ‘Allo ‘Allo, which made me laugh. And the Vietnam part of the show more than any other gave a sense of what it was really like for the soldiers, with lots of little human touches like lads mags, radios, and coke bottles, and even a hippy protester. I have to say though, my favourite part of the day was an owl display – which gives you a clue that military shows are probably never going to be my favourite things ever.
All in all, a mixed bag. If you like uniforms and tanks you’ll probably enjoy the War and Peace Show. But if you are more interested in the historical and social aspects of war you are much better off visiting the excellent Imperial War Museum in London.