“Least you guys got a wigwam,” complains the visitor. “I’m over there farbing it up with the 53rd.”
“I can’t take it any more. It’s just the blatant inaccuracies. Like I spent $2000 of my own money on research, found out a few things, and I dropped it on ’em last winter. They didn’t like it none. We had a big fight about ammunition pouches.”
It has not yet been determined how I, as an embedded journalist, should be dressed, and after an unsatisfying spell as a civilian — sort of a wandering swell in a tricornered hat and frock coat, nodding at the troops as they pass — I enlist: on with the too-tight red-wool jacket, the hemp trousers, and the cocked hat (with green ostrich plume) of the 40th. I have no musket, so Private Derek Heidemann lends me a bright-steel sword. I have no training, either. It doesn’t seem to worry Captain Roy Najecki, one of the 40th’s founders: “Just stay behind us,” he says.
8:10 am. Sucker Brook. “There’s room further up the line if you want to get in this fight!” Captain Cameron of the Company of Select Marksmen strides between pillars of musket smoke with his curls bouncing. We have the Americans pinned at the bottom of a wooded hill, and they’re meat to us now, they’re practice: from two sides we’re reaching into them with enfilade fire, advancing in six-pace surges. Glory! We’ll chase them into the trees and slay them on that dark slope. Redden the mud, choke the roots with carnage. How rich is the eggy after-smell of used gunpowder.
At 5 am on Saturday morning we are awoken by singing. It is the Company of Select Marksmen and their womenfolk, who had set up camp next to us in the night and are now trilling through the verses of “Green Grow the Rushes-O” with terrible dawn-chorus righteousness. Based in Ontario, the CSM play loud martial fops with glossy locks and bright belt-buckles, and their commitment to authenticity is fearsome.
Water is boiling in 18th-century camp kettles; officers are having their hair coiffed into cylindrical side curls; bright-faced, bonneted women are preparing breakfast. Britches, clay pipes, sallies of period jocularity: the whole scene has the bustling and barely tolerable energy of the opening number in a musical. Two, two, the lily-white boys, dressed all in green, oh!
Hobbs, his weary head protruding from the tent-mouth, contemplates his Canadian allies.
“I appreciate what they do,” he says. “I mean, it’s hard-core. But do they have to be so fucking chipper?”
Barely a word passes all weekend between the CSM and the 40th, but some sort of mutually reinforcing dynamic seems to be at work: as the players sink into the theater of the event, the men of the 40th get grimier, war-wearier, and more sardonically introverted in direct proportion to the rising levels of dandyism and strutting entitlement exhibited by the CSM. Here, I realize, is the epicenter of British camp re-enactment energy.
Tonight, among other traditional numbers, the CSM will rebuke my attempts at sleep with top-volume performances of such time-worn classics as “Down Among the Dead Men” and “Give Me the Punch Ladle, I’ll Fathom the Bowl.”