The War and Peace show held at the Hop farm in Kent is the worlds largest military vehicle ‘festival’ and it doesn’t disappoint.
I was five minutes early of my alarm this morning, an unusual scenario but one that was met by a fair amount of pride in the fact that I had kept my word and not overslept. However, this sudden rush of emotion did not affect my decision to snooze it and grab myself and extra twenty minutes of sleep before I knew I’d start running out of time. Half ten was the deadline and it was fast approaching as I eventually stumbled out of bed and into the bathroom. Luckily half ten came and went and it was apparent that my good friends who had agreed to take me along today had encountered some kind of delay and I was more than prepared by the time of their arrival.
The sun was out and I couldn’t think of better weather for the occasion, that was until the traffic began to take hold not 3 miles away from where we wanted to be. The situation in the car suddenly mimicked that of a sauna full of tired and bored business men and the frustration of the miles of traffic became intense, though the three of us managed to make light of an otherwise uncomfortable climate and were never bored.
The War and Peace show held on the hundreds of acres of the Hop farm in Tunbridge wells, Kent is claimed as the worlds largest and most spectacular military vehicle ‘festival’ and it certainly doesn’t disappoint, if you’re into that. The size of this event becomes clear at least 2 and a half miles before you even reach the car park as beyond that milestone you suddenly become bombarded with the sounds of distant gunfire, Messerschmitt’s and spitfire’s soaring above your head and when the view from the road is clear a sea of big tops, trailers, caravans and tanks engulfs the huge fields in what could very easily be, minus the big tops, a scene from atop a hill in 1940′s occupied France.
After arriving and paying the entrance fee to receive our wristbands we walked through the gates and observed the new world we had stumbled into. It was like walking through a wormhole and emerging on the other side in the middle of an allied military base. Thousands of people from all over the world donning all kinds of military apparel, from German SS uniforms to the leaf covered ghillie suits of the British SAS. “Jesus,’ I thought ‘I thought I was hot, look at that poor bastard”.
The guy was visibly uncomfortable, but he endured with determination of a drunk trying to slide his foot back into a rogue shoe, an admirable act of passion for his chosen pursuit but I couldn’t help feeling sorry the guy, surely there was some kind of vest he could model instead? something a little more weather friendly? Suddenly a beer was thrust into my hand and all feelings of sympathy for the poor ghillied up bastard evaporated. As we walked around the masses of stalls and tents I soon began to realise that this wasn’t just a giant show and tell. These people lived and breathed this kinda stuff, all around there were people not just showing their antique collections to anyone that passed by, but educating them on the history and the impact said item had on the conflict it was part of.
It was like walking into a giant open air museum where everybody was both a tour guide and a gift shop sales assistant, show enough interest in what they had to say and pretty soon you’d find yourself haggling the price of something you didn’t want In the first place, be it a hitler youth knife, an old spent mortar shell or a full size deactivated LKG light machine gun with a tripod mount. Or at least they claimed it was deactivated..
After about an hour of investigating around the stalls we decided to see if there were any displays being put on and after more walking we found the field where a medium sized convoy of armoured personnel carriers from all era’s were lined up in a row with their crew sat aboard just watching, the observed observing the observer’s. Walking amongst these monster vehicles was a short red faced guy with the kind of beer belly even the military would have trouble turning into the ripped body of a trained killer. The little toad was pacing between a machine gun mounted 4×4 and a giant Jeep personnel carrier spitting out of dates and specs about the cars into the microphone he kept glued to his fat red face.
We decided that this display was not quite as exciting as we had been led to believe and soon after arriving we were on our way back to the stalls. The weather had been growing steadily hotter since our arrival and was now at the point where all the mud on the surface of the cracked and chewed up ground had dried but the soil underneath was still noticeably soft which made for an interesting sensation whenever you were to take another step on it, balance was a pipe dream only for those optimistic enough to think they could achieve it.
The rest of us opted for speed instead of grace and made our way across the sponge ground the way drunks stumble to the door of the bar, trying to avoid as many people in our way as possible.
It was a bizarre sight to behold an old man dressed to look as if he’s just won the lead role in a production about the third Reich, another man probably in his late twenties wearing nothing but modern military trousers and boots and a woman in full motorcycle gear all standing around sharing gin and tonics and talking about Harley Davidson bikes. After a few more hours I spotted a large samurai sword with a matte black wooden sheath and japanese engravings down the side that for some reason I felt compelled to buy, So I did.