This is a piece I posted today on the Facebook Page of a cavalry unit I command.
Thanks to the mini Beast from the East we had to cancel the training planned for today. So no photos of our members in their nice new stable jackets and overalls with brand new sabretaches and sheepskins.
Instead I thought I’d write a few words on the subject of authenticity.
In the re-enactment world in general, mention authenticity and people immediately think about kit, uniforms, accoutrements and the like, or material culture to use the museum professional term. Now, we are going to some lengths to achieve the highest standards that we can in this area, and along the way we have received generous assistance with their knowledge from many people, Sean Phillips and Ben Townsend to name but two. We have also done a fair bit of research ourselves, with some fairly esoteric discussions as a result. Some things that we would like to know about have remained complete mysteries. There is very little surviving kit from light dragoons of 1812-15 and the official records are not always very illuminating. And then getting the kit made, and made well, has not been easy. Here I must mention Paul Durrant and Angela Essenhigh who have been of tremendous help. We have persevered and believe we have achieved the best possible.
But I also believe, and have done for many years, that there is a lot more to the overall authenticity of a re-enactment group than the standards of kit. There is also how things are done. By this I mean using the correct drill and executing it efficiently and smartly. And not just parade ground drill. There are what might be called general operational procedures, how your unit conducts itself in all that it does. This too, requires considerable research. Simple questions like how did a small patrol cater for itself, or just how do you wheel by threes, and what is the difference between a fixed pivot and a sliding pivot, are important if you want to get it right.
Which brings us to what I consider to be the third authenticity. This is having the correct numbers for what you are doing. A squadron was the smallest battlefield formation for cavalry, about 120 all ranks. No re-enactment group is going to achieve that. But what can be done is the small patrol, of an officer, sergeant and six to twelve men. And this is just the sort of numbers often involved in the day to day petit guerre of the Peninsula War. It is also the sort of minimum number needed to properly demonstrate the drill.
A good unit, as I hope we will be, has all these things in balance. Too much emphasis on kit results in excessive expense which in turn makes recruitment difficult. Too few numbers and you can’t actually do anything that resembles what light cavalry in the Peninsular did. And if you don’t how they did things and if you can’t replicate it, you are merely riders in very expensive fancy dress.
It is our aspiration to achieve all three authenticities in balance
Finally, it also necessary to remember that we do this for fun, for enjoyment, for pleasure. Which is not to say that we do not take things seriously, we do. But we also know have to have a good laugh, often at ourselves.