This early November Lance Corporal Mike Everest made his annual trip to one of the worlds largest independently owned trench sites built in recent years in Newville Pennsylvania. This year taking Pte Mike South as well with him, the trip would prove as always to be an intense journey of physical and psychological effect. Though still a far cry from the real trenches, Newville allows participants a step closer to the actual hell of war. Albeit in a still largely safe environment.
Newville is a closed to the public tactical event with close to a thousand re-enactors and enthusiasts occupying trench lines that stretch near a mile across the fields. While men sit in trenches waiting for the assault, mortar teams fire projectiles overhead and ground troops are strafed by fast moving aircraft. Its an intense event that takes place over the course of 18 full hours of play, with assaults, defences and trips behind through sprawling trench networks back to the aid stations and YMCA stations to get medical and spiritual attention.
This was Mike Everest’s third Newville, so a bit of an old hand at the event. But for Mike South would be his first and one of the most intense living history experiences he had ever witnessed. Falling in with our close friends in the Border Regiment, the Essex lads helped drill the new Border recruits and themselves took part in a massive training of artillery diamond formation. That evening would be the start of the ‘game’ as we headed into the line under pitch darkness. Watching gunfire light up the skies, we kept noise discipline well, and under expert command from Lt Goodell of the Borders mounted an assault on the far left of the battlefield (Some half a mile from our location. The scale of the site is immense). The night would be considered a success, on all counts. Nothing could prepare us for the day to follow though.
Straight into the lines at 9am after a moving church service in honour of a fallen group member of the GWA who were hosting us, his wife Cassie present and in period attire as a VAD was a genuinely touching moment. Nothing wakes you up like a full scale gas attack and repelling a massive assault from German soldiers coming over the top. The blood well and truly pumping we would see three major actions today. The first involving a counter attack on the left flank in which the Germans pushed hard, only to be blunted by the Borders and Essex leading a counterattack through thick gas and smoke to take 24 hostages back to the command post for interrogation.
The second a failed assault on the right in which when hastily thrown together would show what happened when discipline of an assault was lost and would show what kind of disasters would unfold. This would lead us back to the casualty station to be tended to by nurses.
The casualty clearing station scenes are always close to uncomfortable. Screaming wounded, people unable to hear properly. It really adds to the whole feel of the place.
The final attack would be at night. Essex would lead the 4th section of the platoon through the Trenches on an assault-come-raid through the enemy lines, collecting a great number of scalps while our section worked efficiently to cut a path through the enemy lines before making our way back to our own platoons. Having faired so well, we decided we would perform a mass casualty for the excellent Canadian Nurse team. Suffering a 5.9 overhead, we staggered into camp, deafened, shocked, and blasted to bits. As the bodies mounted up the rain started to fall. People slipped in mud, couldn’t record names properly and tensions ran high. Its moments like this that take us just a step closer than the average person on the street to the kernel of the Great War (though still keeping a huge distance of the chaos of the real thing). After this, the Borders and Essex would finally retire to the barrack house as the time for ‘play’ was up.
An immense, intense and often altogether perhaps too much of a barrage upon all senses was felt. We would lick wounds, read the names of the dead from both the Borders and Essex from Passchendale before turning in for the night. Another Newville completed.
Newville is intense. Beyond words. The level of dedication put in by all parties is outstanding in the extreme and continues to evolve the site and event as a whole. The Essex will be heading out en masse in 2019 with near 20 men all told. Which will be something to see for sure!
Lance Corporal Mike Everest
10th Essex (Re-created)