After last year’s automotive issues the car thankfully behaved itself to reach Broad Chalke without any problems for the 2019 Chalke Valley History Festival. The festival goes from strength to strength with another terrific schedule of talks and speakers; we went on the Sunday and started the day off with Major-General Stuart Watson, who commanded an amphibious Duplex Drive tank on D-Day, and finished with James Holland talking about Big Week, the culmination of the RAF and USAAF’s strategic efforts against the Luftwaffe in February 1944. An hour is scarcely enough to do some subjects justice; it’s always humbling listening to veterans and was fascinating hearing about training and the D-Day landings but there was no time for more on the subsequent operations of the 13th/18th Hussars, which would’ve been interesting. James Holland only just got to Big Week itself with all the (vital) background; he’s a tremendously engaging speaker, vividly bringing to life the experiences of the crew of a B-17 to open the talk. If you’re after a wide-ranging ramblechat about World War II then We Have Ways of Making You Talk, his podcast with Al Murray, is well worth a listen, there was a live episode recorded at Chalke Valley but sadly on the Saturday so I couldn’t be there.
In addition to the formal talks there’s always a packed programme of “pop-up” presentations and living history covering everything from Viking navigation to Tudor cookery to steam threshing to a re-enactment of the Battle of Trafalgar (with volunteers as ships of the line). Everything seemed very well organised this year with printed programmes, amplification for speakers, and events happening where and when they should (apart from some minor confusion over one location). Some of the demonstrations featured current soldiers of the Royal Anglian Regiment in World War II kit as their predecessors of the Suffolk Regiment, including an infantry platoon attack with the support of a Sherman tank and firing period weapons. Though many re-enactors do a fine job with uniforms and such, inevitably they tend to be a bit older than conscript infantry and not always in peak physical condition. Active soldiers lent a touch more authenticity to proceedings and allowed for some interesting comparisons between kit and tactics.
A minor disappointment was no flying display, but splendid as it always is to see a Spitfire or two there are only so many warbirds to go around the various shows. To make up for it an oversize model of a Hawker Typhoon was erected on a hill overseeing the site, and there was a stall and volunteers from the Hawker Typhoon Preservation Group who are striving to return one to flying condition, which would be something to see at a future festival, fingers crossed.
All in all a superb day, roll on 2020!