In which I blog about my miniature wargaming and whatever else takes my interest!

In which I blog about my miniature wargaming and whatever else takes my interest!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Playing in the dirt with the Army Cadets

We try and do a year end trip to wrap up each training year with the cadets. As much fun as we can get within what's left of the budget, and maybe they can learn something too. This year we went to visit Robin Barker-James, a retired history teacher who has a barn full of artifacts and memorabilia (mostly WW1 era) near Tillsonburg ON, and he has taken to digging trenches in his fields for visiting school groups to get a bit of insight into the Western Front.

Part of his collection

He has quite the varied menu of activities to choose from, so you can customize your visit to your group and their interests/strengths. He was also a drama/English lit teacher so school groups can do dramatics as well as trench raids, casualty clearing and battlefield archaeology. For some community service/team building and a re-enactment of WW1 Fatigue Parties, we helped him build a set for an upcoming drama group.

Fatigues, an essential part of the Western Front experience.

He also demonstrates the basics of bayonet drill (with a Ross rifle), and has some unique 'rock-paper-scissors' rules worked out so the kids can bayonet duel without actually coming into contact and knocking any one's teeth out with their wood and plastic tube dummy rifles.
Bayonet course

Non-contact bayonet duel

We then moved onto some fun living history activities. This involved a lot of lobbing dummy grenades made from foam and duct tape at each other and generally having a good time. First they took turns clearing each other out of the village we had just built.

"German" bombers with buckets of dummy stick grenades

Defending a house
Then we had a couple of trench battles. The defenders had two bombs each and the attackers had two 'bombers' equipped with pails of bombs (about 2 dozen per pail) plus a Lewis gun. They quickly learned that with the bunkers, switchbacks and barricades, the bombs were the most useful weapon. When someone got eliminated they had to go to the end of the line, but slowly in each game the attackers worked their way down the trench, clearing each position. One battle, for a particularly large and complex trench system, bogged down when the attackers lost their bomb buckets to a lucky grenade throw!


Waiting for the attack

Nice trench, just needs more mud and rats

Defending a barricade

Attackers moving up
Then on Sunday after getting our tents dried out and folded up, the cadets did a bit of battlefield archaeology. Our host had buried some of his artifacts in dirt and the cadets got to go find them and then try and figure out the story they revealed.

Cadets, playing in the dirt.

Trench art

Remains of a French rifle

An old helmet
Soldier's pipe
It was quite an enjoyable weekend and the cadets had a lot of fun playing what we used to call 'silly buggers' when I was a cadet. Even though I was standing up on the ground helping declare who was a casualty during the trench battles, I still got some interesting insights into trench warfare and it's unique difficulties and tactics required. So even though there wasn't any mud or rats or stink, the venue can still provide some good lessons into WW1.

To arrange your own visit, you can email Mr. Robin-Barker James at

1 comment:

  1. very interesting. certainly looks both educational and fun. I once dug a trench in the garden, parents didn't like it and it therefore never got as big as I wanted it to get.