New book A Re-enactor’s War (John Leete, The History Press Ltd) explores what inspires, moves and motivates re-enactors of all ages and backgrounds, and their close relationships with the veterans and people they seek to honour.

Reminiscences of the Home Front from evacuation to the Blitz and beyond and new interviews with re-enactors are brought together to pay homage to a time that we must always remember. We’ve met up with author John Leete to talk about his own interest in the Home Front and re-enacting and the important role  re-enacting plays  in the way we remember history.

QueensOfVintage: Tell us a little about yourself and your interest in re-enacting?

John Leete (pictured): I cannot say for certain exactly when I became interested in History or indeed the History of the Home Front. I guess there were incidents that alone meant nothing, but when pooled, well, maybe the signs of such interest were there from a very early age.

For example, as a child visiting relatives in London, I used to join some of the local children on treasure hunts during which we would explore air raid shelters, dig up spent cartridges and discover tin helmets and small items such as buttons and cap badges.

Years later I was fascinated by pill boxes still in situ on many roadsides and in fields and then later still I had the opportunity to visit what was then a recently discovered underground ‘command post’

I wasn’t that much of an academic at school, my first jobs after leaving school were not that exciting, but it’s when I started my career in Journalism that I was able to spend time researching many subjects, including History. The history of the Home Front particularly resonated with me, not least because I had family members who were able to share their personal experiences, London and other major cities still had derelict areas, that is, cleared former bomb sites and I was able to visit former WW2 airfields, many of which were being used for commercial aviation, as industrial sites or storage depots. So there was ample and tangible evidence of the people’s war here on the streets and in towns, cities and the countryside of Britain. I was hooked.

QoV: What made you write ‘A Re-Enactor’s War’?

John Leete: My first book about the Home Front was published in 2004 and I subsequently wrote three other titles on the same subject, but on different aspects. I have been a re-enactor for 22 years during which time I have gained what I believe to be a good insight into this community. Like all communities, it does draw in people whose aims and objectives are at an extreme to that of the majority. Some use re-enacting as an opportunity to ‘show off’, others to throw their weight around, and other’s still, to pursue personal agendas. Again like any community, re-enacting has its fair share of politics and opposing factions.

I became involved in re-enacting to learn more about wartime history, to meet and talk with veterans, to pass on the knowledge I gained to public audiences.

Re-enactor at the War & Peace Showiences and for the camaraderie of being part of a community of like-minded people.

During the past five or so years, I have been aware of growing concern amongst the rank and file of re-enactors about the factions that seem to be involved in the ‘hobby’ for reasons other than remembering the wartime generation and making sure we carry forward their legacy. More and more I hear complaints and concerns expressed about some individuals and some groups who are, it is claimed by many, to be giving re-enacting a bad name.

Having been involved in organising events myself and having made some excellent contacts with major venues and organisations that work with re-enactors, I fully understood the need for re-enactors to present and maintain a good standard of portrayal, free of any personal agendas and dubious objectives. Therefore I wanted to make sure that re-enacting and the vast majority of re-enactors were recognised for the very real contribution they make towards Education and Remembrance.

I had already started to research the book when I was asked to pull together a team of 100 Home Front re-enactors for a major fundraising event at a prestigious venue. I was given just 12 weeks to deliver on this invitation. Every re-enactor was personally invited simply to ensure we drew in people that would work well as a team, would be resourceful and would be comfortable dealing with the public as well as the many Veterans, Serving Personnel, Chelsea Pensioners, TV personalities and VIPs. The event was a huge success and the organisers paid tribute to the significant contribution made by the re-enactors.

I started writing the book within a few days of receiving feedback. My aim was simple, to explain the value of living history in terms of keeping our heritage alive, educating today’s generation by drawing on the knowledge that re-enactors gain when researching their portrayals and talking to veterans and last, but not least remembering those that experienced first-hand, life under fire during the long years of WW2.

Read on!

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