Page last updated 27th November 2013
If you are attracted to the
re-enacting scene, the first thing to decide is whether you just want to
wear a uniform to look smart at Forties dances, or whether you want to
accurately portray a military character, either as an individual or part
of a living history group. If it's the former, then near enough is
probably good enough - nobody's going to pay too much attention to your
kit in the dim light of a dance-hall. In which case, pick a uniform that
you find appealing and is readily available in your size. But if serious historical
re-enacting is your aim then accuracy and authenticity are essential. This
means learning your subject thoroughly to give you a proper understanding
chosen uniform, its badges and insignia. It's unsurprising that most
serious re-enactors are also very keen amateur military historians and who
know their stuff.
Assuming that you have
chosen to follow the path of serious re-enacting, you must now decide what
persona you will adopt. That is to say, in whose armed forces (British,
US, etc), in which branch of service (Army, Navy, Air Force, etc), in what
capacity (aircrew, infantry, etc), in what rank (which grade of officer or
enlisted man), and so on, which will determine your uniform, badge and
insignia requirements. These are all fundamental choices that will have to
be made. Paragraphs 3 & 4
below may help to narrow the wide range of choices for you.
Choose a persona that is age-appropriate. It is a fact of life that
the majority of re-enactors are fairly senior in years, and often older
than the military character they are portraying. However, most re-enactors
do manage to put on a fairly convincing act. But there are limits. How
many grey-haired RAF fighter pilots flew in the Battle of Britain? Not
many, I venture, but there were certainly quite a number of older senior RAF
officers who were qualified pilots from between the wars. How many
sixty-year-old G.I.s stormed ashore on D-Day? None? But there certainly
were senior commanders and staff officers of advanced years on the
beaches. Pick a service and rank that fits with your physical appearance -
age normally equates to seniority in the armed forces.
Apart from the examples I have just given, the Royal Navy also had older
experienced officers in frontline service
throughout WW2. Or there is always the Home
Guard if you are of a certain age and don't fancy being an officer. Unless
you really do believe you can carry it off successfully, leave the Airborne or
Commandos to the growing number of younger re-enactors on the scene. For example, I am not a young man anymore, so I deliberately chose to be a USAAF
colonel because this fits with my apparent age. The normal pre-WW2 retirement age
for US Army officers was sixty-four years, but this was relaxed during the
war. So my age fits perfectly well with the armed service and rank that I
chose to adopt.
Choose a persona consistent with your physical appearance. RAF fighter
pilots simply did not sport beards during WW2, nor usually did paratroopers of the
101st Airborne. But Royal Navy personnel certainly did. If you have a
beard then go as a naval officer. Or shave it off. Similarly, if you are
very generously proportioned then you are unlikely to be very convincing
kitted-out as a lean, mean fighting machine - be a staff officer
instead, or a quartermaster. Not very warlike, perhaps, but 'they also serve . . .' as the saying goes.
Create a credible 'cover story' for your chosen persona and commit it to
memory. Members of the public have an
inconvenient habit of
asking all manner of potentially embarrassing questions when they see you dressed in WW2
uniform, so you need to be mentally prepared with all the right answers.
As an example, here is my own
The question of wearing medal
ribbons is a somewhat contentious one. Some maintain that if you didn't earn them
then you shouldn't wear them. But another point of view suggests that, if
the character you are portraying would have worn medal ribbons then, in
the interests of authenticity, you should wear them too. I personally believe
that, as long as the ribbons worn are consistent with the history of your
character, then it is proper to do so.
If wearing medal ribbons, do make sure that they are mounted in the
correct order of precedence (check online guides) and that the reason for their award is understood.
Similarly, the various badges and insignia worn should be absolutely
correct and their meaning known. To avoid unfortunate embarrassment, and
to correctly answer any questions asked by the public at Forties events,
it is necessary to do some homework. We have added a bibliography page to this site which recommends
specific books for those who wish to properly research their chosen
uniform or costume. There are also some excellent websites that deal with
the subject of medals and insignia (see our links page).