Halfpenny at War

21st May 2012

Halfpenny Green Airport at the southern tip of south Staffordshire is home to flying clubs and local business aircraft, amongst others. Scroll back seventy years and the picture was very different. With the original buildings, control tower and hangars, this is a great backdrop for a living history weekend set in the 1940s. Drive through the entrance and a US Army military policeman directs you past the single storey buildings, outside of which were staff cars and troop vehicles.

You don’t have to be a military historian to appreciate the event, just have an interest in that period. As there are many films and television series set around this time, events like this are good for getting the real picture. There were Land Girls, the US army, British camps, German Army encampments, Luftwaffe personnel, RAF operations room, civilians and entertainers, not to mention a multitude of well looked after period cars, trucks, motorcycles and jeeps. There could also have been spies and double agents, but how would you know unless they blew their cover? You could even experience a flight in a DeHavilland Rapide biplane.

The volunteers in period uniform and costume were happy to talk about the bit of life that they were representing, and indeed be photographed. The details of a soldier’s weapons, their uniforms and day to day reality are all part of it. For example, a full magazine in a sub machine gun would empty in five seconds or less makes the unlimited supply of ammunition seen in films appear silly. Hitler didn’t like the term sub machine gun, preferring to call them machine pistols. The Sten gun was a cheap and simple device, but did its job effectively which is what mattered. Used by many including the French resistance, it was capable of removing the fingers and thumbs of a less than careful user. The folding stock 0.3 calibre rifle used by US paratroops was easier to handle while descending, but opened up ready to use once landed. Spare magazines were held in the metal frame stock.

The uniforms and other paraphernalia are accurate reproductions, but many of the weapons field telephones, radios, and personal items on display in the encampments are genuine. Some items may have seemed a little out of place, for example a British shovel in a German tent. However, this would occur, as a captured shovel is just as useful and arguably more manageable to carry being a little shorter. There’s always something new to learn. One thing I had always found rather strange looking were the life vests warn by Luftwaffe bomber crews. The vests were filled with kapok which swells with water and becomes buoyant, so there was no need for an inflation system. That’s neat. The bomber crews used the city lights of Dublin (Eire was neutral) as the signal to turn right and head off to bomb Liverpool.

Civilian life was not forgotten either, with wartime entertainment and domestic aspects also on display – the everyday things away from the battlefield, clothes and items in the home.

Below are some images from the event. More images can be seen in this gallery.

A Buick 8 American staff car

A US Army truck - not sure how authentic the bright green bungee cord is

The Americans like to decorate their aircraft

A German Officer

A soldier from the German Field Army Police

A sargeant from the 2nd Battallion Royal Warwickshire Regiment

A Luftwaffe bomber crew member

A Luftwaffe bomber crew member

The British cooking lunch

A British Army officer

A typewriter in the German camp with a report from the field.

Inside a tent of the German Field Army Police

A soldier of the German Field Army Police

A farmer as part of the Land Army

All text and images © Keith Rowley 2012

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