Burnley pyrotechnic king hoping that war re-enactment goes with a bang

A Burnley pyrotechnics king and a battle strategy expert are the brains behind a Second World War battle re-enactment group that will be making a massive splash at a seaside 1940s festival next month.

Tuesday, 3rd April 2018, 1:24 pm
Updated Tuesday, 3rd April 2018, 1:31 pm
The re-enactors take aim

Businessman Tom Craig ensures that the supercharged displays performed by North West Military Collectors group (NWMIL) go like clockwork, while his fellow enthusiast Stuart Marsh plots the moves.

As part of the group’s explosive exhibition at the Colwyn Bay Forties Festival in North Wales on April 21st they plan to submerge a controlled incendiary in a lake in the town’s main park, carefully timed to erupt in the water mid-battle.

The re-enactment group was a bumper hit at last year’s Forties Festival and the members are looking forward to returning to the crowd-pulling two day pageant, which celebrates Colwyn Bay’s strategic war-time role in keeping Britain fed, when the Ministry of Food set up its HQ in the town’s hotels.

Some of the group

Children from Burnley, Manchester and Merseyside were also evacuated to the Welsh coast to avoid German bombing raids.

Members of NWMIL go to great lengths to kit themselves out with authentic uniforms and battle gear, spending hard earned savings to look the part.

Health and Safety training is essential for all members as they carry live weapons, although fire blank ammunition. Guns and full kit are heavy, requiring immense stamina to carry – just as it did for Second World War troops – and many re-enactments take place on rough terrain.

Tom, the owner of Burnley electronics company RGS Electrical, said: “These are not fancy dress but the real deal. It can take several years to build up a collection of kit including weapons, helmets and other militaria.”

On patrol

Dressed as a private in the US 2nd Rangers, Tom was drawn into the group by a late friend.

He added: “This was never something I imagined myself doing but I went to a few events, enjoyed them and became fascinated. That was three years ago, now I’m their lead pyro man.”

He attended an FX training course in Dewsbury to gain his pyrotechnics competency certificates and now helps plan manoeuvres involving explosives such as those which will be showcased at Colwyn Bay.

Group founder and chairman Peter Hall from Flintshire in North Wales said: “We work hard to replicate battle scenes that are realistic, to honour the memory of those who served in the likes of Normandy, Dunkirk and Arnhem. All our members have a keen interest in military history, especially the Second World War. We’ve huge respect for the men and women who fought through those times.

Some of the group

“Most of us have the uniforms of our US allies, mainly because they are less heavy and less itchy than the British Army uniforms of that time. You’ll see three main squadrons: the Rangers, 82nd Airborne and the Armoured regiment. But we’ve also got a smaller platoon of Germans and even a Polish Partisan. They’re all genuine uniforms purchased to maintain our reputation for authenticity and most of us have spent a considerable chunk of savings on them.”

This year’s Forties festival, on the weekend of April 21-22nd, features full-sized replicas of a Spitfire and a Hurricane, with the town invaded by fans of the era, dressed in vintage style. Plus there will be displays of military vehicles, Llandudno’s tram and war-time weapons along with heritage tours. Colwyn Bay’s streets will host performances by Forties style performers plus local food producers, wartime ephemera and nostalgia items.

An evening of dance and music, Ballroom Blitz on Saturday April 21st, takes place at the Barn in Zip World Stadium in Eirias Park, and features DJ Malcolm Murray, vintage singer Clara Bloom and the Ukulele Party Band with Reflections.

On patrol