Last weekend was the annual WWII reenactment that we attended and I thought I would share with you some pictures of the event. This weekend event has been going on in the spring at the historic Jefferson Barracks for over 30 years now, and it was especially perfect weather to make it even more enjoyable this year. Almost every one out of 6 years is terribly cold, muddy and rainy! This time it was balmy with a clear sky. We met some new, wonderful people and there was a good turnout. My 5 year old had a blast.
I had two different outfits for the two days, each of them half me-made, and both definitely worth sharing. These outfits are something you don’t see every day! To have a change of pace from my ‘normal’ posts, this one will be picture heavy with the traditional history nuggets.
For Saturday I was a British Women’s Land Army girl and my hubby was an Army 2nd Lieutenant Engineer. Both of our jackets are true vintage. My pants are the ones I blog about here (from 1943), tucked into the reproduction “Rosie” boots from Royal Vintage shoe company. By me wearing these military style “Double Buckles” boots, I am reenacting a Land Girl which would be doing other chores than farming, such as at a “Lumber Jill” part of the forestry division called the “Timber corps”. The girls who worked in the fields often had tall black rubber “Wellington” boots (galoshes).
The British Women’s Land Army (WLA) was a British civilian organization created during the First and Second World Wars so women could work in agriculture, replacing men called up to the military. Women who worked for the WLA were commonly known as Land Girls. Even though the word “army” is in the title designation, it was actually a civilian organization. Before the Second World War, Britain had imported much of its food. When war broke out and U-boats were destroying many merchant ships bringing supplies to Britain from America, it was necessary to grow more food at home and increase the amount of land in cultivation. Since many active and healthy men were joining the military, women were needed to fill their shoes and more. The WLA continued in existence even after the war had ended, as food rationing continued until 1950 when it was disbanded. During the time of its work, the WLA had provided 90,000 women to work on the land and had kept Britain in food for the duration of the war. Though Britain had rationing, no-one actually starved during this time – a testament to the work done by the WLA. (Info from here, here, and here.)
However, the details to this original jacket share their own interesting story. It is quite the sturdy garment, made of a heavy cotton twill, but it was obviously made in a hurry. Many of the seams are not flat felled properly, the way the raw edges hang out in random spots. The top stitching is a bit wonky, and some of the bobbin thread to the machine sewing did not catch properly. Now, I am not criticizing, just seeing all of this as a sign that probably resources were low, time was short, and these garments were sorely needed! The hem is surprisingly interlock stitched…yes, just like modern serging. My jacket is quite shorter than what I see on women in old pictures of WLA work, so I’m supposing that my jacket might have been hemmed at a more modern date – I’m not sure. I do love how old extant garments have so much to teach and to tell. There’s a story in every stitch.
One of the most practical details to this jacket that I love is the removable buttons. They are very basic buttons indeed. They seem to be formed plastic, in a military olive color, with a pin through the middle which has a loop at the back. This way a round jump ring can keep the buttons’ pin backs in the tiny button holes down the left front of the jacket. The cuffs have the same removable buttons, too. For all the practicality that these show, I am sort of surprised that the belt is not made to be removable. It is sewn down at the center back. I must admit, this way I suppose the belt will not get lost or shift around on the garment. What she is wearing should be the last concern for a Land Girl to get her jobs done!
For the second day of the event – Sunday – I wore a Women’s Army uniform that is admittedly not perfect, as it is still a work-in-progress, but decent enough for the day. My skirt is a lovely cotton twill straight skirt made by me from a 1946 pattern for a suit set that I have made, just not yet blogged about. However the jacket has not so authentic roots. This began as a basic, cheap reproduction that fit me decently well, and was close enough to the real thing in style lines that I figured I could just use the matching skirt to cut up and refashion more jacket details such as pocket flaps, an extra back bodice panel, and shoulder epaulettes. I even added shoulder pads. The details of a real women’s Army jacket are all there, as I believe.
My left shoulder badge is for the Army Ground Forces – a unit established with a mission to provide units properly trained for combat operations, especially organizing of task forces for special operations. Army Ground Force personnel made over 40 major landings on enemy shore and accounted for nearly 80 percent of the Army’s battle casualties, while capturing over 3 million prisoners. Women were part of the Army Ground Forces (AGF) – frequently assigned to Armor and Cavalry schools as radio mechanics, they took care of requisitions involving radio equipment, repaired and installed radios in tanks or other vehicles, and even trained men in code sending and receiving (info from here).
At some point, if I do more reenacting or if a women’s Army jacket in my size happens to cross my path at a good price, well – I plan on ditching this repro version for the real thing and using this imitation as an Agent Peggy Carter uniform, like what she wore in the “Captain America: The First Avenger” movie. I can totally see Peggy being a part of the Army Ground Forces, anyway, especially since she was excellent at code breaking. Until I find a real-deal uniform, I realize I need some more pocket buttons, and some appropriate lapel pins (I left Peggy Carter’s SSR pins on, sorry I’m not sorry!) to be at a WWII event.
Trying to do dedicated, full out authentic reenacting on a budget can be hard and time consuming. It is worth doing right, though, because this is more than fun…it’s sharing history and retelling what happened to others by putting yourself in a place back in time. By either participating or attending a re-enactment is a very special way to learn history that makes what is read in books come to life!