(This story accompanies a Wider Image photo feature here)
By Sarah Young
LONDON Aug 22 For some people fascinated by
World War One, the poppies and wreath-laying of Remembrance day
services and the commemorative events of solemn anniversaries
like this year's centenary are not enough.
Lawrence Taylor, a 55-year old businessman, is one of them.
He is part of a group of people across Britain who spend their
weekends paying tribute to the Great War fallen.
Taylor acts as a senior non-commissioned officer in the
Rifles Living History Society, a 35-strong group which stages
displays and sometimes mock action at dozens of events in
Britain and across the Channel in Belgium and France.
His interest in the "war to end all wars" began at school.
"I asked my headmaster, 'why did we win World War One?' And
he said to me 'Taylor, you stupid boy, because we had the better
soldiers and the better generals,' and that stuck with me," he
Ten years ago he decided to join the Rifles society.
The group, whose day jobs range from lorry driver to
construction manager and nurse, set up camp and get into
character, ready to provide crowds with an idea of life on the
Attention to period detail extends right down to the way men
talked to each other in the trenches.
"You have to watch (against) using modern terms like 'guys'
- it's blokes, chaps and chums," says Taylor.
When not showing visitors around the traditional army bell
tents that they erect at the camp, the group performs marching
and gas-mask drills in front of visitors, as well as mounting
displays of infantry tactics plus occasional demonstrations of
skirmishes using blank ammunition.
PASSING OF THE VETERANS
Education is all part of the hobby, says technician Corin
"A number of teachers have said to me they're grateful to us
for the way we put it across, because kids are able to see the
stuff, talk to people who know something about it, and learn
directly through access more perhaps than they could in a few
lessons," he said.
In a strange way too, the passing of the veterans has
prompted more people to ask questions of what happened.
"When I was a kid in the 70s, it was very much mud, blood
and horror. It was very much the dark side of history. There
were still so many veterans around and they didn't want to talk
about it," Watts said.
The silence of many of that generation means visitors at
events often approach the group after displays and ask questions
around what their relative's experiences might have been, Watts
He reads diaries, memories, letters and poetry to help
answer their questions.
"It was known as quite a literary war with people like
Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, famously, and at the other
end of the spectrum you've got other ranks by which we mean
non-officers, the serving soldiers," said Watts.
Part of the appeal of World War One for him is the ability
to read stories from different parts of society. Earlier
conflicts, such as the Napoleonic Wars in the early 19th
century, produced some accounts from outside the officer class
but these became more common in World War One.
One of his favourite accounts of the war, is Frank Richards'
'Old Soldiers Never Die', a former coalminer's tale of the four
years he spent as a signalman in some of the most famous battles
at Mons and Ypres.
For their displays, the Rifles are often able to use
authentic equipment but modern practicalities sometimes force
them to fall back on replicas.
Metal helmets for example, issued to soldiers from 1916
onwards, offered better protection than the cloth hats they
formerly wore, or so thought the men braving the muddy trenches
and artillery bombardments. But the helmets were lined with
asbestos, a toxic material which has since been banned in
Britain, so Taylor and his comrades opt for modified versions.
One hundred years ago, men were also about three inches
shorter, meaning men of average build today require custom-made
uniforms which cost upwards of eight hundred pounds ($1,300).
These unofficial experts in the ways of the British Army -
Taylor is familiar with 25 different War Office manuals from the
time - can portray rifleman in any of the years between 1914 and
"We owe it to that generation to keep them in people's
memories," said Taylor.
"You listen to those chaps who fought in World War One, they
all said we don't want medals, we don't want to be called
heroes, we just want to be remembered and it's as simple as
(editing by Stephen Addison)