Michal | WWII Reenactor Interview

1. Why did you choose your impression? 

Which one? My American, British, German, or Polish one? Every particular soldier impression I chose to portray over the years was motivated by my interests. My American G.I. was motivated by my interest in the life of an American soldier on the line and his daily struggles and challenges he had to face, while my American aviator portrayal was motivated by my daily work in the aviation industry and the love of flying. My British dispatch rider impression was on the other hand influenced by my interest of motorcycles and my purchase of a WWII veteran 1942 BSA WM20 motorcycle. On the other side of the medal is my German impression which I decided to assemble simply due to a need to familiarize myself in German equipment and the fact that I lived in Germany and spoke German. Finally my Polish Army in Exile was a product of my own Polish heritage. 

All of us reenactors invest their time and money into an impression only when they find a certain personal connection to it, from just being an American or being a Pole, to speaking a language. I don't think there are many people out there who chose a particular impression because it just looked cool, but even if they did in the beginning, eventually they found something in common with it, something that gives them a certain personal connection with it. Those who choose to portray an impression simply on the basis of it being cool usually don't stay in the hobby long. 


2. Can you tell us about your reenacting gear?

Well I could produce a long list of standard equipment used by any of the impressions used above, a verbatim copy of the manual and quartermaster supply paperwork, but it would be hardly relevant, or interesting to those just starting out, or not initiated with a particular impression. What I can tell you about my gear is that it takes me a very long time to finally decide on purchasing it. It involves meticulous research, which first begins with before mentioned manuals and quartermaster paperwork, to the analysis of period photographs, combat camera footage and memoirs written during and shortly after the war. I rarely have asked a veteran if he wore his canteen this, or that way, because many a times they simply don't remember. Those are not things that stuck in their memory, however they will gladly tell you how they obtained a chicken for Thanksgiving, or booze for New Year's, because those are the memories that stayed with them. Lastly I try to invest in original gear whenever it is not prohibiting cost wise, or I reach for the high end reproductions, rather than purchase a stop gap
cheap piece of equipment that will not last, or simply looks incredibly incorrect. I would rather put away money for three months and skip an event, or pick up time at work, rather than buy some historical atrocity and have it by next weekend. 


3. What's your favorite part of reenacting? 

That would be when a veteran tells me I am doing a good job, or a family of four thanks me for telling them more about history. Being able to use my knowledge, share it with someone, or to be noticed by a veteran are the most rewarding things in this hobby. If it wouldn't be for those things I would have never done it, I would rather just kept my collection in my house and my WWII vehicles in the garage. 


4. What group do you reenact with? 

Some groups have come and gone, but since I started I have been a member of the WWII Historical Reenactment Society, however the ones I consistently reenact with are the Hampshire Regiment
and the 9th ID 60th IR "Go Devils", I also spent a brief time in the 5th SS Wiking and the Polish Independent Parachute Brigade.

Nowadays I spend my time mostly in Europe reenacting, or touring WWII battlefields, I rarely reenact in the US anymore. 

5. What have you learned from reenacting?  

Between 2013 and 2014 I was the Vice President of the WWII Historical Reenactment Society, which put my in charge of the Safety and Authenticity committee overseeing almost 1500
reenactors. That was an intensive time for me when I had to really dive into a lot of peculiarities of the different groups and their ever different equipment as well as the hobby itself. Overall I've learned a lot from fellow reenactors about equipment, uniforms and the different life of the various units in all theaters of the war. 

That's the equipment side at least, my biggest lesson was not to limit myself to reenacting itself, it has a tendency to draw you in whereas you forget the main reasons behind the hobby, which are honoring the veterans and teaching new generations about World War II. I learned not to be absorbed by it and not live in an alternate weekend warrior universe that some of us do, ending up squabbling about gear, while ignoring spectators and kids wanting to learn more about the war. 


6. Who's your favorite WWII hero? 

All of them, pretty much every Allied service man, or woman is my hero, not only that but so many of our civilians helped win the war that, to me at least, it was a generation of heroes. 


7. What advice would you give to newbie reenactors? 

There's a few things. Choose one impression, excel at it, don't start putting together three, or four at a time when you first get into the hobby, be patient. Once you have one down and sometimes it takes years, then begin your long research for the next one. Shop around for a unit, go to an event in your civilian clothing and talk to the different groups, see how inviting they are, do they talk a lot about the equipment to people, or are they hiding in their tents and squabbling about reenactor gear. Is there a bunch of modern stuff all around the camp. You want to have the best impression, pick the best unit to do it with. The unit members will be an invaluable reference and help to you. Do your research on your impression, buy a book. I know it sounds boring, but buy a book. Let's say you want to portray a member of the 82nd Airborne, or the German Wehrmacht, there are numerous books for both. Furthermore, use the book, it is your best reference. The authors of WWII equipment books have put countless hours of research into them and they are your best friend. Sure you might think that the book is 60 dollars and you could buy equipment with that but you might end up buying the wrong equipment, or one that just looks horrible. Buy higher end equipment, don't use stop gap gear, it is really not worth it. Last but not least, be patient, this takes time and to make you feel better, you will never be a so called "expert", there aren't any. There are so many variations and peculiarities of different WWII units that it is impossible to know and remember everything. 



This is the fourth interview in my WWII reenactor interview series: 



-Emily

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