Put yourself on a war footing at Museum of Flight

The Fly Right Dance Company work on their jitterbug ahead of the wartime experience event at the National Museum of Flight. Picture: Ian Jacobs
The Fly Right Dance Company work on their jitterbug ahead of the wartime experience event at the National Museum of Flight. Picture: Ian Jacobs
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THEY were once the scourge of the battlefield, and a terrifying sight for any soldier fighting to hold his nerve – and his line – in the face of their assault.

And tomorrow visitors to the National Museum of Flight could get the chance to experience just how fearsome a cavalry charge was in the Great War, 100 years on from the First World War.

The Lancashire Hussars are ready for their “battle”, and rider Steve Baker admits the men in charge are eager to show off the awesome force of the animals in full flight.

“If we can get away with it, we’ll charge the crowd,” he said cheerfully. These days, of course, the Hussars are volunteers rather than professional soldiers, and if they do charge the crowd on their specially trained stunt horses, it will just be for effect. But it will still be quite an effect.

“If you get on the wrong side of it, the earth will move and you will quake,” says Baker. “I’ve seen people fall off their chairs watching a charge.”

Some of the horses involved this weekend took part in filming for Warhorse, and a few will come up to Scotland straight from being on the set of a BBC period drama. The reenactment is part of the Museum of Flight’s annual Wartime Experience. The former military airfield at East Fortune will be taken back to its roots with a range of historical exhibits, experiences and activities for families to enjoy.

The museum will become a living Great War community for the day “full of the sights and sounds of wartime Britain”, complete with authentic military field camp for the Hussars, a wartime canteen with ration-based food, and even First World War fashions.

Visitors be able to get a wartime haircut and have their nails done at Miss Dixiebelle’s salon, and admire vintage outfits at a catwalk show. Just the thing to get dolled up before learning some jitterbug moves and having an authentic World War One sing-along.

The food on offer will be prepared by food writer Wendy Barrie and based entirely on dishes created using Second World War rations – which led to some creative cooking.

“You would get a tiny block of butter, which made baking difficult,” says museum learning officer Adam Love-Rodgers, explaining the challenge Barrie faces. “You got a tiny piece of cheese, and you got a few rashers of bacon or equivalent.”

Love-Rodgers’ favourite World War Two “delicacy” is the banana substitute concocted after U-boats cut off Britain’s supply of tropical fruit. “You mash up parsnip because it’s quite sweet, you shape it into a banana shape, and then you add vanilla extract.”

With the anniversary of the start of the First World War later this year, the event takes on added significance.

With no surviving veterans left and dwindling numbers of people with any recollection of the conflict at all, events such as Wartime Experience play a vital role in keeping memories of the First World War alive.

Love-Rodgers stresses that the presence of the Lancashire Hussars at the event is even more accurate than you would think – World War One didn’t begin until August 1914, so if you were travel a century into the past you would find Europe gearing up for war. At the time, most people thought that the fighting would be over quickly, and that cavalry would play a central role like that had in previous conflicts. Instead, the western front was a four- year stalemate in the mud of the trenches, with terrible loss of life on both side and few of the dramatic cavalry charges that will be on display.

Finding themselves obsolete, the likes of the real Lancashire Hussars went looking for another adventure.

“A lot of cavalry officers, looking for something equally dashing and daring, went into the newly formed Royal Flying Corps to become pilots, because they thought it was similarly dangerous,” says Love-Rodgers.

On Sunday, thankfully, the only real danger will be the World War Two bananas.

The Wartime Experience, at the National Museum of Flight, East Fortune, runs from 10am to 5pm tomorrow. Cost: Adult £11/ £9, Child £6 (under-5s free) Family (2 adults, 2 children) £29.00.