The battle of Hastings was a big deal for me when I was at junior school, because we re-enacted it on the school playing fields. Mr Bradley used to take the boys for craft and had the bright idea of letting loose thirty or forty children with homemade weaponry bent on destruction. For weeks we forged helmets, swords, shields, axes and armour out of cardboard of varying thickness. We then painted them with authentic designs and sealed the handy work with PVA glue in case the day of judgement was inclement. Those that were more cunning in the art of war soaked their equipment in PVA until it became as strong as folded steel. We discussed the tactics of the battle itself and how we would re-enact the events whilst the home team drew lots to see who would be the unfortunate soul to play Harold. I was to be an invader, a Norman. This pleased me for two reasons, a). the kit was better looking and b). we were destined to win…..
Battle eventually came after weeks of waiting. A hill with young woodland growing upon it was chosen, as the best setting, but we were given stern warnings to keep away from the school pond and surrounding marshland, which sat at the lower portion on the hill for obvious reasons. We lined up in battle formations and on Mr Bradley’s signal we charged into action. With blood curdling war cries Harrods army ran down the hill whilst we struggled up the slope to meet them. We crashed together in a scene of utter carnage next to the school pond slap bang in the middle of the marshland. Those that fell were trampled underfoot or were unceremoniously pushed into the pond. Soldiers with PVA strengthened weaponry made short work of any contenders cutting to ribbons weeks of careful work causing fistfights to sporadically break out. All thoughts of enacting the events of the true battle of 1066 had evaporated. This was all out war and the last boy standing would be the victor. Boys turned on their own countrymen when no true enemy could be found until we eventually heard the loud shouting and whistle blowing of Mr Bradley now desperate to stop the slaughter. Limping wet and bruised back to the classroom with our heads bowed in shame at our behaviour, we were secretly delighted as to how the day had turned out. We had little left to take home and show our parents but what did that compare to a day we were unlikely to ever forget.
I doubt that today, with fears of legal action in teachers minds, whether this kind of event could take place in a school. If so, this is a great pity, as it was one of the key events that cemented my love of history and for that Mr Bradley I owe you a debt of gratitude.