I wanted to let everyone know how my R&R leave went... Yes, I have already taken the one "rest and recuperation" leave I get while I am deployed in Iraq.
It all starts pretty silly, because again we run into Army bureaucracy and the challenges of Army-n-Air Force communications. I received a briefing that said I was supposed to report to the passenger terminal the morning that my R&R started, so I did. At which point I was told, "since most of the flights don't go out until night time, and your flight doesn't even start loading until a few minutes before midnight (which technically makes it "today's" flight), you don't have to report back here until 2000 tonight."
Wow! So I spent the first day sleeping (because I had stayed up all night getting all my last minutes things done) and reported back. At which point we were informed of various delays and cancellations and there should be a flight shortly before sunrise...
So, about 22 hours after we first reported to the passenger terminal, we eventually departed LSA Anaconda and flew down to Kuwait. Upon arrival in Kuwait, we were told "The dining facility quits serving breakfast in a few minutes, so you can either go eat breakfast in your body armour, eye armour, and helmet or you can go store all that stuff and miss breakfast..." I chose breakfast. *grin*
After spending the day in Kuwait, waiting for them to arrange our commercial flights, and asking them to change mine so I could fly through Frankfurt to London (instead of Abu Dhabi to London), we loaded buses for the Kuwait City airport. My flight departed about 0130 (yes, one-thirty in the morning). I changed planes in Frankfurt and landed in London about 0830. My friends Travis and Erica picked me up and took me to their place.
I napped for a while and spent Sunday and Monday hanging out with them. We worked out a deal so I could use their second car, saving me about 150 British pounds in car rental costs. Tuesday I went to RAF Fairford to close a checking account that Deborah and I had had to leave open so some final checks could clear. I pocketed a little over 200 British pounds, which lasted me almost the entire trip. How handy! I then drove down to Larkhill and spent the evening and night with my good friends, Keith and Tracy Brigstock. (Friends of mine from my time working at the Director Royal Artillery. They are both WW II re-enactors and he is a computer geek).
Wednesday was spent out at "Druid's Lodge" polo estate, helping Alan Larsen (aka Duke William of Normandy) prepare equipment and horses for the Battle of Hastings. Thursday, I drove down to the town of Battle, which is where the Battle of Hastings was actually fought. Battle was named after Battle Abbey, which was built by William the Conqueror after his victory. I spent Thursday afternoon putting 46 spear heads on spear shafts so we would have enough equipment for the weekend.
Friday morning was spent checking in all the various riders and issuing any needed equipment. I linked up with my horse on Friday afternoon and spent a couple hours practicing with my group of Norman knights (called a "conroi").
Saturday morning was another practice, followed by a cavalry display around noon. I was part of the conroi that was selected for the display, so I rode again. In the afternoon we were all mounted and preparing to ride over to the field when William of Normandy came over and asked me if my horse could "work independently". After telling him "yes", he told me that I was needed to be a "galloper" and run messages around the battlefield for the Infantry commander and himself. OK.
The battle was absolutely fantastic! There was an awful lot of confusion about when various Norman elements were supposed to attack or pull back or whatever, so I spent the entire battle, galloping like a madman, about the battlefield. It was great fun! I was very tired after the battle. I had dinner with some other re-enactors after everything was done and the horses were all taken care of, had one pint of beer followed by a diet coke in the beer tent, and tumbled into bed. What a day!
Sunday was bright and sunny, and William of Normandy wanted every horse we had in the cavalry display. So everyone mounted up and we put on a fantastic display. There is simply something that sends a chill down your spine when you are part of a 100 horse cavalry charge thundering up Senlac Hill, ground shaking and dirt flying! It was too cool!
As I understand it, English Heritage had to turn some folks away at the gate because there were so many folks trying to attend the event. The official numbers are somewhere just over 25,000 spectators for the weekend. It was huge, both spectators and re-enactors! We had almost 100 cavalry, about 1800 infantry between the two sides, and another 800-900 folks in the living history encampment. A little under 3,000 re-enactors.
The battle Sunday afternoon went much more smoothly because all the commanders got chewed out Sunday morning, and reminded of their history. So I didn't have to gallop around quite as much. However, that also meant that I could participate in some of the charges, and engage the Saxon line, and run down some Saxon infantry that decided to leave the line. It was great fun! My friends, Travis and Erica, showed up on Sunday and took hundreds of pictures and some video of the battle. I have already loaded a few on my website.
The following day (Monday) I met an SCA friend of mine, Elizabeth Brown, at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London to see a new exhibit on the Italian home during the Renaissance. It was very nice, but they wouldn't let us take any pictures. The catalogue is pretty cool though. We then went to the Tate Gallery to see an exhibit on Holbein in England. That exhibit was a little pricey (10 pounds) but they had a huge amount of Holbein's sketches as well as his paintings. Very nice, and another good catalogue.
Elizabeth, Travis, and I drove to Hay-on-Wye (in Wales) on Tuesday. Hay-on-Wye is the second-hand book capital of the UK. They have 38 used book stores. We only made it into five stores, so we barely scratched the surface, but I spent almost 100 British pounds and bought about 30 books. It was great!
Wednesday, Travis and I picked up two re-enactor friends (who had come over from Houston for the battle) and went out to see Corfe Castle, Sherborne Old Castle, and Sherborne Abbey. They were really nice, and the cool thing was that Sherborne Abbey had ten 15th century misericords in the quire. I hadn't known that, so it was unexpected bonus!
Thursday and Friday were spent packing things up to mail, mailing them, and hanging out. Friday evening, Travis, Erica, and I went into London to see "Mamma Mia!", which is a musical using all of Abba's hits. It was pretty good. I like Abba, so I enjoyed it.
Saturday I flew to Germany, so I could spend a couple days with my friends, Maximilian and Margerite, just outside Darmstadt. We went to another friend's birthday party on Saturday evening. It was very nice, especially because I was able to have a couple of German Oktoberfest beers! (By the way, I did have several pints of English ale while I was in the UK...)
I had a good time hanging out with them, and on Tuesday morning, Max dropped me off at the airport on his way to work. I flew back to Kuwait that afternoon. Back to the bureaucracy... Spend a day in Kuwait, waiting on the Air Force to figure out which airplanes where going to LSA Anaconda, and whether or not they had any space for passengers. I arrived in LSA Anaconda Wednesday evening, so I could jump right back into the mix on Thursday morning! Gee ... I can start looking at my several hundred emails ... get briefed on the issues that came up (and haven't been solved yet) ... do physical training, etc!
Oh, although it was still really hot in Kuwait, it has been raining in Iraq. The temperature as I got off the plane was about 75 deg F, slightly windy and moisture in the air. It has been raining almost every night, and we are starting to get standing puddles of water, so I am certain we will be knee-deep in mud pretty soon. The mud is the reason we have so much gravel everywhere, but neither on is very nice to walk on.
Many folks have asked me if it was really worth taking my R&R so early? Yes! Absolutely! It was really, really fun, although it would have been even better if my wife had been able to join me. Hmmmm. I miss her!
Peter / Terafan