In reenacting, just like in the real army, being drilled is a part of life
But I’m talking about drill. Manual-of-Arms. Here’s the thing about drill – it’s important. For one, the British army was pretty much bar-none. They were a small army because they mostly did not conscript, but they were GOOD. And, stationed in the Colonies and awaiting orders, they had nothing to do but drill. So they knew what they were doing in the field. If we don’t drill, we’re going to look sloppy and that’s just a poor representation of the people we’re trying to honour. Sloppy is for the militia.
(Love you, militia friends! You know I’m just teasing. No need to target me in your next bayonet charge, right? ….Right?)
Also, no joke, it can save your life. In the middle of a battle you get lots of commands shouted at you, simultaneously and confusingly. But if you know your drill and can respond instinctively to orders, it could keep you from getting yourself or someone else hurt. I talked with my Captain recently about how in a battle rankers really kind of have blinders on. You know your mates are on either side of you, you know the enemy’s in front of you. But honestly, there’s very little time to take notice of everyone else. Often, the officer or the serjeant will see things you just don’t. And it’s not because you’re not paying attention – it’s that you’re paying attention to your own self and your own weapon. When you’re a private, that’s largely all you need to know.
Drill is important. And often, unfortunately, there’s not enough time for it. We’re not the actual army – it’s not our job to sleep all night and drill all day. My regiment has members in so many different states and with such a wide variety of jobs that it’s nearly impossible to find time when we’re all available to get together and practice. So usually we are relegated to practicing at the events themselves. Also, it’s an impressive show for the public as they walk through camp.
There is this curious phenomenon that I’m sure probably every reenactor has experienced at some point. I consider myself a decent driller. I joke about being a klutz, but 13 years of dance left me pretty well coordinated. I nitpick myself when I drill because I know the basics so I work on perfecting myself. How I transition from one form to another. Hand placement. Crispness of movement. Erectness of barrel.
And then, every once in a while, my brain plays a terrible trick on me. I have no explanation for it other than a misfiring of neurons. I’ll be told to go to Advance and instead I’ll try to go to Order. Or I’ll mistake Search Arms for Secure Arms.
Or, gods forbid, Right Face when I’m supposed to turn left.
It’s embarrassing. And I have no explanation for it. I heard the Serjeant give the command. My body moved. It just didn’t do what it was supposed to. Granted, when you’re thinking fast and different commands sound similar (such as Search vs. Secure), it’s understandable to spaz out every once in a great while. But those times I’ve faced the wrong way, or tried to wheel the wrong way, it’s just mortifying. I know my right from my left (and I know my stage right from my stage left, which may be part of the problem…) But sometimes the polarity just…reverses. And I find myself staring someone in the face instead of at the back of a head when I turn. With absolutely no explanation
If you’re curious as to what all of this is supposed to look like, click the link below to see my Captain and my Corporal performing the ’64 Manual-of-Arms. (fun fact: I was the one behind the camera calling the commands, but my Captain had the good sense to cover that nonsense up with music).