It’s the Battle of Hastings all over again – only this time it will be fought on a school sports field.
Puketaha School principal Bob Moffit says it’s not just the students who are looking forward to the battle, which will take place on Friday December 2 – “some of the teachers are pretty keen as well.”
He himself will be in the thick of the fighting, which will involve flour bombs and rolled-up newspapers rather than swords and arrows. “At this stage, I’m not entirely sure if I will be William of Normandy or King Harold.”
It all started when an unexpected visitor turned up at the school earlier this year.
“A gentleman walked in off the road, in full Victorian military uniform. He introduced himself as Major Blunder, a long-standing member of Alf’s Imperial Army. We got talking, and he said he’d like to hold a battle at the school.”
This was the South African battle of Rorke’s Drift, 1879.
“The students dressed up as Zulu warriors, they learned various chants and carried shields, and I got to lead them against the British. It really fired them up to learn what happened and why. It was hugely successful, and we wondered about holding the Battle of Hastings.”
Alf’s Imperial Army, Northern Command, Fifth Waikato Dragoons Regiment, Officer Commanding Major Blunder took tea and cake at N8N’s Gordonton office.
He said that the famous event of 1066 is a little trickier than the Battle of Rorke’s Drift.
“There’s the little issue about the arrow in the eye, for a start. I’m sure we’ll come up with something. At Nelson’s Victory School they designed an arrow eye patch, so suddenly Harold put on this eye patch and fell to the ground, it was marvellous.”
Puketaha also is bereft of hills – “The original battlefield was on a hill, with swamps on two sides. We’ve got a somewhat flat sports field – but we’ll make that work, and will use tapes to show where the English and Norman lines are.”
Technically, he says the Normans should have more flour bombs. “Because they had more archers. It wasn’t a formal archery division, they were spread through the troops. But we might have to look at that.”
Before anyone fires a flour bomb, a short presentation will be given by the Major and his army.
“We turn up early and go around the classrooms, and talk about the battle. We tell them what happened in broad brush strokes, and don’t dumb it down, who knows what will spark someone to go off and do more research. We also make the point that this was for real – real people actually died.”
The battle itself will probably last less than half an hour. “Practically speaking, it will be a lot of fun. They always are. The kids love getting whumped by newspapers and whumping others – the parents love seeing it take place.
“We’ll gauge how the battle’s progressing, keeping an eye on the kids to make sure they’re not getting too wound up. When that happens it’s time for the Handshake Charge – you put down your weapons, charge forward and shake hands with the opposition to show there’s no hard feelings, having beaten them horribly. And of course, in these cases, both sides win.”
Major Blunder says he would be quite interested to hear from any other schools in the area who might like to take part in a similar exercise.
“But it would have to be next year now, because we’re running out of time. And we have quite a few battles coming up, including one under the auspices of the Hamilton City Libraries, which will be fought by a horde of enlistees – although one is certain there will be librarians taking part as well; no one wishes to miss out on the fun.”
For the record – being struck by a paper sword or water pistol, means you’re out for 20 seconds. If it’s a flour bomb, 40 seconds.
“Or until the nurse pats you on the head and says ‘there there, it’s only a scratch.’ The head nurse will be there, and hopefully, a senior nurse. I might even bring my daughter as well, she’s nursed in so many battles she can effectively call herself a senior nurse. Except for the fact that she’s only seven.”
- By an amazing coincidence, today is the 945th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings. Spooky, eh.