The history boys reliving the First World War at Norwich Castle

PUBLISHED: 11:35 22 November 2018 | UPDATED: 12:57 22 November 2018

Bob Skinner and Jon Kempson of the Royal Norfolk Regiment Living History Group    Picture: Royal Norfolk Regiment Living History Group

Bob Skinner and Jon Kempson of the Royal Norfolk Regiment Living History Group Picture: Royal Norfolk Regiment Living History Group

Royal Norfolk Regiment Living History Group

Characters from a century ago are being brought back to life by Norfolk enthusiasts whose hobby has transformed them into military experts

Four Norfolk teenagers were so fascinated by military history they formed a re-enactment group.

Thirty years later the Royal Norfolk Regiment Living History group is still bringing the past alive.

Bob Skinner was just 15 when he, and three friends, founded the group. Today he is still involved, and will be on parade as a First World War signal sergeant at Norwich Castle this Saturday, November 24.

“A few of us were into history and we went to an event at the Muckleburgh Collection,” said Bob, who grew up in Foxley, near Reepham. “We saw a military living history group from Lincolnshire and thought ‘Lets start one up for Norfolk.’”

And what started as a hobby for boys who loved tanks and military memorabilia led to appearing at events around the country, and in films and on television. This year they were part of the critically acclaimed First World War film, Journey’s End, featuring Sam Claflin and Miles Jupp.

They also, increasingly, help families understand the real wartime experiences of relatives. And as they discovered more about the history of the Royal Norfolk Regiment they met veterans. To this day one of the last surviving officers of the regiment to have fought in the Second World War, John Lincoln, is the president of the group. He was awarded the Military Cross for exemplary leadership of his men as they fought across Europe.

The group interprets the history of the regiment from 1879 when through to 1959 when it became part of the East Anglian Regiment, eventually the Royal Anglian Regiment.

They began portraying young soldiers, but over the past few years, as they have aged, so have their characters, so that their Second World War interpretations now include members of the Home Guard and a bomb disposal unit.

Accuracy is very important. “We can’t all portray the young soldiers of Normandy any more but we like our members to be of a military bearing,” said Bob. The group regularly trains on farmland in Itteringham, near Aylsham, using genuine historic manuals, to ensure their representations of military personnel are as realistic as possible.

Bob joined the Territorial Army from school and went on to serve with the Royal Army Medical Corps, including time in Iraq. Today he works for the Ministry of Defence, but on Saturday he will be stepping back in time from his career with the modern military to become a First World War soldier.

He will be a signal sergeant at Norwich Castle, as part of the events surrounding the major exhibition Armistice: Legacy of the Great War in Norfolk, alongside women from the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, a machine gunner, an adjutant and a recruiting sergeant (who has spent the last four years dramatising the way men were recruited and conscripted to fight a century ago.)

While most of the members are men, there are women too. When the group recreate characters from the Second World War they include women in the Women’s Home Guard Auxiliary and the Land Army.

Today members range in age from teenagers to people in their 60s and Bob said: “Everyone is a dedicated military history enthusiast. Most are collectors too. Our uniforms are either original or reproductions of museum quality. It’s not cheap. My uniform is half original and half reproduction and cost around £1,500. We’re always scouting out specialist military collectors fairs and auctions as well as keeping an eye on ebay.”

However he said there is a certain amount of group kit available to new members – and they are always happy to hear from enthusiastic new recruits.

Find out more, and meet some of the people who bring the past alive, at Norwich Castle Museum this Saturday November 24 from 10.30am-3.30pm. Life During The First World War is a chance to find out what life was like for the infantry soldier from members of the Royal Norfolk Regiment Living History Group. It is part of the major exhibition Armistice: Legacy of the Great War in Norfolk which runs until January 6.

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