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Home > Theatrical Casualties – Julian Tilbury

Our major battles suffer from a distinct lack of theatrical casualties. No matter how many pike engagements are fought, or shots fired, the piles of dead and dying never seem to accumulate. While not claiming the effects of C17th weapons were that devastating, or that English Civil War battle casualties were a very high proportion of the troops deployed, they were a dam sight higher than ours, especially at the short ranges we engage at.

We seem to have two armies of super men, largely immune from both physical damage from pike or musket, and from fear. Hardly anybody is ‘killed’ and hardly any units route. By route, I don’t mean a grudging withdrawal after the full time whistle, but a unit disintegrating, gripped by trouser browning terror, and its members running for their lives until they disappear over the horizon. Those few theatrical casualties that we get leave a lot to be desired as well. If you get shot with a 11/4 oz ball of lead traveling at 500 miles an hour, the momentum will kick you backwards off your feet, not let you to crumple gently forwards. No, I am not being fair – it’s better to die without momentum than not to die at all! I should reserve venom for that other event, the ‘miraculous spontaneous resurrection’. You know the one, the guy who has done the spectacular death right in front of the audience, and is lying slap bang in the middle of the two armies, who then decided, after two minutes, that he is bored, and suddenly springs to his feet and tears back to his unit. Look, even Jesus took two days to get over being killed, and he was the son of God! The other embarrassments are the ‘curious casualties’. Again, you know the ones – the guys who get bored of lying around in a heap, and prop themselves up on their elbows to watch the rest of the battle. Yes, I know playing dead is boring, but if you are going to do something, why not do it properly? If we were prepared to take turns playing casualties, any one person would not need to give up that much ‘dead time’, when averaged over several seasons, for the society to show acceptable ECW casualty rates. It may be unfortunate for someone who is ‘killed’ by the opening salvo of a battle, but then he should not expect to be a ‘casualty’ again for several seasons.

I suppose the only things worse than the people who won’t play dead, are the morons who screw it up for those who will. Again, you know the ones – the pompous officer who runs out of toy soldiers to play with, because they are all ‘dead’ and shouts ‘Get up you lazy b$£!s, and reform’, or the ‘looting clown’ who removes the shoes of the ‘dead’, but can’t resist tickling their feet. Just a little joke – except it totally blows the theatrical effect for the ‘corpse’ who has been patiently trying to lie still for 20 minutes. Then you have the ‘silly sadists’ who just smile and giggle, or gleefully shout ‘Can I put him out of his misery?’, in response to a ‘wounded’ comrade groaning in ‘agony’. Finally, there is the ‘bash brigade’, who insist on having a rugby scrum just where a ‘corpse’ has decided to rest. By some miracle there is always a ‘spontaneous resurrection’!

Some, of course, have their heart in the right place, but still manage to give the wrong impression , for instance, the suicidal officer who shouts ‘Take casualties!’ at the top of his voice, right in front of the audience. This may be fine for C17th Japan, but a little dubious for England!

To easy the problem of allocating ‘casualties’ we could borrow an idea from the American Civil War Society. They are issued with one red cartridge in their ammunition, and when they draw it, their time is up on the next enemy shot! (No, I don’t know how to apply this to Pikemen.). To relieve the boredom of playing dead, we could drop dummies on the battle field. If they were a long distance from the audience they would create the illusion of casualties without their android aura being too noticeable. The King’s army already provides a bounty for dummies to be used in this way.

Finally, I would like to praise the Fairfax Battalia for being by far the best unit in the ECWS for taking theatrical casualties. Every ‘long term’ ‘casualty’ I noticed at Powderham wore that familiar red coat. The Fairfax who ‘died’ on the bank of the ditch right opposite the audience deserves particular praise. When Hopton’s formed up for the salute on Sunday, our C.O. nearly tripped over him, and informed him it was time for the salute. He was far back from the battle lines and must have been ‘killed’ early and played a ‘corpse’ for a long time. As he ran off to rejoin Fairfax, the section of the crowd opposite him gave a loud round of applause.

I hope everyone in the ECWS reads this, and after having a little titter at other peoples mistakes, and cursing me for taking the Mick out of their own, resolves to provide our audience with a better show next year. After all, they do actually pay us for watching!

Julian Tilbury, Hopton’s, King’s Army, ECWS