img169A highlight in our vintage year is the annual 1940s Relived event at the former Brooklands racetrack and aerodrome, near Weybridge in Surrey. Despite the title, the Brooklands event is deliberately light on the militaria aspect and uses the occasion to mark not only its key role in wartime but also as an opportunity to surround its wonderful collection of motoring and aviation artefacts with people dressed for the era that much of it represents. There’s also been a marked swing away from uniforms to ‘civilian’ clothing, which is most refreshing, especially bearing in mind the difficulty of sourcing good condition original items from the 1940s when so much was either worn to destruction or subjected to a ‘make do and mend’ conversion into something else. It’s a real pleasure to see lots of folk taking great pains to put together an authentic-looking outfit that reflects their age – it’s so much more dignified than seeing late middle-aged types togged up in a uniform that patently appeared on EBay days after its owner was demobbed in the past year. This year there were some fantastic turn-outs representing everyday folk on the Home Front, as well as some very accurate uniforms worn by chaps and chapesses of the appropriate age.


Now there’s a restoration job…


Great 3-D Glasses for the Napier-Railton Experience

The format of the event has evolved over the 5 years or so it’s been running, with the home team trying out different layouts to make best use of their fascinating and varied site and, of course, minimise costs so as to fuel the museum’s coffers for their range of ambitious projects. This year has seen another of the former aircraft industry buildings, part of Barnes Wallis’ 1940s research area, brought back to life, with a superb Napier-Railton 4D cinema on one side, recreating what it would have been like to ride the iconic Brooklands banking, so the other side was pressed into use as a 1940s night club for the Lindy Hop and Swing Jive devotees. From some of the feedback, I’ve got the feeling it was a bit too successful – it seems the quality of the music means lots of folk go to Brooklands to dance or watch the dancing and it was pretty crowded all day. Mind you, that certainly gave the impression of a packed club and if the weather hadn’t been so kind to us, would have made a much better venue than an open marquee. Rejigging the site also enticed crowds to parts that have been neglected in the past, drawing visitors to the fantastic bus museum (sorry, it’s that bus thing rearing its head again) and collection of classic passenger aircraft. Where else would you see Concorde getting a dose of T-Cut? It’s good to see the organisers experimenting with the layout rather than simply repeating it year on year as it gives each year’s a unique feel and highlights different elements of the collection.
The quality of the traders has settled down at a high level – enough to ensure that what I made on the few items I’d taken along to flog on our friend’s stall was more than outweighed by an armful of 78s and a very nice pair of co-respondent brogues, courtesy of Brookland’s Marketing and PR Manager, and Vintagexplorer Magazine contributor, Paul Stewart. The permanent exhibitions at Brooklands are always worth a return visit, from the hangar full of wartime aviation hardware, including much (some of it, of course, from the Dams raid) relating to Barnes Wallis who worked from the Vickers offices at Weybridge, to the original motoring sheds, priceless in their own right but packed with stunning and unique racing cars and bikes – many still in running condition. To walk from there up onto the remaining banking, and wonder at the nerve of those who attempted to steer tons of speeding metal around its steep walls, is truly to tread in the steps – or tyretreads – of British motoring history.

I should add that we’re not really into the re-enacting ‘thing’ – we are who we are, and we’re not pretending to be anyone else; it’s just that we like to live our lives heavily influenced by the style, clothes and culture of the past. Besides, I’m always afraid that re-enactment risks playing up the ‘glamour’ of uniform and glossing over the pain of separation, uncertainty and often plain fear that marked service in the Second or any other war. Many, I know well , see their hobby as a chance to perpetuate the memory of those they have immense respect for, and take great trouble to pursue an educational ‘living history’ role. Others, I suspect, though, just like the way they look without the inconvenience of actually having to serve. A definite exception to my uniform disquiet is the group of Home Guard re-enactors who appear regularly at Brooklands. Given that they model themselves on a group of civilians by day, usually men of a mature and not particularly military mien, they capture the look with genuine respect and a fine eye for detail whilst managing to avoid any air of Dad’s Army pastiche and it just feels right.

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No, it’s not mine, but just one of the very nice motors on display

Enough of the historical ruminations. Any excuse to visit Brooklands is a treat – add to that the icing of the chance to spend the day with great friends, ears soothed with the distant air of 1940s sounds, and the chance of running into old faces and interesting new ones, and a well-stocked cafe, and Brooklands is definitely a fixture in our calendar. You can read about Brooklands 1940s Relived, and all their other events, at their website or Facebook page. See you there in 2016, I hope.