Every form of vehicle passion has its top shows. For cars, it’s the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in August. For planes, it’s the EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. For tanks and other military vehicles, it’s the annual War and Peace Revival in England.
For four days every July—this year’s event is July 24–28—a hop farm in rural Kent, southeast of London, is occupied by an army of military vehicle collectors and fans from all over Europe. The convergence of hundreds of tanks and trucks and personnel carriers draws everything from wartime jeeps to Cold War-era Soviet tanks and heavy haulers. And every era of mechanized warfare is represented by elaborate “living history” displays in which vehicles and reenactors are staged as if in a full-size diorama to evoke scenes from historic conflicts. A jungle hooch full of Vietnam draftees and their equipment can be 50 feet away from British doughboys digging trenches in the Somme, or a platoon of U.S. Marines walking patrol in Mogadishu, or a German Panzer Lehr brigade reclining under trees, awaiting their next deployment.
At the focal point of the sprawling encampment and accompanying flea market is an event ring where every half hour or so during the day a new group of vehicles from a single conflict or era are ushered in to run around the ring, sometimes delighting the thousands of attendees with carefully choreographed mock battles made realistic by weapons supplied by the show’s professional armorer. Thousands of rounds of blank ammunition are expended during the Revival as, say, the Yanks and Jerrys fight it out to capture a fake French village. With American Sherman tanks booming away at Nazi Stugs and Panthers trying to flank the U.S. forces, and as White half-tracks spit flame from their machine guns, the tat-tat-tat of 50-caliber rounds pouring into the line, it’s easy to imagine that you’re watching the real thing.
The “Germans” pretty much always lose these contests, which sometimes end in hand-to-hand fighting, and then the dead rise at the conclusion to clap hands with their fellow combatants and head back to the tents for beer. Next up could be Soviet troops and tanks about to suffer an ambush by Afghani Mujahideen, and so it goes day in and day out at the Revival as NATO forces take the ring followed by a menagerie of British military naming eccentricity—Humber Pigs, Wolseley Mudlarks, or Daimler Ferrets, anyone?—followed by the khaki heroes of the Persian Gulf wars.
The one unifying feature of War and Peace is that, unlike real war, there’s beer and fish-n-chips aplenty and everyone is having a good time. Yes, the Bible commands mankind to beat its swords into ploughshares, but it doesn’t say anything against making a few fun toys out of them.