What Price Glory

MT
British officer whistle pouch for Sam Browne belt: $12. UK Colt/Browning P-37 magazine pouch: $35. Black Watch tartan breeches: $150. Highlander walking out package, including battle dress jacket, kilt and puttees: $495. Being appropriately dressed for a World War I re-enactment: priceless.

These items are just some of the pricey accoutrement of the detail-oriented world of war re-enactors offered on the web site www.whatpriceglory.com.

"It gets really expensive, especially on your own," said Andrei Paramonov, 21, a student at Moscow State University participating in War 1916, a recent, well-attended World War I re-enactment in Solnichnogorsk, 45 kilometers from Moscow.

"This was $200," he said, holding up his iconic spiked Prussian helmet. He said his uniform cost $300 and that each eagle-emblazoned, gold button on it set him back $3. He was surrounded by around 40 other club members of the 33rd and 45th East Prussian infantry regiments, all identically attired.

As the standard of living continues to rise on the back of ever-increasing oil prices, Russians are now finding themselves with disposable income that can be used to indulge a wide range of interests.

"Re-enacting is such an expensive hobby," said a man dressed as a Royal Scots Fusilier. "The Scots kit is the most expensive, since it's got the greatest number of exotic pieces: the Glengarry, the kilt and especially the whiskey!" he said to general hurrahs, as a group of Russians dressed as Brits tromped by, smelling of moldy, old clothes and vodka.


John Wendle / MT
The 45th regiment of the Prussian army marching onto the field to take on the British, their rare drum displayed prominently.
War re-enacting started in Russia in 1987, but really only took off five years later, according to Alexander Tron, a professor of physics at St. Petersburg State University who made the trip down to the Solnichnogorsk event dressed in the olive drab uniform and silver karakul cap of the Semyonovsky Imperial Army Guards Regiment.

As a Prussian standard-bearer led a charge on a British-held trench and flopped "dead" onto the torn-up ground in the field nearby, Tron said that re-enactments began in the Soviet Union with a re-enactment of the War of 1812 against Napoleon.

"The Napoleonic wars were safe from an ideological point of view," he said, smiling through a thick scrub of graying beard.

In 1992, however, a re-enactment festival featuring a battle from the Winter War took place in St. Petersburg. Although the Soviet Union won the 1940-1941 war with Finland, the Soviets suffered large casualties.

Since this groundbreaking battle, Russian re-enactors have diversified their repertoire from 1812 and World War II to include World War I, the Russian Civil War and even Vietnam.

Russian re-enactors are also taking the battle to the enemy, as it were, participating in re-enactments all over Europe and the United States.

"You absolutely have to have money for this," said Tron, pointing out his pricey karakul and $80 boots.

"Some people spend several hundred dollars, plus there's the cost of travel," he said. "Last year the Czechs hosted us, and they covered everything save 250 euros to participate."

Traveling to various battles has helped develop the hobby in Russia.

"I saw that most re-enactments in Russia were only 1941 or 1812. I saw that World War I was only held in the Czech Republic, focusing on the eastern front, and in the U.S., focusing on the western front," said Dmitry Bushmakov, 27, the organizer of the War 1916 re-enactment and the general director of Leibshtandart, a two-year-old company dealing in military antiques.

"I wanted to do a good re-enactment in Russia," he said, wearing the greenish-gray wool uniform of a sergeant in the 3rd Bavarian Infantry Regiment.


John Wendle / MT
A soldier continuing his assault as his comrades lay "dead" around his feet.
For the War 1916 event, participants traveled from Belarus, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Poland and "even Japan -- but he's playing an Uzbek today," according to Bushmakov.

Interest has been good, but the costs still keep the number of participants down.

Standing behind the VIP grandstand near a tent offering free shashlik surrounded by real Russian army officers, Bushmakov lifted his bolt-action Mauser rifle into the air and fired a blank, scaring an overly made-up woman holding a plate of plov nearby.

"See? That was 50 rubles," he said, setting off a wave of celebratory fire by re-

enactors, surprising the audience of about 500, who were milling around, waiting for the second of the day's two battles to start.

Bushmakov said his company had put around 200,000 euros ($311,000) into the War 1916 event.

As the crowd cheered the beginning of the second battle, the British popped their beige tin helmets out of a trench as bagpipes wailed. German soldiers in light blue uniforms marched, ran and crawled forward through chunks of earth churned up by special effects explosives.

A drab olive cannon near the crowd thundered, setting off the car alarms of the Mercedes and Land Rovers in the parking lot and causing an especially rotund "German" to throw his arms in the air, carefully get down on his knees and fall face down, "dead."

"That one explosion alone cost 1,500 rubles," said Bushmakov, keeping an eye on the bottom line.

After the battle, the crowds cleared out quickly and the Prussians lined up to return their Mausers to the Mosfilm wagon. They were rentals from the movie studio going for between 300 and 700 rubles a day.

Paramonov, the young student, brought forward Boris Burba, the mustachioed and round head of the 45th regiment club, to show off the group's most prized possession.

"This drum is an original and the only one in Europe, and we Russians have it," said Paramonov as Burba lifted the small brass and leather marching drum from his ample waste.

"I bought it for $500," said Burba tenderly, "but it's priceless."