World War I – The Great War in Newville, PA
In November 2023, I participated in my second-ever WWI reenactment at the GWA. This event is considered an emersion event, which means it’s for reenactors only, and the general public is not allowed. During the weekend, the 600+ reenactors try to remain in character so everyone gets as close to an authentic experience as possible.
The Great War Association (GWA) is a 100-acre site in south-central Pennsylvania that boasts over a mile of opposing trenches and crater-pocked No-Man’s Land. There is also an endless site of barbwire, bunkers, bombed-out buildings, and other structures that genuinely make you feel you are in 1917-1918 Europe.
Last year, I attended as a US soldier. This year, I joined the French unit “113RIT Régiment d’Infanterie Territoriale”, aka the Territorials. I was assigned to the heavy weapons group and ran around with my mock-up vintage camera. To run around and take pictures during the WWI emersion event, I have to conceal the modern digital camera within a natural 1910 5×7 camera body. My grandfather and I modified the vintage camera last year so that I could attend the 2022 event. It works so well that most of the reenactors think I’m running around taking real 5×7 film shots. The camera is so well-engineered that when I push and pull on the bellows, I zoom in and out on the modern camera.
The Allies and Central Powers don’t know when either will attack, which adds to the tension and realism of the event. There’s some time between the actions so the reenactors can converse and share stories. But once the smoke bombs and fireworks shells start to fly, all hell breaks loose. The battles occur both day and night, and they get pretty intense. All the guns are fully powered rifle blanks, and flares and fireworks (mock grenades) go off. No man’s land features many creator holes, actual barbed wire, and other obstacles that make any assault a challenge, especially at night.
At several points during the weekend, Axis and Central Powers bi-planes fly low passes, dropping dummy bombs on the reenactors. They also have dog fights among themselves.
Newville is always a moving experience, which takes the reenactors back in time to a dark era in human history. Because of my heart condition, I’ll never be able to serve in the Army. I can’t imagine having gone through the real thing during WWI.