It was shaping up to be a typical August Bank Holiday, with the Met Office predicting torrential rain and thunderstorms. But, as Saturday morning dawned surprisingly bright, we decided to take advantage of the sunshine and head for the Military Odyssey at the Kent Showground. The large queue for tickets moved swiftly and, as we collected our passes, it was either eagerness or naivety that saw us forego the purchase of an event programme... an error we would soon regret as we wandered from period to period, stall to stall, surrounded by characters from past eras and scenes straight from the history books. Sometimes a guidebook really does prove an invaluable asset!
Pick a period
Still, inside we were, and we set forth about exploring the various periods being celebrated. The entire showground was covered with tents, stalls, military vehicles, horses, and people in all manner of period costumes. It was a compelling sight to behold, witnessing distinct ‘villages’ for each historical period, with re-enactors steadfastly refusing to break character, instead choosing to live in authentic accommodation, carry out traditional crafts, and eat and sleep as people would have done at the time.
Some even went the extra mile to recall the glory of times past, with Vikings bringing along a magnificent replica of a trading vessel, complete with beach pebbles and seaweed.
From ancient Greece to WWII
Having explored some of the vehicles and tanks from the Second World War, and spent some time browsing the multitude of memorabilia stalls, we headed for the small arena where battle re-enactments were scheduled throughout the day. We arrived just in time to see the end of a confrontation between Greeks and Persians (spoiler alert - the Greeks won), and from there made our way onwards past a display by the Desert Rats to a traditional Kentish scene - a vision far removed from the battle-scarred fields of ancient Greece. That said, with a downed plane having just been ‘discovered’, the Home Guard stationed here had their hands full.
Next up, we headed to the main battle ground, where we witnessed a scene from the Vietnam War. Vietnamese soldiers, with tank support, 'shot' at Americans embedded at the other end of the ground. Despite firing blanks, you could still feel the pressure as the missiles exploded and the realism of war made the hairs on our neck stand. The battle concluded with a spectacular ‘napalm attack’ on the Vietnamese position, with lots of black smoke and flames creating a very realistic illusion. Not so much the smell of victory, but an eye-opening experience nonetheless.
For God and King George?!
In need of food and a sit down, we made our way back to the small arena, passing a company of Saracens and Crusader knights as we went. Both parties were shouting their war cries, although one Crusader seemed a little confused, crying out for King George. He quickly corrected himself and could just about be heard cheering for King Richard above the raucous laughter of his comrades.
This time we arrived at the small arena just as an American Civil War re-enactment ended. The defeated Confederates were being rounded up by the Yankees before being marched off the field. It was at this point we realised that a programme would have been a really good idea for planning where to be and when! Thankfully, the commentator announced that a Crusader battle would follow shortly, so we got out our packed lunches and made ourselves comfortable, determined not to miss the next show. Sure enough, the Saracens and Knights shortly arrived, some on horseback. A ‘fearsome’ confrontation ensued with some excellent commentary.
Ice cream and memorabilia
On a final wander around the show with ice creams in hand (war is a hungry business), we concluded that the whole event was extremely well-managed and organised. Our only slight disappointment was in the retail offering – WWII memorabilia dominated, with very little else available from any other period. Perhaps in part due to the fact it was a military show, but a few more stalls offering traditional leather and wood-working, jewellery, clothing etc. would have been great to see.
With so much to see and so many ‘battles’ to enjoy, it’s hard to pick a favourite bit from the show. What most impressed us, however, was the sheer dedication and enthusiasm of the re-enactors, as they each embraced their chosen historical period wholeheartedly and certainly didn’t hold back in the battles. It's no surprise that the Military Odyssey has been such a staple of August activities in Maidstone for so long.
Share your experience
Did you pay a visit to the Military Odyssey at Kent Showground? Share with us your stories and images below, and let us know what you enjoyed most about this spectacular event.
About the author
Ann-Marie is part of the marketing team at Visit Maidstone. She studied archaeology at Southampton University and has a particular passion for historic buildings. View more by Ann-Marie.