We Have Ways Fest 2023 Goes with a Bang!
Silverstone is known for one thing, and one thing only: as the home of British motor racing. But between 8 and 10 September 2023 thousands of people descended on this small Northamptonshire village for another reason. For just around the corner, the stands of Stowe Corner barely visible from the field, is the brilliant Blackpit Brewery. And as well as making and selling some fantastic artisanal beers, they also play host to the UK’s largest festival dedicated to the Second World WarA global war that lasted from 1939 until 1945.: We Have Ways Fest.
Brought to us by the minds behind the popular and prolific We Have Ways of Making You Talk podcast, the festival’s aim is simple: ‘to bring experts, enthusiasts, academics, veterans, authors, artists, specialists, up-and-coming historians and yes – “the afflicted” – together. People like us, who are curious to know more about the Second World War.’
This might sound a bit too specialist, maybe a bit too geeky, for some. There is, after all, a lot of tech, a lot of hardware, on display. Visitors to the site are greeted by rows of tanks, Jeeps, armoured vehicles, big guns, and every other type of Army equipment known to man – even an aquatic tank. Re-enactors and others wander around sporting Second World War costumes and weapons and, back from the main thoroughfare, marquees are dedicated to model-building, retro clothing, and Haynes-esque manuals on everything Second World War. It is a veritable sweetshop for all those drawn to the dramatic and dangerous years of 1939-1945.
But to leave it there, to say it is ‘just’ a haven for Second World War enthusiasts, is to miss out on so much the festival has to offer. There are very few people who can claim absolute ignorance of the Second World War – there are simply too many films, TV series, references in schools, newspapers and social media for some knowledge not to permeate through osmosis – but even then, there would be something to grab the attention. Across three stages – all with free entry to every talk – were, of course, some of the best minds working in the history of Nazi Germany and the Second World War today: Frank McDonough, Robert Lyman, Katja Hoyer, Sir Antony Beevor, Peter Caddick-Adams. And there were also the sadly dwindling few who lived and fought through the war – people like John Jammes, who as a teenager was a member of the French resistance – whose stories can’t help but fascinate and amaze. But amidst the great and good of military history were names not usually associated with the war: television personalities like Dermot O’Leary and James May, comedians and authors like Charlie Higson, actors like Paul McGann, Shane Taylor and Ben Willbond, of Doctor Who, Band of Brothers, and Ghosts fame respectively. Bringing it all together were the irrepressible James Holland and Al Murray. Here, then, was something for everyone. There was comedy, dramatic storytelling, panel shows, quizzes and, even, 'Gögglebox'.
And that’s only the tented talks. Around the field there was plenty more to entertain. Get History’s Chalke Valley favourites – Adam Schuch-des Forges, Kate Vigurs, Wizzo’s Rip-Roaring Tales, and Foreign Field – were all there, bringing their passion for telling the little-known tales from history to a new set of enraptured audiences. There was forties-style music from the wonderful trio the Bluebirds, making shoulders wriggle and feet tap in time. There were enough food stalls to satisfy the most demanding gourmand, providing everything from the best fried chicken I’ve ever tasted to traditional, home-cooked curries. And then there was the live night firing, with searchlights, big bangs, and recorded chatter, atmospheric enough to capture the imagination of the greatest of sceptics.
We Have Ways Fest 2023 was, in short, superb. With so much going on, so many interesting people to talk to, so many wonderful stories to hear and intelligent, lively debates to engage with, it couldn’t help but entertain and educate. The fans and specialists mixed with the mildly curious to create a festival that was both friendly and informative. As Al Murray said, We Have Ways Fest has ‘inadvertently created … the stuff of dreams, a weekend of seminars, panels, lectures, living historians, chats, model makers, equipment displays, all about the Second World War, its history, its legacy and where it sits in people's imaginations’, shared with ‘people who are mind bogglingly knowledgeable, generous [and] good humoured’.Al Murray, Twitter, 13 September 2023. What’s not to love?
We Have Ways Fest will be back next year. Keep an eye on their website for more information.