NEW MEMBER'S DIARY 2011-2012
First Training: 28th & 29th January 2012
My shield, completed in Alan’s shed not one week before, had its first test on 28th Jan, when I
stepped forth into the fray for the first time in 2012. I had arrived the day before and spent the
evening chatting, renewing friendships and making new ones. With no spear, I was relying on
Alan to lend me his, but as he was only attending one day, the need to forge new friendships would
be crucial to my ability to take part on the Sunday, it wasn’t long before a spear was earmarked for
my Sunday use.
Islip is the birthplace of King Eadweard III — Edward the Confessor — and a small mosaic above
the village hall advertises the fact. It was in 2005 that Regia first came to Islip, to commemorate
Eadweard’s millennium and the society has returned in force each year since for training sessions.
I woke early on Saturday 28th January, thankfully not near anyone who snored, but my inability
to fully inflate the mattress had affected my back, and a slight ache informed me of such. I got
straight into authentic gear, and exchanged a coin for a bacon roll with ketchup for breakfast. The
previous night had seen some rain, but to my relief the ground was not as muddy or as slippery as
I had feared.
Practice started at ten o’clock and the first duty was for my shield to be checked. As at Cranborne,
shields and weapons must always be checked for sharp edges which may cause undesirable
injury. This was the first time my own hand-crafted shield was checked, and although I was
confident, it was a relief when it passed.
Mêlée commenced, and I was stabbed and died many times. The day took the form of a number
of exercises, each slightly different. Some would reduce everyone to one hit-point, whereas others
would allow the more armoured individuals to endure all three. Some would be “with honours”
which I think meant we weren’t allowed to stab anyone in the back or sneak up on them — not that
I was ever in a situation to do that of course. After each skirmish, a few of the more experienced
marshals, who were dictating terms of combat to the rest of us, would criticize or commend our
tactics and actions, before altering the teams and maybe adjusting the rules.
Although I had been introduced to the Old Ænglisc commands at Sceaftesige’s Witan, I learnt them
here. They are what is thought to be the most likely Anglo-Saxon commands for the time:
||Stand to Attention
||Spear on shoulder ready for combat
||Take one step forward in a defensive pose
||March towards the enemy
||Spear ready, facing the enemy’s line
There were a few others, but they were few and far between enough for me to forget what they
I loved this. For some reason, the part I liked the most is when we’ve Nameth’d Weapna and
are Gengething Forth towards an enemy line who has already Reareth’d Weapna. Something
about marching un-armed and defenceless against a line of hostile pointy sticks is so different from
anything else that afflicts our 21st
-century lives that for that split second — before the command
Reareth Weapna made you a defensible line — you were in a completely alien situation.
At some point half way through the battle, I saw a black and yellow shield of Sceaftesige on the far
side of the field. My fellow group members had arrived.
The day proceeded in similar fashion. We were divided up into teams — usually by allocation of a
number. Some games had but two teams, others had four or five. Games we played included:
- Line fight:
two teams advancing towards each other in classical shieldwall action.
- Castle game:
two teams fight each other in the confined space of a castle, marked by spears on the ground.
up to five teams each have to fight and protect their group leader. Once the
leader dies, the whole group dies (some variations had the surviving soldiers of that team join the team who killed their leader).
- Bridge game:
two teams fight on a bridge, demarked by shields or spears on the ground.
Occasionally they would try to ensure balanced teams from the start, by dividing us up into
different groups of experience, and then they’d divide each group into two (or more) and set us
against each other.
Regia Anglorum members are all given a passport sized membership document and for every day
at a public show (such as Cranborne Chase) or a training day (such as Islip), your book would be
stamped. Stamps are used to demonstrate your experience in a certain weapon. Before Islip, I
had two stamps.
The Regia hit-system is somewhat related to stamps. Only after obtaining 6 stamps with a two-handed
spear are you allowed to take your spear test. Once you’ve passed your spear test you
gain your second hit-point. You are also allowed to migrate to a short-arm once the spear test is
passed. The glamour of a sword mean that most migrate to short-arms as soon as they pass their
On one occasion, us two-handed spearmen were training separately from the short-arms, and it
was therefore a given that the majority of us would only have one hit-point. We then trained in
shieldwall tactics against each other for the better part of an hour. After this we then fought the
short-arms, all of whom would have two hit-points and many who might have three (the third hit-point
is dependent on the armour worn on the occasion).
We outnumbered the short-arms, but in terms of hit-points they outnumbered us by about two-to-one.
Their weight of experience also shewed, and the first time we faced each other we were
steam-rolled over. In theory, shieldwall fighting is easier with a spear, the advantage in reach this
gave us, together with greater actual numbers, meant that defeat was not a foregone conclusion.
The next clash started with a boar-snout attack — a wedge of warriors charged through our line with
intent to smash it. But our trainers had planned for this, and the line opened and closed behind
them, with the more experienced spearmen containing them. The boar-snout was very close to
me, but passed me by and we then received the rest of the short-arms in good order. This time
discipline held, and we eventually saw off the attack by weight of numbers. I survived this skirmish
— a rarity for the day — and we were all commended in the way we defeated a superior foe.
Islip was not just military training, numerous craft events were held. People partook in
less militaristic activities such as spoon carving, embroidery, leatherwork and arrow making. Such
activities were occupying Carole, Ketil and Liz whilst Alan, the Kettlewells and I were fighting in the
mud of Islip football pitch. I did manage to go and say hi to Carole and Liz, but was eager not to
miss any of the combat so hardly said anything to either of them. Hannah — the formidable Viking
child of Hwitmearum — also consumed a lot of my time negotiating terms on which I should push her on
the park swing.
After combat was finished, I took part in a leatherwork class where we learnt the basics of
sewing and decorating leather straps and seax sheaths. By the time this finished, everyone from
Sceaftesige had gone home.
I was the sole representative of the garrison on Sunday, and rose early, exchanged another coin
for another bacon bap and stepped out with a borrowed spear ready for the day’s fighting.
What greeted me on the steps of the village hall were three gentlemen, in football strips, one
on the phone frantically trying to explain to his somewhat dubious acquaintance that there
were “warriors” on the pitch and that he thought they’d “been had”. The person on the other end of
this conversation only seemed convinced when one of his mates photographed me in a threatening
pose and sent it to him.
The idea that these people — who I assume were the away team — arrived at the designated
football ground to find a dozen or so early morning Saxon warriors cleaning spears and donning
shields, was an amusing one.
Because of the football, we were relegated to the far side of the cricked green — until now the area
used for the archery — and started familiar practices whilst the archery was relegated to a dark
corner of the field even further away.
Training continued pretty much as the day before. Line fights ensued, I stabbed, I got stabbed, I
killed, I got killed. One feisty Cornish girl managed to stab me in the groin — the look on her face
as I plummeted to the ground seemed to indicate that she was hurt more than I. I wasn’t hurt, and
since the groin isn’t a legal area, I could have continued fighting, but I was already collapsing to
the ground by the time this thought had been properly processed and filed in the bureaucracy of
my brain, so I took the hit. It is a pity that I can’t say I was hit in the groin but carried on
fighting — that’d be a worthy boast.
The same wasn’t true when, on the Saturday whilst fighting in a shieldwall, an enemy’s spear
ricocheted off my neighbour’s shield and struck me square in the jaw. This didn’t hurt so much as
it shocked, I staggered back from the shieldwall, gave myself a once-over: no blood; no pain. With
this established, I re-entered the shieldwall (the head is not a legal area so I didn’t take the hit). As
is good practice, the guilty individual came up to me after the battle to apologise.
I found myself apologising on the Sunday, after my spear rode a little too high during a skirmish
and I clipped someone’s helmet. He was fine, but as soon as I heard the metal on metal “clink”
I stumbled backwards, paralysed with shock at the fact that I’d come so close to someone’s
head. He could have dispatched me with ease, but he didn’t press home his attack and just let
me stumble backwards. I was in a daze, until I was brought back into the real world by the call
of “Arrows! Arrows!” I had stumbled backwards into the archery area, directly behind the targets
where live, sharp arrows were being flung in my direction. That was not a good skirmish.
But apart from that I found myself improving. I was dying a lot, and perfected my death screech to
the extent that it was commended by someone, and one spear-jab I took to the leg brought worried
apology from someone who thought it was a cry of genuine pain.
Towards the end of training on Sunday, the novices and veterans, who had been practicing
separately for most of the day, joined up in a few final clashes. As I advanced in one clash, I found
myself facing the Master-at-Arms — Mike Everest — who had dispatched me and everyone else with so much effortless
ease during the Cranborne Chase training. To his right, perhaps of more concern, was the armour-clad baron of
the evil Milites de Bec — Clanky. This time in a shieldwall, with his attention elsewhere, I
saw Mike’s kite shield leave a gap of about a foot and with confidence and speed absent from my
earlier engagements, thrust through and stabbed him straight in the ribs.
He looked at me, and in a split second used a subtle facial expression to say “well done, but it
won’t happen again”. He wasn’t wearing a helmet, which meant he only had two
hit-points, one more hit and I would have single-handedly dispatched one of the most formidable
fighters on the field. I tried, but failed, and it wasn’t long before Clanky’s winged spear felled me
with a hard jab in my back, just shy of my spine. That hurt!
There was one more chance for glory. Throughout the weekend I had been dispatched time and
again by flanking individuals who had circumnavigated the shieldwall. I now found myself in a
similar position as the enemy’s shield wall was broken in two just in front of me. As one section fell
back, I found myself behind the other section and gaily dispatched them one-by-one by stabbing
them in the arse — three times each for good measure. When I told Alan this, he said “very good,
don’t do it again” — obviously not the done thing for a pitiful little spearman.
The final challenge at the end of the day was a bridge game. As described above, the bridge was
demarked by spears and shields on the grass and we fought, about four abreast, with the longest
spears we could find. I still had the borrowed 9’ spear and dispatched many opponents — including
the person who had leant it to me. I was dispatched myself, but before falling into the raging
torrent of water below the bridge, managed to pass the long spear to a mate without fail.
We won the first engagement, and with every victory we lost a member of our group to the other
side, but we went on to win every engagement without exception. It also transpired that the guy
who’d lent me his spear was dispatched by his own spear on every occasion — either by me or by
someone I’d handed it to as I fell to my watery grave.
Now, fully trained in the art of spearmanship, I was ready to either face the Vikings of Jórvík or face the
Saxons as a Viking of Jórvík — depending on which side I’ll be allocated to in three weeks time.