Pictures are worth more than a thousand words – they are often worth volumes upon volumes of information. I recently came across a collection on Facebook which contained image after image of the remnants of the First World War… shells, memorials, and cratered landscapes… all of which are memories of a war so devastating and evolutionary yet relatively forgotten today by all but scholars and fans of history. It was one of these photographs, however, which provided inspiration to expand upon the theme of military surplus beyond the vintage rifles which has brought both reader and author to this particular moment.
The appreciation of an old rifle – whether it is a Mosin Nagant, Mauser, Garand, Arisaka, or Enfield – can easily extend beyond the mere collectability aspect when it comes to understanding the purpose of one feature or the marvel of the overall design. This has been the case with my recent indoctrination of a co-worker into the world of Mosin Nagants. After helping him figure out a petulant bolt issue with his newly acquired M44, I have been quietly amused and impressed by his growing interest in the Eastern Front. While I am by no means anything close to an authority on the subject, I have answered his questions with the best verifiable information I possibly can… and in the process, learned that there is rarely a simple answer to any question when it comes to history.
As with the previously mentioned picture – a pair of German World War One reenactors sitting upon an old French cannon – there is always more to what appears to be a simple story. While the picture offers an indication of the scratchiness of the wool uniform, the complexity of the puttees, or the incongruity of the spiked helmet, the accompanying text subtly underscores the chasm crossed by French and Germans alike in their joint gatherings in places like Verdun. Almost exactly a hundred years ago, Verdun was a battle where both sides lost between six and seven hundred thousand men for what ended up being a stalemate; now, both flags fly above dignitaries, schoolchildren, visitors, and a few hundred reenactors as they commemorate those lost and celebrate the reconciliation between two nations.
Milsurps are a tricky subject in that one cannot truly understand and appreciate them without falling down the slippery rabbit hole of understanding the arms as well as the equipment, men, doctrine, consequences, and the lasting legacy that they are part of. Perhaps, with such knowledge, we can strive to prevent a repetition of the costly lessons throughout history.