It is the festival that promises a field full of tanks, real ale on tap and top historians speaking about all aspects of the Second World War. And, if last year’s inaugural event is anything to go by, it should be remarkably free of a***holes, according to Al Murray. Murray, the Pub Landlord comedian and co-host with historian James Holland of the We Have Ways of Making You Talk podcast, told History First what to expect from the second We Have Ways Fest.
The event runs from this Friday (July 22) to Sunday at Blackpit Brewery, near Silverstone racing circuit.
Can you sum up what the festival’s about?
“If you’ve listened to our podcast, you’ll know how James Holland and I like to do things: freewheeling, discursive and, most essentially, no subject within the Second Word War off-limits — and the festival reflects this. There is so much brain food on offer for what I think is the most important and fascinating event in world history that even if you’re half-interested there will be something for you.”
Tell us about the talks you’ve lined up
“Max Hastings talking about Churchill for starters! Holocaust survivor Maurice Blik; American historian Phillips Payson O’Brien, whose speciality is what he calls “Boring War” — logistics, industry and supply — talking about exactly that; Iain MacGregor with his new fantastic history of the Battle of Stalingrad; the brilliant Jonathan Fennell talking about how British Empire motivated its men; Katrin Himmler whose great-uncle was Heinrich Himmler discussing the legacy of such a name and history; and so many more.
“As well as one of our listeners, Andy Aitcheson, who has, inspired by the podcast, thrown himself into studying the 52nd Lowland Division. The range is so wide but they all have something in common — they’re all brilliant at making the past present.”
Can you explain the set-up? It sounds like a military camp . . .
“We have several venues: more than last year in fact. The largest is the HQ Tent, our big top where the headline events will be talking place. The Briefing Tent is where the next tier of stuff happens, and then the Arsenal is a more intimate venue. Outside we have displays in the Arena and hardware talk across the day. On arrival our guests will be greeted by lots and lots of olive drab!”
“We have families, dads and sons, and one or two people dragged along who then discover how interesting it is!”Al Murray
What about hardware and displays?
“We have tons of gear on its way — some of it may have already left, given how slowly it travels. The Garrison Artillery Volunteers — who are dedicated to keeping British Second World War artillery techniques alive — have a fantastic display planned and when their 25-pounders all fire in unison you get a glimpse of what that might have been like. I’m particularly looking forward to seeing them this year.”
What’s the social side like?
“It’s all very friendly, and we have made sure there’s more food for the surprisingly hungry throng.”
. . . and the mix of the crowd?
“We have families, dads and sons, and one or two people dragged along who then discover how interesting it all is! The subject is so broad — it isn’t just battles an hardware: there’s social history, economic history, politics, of course, and people’s family stories too — so lots of people seem to be interested in all of those different aspects.”
What are you most looking forward to?
“Last year I missed all of the demonstrations in the vehicle arena because I was too busy chatting to people, so I’m hoping I get to see rather more of it this year. The problem is the programme is so huge it’s going to involve some tricky decision-making. But the thing I’m most looking forward to is the Family Stories presentation we are doing, and my father’s talk about the sappers on D-Day at Pegasus Bridge.”
Will people get the chance to meet you, James Holland and the other speakers?
“Yes, absolutely. Many of our speakers are there for the weekend and we really want visitors to the festival to come and say hello. There’s so much cud to chew.”
What were your best moments last year?
“The feeling when James and I arrived at the main tent in a Bren Carrier to open the festival was electric. Putting faces to names of people we had interacted with over the many months of the pandemic was a particular pleasure of the weekend — there was no way either of us could get from one side of the site to another without getting deep into conversation. And, a striking thing about this event as festivals go, there were no a***holes there.”
How did the festival come about?
“The podcast came about three years ago as a natural extension of James’ and my friendship. If he was in town and I was around he’d suggest going for lunch or meeting in the pub to talk about the war. Tony Pastor from Goalhanger [Podcasts] was looking to put a Second World War podcast together — entirely because it’s what he’s interested in — and asked James who he’d like to work with. Fortunately my name came up!
“The pandemic drew an audience to us, and with the end of restrictions coming it felt like a good way to mark it with an event, which was what we did last September. That was so much fun, we decided to do it again.”
• Full details of the schedule, tickets and facilities are online at wehavewaysfest.co.uk.