What are you doing on Waitangi Day?
"Who wants Mr Whippy?" a soldier calls from his makeshift pillbox as a truck goes past the fence, playing the ice-cream song.
It is Tuesday afternoon in a residential property in the centre of Blenheim and Garrison Society troops are on alert. Unit commander Adam North is "armed" and largely concealed in the semi-camouflaged, dug-out, "pill box". Flight sergeant Michael Daum, also "armed", is in the gunnery section and Sergeant Shivaughn Jennens and Major Dayna Wilhelmus are on standby, ready to step in as reinforcements.
All four are members of the Garrison Society, a military re-enactment group that will set up a public display in Blenheim on Thursday. Observed around the country as Waitangi Day, February 6 is celebrated each year at Brayshaw Heritage Park as "Heritage Day".
A display to honour the generations of New Zealand troops who have served this country will be arranged by the Garrison Society.
Adam, a former military policeman with the Royal New Zealand Air Force, formed the society three years ago as a breakaway group from another military re-enactment organisation, Delta.
Its focus on recreating battle scenes was too limiting, he thought. Garrison does some of those, but its members also create displays, talk to children, listen to old soldiers and provide information about the weapons, machinery and gear used by men and women in service.
"Plus we are trying to cover all of the services and some of the non-services that never get any recognition. Like Civic Defence. During the war they were still a uniformed service, like the fire brigade."
Heritage Day starts in the park at 10am on Thursday but Garrison members will be there by 7am, setting up their allocated space.
A World War I bell tent will be pitched and people can visualise the nights troops spent in it during the Great War. Up to 11 lower rank soldiers would squeeze in, lying down in a circle, feet facing the centre pole, Adam says.
Officers were issued identical shelters, only they didn't usually have to share.
Military motorbikes at the park on Thursday will include a 1941 Indian, a 1944 Triumph, a 1979 Honda and a Chinese Chang Jian of uncertain vintage. There might also be a Ural and a Dnepr, both Russian side-car motorcycles.
"Motorbikes played a bigger [military] role than what people think," he says.
Soldiers were still riding horses into battle as late as World War I but the animals had little defence or means of escape from machine-driven tanks. "Then the cavalry became the motorised cavalry."
Antique military vehicles rescued and restored by the society are kept on a member's farm. A recent Trade Me acquisition is a 1938 Standard Flying 12, used by the British military as "an officer's car".
Driven by a 1600cc engine, the vehicle had sported a full leather interior. Only the chassis can be admired at the park on Thursday, though, the rest of it destined for a long time in the Garrison reassembly workshop.
- The Marlborough Express