Epic Scots' battle re-enactment is timely

FLOUR POWER: Frank O’Neil gets into the spirit of things at the Battle of Bannockburn yesterday.
FLOUR POWER: Frank O’Neil gets into the spirit of things at the Battle of Bannockburn yesterday.

"Soldiers . . . " a voice booms across a paddock of staunch kilt-clad warriors gripping their weapons.

" . . . The time is up to get into battle for Scotland. Let's go get the bastards."

The battleground is bedlam as the Scots and English troops rush at one another with swords raised and war cries echoing across the hills.

The small settlement of Bannockburn in Central Otago has transformed into the scene of one of the most legendary clashes in Scottish history - the Battle of Bannockburn which took place 700 years ago.

The battle, which lasted over two days - June 22-24, 1314 - saw King Robert the Bruce of Scotland defeat Edward II's much larger and more powerful English army.

The Central Otago re-enactment tries to stay true to the historical gore of battle and with one blow from an axe to the head and a gush of "blood" Bruce kills English knight Sir Henry de Bohun.

Other warriors fall to their knees dramatically in death, until after an hour - the weary, flour-bombed soldiers, picking up the slain, retire to the hotel for a haggis ceremony.

Many Scots regard the battle as a triumphant victory and an important step towards Scottish independence.

With the 700th anniversary coming less than three months before Scotland votes on independence, it comes as no surprise people supporting the current campaign are making connections with the battle.

Scotsman Peter Smith, who is a New Zealand resident living in Cromwell, says campaigners for the Yes vote were using emotional tactics - such as linking the battle and freedom - to sway public opinion towards supporting Scotland as a republic.

He and wife Carol will be voting against it becoming a republic.

"It is a political game. A power hungry leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) who is not fighting a battle on an intellectual level. There are no facts or figures about how he is going to operate the economy. We don't have a currency in Scotland - it's hooked on to the Bank of England and they will drop us if we break away from England. It's all emotional. England was the conqueror of Scotland years ago and we have been suffering under their rule ever since - that is their argument."

The benefits of being part of Great Britain were too great to give up, he says.

"We have the support of a major country . . . the ones - this party - who want to walk away from from it all, have no idea how they are going to replace it. My family is still there and I would rather see a successful Scotland than an independent Scotland and I think there is more chance of that under British control. I feel Scottish enough. I don't have to have to have Scotland an independent country to feel Scottish."

While Scotland's future is on the minds of people like the Smiths, participants of the Central Otago battle are reluctant to be drawn into the political fight.

Warrior, real estate agent and Cromwell Community Board member Gordon Stewart says Central Otago's Battle of Bannockburn was "just a fun thing".

"There is not a lot of anything political about it. I think we are a bit far removed from the referendum. It's a political thing."

More than 100 people participated in the last battle held 12 years ago, but the 700th anniversary battle was the "big one".

"This is only the second time we have had the battle. It had been talked about for ages and the Promotions Group - under Terry Emmitt - got some funds together and set it up."

The Waitati Militia, a pacifist warfare group and "harem scarem lot" joined the battle, playing the part of the English enemy.

Stewart came from a strong Scottish heritage - his father came from Scotland to Bannockburn to mine in the 1930s and then ran the Bannockburn store, while his wife Christine's grandparents were married at Bannockburn in Scotland.

The Southland Times