From All's Quiet on the Western Front

From All’s Quiet on the Western Front

Every production whether it be film, television, or live theater, has a production design that sets the overall look for that production. Long before the cameras roll or the actors start rehearsing, the production designer will make a series of decisions in consultation with other production staff (the director, wardrobe, makeup, props, etc.) in regard to what sort of an atmosphere a production is going to project. For example, a horror movie set in a haunted house will probably feature dark sets complete with cobwebs, dusty furniture, rot, decay, etc. Obviously they’re not going to make things look cheerful nor are the actors going to look and act like they’re going out to a fun party.

For living history, we also are creating a production (although there are those who would deny this because that seems all too “theatrical”) in the way we present our history. The First World War on the Western Front was filthy, muddy, and fraught with random death; while manning the front line, soldiers spent their time living in trenches and bunkers. Days were mostly quiet and boring and at night things could liven up with trench raids. Then there were the periodic major offensives where things could become positively terrifying. It’s plain that given a choice, most would have preferred to have been somewhere else.

While recreating some aspects are out of our control due to safety, legal, and/or cost considerations, we still try to present a look that was typical of the First World War. For the 2 Chevauleger, we try to present an appearance appropriate for the 1917-18. In recreating this appearance, we rely on various reference books of uniforms, equipment, and weapons, photographs, and various official publications for our information. Unfortunately, the day when we could have interviewed veterans who were there has long passed so gaining information first-hand it out. With luck, someday we may discover personal accounts that were written down but that day has still yet to happen.

Now in the course of our research, there are several approaches to recreating the uniforming that are available and in the end, decisions had to be made as to which to focus on. For example, with the 1916 regulations, the uniform tunic of the Chevauleger, along with the rest of the German Army, changed to the Bavarian version of the 1915 Bluse. In theory, we could use this uniform along with the new shoulder boards. However, after studying the photographic evidence that we could secure, we came to the conclusion that the Chevaulegers did everything to hold on to their prewar 1909 pattern tunics or Ulankas. Thus, the decision was made to stay with the 1909 tunic. The decisions on everything else (breeches, footwear, weapons, etc.) are similar and in each instance a choice had to be made. Some choices were easier than others but in the end they were made.

Now, we could have opted for allowing people to utilize various exceptions and while they *might* be correct, they detract from the overall appearance we are trying to make. And yes, this is a subjective process and in many instances there are no “right” or “wrong” answers. My overall goal is to represent a Bavarian cavalry unit that is attempting to maintain its identify in spite of the fact that most of its function as mounted cavalry has largely been made irrelevant by the conditions of trench warfare and the overall stalemate.

In selecting what uniform and equipment items to utilize, I try to go for things that will allow for the greatest use both in terms of time period and impression. For example, in the case of Reithose or riding breeches, after doing some initial research, I determined that while the basic pattern was used throughout the war, wool was substituted for the use of leather in the seat from 1915/16 on due to the increasing shortage of leather.

However, I deliberately chose to stick with the earlier 1915 pattern with the leather/suede double-seat even though I could have gotten by with using wool because it would allow for maximum use for portraying the 2 Chevauleger during almost any part of the war from 1915 on. Also, from a style standpoint, the Reithose are a distinct uniform item that sets us apart from the infantry and that ties in with the look I am striving to create with the unit. It’s a subjective choice on my part and perfectly plausible based in the information we have so far.

In the end, there is no right or wrong answer.