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                       A Day Out at Hatfield House

by Arthur & Sylvia Cox.      21st July 2012.

This relates our trip to the Battle Proms at Hatfield House, Herts. We learnt of this event because Lucy West (the leader of the Happy Hearts exercise group) organised a coach trip. I booked for two tickets and then, as the time went by, there were doubts about whether we could go. Problems mainly relating to as yet unknown dates for hospital visits and doubts about whether Sylvia could travel by coach with the problems of her getting in and out. Also if she suddenly needed to get back home there was no chance. So in the end, we got the tickets from Lucy and went by our own car loaded up with mobility scooter (Sylvia’s buggy) and also a wheelchair and loading ramps. The horrible rainy weather had suddenly changed and the 21st was a bright sunny day.

We left home at 2.30pm and went via the motorways as far as that was possible. Found the place with no trouble at all and we were directed by stewards to the disability parking area – a large grassy field. There were various army cadets there waiting to help people carry things to the concert area. The buggy was unloaded and with a folding chair and bag of picnic stuff we had a short wait to enter the gate. First to the toilets. It seemed like hundreds of portaloos were provided and in turn we visited Ladies and Gents. Then on a narrow tarmac road to the main arena. This was on a grassy slope with the large concert hall structure at the bottom. There was also a large screen display next to it. So it was a good tiered viewing place. We went to the back edge of all the people setting out their tables, chairs, gazebos, etc. Later we found this was a big mistake on our part and we should have stopped near the road side. In a very short time we found ourselves completely surrounded. Very much like an extremely crowded beach with just room for getting between people on foot. No way for Sylvia to get out should she need to. I had seen coaches arriving and wandered off to see if I could find the Happy Hearts groups from two coaches. Finally I met up with Lucy and her mother and two others whom I knew.

The crowd in the evening light

 The events started with everybody having their picnics. We had never seen so much being eaten and drunk – the most elaborate picnic baskets, champagne, beers etc. Some groups had flags erected, balloons flying and even roped off areas for their families. Our little box of two salmon and cucumber sandwiches, two choco bars, two bananas and a single bottle of fizzy flavoured water was pathetic.

 The sun was shining and it was a delight to sit there enjoying the warmth. Later Sylvia realise that her left arm was a little sunburnt. First came The Rockabellas – three ladies claiming to be singing in the style of The Andrew Sisters. We couldn’t see them on the stage but could just make out their images on the big screen. We could hear, of course, and it was not really our style of music.

 We could see over the heads of the crowds – an estimated 8,000 people – that over to the left there were four military folk on horses. Sylvia couldn’t move so I found my way to the place and saw they were one man dressed in hussar type of uniform mounted on a horse and three girls in the same style on ponies. Just as I reached them they moved away. Behind them in a fenced off field I could see rows of field cannons.

 Later we saw Lucy making her way towards us. She kindly wanted to know if we were OK and we chatted to her for a while. She told me to text her when we got back home to let her know we had travelled home without any problems.

 We never got to seeing the Napoleonic Re-enactment encampment, the various stalls and shops, the Hog Roast, the Bar, etc.

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The Aerial display (1).

This was provided by the Blades Team, a civilian group formed by ex-RAF pilots. Four planes performed some very daring acrobatics and manoeuvres. This was really good and went on for a long time.

The Blades Planes

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The Military Horse Display.

This was in a small field on one side and we could see nothing except occasionally a slight movement of something on the screen. A rather silly presenter who thought he was a comic could be heard describing all the action. Still we could hear the background music.

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The Aerial Display (2).

This was by a single Supermarine Spitfire. Marvellous swoops low over the trees and twists and rolls, etc. We were told that this Spitfire had been the first over the beaches of Normandy (D-Day). Years later it was found in an old barn in Scotland, bought and lovingly restored over six years. The owner got it back in order and it was flying it again. Then he was killed in a road accident. His wife was determined not to let his work go to waste and learnt to fly herself. She was now doing these displays all over the country.

Supermarine Spitfire

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By now it was beginning to get dark and the gunners of the English Field Artillery Company heralded the commencement of the evening’s musical programme with a volley of shots from an authentic vintage field gun in honour of the Diamond Jubilee of HM Queen Elizabeth II. The noise was terrific and huge clouds of smoke rose into the air from behind the trees.

 Then followed a selection of classical music with a battle theme. The 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky was accompanied by many cannons firing and really splendid fireworks. We heard music by Beethoven (Wellington Victory about the battle at Borodino). Written to have 193 cannon firing in time to the music but never heard played fully until recently with all the required cannons. More fireworks also accompanied this. The cannons were controlled electronically by a woman with a keyboard arrangement. This time the guns appeared to be facing upwards because there were masses of red smoke and sparks flying up into the air. The ground shook under our feet. Again this was followed again by more splendid fireworks.

 There were many announcements of birthdays, anniversaries, etc It was hard to see some things. Something would start near the stage and people at the front stood up to take photos, so those behind also stood up and so across the crowds. Right in front of us a man erected a tripod and video camera on his table and insisted on standing most of the time to move the camera on to different scenes. But we could hear the good music. This included a soprano singing excerpts from various operas.

 The evening finished off with more fireworks, the usual Prom musical items of the Hornpipe, Rule Britannia, Jerusalem, etc with much flag waving and singing. The finale was a specially adapted version of God Save the Queen and again with yet more fireworks. The end was at 10.30pm.

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Getting out was a very slow process. We waited until Sylvia could get her buggy through the people who seemed to like her headlights because they could see what they were doing. We reached the little road crowded with people carrying bags, gazebos, tables, etc. On reaching the disability car parking field we found that the number of vehicles had grown enormously from when we first arrived. It was dark with just a few lights from car headlights – stationary cars because nobody could move. Sylvia stopped by the roadside and I wandered up and down the rows of cars looking for our car. Came back to talk to Sylvia twice and then after 30 minutes of wandering about I found the car. Sylvia got in with some difficulty – she was very stiff due to having been sitting in car or buggy since 2.30pm. We sat and waited until cars started to move slowly with much stopping, turning off the engine and then moving a few yards again. We got off the grass on to the road and waited, waited and waited. A steward came along and said there had been a road accident near one of the gates so everybody now had to use a single gate. Finally after driving over two grassy fields (some car-parking areas!) we got to a narrow lane and followed along. I was hoping that we might eventually get to where we had first entered the Hatfield House estate and I would then be able to find the way home. And yes, we got to the large main roundabout where the A414 and the M1 meet. On familiar ground at last. We merged on to the M1 southbound just on midnight. Then a fast 70 minute trip back home where we arrived at 1.10am. Sylvia was tired, her feet swollen and she had an aching stiff body. I texted a message to Lucy and got an immediate reply urging us to have a lie in. And so to bed about 2.0am.

The pictures have been taken from the Hatfield House website.

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