27 June – 3 July 2016
2016 saw the centenary of three very important battles of the First World War: the naval Battle of Jutland, the French and German ten-month Battle of Verdun, and of course the Battle of the Somme, so indelibly marked on our national consciousness. Now in its sixth year, The Daily Mail Chalke Valley History Festival marked all of them, along with a vast range of talks, discussions, debates, and study mornings, from the dinosaurs right through to the Cold War and beyond. With a unique combination of speaker events and living history entertainment, including combat displays and interactive experiences, as well as a series of stunning short air displays with historic aircraft across the weekend, the Festival once more dazzled, entertained and educated, whatever your age.
Headlining for the first time this year, amongst others, were: the distinguished historian and commentator Niall Ferguson, author and broadcaster Melvyn Bragg, former Secretary of State and European Commissioner Peter Mandelson, renowned biographer Hermione Lee, philosopher AC Grayling, and legendary musician Mark Knopfler. Also making a debut appearance on this year’s impressive speaker list was former Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, former head of the British Army Field Marshall Lord Bramall, political commentator and writer Jonathan Dimbleby, the journalist and popular scientist Matt Ridley, art historian and BBC television presenter Dan Cruickshank, and former Beirut hostage Terry Waite. Festival favourites making a welcome return included Max Hastings, Michael Morpurgo, Dan Snow, Suzannah Lipscomb, Ian Hislop, Andrea Wulf, Michael Wood, Tracy Borman, Dan Jones, Alice Roberts, Simon Sebag Montefiore and Charlie Higson.
Veterans of the Second World War have always been a huge draw at the Festival, and this year
Chalke Valley History Festival welcomed Herr Günter Halm, a German veteran of North Africa and
Normandy and Knight’s Cross winner – awarded to him in person by Field Marshal Rommel in
1942. Johnny Johnson, the last surviving Dam Buster, was also discussing the Dams Raid
and his time in Bomber Command, while Joy Hunter, one of Churchill’s wartime secretaries,
was be discussing with Andrew Roberts her memories of working for the Prime Minister, plus
the incredible events she witnessed and people she met.
The annual Prospect Debate was controversial with the motion ‘Trident: Britain’s
Nuclear Deterrent Should be Consigned to History’ – contested by Professor Lord Hennessy
and Philip Dunne, Minister of State for Defence Procurement against Professor David
Edgerton and Kate Hudson, General Secretary of CND – as relevant today as it has ever been.
In 2015 the Festival introduced a series of panels entitled The Long View where current world
issues were discussed by experts and Festival audiences through the prism of history. Following
its success last year, 2016 saw two topical issues discussed: the first on Migration, with historians Peter Heather and Keith Lowe as well as Jack Straw, and the second entitled
‘Baiting the Russian Bear’, when writers and opinion formers such as Peter Frankopan and
Edward Lucas, along with Marina Litvinenko, discussed the fragile relationship between
Russia and The West, chaired by Mary Ann Sieghart.
For many attending the Daily Mail Chalke Valley History Festival one of the highlights each year
is the series of spectacular air displays, which took place at intervals over the two weekend days.
There can be few more stunning places to watch the historic aircraft overhead than in the Chalke
Valley and, with many planes already confirmed for this summer’s show, this year’s displays
were particularly special. The list included: a Fairey Swordfish, an Auster, a Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk, a Hawker Hurricane, a Supermarine Spitfire XIX, a Supermarine Spitfire IX, a Vought F4U Corsair and a Yakovlev Yak-3.
The centrepiece was the spectacular Second World War displays which will included multiple tanks in action, guns and infantry, all working together. Another major focus was King Alfred’s Battle for Wessex. There was an Anglo-Saxon settlement, with more than 100 re-enactors, as well as a recreated Viking longship. Covering some two thousand years of history, there was also an impressive list of demonstrations and displays to choose from, with lots of family-based inter-active events, including Anglo-Saxon Bread Making, Musketry in the American War of Independence, a Battle of Waterloo Diorama with the BBC’s Peter Ginn and Mark Evans, and Tudor Fast Food.
2016 also saw a series of fun, fact-filled, informal Pop-Up History talks at various locations around and throughout the Festival. They were interactive and free half-hour talks where audiences were encouraged to ask questions and feel involved. Talks were given by historians, speakers and experts who talked on a wide range of topics – from a shipwreck off the Dorset coast to steam trains, and from fabrics of the First World War to the efficacy of the Cromwell tank.
There was also a scale section of a First World War trench. Built by a team of experts and local volunteers, using authentic methods and materials, plus official period manuals, as well as drawing upon the testimonies of those who built and fought in them, this was as close a representation of what a First World War trench was like as is possible. To mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme, there was a service at the Trench from 7.15am on Friday 1st July, led by the Bishop of Salisbury.
Running alongside the main programme, the Festival for Schools saw thousands of pupils, from primary school to sixth formers, visit during the first half of the week on special days dedicated to different year groups. Aimed at Years 6, 10 and 12, a wide range of curriculum-based subjects was discussed by eminent historians on subjects as varied as The Vietnam War, The History of Medicine, Radio Women: History through the BBC, 17th Century Witchcraft, and Stalin’s Great Terror. Experts were on hand to show and explain the secrets of the past, encouraging students to learn and to get involved. Guest speakers for 2016 included Ben Kane, Professor Hew Strachan, Dr Kate Murphy, Peter Caddick-Adams and local adventurer Charlie Walker.
On the evening of 2nd July and as part of Dress Up Saturday, with a Spitfire and Hurricane flying over, it was to get the dancing shoes on for The Chalke Valley History Festival Blitz Party. There was live music all night, from beautiful Bombshell Belles, the legendary London Swing Orchestra, and the delicious D-Day Darlings.
New at the Festival this year was the Children’s Creative History Tent, which provided art and craft activities for children aged 6 – 12 throughout the weekend and was where children could create their own exciting historical object to take home. The History Tellers were also giving free talks – primarily aimed at children – using props and costumes, and recounting tales from our rich historical past.