History of the Group

The Garrison was formed in 1988, based at, and supporting through military re-enactment, the Coalhouse Fort Project – a restoration of a Victorian fortress at East Tilbury, Essex on the River Thames. The two founding organisers were Richard Barton and Jonathan Catton. The initial aims were to represent the Royal Artillery garrisons who serviced the coastal guns based at the fort during the Victorian, Great War and the Second World War periods  – thus "The Garrison" title was adopted. The re-enactment complimented the aims of the Charity trying to raise funds and open access to the fort.

The Second World War period attracted Jeff Ball, Gavin Cooper and Nigel Lane to Coalhouse Fort. They had various interests in military history, vehicles and uniforms. The Garrison soon took over the blank-firing of the fort's 25-pounder field gun and although the drills were basic we soon found out more through drill books and ‘Gunners’ who shared experiences and reminiscences of the Second World War. By 1990 we had developed a constitution and members' rules, but were still a small group of dedicated ‘friends’.

The Garrison joined up with two new members who had been on the fringe of our re-enactment - Mark Patman and Gary Hughes - who helped to established a base at Dover Castle, thanks to English Heritage. Here were opportunities to expand the role of the re-enactor, not only in to the Naval Services who operated within the administration HQ in the tunnels underneath the castle but also roles as cooks, doctors, AA Gun Plotters and signals. This included our first experiences with the addition of ATS! We also continued to fire the 3.7” gun and 25pdr field gun based at Dover. The Garrison operated increasingly from Dover and less from Coalhouse Fort which, with much restoration to be completed, minimised the operation of a stable accommodation.

Gunners On Parade Quick change of Uniform Girls On Parade

The latest phase of the group from 1997 was the offer of even better accommodation at Tilbury Fort, Essex, another English Heritage site, next door to Coalhouse fort. Here we have the opportunity to use an Officers unit within the Quarters, storage and parking facility. Here we have operated for 5 years, delivering a range of artillery and family event days based around the Second World War. We have also developed a range of other re-enactment events where we have demonstrated full living history, arena events, static displays and museum presentations – everything from the big bang through to the exploration of the minute detail of the kit of a soldier. We are still based at Tilbury Fort developing a range of educational activities, themed events and displays for visitors to the site.

The latest development of The Garrison is the joining with the Ack Ack Living History Group, who concentrate on the Anti-aircraft and searchlight operations during the war. This group have worked with us on many events in the last three years – which we now operate under the same management committee, constitution and member rules. This allows another new cross-routing for all members to participate in a wider range of presentations throughout the year. A special feature of the new group is their role in training weekends which have been educational and important for the safe operation of equipment.

So, after more than twenty years of re-enactment – we now have an artillery troop (four guns) two searchlights and a Bofors but not quite enough gunners – so consider joining up and enjoy your past heritage!

Support us by seeing our displays - look up our current events calendar to see where The Garrison are next performing!