AS the nation prepares to mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War next year there has never been a greater appetite for wartime nostalgia.
So organisers of the Pickering War Weekend are set for an extra-busy event this weekend when up to 60,000 visitors are expected to flock to the North Yorkshire market town to relive the spirit of wartime Britain.
Although the event specifically commemorates the Second World War, the fast-approaching centenary of its predecessor has brought increased interest which is expected to bolster visitor numbers.
Philip Benham, the manager of the North York Moors Railway, which founded the annual event, said: “It seems that the interest grows year on year and the further you get away from it the stronger the fascination.
“There is this sense of nostalgia in us all and that’s what our business is, running a heritage railway.
“The rose tinted spectacles come on and people look to the camaraderie of people working together for the common cause.
“I’m also very aware of the fact we have gone through tough times for many people, economically, and looking back to a different era perhaps takes people away from themselves a bit.”
The event, which is the biggest of its kind in Europe and is now in its 21st year, was founded to honour the 395 London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) workers who were killed on duty during the conflict.
“There is a serious side to this as well,” said Mr Benham.
“Of course, transport was very different then to now and trains were the absolute backbone of the country, moving military personnel and all the munitions and supplies for the war effort.
“They were absolutely fundamental to the successful execution of the war.”
Passengers on the railway – which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year – will travel back in time some 70 years as re-enactments are played out on its stations’ platforms.
And they will even be transported to the continent if they stop off at Levisham, which has been given a Gallic makeover to become Le Visham for the weekend – a recreation of a Nazi-occupied French village.
Re-enactors dressed in German uniforms will be on duty there to check papers and look for spies.
Goathland station has become a base for the Home Guard, where visitors can learn how to cook nutritious meals from scant wartime rations, while Grosmont will host a display of aircraft including a replica RAF Battle of Britain Spitfire, and a recreation of a German Messerschmitt cockpit.
Beck Isle Museum in Pickering will be home again to the popular Second World War US Army Encampment, where there will be displays of American vehicles, weapons, uniforms and field equipment.
Pickering Showground will host music and dancing, a militaria and vintage trade fair, a 1940s hair and beauty salon and vintage fairground rides as well as evening entertainment.
And at Pickering Castle, visitors can meet soldiers of the East Yorkshire Regiment as they drill, plan and prepare for battle.
The festivities got under way yesterday when pupils from schools in Pickering, Hull, Redcar, Stockton and Whitby followed in the footsteps of evacuees, marching to Pickering Station and boarding a train to Goathland.
But the event will really get into full swing today when there will be a civilian vehicle and foot parade through the town this morning as well as a fly-past by a Tiger Moth plane at Grosmont, weather permitting.
Highlights tomorrow include a morning Remembrance and wreath-laying service to mark the sacrifices made by so many men and women during the Second World War, followed by a parade of military vehicles through the town.
“We are looking forward to a successful weekend,” said Mr Benham.
And organisers are already looking to 2014’s event, too, and how best to mark the centenary of the First World War.
“We’re certainly thinking very seriously about that for next year,” said Mr Benham.
“We will undoubtedly reflect that in some way or another – whether we turn the whole thing over to World War Two or whether we try to blend the First and Second World Wars, we’re still thinking about that.
“We are very much guided by the views of our re-enactors and visitors so we will take guidance from them, but almost certainly at least one of the stations will reflect 1914.”