The clash of swords, arrows flying, shouted commands and furious war cries…and a few minutes later, the ‘dead’ get up off the ground, drink some water, and grin as they reset for another go.

At least, that’s the main event. Wars are often at the centre of a larger camping event, which might have Tournaments, Target Archery competitions, classes, Equestrian displays, and other fun activities built into the schedule. The main part, though, is 20-100 Armoured Fighters and Combat Archers taking sides in a medieval battle scenario.

(PLEASE NOTE: at a war, you may hear someone call ‘HOLD!’ This is our all-purpose danger warning, and if you hear it, you should freeze and repeat the call. Once the danger has been identified and resolved, you may continue with what you were doing.)

What happens in a war?

Before the event, the organisers will decide on the format and win conditions for the battle. This could be holding a bridge, besieging a castle, or a simple last-man-standing scenario. Sometimes there’s a resurrection point that ‘killed’ fighters need to return to before re-entering a battle in progress. Some battles will allow combat archers, and others won’t. The organisers will also often come up with a playful ‘reason’ for the war to be fought – for example, we once fought a war with the Barony of Rowany (in Sydney) over ownership of the Canton of Okewaite (in Goulburn). Combatants will declare for one side or another (and if need be, will modify their allegiances to even out the numbers). Some groups will hold special practices in the lead up to a war, for skills like combat archery and holding a shield wall that don’t get practiced in regular training.

When everyone has arrived at the field, all the combatants will be inspected by our marshals (combat safety officers) to make sure their equipment is up to scratch. They’ll go over the rules of the scenario, and decide where it will be safe for spectators to be while they watch. Once everyone’s ready and in position, the marshals will call ‘lay on!’ to start the battle. A single battle generally doesn’t last very long – ten minutes is on the lengthy end of things. Battle scenarios are often repeated several times, and multiple scenarios played out, to make up hours of war. Every few battles or so, there’ll be a break for all the fighters to re-hydrate and rest. Throughout the day, the marshals will keep score, and at the end of the event the organisers will announce the overall winner.

Is it safe?

Yes! Occasional injuries do happen, but we have first aid officers, called Chirurgeons, who have additional training to deal with injuries in armour and other SCA-specific situations. We also have a good relationship with St John’s Ambulance, and representatives are sometimes invited to our events to provide additional first aid. Of course, we’d rather prevent injuries in the first place, and to do that we have safety officers called marshals, who enforce kingdom-wide safety standards. These include armour requirements, maximum bow poundages, arrows with blunt rubber tips, and a safe zone around the battlefield. Equipment is inspected before fighting begins, and marshals remain on the field (wearing armour of their own) to call a halt if they see a dangerous situation. In general, participants go home with a few bruises to show off, and fun stories to tell about the times they got ‘killed’ that day.

Can I fight?

Maybe! We want to be sure that all the fighters and archers on the war field are trained in safe combat practices, so we require everyone to be authorised by one of our safety officers (called marshals). If you’d like to learn, come along to our regular training, or contact our armoured combat officer at marshal.polit@gmail.com or our archery officer at archery.polit@gmail.com.

I don’t fight – is it worth coming?

Yes! Wars can be very exciting to watch, and there’s always a spectator section (carefully removed from the area where arrows are flying). Our combatants are also always grateful for volunteer water-bearers, who help distribute water and sports drinks during breaks to keep everyone hydrated.

Can kids come?

Yes! For safety reasons, children aren’t allowed to fight, but that doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy the show. We recommend that children at the toddling stage be kept away from the battlefield, however, as there aren’t any solid barriers between the spectators’ area and the field itself. From fourteen and up, teenagers can take the field as non-combatants (e.g. banner-bearers or drummers), so long as they have parental permission and wear appropriate safety equipment.