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Andy

Why do we do this?

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trenchwalker
I was intriged - and disgusted - to read the story about the SS re-enactors.

OK, I agree that "swanning about" in the uniform and continuing the act when "off duty" is a little tasteless (I'd think the same of re-enactors of any unit of any time period, but ,surely,re-enacting the SS units is simply re-enacting a historical unit which is as necessary as any other? I can't imagine any decent re-enactment of the Battle of the Bulge not including elements of the Liebstandarte, Normandy without the Hitlerjugend or Arnhem without the Hohenstauffen and Frundsberg units.

Ok, there are all the political connotations surrounding the initials "SS", but there were many brave soldiers who gave their all in the ranks of these units (yes, there were attrocities committed, but this is also true of other units on other sides). For these reasons, I believe that Waffen SS units should be portrayed in historical re-enactments and re-enactors of these units have as much right to be there as any other.

Dave.

You will learn a re-enactor is never off duty.haha

but it is true but hitlerjugend kid of the age of 12 running aroung in kit like they did it can be quite disterbing.

I had a gtgt uncle was in the waffen ss and died on the russian front.

But the thing is there are no waffen ss or even regular soldier about they are all ss panzer grenidres and death squads. :blink:

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Jim_Grundy

I've been researching the experiences of those from my area for some time now. I knew my grandfather won the MM in the Great War and my great-uncle had died in 1922, the result of being gassed and wanted to find out more. I've always had an interest in history in general but became absolutely hooked on the Great War the more I read about the lives of those who went through it.

Why do I do it still? The first local man to win the MM was a chap called Luther Bailey, 12th Notts & Derby. He wrote some wonderful letters and his character really comes through in them. He was killed on 27th March 1918 and, although this might sound daft, I was genuinely saddened when I read the letters his comrades sent to his family that appeared in the local newspaper.

Later, I traced the family and passed on what I knew. His niece wrote a lovely letter to me, which she concluded by saying, "Thank you for bringing my mother's brother back into our family". That, for me, is reason enough. I cried and am not ashamed to say so.

Cheers,

Jim

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CROONAERT
With respect, what 'other units on other sides' were similarly involved ...  I will even go out on a limb and suggest that never in the history of mankind has a force ever enacted crimes against humanity to the degree this regime did.

The Mongols, Romans, Crusaders, Normans, and in more modern memory the Turks ("who remembers the Armenians?"), the USSR,the Japanese, the Khmer Rouge, etc.,etc.

(I'm not defending them in any way, by the way David, I just believe that it's necessary not to eradicate them from Living History displays because, if they're not represented, there's a chance that their deeds might be forgotten eventually, then...who knows?)

Dave. :)

PS, Trench. I was referring to the "Hitlerjugend" SS unit (12/ SS Panzer Div.),not the "Hitler Youth" as such (more like 17/18/19 year olds "running about in kit"). I take it by your last sentence that you're referring to re-enactors rather than the real thing? I've seen re-enactors portraying the "Skanderburg" Division, which was a mountain unit made up of Albanian Muslims (why they chose this unit, I don't know! :blink: ) By the way, SS Panzer Grenadiers were part of the Waffen SS.

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AndyHollinger

This thread has strayed. From "why we do it" to re-enacters.

The thought of an SS re-enactment group is very disturbing to me. From a purely military viewpoint they were excellent soldiers and I am not too sure, as a miliatry man, I wouldn't have been trying to get into one of those units had it been me back then, in Germany, etc. However, when it comes to re-enactors, there are some difficult dilemnas (dilemnii?)

In this country, they are taken as a bit odd and probably a little off canter - but harmless folk whose hobby has gone a bit too far. Ted Turner has found they make good movie extras and they add to the TV/Cinema appeal to national battlefield parks during anniversary times. But, when it comes down to it ... they're modern people who often forget that they're portraying men who fought and died to keep slavery. Say what you will - the war may have been "about" other things ... but it boils down to slavery. There are lots of people walking around free today because they lost and for a bunch of people who go that one little step beyond playacting and wish they hadn't lost ... well, from wishing you can very easily go to believing ... and from believing you go .... well, off the edge and start doing things like the Texas Independance movement and the survivalists, all of which gives those real Homeland Security folks a real reason for being ... we don't need that.

Now, I say that with the full knowledge that my Grandfather (yes, Grandfather) was a Confederate Veteran. He fought with Forest as a boy and I have been asked many times to be in the Sons of Confederate Veterans. I don't believe one should pull Stars and Bars from the graveyards (or from people's homes) but the attitude is dangerous in a modern democracy. I didn't join because I found most of the people had made that step beyond historical interest and moved into the political looney bin. OK ... yes, my personal hero is Robert E. Lee ... and yes, I believe most of what the Confederacy was about was resistance to an usurping, powerful Federal Gov't .... (who was trying to take their slaves away) and when it was all done, Cotton and the South did survive the demise of that particular institution ... was the 600,000 deaths worth it? My family lost all it had and most of the men in it ... but it drove us to Texas ... as Kurt Vonnegut might say "so it goes" ...

History by feel is pretty cool stuff. Seeing the pictures of the WWI re-enactors digging a trench and living in it during a Christmas break in Belgium was interesting ... and I can't see anything poltically strange about Tommies or Doughboys or even the picklehaube (sp?) re-enactors ... but donning the black Waffen SS garb and do what?

A buddy of mine at Graduate School at Emory, did his PhD on the SS and found it fascinating that, step, by step a group could be led into the abyss of human depravity ... another piece of excellent research is Christopher Brown's Ordinary Men ... shows how ordinary guys can particpate in the final solution ... and those that stayed, just did the job ...

I guess I come out on the side that says "enough already" be good German Soldiers if you want ... but Waffen SS? Next we'll start saying Horst Wessel was a folk song ...

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Bert Heyvaert

Wow, I didn't expect that my message would cause such a chain of reactions.

I'm not suggesting that SS-re-enactors should be banned from Belgium. But I think there is a very large difference between wearing these insigna when re-enacting and wandering around with them on the street. It takes me only a five minutes walk in my home-village in Belgium to find at least 10 people who had relatives which were arrested, tortured and in many cases killed by Belgian SS-people in the second world war. I bet it can't be very difficult to find them in Ypres as well. Evening if the person wearing the uniform does not share SS-ideology, Please consider how older people would feel if they saw someone wandering around in their street like this... My grandfather was a resistance member, although I have to admit he only did this to get decent food while he was hiding to avoid compulsary employment in Germany. He always quite respected the people of his age who choose to go and fight at the Eastern front with the German army, but until his last breath he was disgusted by people who gave in their own countrymen and friends. I can only agree with him.

Secondly, I'm pretty sure that public display of swastica's, SS-insigna's and other such things is illegal by law in Belgium, and I think people should keep this in mind.

regards,

Bert.

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iain mchenry

Firstly apologies for drifting off the original subject, but it was my intention to start a thread on re-enactment. Again this is only my own personal views and I apologise if it upsets any re-enactors out there.

I personally find the re-enactment business very very sad, if not disrespectful to those who came before us. I would hate to see in the future re-enactors trying to re-enact times that I and my collegues have spent in modern conflicts such as Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Kosovo and Sierra Leone. If you want to know what it was like then interview those who came before you, don't go digging modern trenches and live in them as was done over Xmas in Belgium, a few years ago. After seeing the state of some re-enactors in their uniforms I get quite disgusted. When you see a re-enactor dressed in a front line infantry units uniform, who has not seen his knees for a number of years I find this very disrespectful. When I see them at memorials in their uniform acting as a guard of honour, I find that disturbing. Fred Karnos Army. If you wish to be in military dress to celebrate or honour a part of military history, all i can say is "Join the Forces". For example, the 90th aniversary of the Mons retreat next year I find disturbing the amount of re-enactors on that march. I am not against the march in any way, but if you want to do it put on your hiking boots and walking trousers, not your copy of your WW1 uniform.

Recently in Mons we had a "Tanks in town weekend" an annual event where owners of WW2 armoured tracked and wheeled vehicles bring their pride and joy into the town square for all interested to enjoy. Some of the long haired bearded hippies that arrived in WW2 british and US uniforms laughing and waving made me angry. As far as I am concerned they were disrespecting that nations uniform and what it stands for.

I do realise that I may have been a bit harsh on my comments, I know of a few others out there that agree, I also will contradict myself slightly when I say that when I watch certain documentaries on Mil History on TV, it IS interseting to see footage of people dressed in period costume for the educational purpose of it. But to do it for the "Hobby" I find sad.

Iain

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Andy

Blimey! I come home after a wet weekend in Whitby to find my thread has over 50 replies. Thanks for the replies, extremely interesting indeed.

We may have gone a little off-thread with the re-enactors thing but if anybody else is like me they wouldn't be too bothtered, I cant say Ive ever seen any of them, and also if I was one of them I would be in the "cant see my knees" company!

I read that one person has a feeling of being at home on the Somme....same here.

My Grans first husband died out there and the land south of Trones Wood still leaves me with a feeling of....well..awe. I feel it is an honour to be able to walk the ground he crawled across, fought and died for. Hard to explain but I'm sure there's not only two of us feel this way.

Finally, the reason we went up to Whitby?

We have looked in the Lifeboat museum, local museum and walked along the cliff tops to find fragments of info on HMHS Rohiila, a hospital ship that sank in Oct 1914 at Whitby. Anybody else got any info on this ship? Let's not go off-thread again, email me if you wish or I could start another thread.

Regards, Andy Fitton.

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uncle bill

I fully understand that the folk who lived in WW2 are very sensitive as I inadvertantly found out myself. I stress that I'm not a reenactor but I'll tell you an amusing episode. A few years ago just after Christmas we had the mother of all storms, trees fell, fences were being ripped off, poodles and tiles flying through the air, I'm sure you get the picture. After a few tiles crashed off my roof I decided to go out and have a look, their was a power cut and all was black. My wife said be careful so I grabbed a German helmet from my collection and braved the elements. In the darkness I came face to face with my neighbour, a charming old Frenchman who was at Dunkirk. His face was one of terror as a German helmetted figure loomed out of the howling darkness and asked him if all was well.

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Aurel Sercu
(...) I personally find the re-enactment business very very sad, if not disrespectful to those who came before us.

(...) I know of a few others out there that agree.

(...) ... on TV, it IS interseting to see footage of people dressed in period costume for the educational purpose of it. But to do it for the "Hobby" I find sad.

As to re-enacting, I have always had very mixed feelings. And maybe 'mixed feelings' is not the correct word : for I tend to share Iain's opinion whole-heartedly.

I have always found it puzzling that re-enacting appeared to receive support and encouragement from Forum members. So I thought : Well, it seems that I am the only one with this opinion ; maybe I was not really normal when 5 decades ago I gave up dressing up as, at the time, cowboy or indian. So if some people go on enjoying 'playing at soldiers', why not ? After all, this is a harmless game.

'Enjoying'... Yes, that's the word that bothered me. What happened 90 years ago was so tragic that 'enjoying' it later when re-enacting is, in my opinion, a bit indecent, unethical.

But gain : this is only my opinion. Nothing more. Maybe I have seen too many remains of British and French and German soldiers being unearthed on the Boezinge battlefield. And wondered too often : what would they have thought of re-enacting ?

But like Iain, maybe I am too harsh.

Aurel

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trenchwalker

As a reenactor i have this to say

there are some group out there as you say 'play soldiers' we do not do that we show history. we do not spend our reenactments running through a mock no mans land getting shot to peaces by germans. we are a living history group we show people the normal life of a tommie. so we can educate children and the public to the life of a tommie what he went through as the vetrans slowly depart this mortal coil we are really the only thing in the flesh to keep the memory going.

most reenactor are good people commited to there period nearly all the people women included in my group had family in the war.Aswell as reenactors we are all intrested in the great war,includeing david whithorn author of 'bringing uncle albert home'.

Tom hill staring in the trench

billy hamper 'the buff medways'

martin

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John_Hartley

I have a healthy disrespect for a lot of re-enactment (the sort where a bunch of guys run round playing soldiers - reminds me of paintballers). However, I'm going to support Trench's defence of "living history".

Fours years back, I was at Appotattox Courthouse (the site of the surrender of the Army Of Northern Virginia in the War between the American States). It is now a preserved "National Park". There were several "living history actors" telling part of the story of the surrender. Yes, you could say it was a gimmick. Yes, you could say it was only an interpretation of events. And yes, you could say it was corny.

But, I have to say, I found it aided my understanding of the events. So, I think this is one of those occasions where the answer is - "it depends". I felt OK there to hear someone tell the story standing on the front porch of the original building. it would not have been OK, if someone was doing similar in the cemetery that's next door to the park.

We can only speculate what the men who died in the Great war would have thought about it. I hope they wouldn't have thought it disrespectful. Very possibly, though, they will have seen a bit of re-enactment for themselves. "Wild West" shows toured Eurpoe extensively in the late 19th/early 20th centrury.

John

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trenchwalker

thanks

i mean for every two living history groups.

there is one group which is just a bunch twits running around with guns with totaly the wrong kit and idea of what went on.

like a reenactment we did this year we had a ww1 group approach us asking us to use there nurse group on battlefield

nurse on the front line

i must say the ww2 reenactor do not appeal to me as both my grandads served in the war. 1 on each side.

ww2 is still within living memory and the scars are still fresh 2day.

but on top of that

you have load of groups up to present day includeing

vietnam

koreia

and the gulf war

that i sad.

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duckman
there is one group which is just a bunch twits running around with guns with totaly the wrong kit and idea of what went on.

Re-enactors? - well whatever floats your boat...

My own path to here is clear, yet obscure. It was inevitable I suppose - I grew up in a street named for one of the troopships that took the 1st AIF to Egypt. And just around the corner were two squares named after Villers-Brettoneux, where as the legend had it (note past tense) a couple of battalions of ANZACs saved 5th Army in 1918.

I remember the first day I got interested in military history. I was about eight when I asked my Dad what had happened at Waterloo (don't remember why) and he showed me the lavishly illustrated souvenir program from Sergei Bondarchuks film. From then I was hooked - the bright uniforms, the almost-insane courage...

And I found myself wondering - What the hell made these men tick?

Around the same time my great-uncle died. He had been an artilleryman at Passchendaele, and never really recovered from the trauma. That there was "something" wrong with him was obvious even to a kid, but I felt upset that I had never understood what that "something" was - now easily diagnosed as 60 years worth of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Oh, and he lived in Merville Avenue - named for a town he had helped defend in 1918.

And I found myself wondering - What the hell made these men tick?

Later, I "discovered" that a different great-uncle had been wounded (later died) at the Nek - that would have been about the same time as "Gallipoli" came out, so he was in the same charge that killed Mel Gibson. At the time, his last letter home hung in the mess of the 4th/19th Prince of Wales Light Horse, and it eventuated that he had been wounded in the thigh, developed gangrene, refused to have his leg amputated and died.

And I found myself wondering - What the hell made these men tick?

Still wondering 20 years later. Slowly - sooooo slowly - coming to understand (or as well as I ever will).

I've never visited a WWI battlefield, but look forward to it. I have never been moved in quite the way I was the misty October day I walked on Bosworth field. Maybe its the blood in the soil, but fighting over a place - a town, a field, a trench - forever changes that place.

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AndyHollinger
I have never been moved in quite the way I was the misty October day I walked on Bosworth field. Maybe its the blood in the soil, but fighting over a place - a town, a field, a trench - forever changes that place.

I don't know either ... can only tell you I, too felt way when I walked Picket's charge at Gettysburg at 10. It was cold and raining when I walked up the hill at Hastings but bright and warm when I stood in the lane at Antiedam, my two days at Ypres and Vimy moved me beyond compare.

Part of this experience makes me feel inconsequential - but part of it proud ... Mostly I think the spirit of rememberance has formed and if nothing more but remembering these people were there and part of our heritage is important to me.

Few understand ... and it is definitely odd ... my students don't know why I tear up at times when talking about the strangest things (to them) ...

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chris Burge
On 29 November 2003 at 21:12, Chris_B said:

I stumbled across this forum after wondering around trying to fill in the blanks of some family history. I had a vague idea my Grandad had been in the Great War, but hadn't appreciated just how many adult relatives of his generation had been involved directly or touched by the War.

Then I discovered that first my Granddad had at least three male cousins and that one, Samuel, had lost his life in such a way that all there was to remember him was a name on a wall, I thought I should do something about it.

I don't know what happened to Samuel's younger brothers or his sister, I've no idea if they had children or grandchildren. I can't say if there's another Burge alive that has given a thought to this man for more than 80 years. I found out the Samuel's father died in 1924, his mother Clara Burge lived until the grand age of 88 and died in 1953, memories of Samuel seem to have died with them.

Perhaps an even poignant story is that of my Grandmother's first husband, John Henry Storer. My Grandmother and John were married for just a week, while John was on sick leave, before he had to return to France. Within three months he was killed. My Grandmother kept his memory all her long life, I never heard her talk of him but she respected his memory - kept his picture and his medals even after re-marrying.

Little by little I've found out more about these men, and my Grandad and my Grandad's brother and their brother in Law, all of whom were on the Western Front.

I'd like to think that one day I'll get to the Menin Gate and Vis-en-Artois. Because of the good friends I've made on this forum and elsewhere I have photos of the memorials now and know a lot more of the hisotry of these men.

It is my lasting hope they should not be forgotten again.

I have the full Burge family tree if you are interested. 

 

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Michael Thomson

This is a good topic! I've often wondered the same question. I've been interested in military history since a very young age...medieval battles and WW2 were my main fields of interest with the Normandy Campaign and Battle of Britain being my big interests.

 

My wife actually got me into WW1 history. We were visiting Normandy and she suggested we take a side trip to the Somme. To be honest I wasn't that keen as it was something I knew very little about and had only a passing interest in. We agreed to go for a day trip via Azincourt and only arriving there around 15h00 we had very little time so only saw Delville Wood, Beaumont-Hamel and the Lochnagar Crater but since that first taste on the Somme I've been utterly hooked.

 

It never ceases to amaze me that mankind's greatest and worst facets are so simultaneously and so conspicuously revealed in times of war. 

Edited by Michael Thomson
Spelling error

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Pubfinder

Micheal,

Similar ‘way in’ for me too. Always been interested in history and conflicts but never realised that I had relations (great uncles) who never came home from both France and Belgium until my father came to live with us and told me of his family who died in the war.

My best friend and I always do something ‘dumb’ for charity each year (canoeing up the great glen in Scotland, cycling coast to coast and even the bog snorkelling world championships in wales- NEVER to be repeated again!!) and in 2015 he suggested cycling around the Somme area starting at Gommecourt and ending at  Mammetz, we raised £1500 pounds for the poppy appeal in our local. 

What a trip it was we both went through a box of Kleenex, mansized of course, and that was it we were both caught. We have been every year since and tagged on visits to the salient too. We love it setting ourselves a target area each time following the footsteps of 1/5 North Staffs (in who we both have relatives who had fallen) and anything else we happen to come across especially some of the local brews.

Even She who must be obeyed twisted my arm to take her last year and she loved it too so much so that she wants to come again this year in December so we can catch the Christmas market in Brugges afterwards and even let ‘the boys’ have their own trip earlier in the year.

Mark

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BullerTurner
On 28/11/2003 at 09:10, uncle bill said:

Because it's a passion and one should never have to justify passion.

 

Oh, thank you, thank you, Uncle Bill!  That is the answer I would have struggled to produce but it is exactly the one I wanted!

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BullerTurner

I think my passion was probably ignited though by the plaque which stood on the wall, near the pulpit in my parish church.  I sat and read it through dozens of Sunday services and eventually did some research, when I was 11 or 12?  The Great War usurped by interest in the Napoleonic and American Civil War and they never got back in pole osition.

 

The plaque was to the memory of 2 Lieut. Alexander Buller Turner VC.  He is one of several pairs of brothers who received the VC; his brother winning it in the Western Desert in the war we do not speak of!  So my reserve great love was the VC and its history.  Surprisingly Thatcham, in Berkshire, was the home town of three VC winners. The third being from the Second Boer War, awarded to Pte William House, who like 2 Lt Buller Turner was of the Royal Berkshire Regiment. Pte House tragically took his own life in 1912 "while cleaning his rifle".

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julia jeffries

My husbands grandad was in the RFA and survived and lived until he was 104.  All his life he was regretful that money and age-related issues  and plain lack of knowledge prevented him visiting his brother's grave. So we went and the over-whelming feelings we had when we got there proved to be our hook. That and the look on grandad's face when we showed him the photos.

 

Last October was the centenary of his brother's death and like many of us on this site we went over.  This time with 13 other family members (some of which we had never met) who had never been before..

 

(The family of another soldier whose grave was 3 away from Ernest's arrived. Same mission as us.  It turned out that there was a very good chance they served together.)

 

 

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Marilyne
On 28/11/2003 at 00:04, Andy said:

Why do we find this subject so interesting?

 

15 years on this question still raises eyebrows... I've been told to "Get a f*** life!" by colleagues (as in fellow officers) and yes, the Boyfriend (who's new to all this sometimes just rolls his eyes, but... never doubts my sanity. He thinks that if all it takes to make me happy is let me read or let me loose on a cemetery with my camera and notebook, it's all good... and books or a poppy pin come in quite cheaper than jewellery or something (which I don't even wear, so that's settled...) 

But honestly, WHY??? For me because it all happened mostly in MY country, and because I won't have enough with a lifetime to figure it all out. 

It's for all those boys and girls lying in a corner of Belgium or France or wherever... 

Because they may never be forgotten

And because we have to learn from their history !! 

 

M.

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sassoon

I don't know the answer to the question and perhaps that's why I keep researching the Great War, visiting the battlefields, and consuming everything I can related to a subject that has defined my life from a very early age. 

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Marilyne

Just adding a layer...

yesterday we had command group meeting: CO, me, staff branches, Coy Cdrs. I'm the last to give out my points and I usually end with a funny picture to illustrate the latest month, or a meme... something related to what we did.

Yesterday I thought that after the last weeks having been quite ... how to say... really not fun at all, I'd give them all a piece of history and showed a picture of Elephant Jenny and told them the story that goes with it. Our unit's symbol is an elephant, so ... fits, doesn't it???

I got a table round of people looking at me quite incredulously, all going "euh... yes... and????? "

Later as we all had a coffee together, somebody raked it up and I started to tell them what was behind it... horse shortage, so the circus of Hamburg donated an elephant to work.

Everybody was laughing, one of my colleagues even roaring with laughter while I was giving a history lesson.

Before saying anything hurtfull, I downed my coffee, got out and back to my office.

the colleague apologised later, but still told me "we just don't understand you... with your horses, your international marches and your cemeteries..."

So yeah, I've got passions that are not that of 99% of the guys and girls my age but so be it !!

Accept it!

And please don't laugh about it!

 

M.  

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