Accrington Pals re-enactors taking part in First World War centenary commemorations claim new EU ‘counter-terrorism rules’ could see them risk prosecution.
The Great War Society is planning a Battle of the Somme tribute in France on July 1, featuring ‘Tommies’ dressed in full gear.
But they say if they take the deactivated Lee-Enfield rifles with them, a new European Union regulation could see them fall foul of the law.
Scott Knowles and other members of The Great War Society across the UK are currently lobbying MPs and MEPs for an exemption which they say will allow them to take their deactivated weapons to France and bring them home again without fear of confiscation and possibly even prosecution.
Scott said: “It’s one big confusing mess at the moment, but myself and other re-enactors won’t risk having our valuable deactivated weapons confiscated, and maybe even ending up behind bars ourselves.
“We feel we’re being punished by an unwieldy and unfit-for-purpose new law rushed in as a reaction to the threat of extremists. We’re not out to hurt anyone.
“As re-enactors we do it to remember the lads who gave their lives in the fight against tyranny, to ensure their sacrifice will not be forgotten.”
According to the Great War Society, the unusable rifles already meet UK standards but will need to be ‘re-deactivated’ to meet a new EU regulation.
Travelling to France on June 29, the British re-enactors plan to set up a ‘living history camp’ on the recreation ground in the Somme village of Mailly-Maillet. But they claim that, unless they can win some kind of special dispensation, they will be an unarmed Army camp.
Scott added: “Our plan was for at least a dozen Accrington Pals re-enactors to go ‘over the top’ at 7.30am on July 1, exactly 100 years since that fateful day.
“We would walk out into ‘no man’s land’ carrying our rifles with fixed bayonets, then at a given signal we would ‘reverse arms’ pointing our rifles at the ground and bowing our heads in silent commemoration of our fallen ancestors.”
He added: “None of that will be possible if we can’t take our deactivated rifles for fear of having them confiscated. It’s a ridiculous situation. We’ll be dressed as Tommies, with kit that’s correct in every detail, but no rifles.”
A total of 584 Pals were killed or injured on July 1, 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme.