Cosby 'Victory Show'
Friday 2nd September - Sunday 4th September 2022
The Victory Show is the UK’s largest Word War II re-enactment event, which features a flying display within its varied programme. Warbirds operating from a farm strip and a feast of topside views are ample justification for a visit to Cosby, but the flying display is only a part of a living history experience that transports the visitor to a bygone age. Delighted that rumours of the event’s demise in 2021 were unfounded, we couldn’t resist a return visit to this gem of an event.
reports from Foxlands Farm. Photography by the UKAR Staff Team.
The Victory Show is now an established occasion in the summer calendar and not too far off its 20th anniversary. The event is very much more than an airshow, the flying display just one of the strands that weave the story of World War II throughout. The show ground is set in 100 acres of Foxlands Farm, the terrain varying from open fields to woodland, giving the living dioramas built by a multitude of re-enactment groups a perfect and realistic setting. And those dioramas provide an absolutely fascinating and, it must be said, a thoroughly entertaining window into another era.
Living history groups are not unusual on the airshow circuit. In fact, re-enactors, vintage vehicles and associated paraphernalia are often seen at aviation events, especially those with a vintage theme. But The Victory Show is a level deeper in realism. The living dioramas are truly immersive, in atmosphere as well as the physical trimmings of war time. A visitor will walk from NAAFI to field hospital, past a home guard HQ and a radio operations post, around military vehicles and weapons, displayed with an attention to detail which is deeply convincing. Bloodshed and injury are not airbrushed out; war is depicted and so are they. The re-enactors, of which there seemingly hundreds, are just as convincing in their own appearance and demeanour, yet are approachable and in fact love nothing more than to chat. They educate in a most engrossing way, it is impossible not to learn. Appropriately, the Friday of this three day event is designated school day.
Battle re-enactment is doubtless the headline act for many of the Victory Show’s visitors. The woodland area was themed around Arnhem this year, with British and German forces ‘dug in’ around the trees and streams. Parachute canopies hung from treetops, camp fires burned, radios crackled. Twice a day, a skirmish broke out and gun fire rattled from seemingly all directions. As ever, this was like walking through a movie set. But The Victory Show’s top of the bill is undoubtedly the land battle re-enactment. A half-hour set piece, it was an absolute spectacle to behold. Advancing allied forces, equipped with tanks and other mobile assets bombarded their way into the battlefield, with huge and impressive pyrotechnic explosions. Fanned by a stiff breeze the tinder dry stubble field burned for some time afterwards, especially on Saturday. The resulting smoke contributed even more to the battlefield atmosphere as the allied side advanced to inevitable victory over the German forces.
As the drama of battle subsides, eyes turn to the skies as the flying display begins. It is a shame that one follows the other so quickly, with either a very short break on Saturday or with no break at all on Sunday. The distance between battlefield and airstrip isn’t huge, so even a half hour gap would allow spectators to comfortably relocate between arenas without missing anything. The opportunity to see warbirds operate from a small farm strip really is a rare one, and while the flying display isn’t particularly long at around 10 items, it is truly unique. The display axis at Foxlands Farm is constrained by local geography to a narrow, curved by 45 degrees corridor around one side and one end of the showground. Aerobatic displays as we are accustomed to at airshows aren’t compatible with the constraint on the display area here, so, take offs and landings aside, what we see at Cosby is a series of passes around the bend in the showground. This is a photographer’s dream of course, topside pass after topside pass. It has to be noted this can become repetitive, but commentary was informative, and there was some variety in the aircraft presented, which kept the flying display as interesting as possible for all spectators, given the contraints.
The flying display programme itself unfortunately seems to involve a little bit of pot luck if you are attending on one day only. While the participants list is publicised well in advance it does seem that not all items are planned to appear on both days, even taking unforeseen operational reasons into account. This would to be very easy to correct in future; to know what’s booked for which day would be most welcome.
Probably top of the bill in the flying display this year was the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Lancaster. To see it ‘topside’ around the display area was a rare treat, despite the grey cloud of the weekend not making the best backdrop for an airshow. It was a Saturday only item, there being no announcement from the organisers to this effect; the BBMF's own social media was the only clue that the Lancaster wasn't to appear on Sunday too. B-17 Sally B made the most of Cosby’s layout on both days, presenting a display as delightful as ever. Catalina ‘Miss Pick Up’ and Aero Legends’ Dakota KP220 operated from the field, which is a dramatic spectacle for large aircraft. Their displays were close, and their take offs and landings so much closer, quite probably uniquely so.
The Historic Army Aircraft Flight, with Auster AOP9, Beaver, Sioux and Scout were advertised to appear, which would be very appropriate not only as the helicopters and short-field capable Auster and Beaver would be able to operate within the constraints of the area and indeed bring something different, but also in theming, connecting ground forces to the air. Unfortunately, only the Auster and Sioux displayed on Saturday, returning to base afterwards due to an adverse weather forecast, and they were missed on Sunday. The Aircraft Restoration Company’s lovely Lysander V9312 did fly, carrying on that air to ground warfare connection, but rather than demonstrate slow speed or short field capability it zoomed around the banana shaped display line demonstrating just how quick it is.
Pete Kuypers displayed his Staggerwing with relish on Sunday only, and again with many topsides, but it was warbirds that filled the rest of the flying display. TF-51D 'Contrary Mary' and Rolls-Royce Spitfire PR Mk. XIX took solo slots. The Red Arrows were to have performed a flypast to complete the display on Sunday, but having suffered yet another technical problem their annus horribilis continued, and their appearance scrubbed. It was perhaps more appropriate to The Victory Show that Hurricane Mk. I P2902, Buchon ‘White 9’ and two Spitfires, a Mk. Vc EE602 and the stunning Mk. IX MH415 completed the show with an attack, scramble, dogfight and a delightful formation finale.
Saturday evening brought a nightshoot, separately ticketed and organised by Threshold.aero, which brings a further element to the event, especially welcome for those staying locally and wishing to make a weekend of it. For day visitors, a lunchtime flightline walk on both days provides unrestricted access to the aircraft on the ground. The flightline walk would be better for photographers if the general public was kept a respectful distance from the aircraft, but to do that would miss the point here. These elements are further manifestation of the true ethos of the event: getting the visitor so close to military history that they feel a part of it.
We are after all UK Airshow Review and it is for the aviation content of this event that I’m sure the majority of our readers will be curious. Indeed, it was the flying display that first drew me to The Victory Show. Yet, there is so much more to this event than flying displays. The event as a whole is an absolutely fascinating one, one that I’m confident in heartily recommending to all of our readers. I’m also confident that any visitor will find the events on the ground as entertaining and engaging, even as exciting, as the displays in the skies. It has a spirit which is unique in this reviewer’s experience, and long may it continue.