Jackson County

She slips back in time to WWII, sometimes as a nurse, sometimes a soldier

Lauren Pursley has been re-enacting World War II for 17 years, but it has been only in recent years that women were accepted as soldiers. Here she’s volunteering at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans as a medic from that era.
Lauren Pursley has been re-enacting World War II for 17 years, but it has been only in recent years that women were accepted as soldiers. Here she’s volunteering at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans as a medic from that era.

On Saturday, she will play a woman from the World War II era. Sometimes, however, she’s a soldier.

Lauren Pursley has been re-enacting skirmishes and battles from World War II and the Vietnam war for 17 years. And, in a way, she has come full circle.

She started out helping male friends put together their World War II uniforms with as much attention to detail and authenticity as possible. She was a history buff and loved the role that re-enacting plays in bringing history to life.

But Pursley was the wrong sex to “authentically” play a soldier in battle. Roles for women in her early re-enactments were restricted to nurse behind the lines or perhaps women’s auxiliary.

It was OK for her to work hard and help put together uniforms, “but they wouldn’t let me play,” Pursley said. And by play, she means being on the line in a battle re-enactment.

Today, she’s the second in command of a re-enactment unit out of Poplarville. She keeps her hair short anyway, so playing a soldier is no big stretch in that way. And she likes getting muddy with the guys.

However, now she is just fine re-enacting the roles women played in the war, especially during the living history part of re-enacting. When she does re-enact as a woman, she has a wig for that.

This Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. she will do an impression of a woman serving on a German flak crew in the Luftwaffe. That is authentic, something a woman would have done in World War II. She’ll be wearing the blue pants and jacket, short boots and M 43 cap — which means model 1943 — with her unit of guys who will be dressed as German soldiers in battle.

The unit will be part of the Third annual Re-enactment of the Battle of the Bulge at Beauvior. There will be American and German units encamped. There will be weapons displays, cooking demonstrations, uniforms, tents, vehicles and a skirmish at noon.

Pursley said she may dress like a guy and be involved in the skirmish as well, because she will help lead the unit. If she does, “you won’t know it. I’ll blend right in.”

There are few women who do it well and are accepted, she explained, “I’ve done it long enough that most re-enators accept me.”

One of the young men in her unit quipped, “They’d better respect her. She’s got a black belt in karate, and she kicks butt.”

We’re history nerds

The group she’s with is called Stabs Kompanie and includes about a dozen men from south Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas.

“We’re a unit of friends. That’s our motto,” she said.

Some of them have been friends for 20 years. The commander is Don Watson. Pursley’s the executive officer, or second in command. Some members have been featured in films and independent projects, like The Red Rose of Normandy, a B movie.

They reenact World War II as American, British and German troops and the Vietnam War as American.

“We’ve been involved in costuming for movie projects and offer technical assistance,” she said. “They like us as extras because we already have the uniforms and know how to act. There’s a lot of acting in re-enacting.”

She also has a militaria business, called Wephaus.com, that sells European military surplus, American surplus and WWII reenacting supplies.

Pursley speaks at a fast clip, and knows the history.

She calls re-enacting “historical impression,” and she said people do it for most of the major wars. Whatever people have a passion for, they are likely to dress up and act it out, she said, it can be pirates or super heroes.

“In our case, it’s a love of history that we share,” she said, “to step back in time and take people with us.”

She has always loved history, she said.

“I was surrounded by military people in my family. I grew up listening to their stories and it translated into collecting military memorabilia and a fascination with different wars.”

Re-enacting came later.

“It’s a way of taking history out of a museum and making it accessible to the public, so they can see and experience what it means to be a soldier,” she said, “giving a first-person account of history, to be someone else for a day and give a perspective of what it must have really been like.”

She said, “Really, we’re a bunch of big history nerds. That’s the bottom line.”

She did want to point out one important thing, that being German at Beauvoir this Saturday is in no way making a political statement.

“On any given weekend, I could be doing American or British. We like to see all sides of a war,” she said. “I’ll be German for this one.”

Third Annual Battle of the Bulge at Beauvoir, Wold War II living history and reenactment

  • 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, in the field behind the main house. Skirmish at noon.
  • Features U.S. and German encampments to tour, cooking demonstrations, weapons displays, uniforms, equipment, vehicles and tents.
  • Militaria vendor on site.
  • General admission: Adults $12.50, seniors and military $10, children 6 to18 are $7.50. Admission includes touring the Beauvior home, grounds and library.