During the week Mark Almond is a jeweller but, as Roz Laws discovered, he has a blast at the weekends.
The air fills with smoke as explosions shatter the silence. There’s a burst of bright orange heat as a fireball blows up. Hundreds of soldiers, tanks and armoured cars plough across the battlefield as airborne troopers parachute in. And as a Hurricane and a Spitfire fly overhead, the ground is strafed with gunfire.
It could be July 1944 again as the Second World War is recreated on a Midland field.
And the man who makes sure it all goes with a bang is Birmingham jeweller Mark Almond.
He’s the chief pyrotechnician for the Second Armored In Europe unit, which this weekend is taking part in a spectacular show called Festival of History.
It’s a family affair for Mark, 39, who attends events with his father Keith and his 14-year-old son Brad.
Not only does he blow things up, but he spends all weekend in character as an American platoon sergeant, using authentic equipment, holding an M1 Carbine rifle and even eating 1940s rations.
He rides around in a 1942 Willys jeep, while a friend owns a Sherman tank.
Mark explains: “Some people think my hobby is a bit weird, but who wouldn’t want to blow things up? It’s every young boy’s dream, like playing with a giant chemistry set.
“I’ve grown up with historical re-enactments as my dad took me to my first when I was six months old.
“He used to blow things up in the Special Air Service. When he left he joined a group reenacting the American Civil War.
“I like to play with tanks and big bangs so I migrated towards the Second World War. Dad followed me and is still active at 65. Father and son blowing things up together just adds to the fun.
“Brad is too young at 14 to take part in the fighting but he gets to ride around in tanks. His generation has grown up with Second World War computer games, but he can do it for real.
“My wife Clare was hoping that our five-year-old daughter Millie would be into dolls and pink things, but she loves riding in the jeep too and I’m sure she’ll be the next to join.
“Clare likes to watch the battles but then she goes home to the comfort of her own bed, leaving me and Brad to camp out.
“I’m in charge of the explosions and simulating gunfire. I’m up at 7am preparing – it takes about six hours for a half-hour show. I’m laying cables and filling in risk assessment forms. Complying with all the health and safety rules and paperwork is a nightmare, but it has to be done.
“I’ve had three years of training to get the necessary certificates. I’ve been trained by a guy who worked on the Bond films and Saving Private Ryan.
“We buy all the pyrotechnics in ready-made, like giant fireworks, and set them off with a remote control.
“We use petrol for the fireballs. The secret is to blow it up once, then let the petrol vaporise, then blow it up again for a good effect.”
Mark, who also dresses up as a Roman soldier for re-enactments with the Ermine Street Guard, is part of the Second Armoured in Europe unit. They take part in battles in Britain and all year round in Belgium, Holland and across Europe.
Some of the group were extras in Steven Spielberg’s epic TV series Band of Brothers, while Mark’s boots and jacket were worn by actors in the film Saving Private Ryan. He has appeared on screen in documentaries for the History Channel and in Medal of Honor games.
“Ninety-five per cent of my uniform is original, even down to the underwear, but it’s getting harder to get hold of 60-year-old clothes,” says Mark, from Great Barr.
“So some pieces are replica, bought from film sets. We try very hard to get it right. It’s important to be 100 per cent authentic and pay attention to detail out of respect for the fallen.
“The re-enactments are about keeping the memory of veterans’ alive as well as having fun.
WWhen they see us dressed in their uniforms, it takes them back to being young men again.
“I mainly play an American soldier, but the Second Battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment, based in Lichfield, is close to my heart.
“I’ve met a lot of their veterans, like radio operator Corporal George Parry.
“He died last year aged 95 and we went to his funeral.”
Mark works for Weston Beamor in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter and finds his job can help his hobby.
“When they can’t find original medals and buttons, I cast them up at work,” he says.
English Heritage’s Festival of History, which takes place this weekend at Kelmarsh Hall in Northamptonshire, tells England’s story across the centuries. It includes re-enactments of the Battle of Hastings and skirmishes from the Wars of the Roses and Boer War, a medieval jousting tournament plus gladiators and First World War trench experience.
But the highlight of each day will be the Second World War battle.
“Some of the guys play German soldiers as there have to be bad guys, but we always tend to win to please the crowds,” reveals Mark.