Tommy Hellman

Another legend and a dear dear friend has fallen.

The Nestor of Swedish Re-Enactment, Tommy Hellman has succumbed to the cancer demon at an age of 70. He truly was the Grand Old Man of the Living History scene in Sweden.

He begun already in the 1970ies reenacting Swedish 17th century, of course with authentic cannon, mosquets, cuirasses, sabres, belts etc…at that time those things were cheap to aquire!  We met first at a the annual medieval festival MiddleAgeWeek on the Island of Gotland. I was 22, he must have been 45. We passed each other in an alley and both instantly verbally appriciated each others efforts to recreate some authentic looking medieval dress and equipment…I think I said something like: Hey you look like a dug up 13th century warrior! He always considered that the best compliment he had ever got. We both loved 13th century…the Age of Cathedrals and Castles…of troubadures and mail. The true Knightly Age. We read and discussed Commynes, Joinville, Villard, Froissart, Pisan and went to lectures. But we also loved plate armour of the later eras. And as sources were more abundant of the 15th century with paintings and literature we both joined a mutual swordloving friend named Björn Hellquist and formed a 15th century group… greatly inspired by some articles by Gerry Embleton in Military Illustrated… 

A couple of years later we got even more inspiration by the book by Gerry and John and we even managed to invite Ians gang of high end reenactors to Swedens only surviving 15th century castle, Glimmingehus. We met a talented young armourer named Per and an illustrator turned swordsmith Peter and a few clothing interested people, Amica, Karin and soon enough merged with a Stockholm based group with a bunch of warlike young men Alexander, Johan, Todd, Henrik and another Johan and some tough girls, Ida and Emma. And then we lived and breathed 15th century for a decade and more. Tommy bought armour from Per and sold authentic medieval mailshirts to us. Peter made swords. All made daggers. We travelled to many events spending days in a van and Tommy was always like a big history book always pouring out tales about medieval eyewitnesses and the artifacts he had handled. We doubled in lectures at the museums and castles, complementing each others knowledge. He was always very generous lending his armour to less fortunate armour owning members of the group so we could enjoy all those military adventures together. Never a rich man but always rich in generousity. That extended to modern life too. I could live at his place when I was “between” flats in the cruelty of housing in Stockholm. We spent many many nights discussing the Greeks, the Romans, the personalities from the Crusades, Nordic Medieval Culture and slowly he lured me into a passion for Napoleonic uniforms and history, especially the cavalry. He planted a seed for having one such made and also a civilan outfit. Sadly he never got to see my Hussar uniform project finished and not my armour project either. We never got to make that French cathedral tour or a classical Greek Tour. Always the lack of funds. But we travelled with the help of books and talks and many litres of Portwine.

Tommy was a reknown expert and collector of mosquets and at the bicenntial of the loss of Finland in 1809 he founded a Swedish Napoleonic group based on these devilish smoking weapons.(People who know me also know my strong dislike for gunpowder weapons! So I sadly never joined. I wanted to portray a hussar. With sabre.) Activity in the 15th century group was fading. We had accomplished all we wanted really. Living inside Glimmingehus (the only remaining medieval castle in Sweden), doing marches in the Swedish wilderness, sailing ship replicas, building a cannon, having grand Christmas feasts in medieval cellars in the Old Town of Stockholm, joining the CoSG for many a castle event being known as the crazy swedes, joining german large battle manouvers. Tommy lived for History…he played knight as a kid and collected and painted miniature metal figures from many epochs. Some of which he played Tabletop Wargames. He never stopped playing, he always kept the wideeyed boy alive inside even though the hair grew grey. He was an avid collector of old firearms and once had a cannon in the flat pointed at the door. If any salesman rings on the bell Tommy said. He worked night at the post and held thousands of lectures and guided tours at the Army Museum and Middle Age museum. He was quite a character and a bit of an institution. A period he had his own antique shop. The last years he was involved in “Karoliner” reenactment…that is the very early 18th century when Swedes fought of several attacking nations at the same time but in the end succumbed to a rising Russia.

There was a time before the Internet (believe it or not kids!) Tommy had a vast library both in his flat and in his head  and showed us how equipment based on finds and sources should look in a time when we usually got our information from Hollywoodfilms. He gave me superb first hand text sources and books which enriched my picture of many historical epochs. With his terrific intellect and sharp memory Tommy could have been a Professor at University…he studied Greeks and Romans and Medieval History. But he hated competition, intrigues, empty talk and was content owning his own time. He travelled often to Sankt Petersburg in 1980:ies. In a hotel bar he suddenly saw a living version of those lifelike Alexandrian grave portraits of wide eyed women. It was Karin, an Armenian pianist. She gave him two lovely children who these days are successfull muscians but way too young to loose their father. They comforted him during the painful time at the hospital. The world has become a darker place without Tommys wit and conversation art.

For some time I had prepared a shield reproduction for him, the shield of Engelbrekt Engelbrektson, a successful rebel leader against a oppressing king in the 1440ies. Little did I know this was to be his funeral shield with his added personal mark in the centre. You had a good life Tommy in many ways. You led the way. Now we must be the Tommys of Swedish reenactment. Knowledgeable and generous. Always looking for the best sources. Warm and funny. We miss you terribly !  In the Company you were often posted at gates welcoming vistors. Those gates will be empty now. But one day I hope to be greeted at another more celestial gate by you old friend

 

By Stefan Hansson, Veteran member