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Barnehurst-born warrior leads the charge for medieval history

PUBLISHED: 09:13 06 March 2014 | UPDATED: 09:13 06 March 2014

Battlemaster Ned Sampson. Picture: National Trust for Scotland

Battlemaster Ned Sampson. Picture: National Trust for Scotland

©Warren Media 2014

The Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 was one of the most decisive episodes in the First War of Scottish Independence.

The Bannockburn Battlemasters. (L-R) Amy Cassells, Ned Sampson and Dave Weinczok. Picture: National Trust for ScotlandThe Bannockburn Battlemasters. (L-R) Amy Cassells, Ned Sampson and Dave Weinczok. Picture: National Trust for Scotland

It saw Robert the Bruce defeat England’s King Edward II and “send him homeward to think again”, as 20th-century Scots songsmith Roy Williamson wrote.

Now Barnehurst-born Ned Sampson is helping to revive the battle at the Bannockburn Visitor Centre in Stirling, Scotland.

Despite being born a long way south of Hadrian’s Wall and being a “very proud Kentish man”, Ned is now a battle master at the recently opened heritage centre.

Ned fondly remembers days spent playing football and conkers on Bexleyheath, but these days he leads divisions of medieval troops from Robert the Bruce and King Edward II’s armies in recreations of Bannockburn.

The Battle of Bannockburn

King of the Scots Robert the Bruce faced the English King Edward II in a ferocious battle at Bannockburn, in modern-day Stirling, on June 23-24, 1314.

Despite being outnumbered almost three to one by the largest English army to ever invade Scotland, Robert’s army defeated Edward’s bid to lift the siege of Stirling Castle.

The King of England fled to Dunbar Castle on the coast at East Lothian, and from there sailed back to England.

Robert was able to negotiate the freedom of his wife, daughter and sister, who had previously been captured by the English.

The popular Scottish anthem Flower of Scotland, written by Roy Williamson of folk group the Corries in 1967, refers to the victory of the Scots at Bannockburn.

When the Times caught up with Ned on Friday, he had just finished conducting a simulated battle for Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond.

“He was a very interesting, a very personable person and very becoming,” said Ned. “He didn’t come in with a political agenda.”

Motion-capture equipment at the centre allows visitors to immerse themselves in the battle, making key tactical decisions in a virtual war.

“It contains state of the art 3D technology that compares to Disneyland,” said Ned, 48.

Visitors can call on archers and cavalry to destroy the opposing armies with those on the Scottish side choosing to either hold back and protect Stirling Castle or, like Robert the Bruce, take the battle to the English.

Ned spoke in awe of the soldiers’ sacrifice.

“The significance of the battle on a personal level is huge,” he said. “About 30,000 men came and fought for something they believed in and 10,000 gave their lives.”

Ned, who has been involved in battle re-enactments since a young age, has also done film and TV work, appearing as a background artist in films such as Robin Hood, Captain America and, most recently, X-Men: First Class.

“As a child, I was very interested in historical re-enactments. That prepared me for combat performance,” he said.

“It started in Medway. There was a Napoleonic fort there and, when I was 17, I would hear the cannons being fired at lunchtimes and at the weekends. One day, I took a mosey on down there and they started to train me up as a soldier from the past.

“I live and breathe it, I love it.”

His role as Bannockburn battle master thrills him completely.

“I’m totally ecstatic and running on enthusiasm the whole time,” he said.

But is he as enthusiastic on the question of modern-day Scottish independence?

“For us down in England really we don’t have a say in the matter,” he said. “It’s not a vote open to us and that’s something that the Scots must decide on their own.”

For more information on the centre, go to battleofbannockburn.com.

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