Tuesday, 25 March 2014

It's History Jim, but not as we know it!



Last Friday I had a nice visit to the hospital to have my left knee scraped out. The actual term used was an arthroscopy (medial and lateral meniscal tears), which, in my father’s language, would have meant have a shufty and sort it out. And sort it out they did. As a consequence, it’s now Tuesday and I still enjoy limited mobility and considerable discomfort. You’ll guess by this that I’m using some of the phrases in the hospital’s advisory notes for torture victims. In many ways I’m not dissimilar to the old lady in Alan Bennett’s “A Cream Cracker under the Settee” monologue.


I’m not bothered about visits to the ossie (lingua franca here) because there’s not much to be worried about really as there’s nothing you can do about it anyway. You turn up to be healed, but if you do take a turn for the worse and go west, there’s no complaints procedure for that. My only fear is that I miscalculate on my reading material and end up twiddling my thumbs.


Just out of interest, the theatre sister (who I first met last November when the starboard knee was being careened) is really nice and a real character.  She’s not long come back from a three year stint in Somalia working in a field hospital where they cleared up after al-Shabab and other assorted Jihadists. There’s not much fazes her . . . .


So anyway, I’m not able to paint much as I have an irresistible urge to fidget quite often so I thought I might as well put up a few photos of the ECW figures I started a couple of weeks ago. They’re the command element for Sir Henry Bard’s regiment of foot (or foote if you still think the King James’ Bible is a novelty). They’re variously listed as whitecoats or greycoats and I’ve seen photos of their re-enactors in red too which is possibly to reflect their time in the Oxford Army (so some of them may even have ended up in blue too). 


The regiment was a northern unit raised in Northumberland, originally commanded by Colonel Thomas Pinchbeck (so you’ll see it referred to as his regiment prior to it being taken over by Bard). It arrived in Oxford in May 1643, still under the command of Pinchbeck, where half its strength was told off to form Lord Henry Percy’s foot (not to be confused with his father Henry Percy, the Duke of Northumberland, William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle or Mike Chisolm who I was in the navy with and has nothing at all to do with this story). Matters were made easier when the King made Henry P. Junior Baron Percy of Alnwick. (As an aside, Percy’s ancestral pile was used much later as a location for the Harry Potter films.) Thankfully, friend Pinchbeck copped one at the First Battle of Newbury (though it was just known as the Battle of Newbury at the time as the second battle hadn’t taken place yet) and the full regiment came under Bard’s command, thank God.


It then fought at Cheriton Wood, where is seems to have made a complete arse of itself, and later at Lostwithiel and the Second Battle of Newbury (which meant that Pinchbeck could then claim to have been offed at the First Battle of Newbury, assuming that there is life after death or Strictly Come Dancing). Anyway, the lads were merged with the remnants of the Queen’s Lifeguard (of Foote) then went into garrison at Campden House. It may have been about this time that the regiment became a wholly musketeer unit, but, frankly, nobody really gives a toss. The regiment was finally put out of its misery at Naseby where all of its colours were captured, allowing Flags of War and GMB to make accurate reproductions for wargamers.


I’m not normally this passionate about the genealogy of the ECW regiments, but most of the people who’ve produced potted histories of this unit seem to have had at least partial lobotomies.






The uniforms are a little fanciful, but, as a command group, I feel they ought to standout somewhat. The rest of the regiment will be much less colourful. The figures are all Foundry and pretty poor at that. They may have rediscovered a huge quantity of old moulds, but the ECW ones seem pretty much worn out. Many of these figures are of the ‘carve your own’ variety. Also, the flag poles are far too long, but this is a conscious choice for ease of mounting on the figure. I may trim them back later when I do the final touching up.


Monday, 24 March 2014

General John Buford (Book Review)




I’ve long been interested in the career of John Buford (and a few others come to that). He was a Federal cavalry commander during the American Civil War who appears now and then in accounts of the campaigns in the eastern theatre and is probably most commonly associated with the action at Brandy Station and the first day or Gettysburg. So, when I espied a biography about him I thought I’d give it a go.


General John Buford: A Military Biography,  Edward G. Longacre (De Capo Press 2003 edition)



Longacre has an strangely formal style of writing which often lapses into an almost conversational tone. When he adopts his academic persona the text is sometimes confusing and contains its share of malapropisms. However, despite the occasional head scratch, it’s an undemanding read. 


There’s a dearth of maps and those that are included aren’t particularly good. There are only two tactical maps of any value and the maps in general are badly placed within the text. For example, the map entitled ‘Stoneman’s Raid (Buford’s Column)’ appears nine pages before the relevant passage. Also, keep a bookmark on the map on page 88 – you’re going to use that a lot.


This is a military biography, not a campaign history and it’s obviously difficult to separate the two. However, the book falls down in three respects:


Having declared in his introduction that “I also feared that a notorious scarcity of first person sources – especially the lack of a substantial body of Buford papers – would prevent the development of a fully rounded life study” (p11), this doesn’t deter him from loading the book with speculation and hypotheses. For instance, he treats us to three pages of conjecture about Hooker’s appointments to his new cavalry corps which came into being on 5th February 1863.


Secondly, despite his biographical information, Longacre really shouldn’t claim to be a military historian. I’ve already referred to the map problem, but this is aggravated by poor descriptions of manoeuvres and deployments. The account of the action at Lewis Ford (part of the Second Battle of Bull Run, 30th August 1862) appears at first to be packed with information, but the lack of a map and what turns out to be a fairly hazy description left it to me to make a rough sketch map of my own. Unsurprisingly, the action at Brandy Station and the first day of Gettysburg are covered more thoroughly as they’re among the most famous and well documented fights of the war.


Finally, Longacre can be a little vague on dates. Phrases such as “in the  middle of the month” and “by the end of that month” take the place of a more accurate calendar.

So, why spend ten English pounds on the book? Well, as I said earlier, I’ve had an interest in Buford as a commander for a while and this seemed to be a good opportunity to learn more about him. I should have paid more attention to the reviews on Amazon.


Although Sam Elliott’s portrayal of him in ‘Gettysburg’ might at first seem two dimensional (in a two dimensional film!), it appears to be fairly accurate: John Buford doesn’t come across as one of life’s more gregarious types. Though thoroughly professional, an obvious ‘leader of men’ and very good at his job as he undoubtedly was, you’d probably give him a swerve in the canteen unless you wanted to talk about work all lunchtime. Nevertheless, despite my criticisms, I think the book was worth buying. It does tell you more about the man than you could pick up from accounts of campaigns and engagements and it does give you things to think about despite its inability to qualify as an authoritative work. However, it does make sense to scout round to find a decent second hand copy. I’d probably score it 5/10 because it’s a rare subject; 6/10 if you bought me a pint.




Tuesday, 18 March 2014

IMPORTANT!!! If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything!

There's a very important post on 'Wargaming for Grown-ups' about a need to support the impending fight to save Northampton Battlefield. It's a blog worth reading anyway, but, for now, get over there and have a read - then do the right thing!

Sunday, 16 March 2014

I wasn't going to do this, but I'm easily led.


Am I a proper Wargamer ? Are you ?
This one is apparently doing the rounds so you’ll likely have seen it elsewhere. I’ve nicked it from Loki’s blog because it’s light hearted and those 10mm’s are killing me so I need another distraction. Some of the questions are barmy, but who am I to criticise?

*Spent at least £500 on figures / tanks – and you get extra kudos for every £500 you’ve spent

This week or last month?

* Pricked your finger or thumb on a pike block – several times

Yep

* Tried at least 10 different rule sets and vowed never to play half of them ever again

Like many others, I’ve had my rule collecting phase. I’ve even got an original set of ‘Pony Wars’.

* Bought an army off EBay

NO

* Sold an army on EBay

Yes

* Spent months painting an army – then used it in anger once

No. I usually know they’re doomed while I’m still part way through painting them.

* Tried several different periods and genres

Certainly have.

* Dropped a box of figures on the floor from a great height

Well, being vertically challenged, I have a bit of a problem with dropping anything from a great height. I have, however, dropped a box of figures out of the loft a couple of times. I always try to carry too much at once.

* Lost a battle on the last throw of the dice

Yes, to that git Frank Hammond (Minden Miniatures etc.). I’m not a bad loser, but I do remember . . .

* Made at least one enemy for life
 
I hope so. Sometimes people just don’t take a hint and you have to be proactive.

* Had a proper, stand up argument over a wargames table

Oh yes, see above!

* Thrown a dice across a room

No, but been tempted to throw it at someone. By the way, it’s die.

* Rebased an army for a different rule set

Yes.

* Inflicted a whopping defeat on an opponent


Yes, but I can’t say I’ve ever achieved orgasm because of it.

* Suffered an embarrassing defeat due to a stupid tactical decision

Don’t be daft, course I have.

* Joined a wargamers club

Four (I think), but my TTQ (Tosser Tolerance Quotent) is pretty poor and you always get a tosser in a club. I’m probably the tosser in somebody else’s questionnaire. It’s a cruel world.

* Bought a ton of lead that remains unpainted

Yes, but it all will be painted except for a smallish amount which will be sold or recycled in to the WWS (World Wargame System).

* Been to a wargames show

Lots

* Have more dice than is logical or necessary to own – and have used most of them

Yes, but I’m not aware of an upper limit to the number of dice one can own. I have farsands of ‘em due to the mental scars incurred during the world dice shortage in the 1960’s when dice had to be purloined from Monopoly sets for use in wargaming.

* Have taken boxes of troops down to a club just to show them off to your mates 

Nope. I haven’t got any mates.

* You have reference books on each period / army you play

Told you some of the questions were barmy.

* Having played so many different games you confidently quote rules for a totally different period, scale or rule set to the one you’re playing at that moment

I can’t even remember the rules I’m supposed to be playing, let alone anything from another set.

* You have lied to your partner / spouse about how much you’ve spent on the hobby

No. She does the banking anyway, but has never bothered about it. I’ve always put family first and she knows I wouldn’t rob Peter to pay Paul.

* You get genuinely excited when a package arrives in the post – then hide it upstairs quickly before your partner sees it.  If your partner finds it first, you lie about the contents.

This questionnaire has been written by a bachelor hasn’t it? She\he is your life partner, not your bloody mother! The package contains inanimate lumps of white metal, a book or some other bits and bobs. Pleased is acceptable, excited is going a bit far. It’s not some porn smuggled in from school by your mate, for God’s sake!

* You have joined a re-enactment society (5 points for this one!)

This is no time to get me going about re-enacting/living history again. Harmless fun and all that, I'm told, but I’ve attached a photo of re-enactors from Ciudadela de Jaca: an oldster like me, a female drummer (no, I'm not a misogynist) and someone who would have difficulty marching for the bus, never mind across Europe. I rest my case (for now . . . .)



* You have played in an unsuitable venue.

I’ve done lots of things in unsuitable venues . . . .

* You continue to search for the perfect Napoleonic / WW2 / Ancients / ACW etc. rule set (knowing that it doesn’t actually exist).

Yes, but time’s running out so I’ve placed each way bets and settled for some ‘near enough’ rules too.

* For that reason you have developed your own house rules for certain periods.  And think them far superior to the original author’s efforts.

See above, but do have house rules as well.

* You have returned from a wargames show and sneaked upstairs to hide the stash.

Oh please! If it’s that bad, leave the stash in the boot and retrieve it when nobody’s looking.

* You have an irrational aversion to some genres and vow never to play them regardless of how much fun they look. Like Dystopian Wars, 6mm Napoleonics, Warhammer 40k, Malifaux etc.

Can’t be doing with mainstream fantasy or the GW version of sci-fi, but there are a couple of other areas I like such as VBCW and steam punk and I’ve always been strangely drawn to star fleets . . . .

* You have made your own wargames scenery.

Yep. There was little option at one time.

* You have reached a painting ‘wall’ (“If I have to paint another f________ Gaul, I’m going to scream”)

Currently my 10mm brainwave. Nice little figures, but I’ve had my number barred on the Samaritans’ phones . . . .

* You have lost – and regained – your wargaming mojo.

No so much lost, as had no time for. Currently juggling real life interruptions.

* You have the occasional (and short lived) sense of guilt with your wife/children when complaining to them about the money spent in clothes, shoes or toys/Xbox games when you have £200 of unpainted metal stuffed in an upstairs drawer.

Nope. Never complained – maybe I should have.

* You have done armies in different scales for the same period (e.g. ACW in 28mm, 15mm and 6mm).

Yes, ACW in 15mm and 28mm.

* You have jealously coveted someone else’s troops.

No. I’ve coveted my neighbour’s wife and his ox (though not his ass), but that’s for another time . . . .

* You have laughed (secretly or otherwise) as someone else’s paint job.

I cringe sometimes, but they’ve worked to put painted figures on the table and they’re to be encouraged, not decried. With very little guidance it’s possible for everyone to put out decent figures with practice. However, before I was canonised, there was this kid at school called Paul . . . .

* You have provided a piece of useless trivia relating to the troops on the table to show off your wargaming knowledge.

Sometimes it just comes up in conversation, but it’s usually historical knowledge rather than wargaming knowledge, isn’t it? You get chatting about this and that.

* You have contradicted someone elses’ trivia – demonstrating your superior knowledge and giving you a warm glow inside.

Sometimes it’s a pleasure to deflate someone’s balloon, but mostly it’s more enjoyable letting them continue to look a klutz. (I’m a nice bloke really)

* You have caused a major disaster on a wargames table (spilling a pint, collapsing the table, dropped someone else’s figures on the floor).

No, but I’m sure there’s time yet

* You have cheered when an opponent’s dice lets them down at a critical point.

I’m a true gentleman. I sympathise – then snigger when he's not looking . . . .

* You have lied to your partner about going gaming.  “Mothers’ not very well – just popping around to see her.  I’ll be back in about – oh – seven hours”.

You’ve really got a thing about lying to partners eh?
 
* You have lied to an attractive woman (man) about your hobby.

I’ve never seen the need to include it in pillow talk . . . .

* You have made an opponent cry.  It doesn’t count if they are under 8 years old though.

Only when I shot his kids.

* You have painted the same army in the same scale more than once.

Currently doing ECW Royalist again.
 
* You have reference books on armies you haven’t even got.

Haven’t we all?

* You have bought figures for a period you have never and will never play – because they were cheap.

No

*You have inflicted grievous bodily harm on a dice that has let you down.

That’s die, you clown. I’ve told you once.

* You blog or have a web-page about your Wargaming activities

Have a guess . . . .

* Your book collection is almost all war and wargames related

No – maybe 60%?

* You critique ‘war’ movies (especially Hollywood war movies) for historical accuracy (like the use of American tanks – Pershings I think - to represent German Panzers in the ‘Battle of the Bulge’.)

Inaccuracies are inevitable in Hollywierd productions so, other than a mental note, I tend to let it go. I do have chats with others about the gaffes, but there are often far stranger things to comment on, like the false beards in ‘Gettysburg’ and John Wayne in ‘The Longest Day’.

* You spend car / train journeys checking out the lie of the land – considering which way you would attack from and whether it would make good wargaming terrain.

Unless I’m driving, I read, listen to my iPod, chat or sleep. I’m proud to say that I can sleep anywhere (except when I'm supposed to). If I stare out of the window, I’m daydreaming or admiring the scenery.
 
* Sliced the end of your finger while prepping figures.

Yep

* Shaking a bottle of paint you used earlier but did not put the lid back on properly (the khaki, red and black stains on the carpet and walls around my painting desk are testament to this).

Strangely, no.

* Knocked over a pot of paint while painting (and desperately trying to scrape it back into the pot)

No, but I have squeezed to bottle too hard and popped the nozzle off – bloody Vallejo!

* Dropped a part while gluing it to never find it again (I’m sure there’s a gremlin hiding under my table)

Yes – damn Airfix!

* Dropped a figure / model while painting it – and breaking it.

Yep

* Dropped a figure when painting and lost it (this happens so much with my 6mm figures!)

Not yet

* Spilled paint on the floor and blamed the kids / dog / ghost / Santa

No. It’s that lying thing again isn’t it?

* Claimed a ‘cocky dice’ when it shows a ’1′ and happens to be touching a model or piece of scenery.

No, but if I did I’d claim ‘cocky die’.

* Claimed your opponents dice to be cocky when it shows a ’6′ – as it touched a crease of the cloth, rolled onto a piece of paper etc.

See above

* Bought a dice tower – then gave up using it.

Nope. I use a ‘dice tray’ (actually a box top)

* Made your own dice tower (Oh yeah!)

No

* Gone to move some figures and found some Macedonian Pike / British Napoleonics etc. stuck in the sleeve of your jumper

NO, but I feel I ought to work at it.

* Put some polystyrene cement on insulation foam – just to see what it does

No, because I know what it does.

* Glued your fingers together with Superglue

Yes, but spittle is a great release agent – mine is anyway . . .

* Left a paint lid open overnight (“Noooooooooooooooo”)

No

* Filed or cut a bit of ‘flash’ off a figure only to find that it was supposed to be there

I should jolly well hope so. This is one of the rights of passage for all wargamers.

* Painted Gauls or other ‘colourful’ troops in football / sporting colours

If that includes painting a Man. United design on a Briton’s shield, then yes. I’ve also painted the Rolling Stones’ ‘Hot Licks’ design on a fedayeen’s t-shirt.

* Used noxious chemicals to strip paint off figures – without adhering to ANY of the safety guidelines

Nope

* Dreamed of converting your lounge / dining room / garage / bedroom into a games room.

Yes, but no chance!

* Converted your lounge / dining room / garage / bedroom into a games room

 No. I haven’t even got a regular painting table!

* Bought paint at a show – and found you already had a full pot of the same paint when you got home

Oh yeah.

* Bought a tool especially for modelling – and never used it.

Nope.


And there we go. I may or may not be a proper wargamer, but, in light of the fact that nobody seems to know what a proper wargamer actually is, this is as good a benchmark as any! 

I'm probably not best suited to completing questionnaires, though I'm much better than I used to be. At work I once got a roasting for correcting/editing an HR questionnaire. You may also detect that I get tired of answering questions. God help me if I ever get interviewed by the Police! In any case, give it a go and  . . . well give it a go anyway.

Now then, you may be thinking that this lazy so and so hasn’t posted anything for a while and you’d be right. It doesn’t mean that I’ve been completely idle, but things always seem to get in the way. So, over the next few days I’ll make a concerted effort to get some stuff photographed and get my ideas together to get something posted as I know you must be baying for the crumbs of enlightenment that fall from my table. There’s plenty to talk about if only I was motivated enough to get my nether region in gear and go to it.

Oh yes and for those of you who don't know, Ireland won the Six Nations tournament, during which England won the Triple Crown and the Calcutta Cup!!!!!!!!!! Sad to say that Brian O'Driscoll played his last international, though, as an Englishman, I probably ought to say relieved ;O)

Just thought I'd mention it . . . .