Saturday 30 April 2011

Six Weeks: The Short and Gallant Life of the British Officer in the First World War

My Easter present this year was “Six Weeks: The Short and Gallant Life of the British Officer in the First World War” by John Lewis-Stempel. I don’t really like chocolate, and this seemed a far better result than an Easter egg which I pass on to the kids a week after Easter Sunday!

I’d glanced at Six Weeks on Amazon a month or so back and was intrigued but didn’t really have any great desire to get a copy. However, I had a closer look at it shortly before Easter at a local bookshop and was quite impressed.

There’s a selection of interesting photos, the contents look clearly laid out and there seems to be a very extensive use of original sources, first-person accounts, diaries and letters. Flicking through the chapters, the books covers Joining Up, Training, the Journey to the Front Line, Trench Life, Leadership, Battle, Rest and Leave, Wounds and Hospitalization and Legacies. To me that looked pretty comprehensive. There’s a good bibliography, 19 pages of notes and a decent index.

I’ll let you have a review once I’ve worked my way through it, hopefully a little later this week.

You might be wondering why I’m telling you this! I really enjoy reading on blogs about what other people are reading about, and whether what they’ve chosen to read lives up to expectations. I also thought that Six Weeks may give a few insights into the life of a junior officer on the Western Front who plays a big part in games of Through the Mud and the Blood, my rules of preference for our Great War games. It should be interesting to compare what Mt Lewis-Stempel says about the Subalterns. Lieutenants and Capitains of the Great War compared to other, perhaps more familiar, writers like Richard Holmes of Tommy fame.

And what better occasion to start a good read than the fine weather of a Royal Wedding and Bank holiday weekend!

In addition to Six Weeks and some other jobs around the house and garden, I also want to try and finish my second platoon of late war British figures for Through the Mud and Blood. These have been languishing in a box for a while now. Funny how the sunshine coming out gets you motivated! If I can get these chaps finished by next weekend, I’ll be really chuffed.

Wednesday 27 April 2011

Sharp Practice - The Battle of Paloma Blanca

Last night, the sleepy Spanish fishing town of Paloma Blanca was disturbed by the rampaging military forces of three warring nations, a chest of Spanish gold, a sultry Marquesa, and a Captain of Artillery who clearly needed a new telescope.

Of course, such tomfoolery could only be part of the Easter weekend wargame at Lard Island, using the TooFatLardies Sharp Practice Napoleonic rules written by Lard Generalissimo Richard Clarke and umpired by that other bombard of sack, Nick Skinner.

A longer report of the game will soon be available at the TooFatLardies blog, which covers up for the fact I had to miss the end owing to a long phone call. I have also (ahem) slightly changed the names of the characters in the game ... this is a family blog, don’t ya know!

With that in mind, let me transport you back to the coast of Spain, in 1811, and the small, sleepy fishing town of Paloma Blanca, with its delightful harbour in which the French sloop, Vengeur, is anchored.

The locals of Paloma Blanca are proud of their heritage, the fine statue of Don Juan de Paloma Blanca commemorating his tiny part in the victory over the Turks at Lepanto. Rumour has it a townsman is employed each day to prevent a seagull landing on his noble statue...

The town’s docks are busy, with crates of produce arriving from the Indies and Americas....

..... doubtless containing gaudy silks, gifts and other fripperies which the more.... errr.... “fashionable” gentlemen of the town can bestow upon their favourite Ladies of the Night...

But Palomba Blanca is far from a bed of languid iniquity. As well as the Vengeur, a shore battery guards the narrows, manned by the hearty soldiers of Spain...

....and led by the inspired Spanish and allied French commanders. What’s that? Did I hear a barely stifled laugh? Ladies and Gentlemen, I introduce your Allied commanders for the night (Elton, Panda and Mr T.)....

....and their British adversaries (Big Rich out of camera, Harpers, Daz, Big Al and Nick umpiring)...

So, the scene is set! The sun is high in the Spanish skies as the British riflemen, led by Captain Richard Fondleur, scout the edge of the town, accompanied by a force of jolly jack tars armed with a ferocious array of boarding mallets, billhooks and knives.

An alarum is raised by the Spanish Captain in the Tower, Fanciso de Rivera, and the lumbering behemoth of a 24 pounder cannon is trundled to face the attackers to landward.

As the Spanish defenders in the Tower make ready, the British riflemen skirmish with the enemy in the town outskirts, focusing their attack on a fortified hacienda.

The turn of the cards by Umpire Nick casts the net of fortune wide, with an ample selection of bonus cards for any Big Man to claim. A Marine landing party “grasp the nettle” with vigour, pressing into the centre of Palomba Blanca.

Meanwhile, quietly, secretively the French Consul, Colonel Daguerre makes his way, concealed from sight on “blinds”, to the docks with his chest of Spanish gold – destined not for the gilded halls of Madrid but for the salons of Revolutionary Paris.

Oblivious to Colonel Daguerre’s dark plans, the Spanish defenders of the town doggedly try and hold on, but are eventually routed from the hacienda...

.... and soon challenged by the jolly jack tars hacking down the main door of the Tower.

Desperately, the Spanish artillery commander, Don Hector Christo, orders his guns to fire across the bay on the British devils attacking the Tower, regardless of inflicting casualties on his own men. C’est magnifique, mais......well, sadly, you know the rest.

The Tower remains surrounded despite the withering artillery fire from across the bay...

...but help seems at hand with Sergeants Fraternité and Liberté and a platoon of French soldiers arriving in the market square...

....surely deliverance is near? Perhaps not that near, as with a collective groan from the British and Spanish players, Colonel Daguerre turns his loaded wagons along the dockside and commences loading the Vengeur, oblivious to the perils of his Spanish allies.

The Colonel must have a plan – he cannot simply be ignoring his allies in their of need, can he? Ah, mes braves .... war, well, it’s tricky. Nowhere near as simple as it seems. You know, there is this thing called strategy. It’ can I put it...complicated. Sometimes, it might seem that you're running out on your friends, but really, they just don’t know the whole picture...

As I mentioned, I sadly needed to leave at this point. Happily, the rest of the tale of treachery, bravery, wayward artillery and the lovely Marquesa Uma Paloma Blanca will shortly be published on the Lard Island Blog here.

Monday 18 April 2011

Salute 2011

Salute 2011 was held on Saturday 16th April at Excel in London. Along with my chum Richard Clarke and the other TooFatLardies I helped put on an ACW participation game of “Jebediah in the Valley” using Richard's “Terrible Sharpe Sword” rules for ACW large skirmishes.
I had a fantastic time, meeting some old hands (Rob, Dom, Graham from Brussels, Egg, Stephen) and some new faces (Ashley, Matt, Jim and too many to remember the names of – apologies one and all!). We ran three games, with Rich umpiring two and Daz one, with me helping out chatting or on the rebel side with Ashley from Paint it Pink for the last game. Thank you to everyone who stopped by – I hope you all enjoyed the Lard experience.
Turning to Salute 2011 in general, I thought this years, to use a bit of a cliché, was probably the best yet – and certainly the best at Excel. There were a very varied selection of games, very with stunning figures and terrain, and there seemed to be a more varied selection of traders in the hall this year. There was a very accessible theme, American Civil War, and this was really noticeable in the number of land and naval ACW games around the show, along with a decent number of re-enactors. Over the years the Salute re-enactors have taken a bit of a pasting from certain quarters. The low point was Battlegroup South’s appearance in 2007, of which less said the better. However, that was a blip in my view. This year was, again in my view, one of the highpoints of Salute re-enactment. The ACW folk produced a interesting display, perfectly complimenting the theme, and there were a few other people dressed in costume throughout the show.

My personal favourites were Dr. Howard Fuller in a, frankly, remarkable stove-pipe hat at the wonderful “Clad in Iron” game of ACW Ironclads, and the gentleman at the VBCW game who took great pains to go through his kit and finally solve the mystery in my own mind of where the entrenching tool was kept (leather pouch below the rucksack...I’m sorry, I should have guessed). Turning to the games, there were too many great games to cover all in detail here. I’ll be loading all the pictures onto my Flickr page over the next few days, and I’m sure you will find many others on the internet forums. So what follows is not necessarily the best nor the prize winners, but just the ones which caught my eye and where I had a warm welcome from the players. “Clad in Iron” was, I’m told, based on a book about the interaction between British naval power and the impact of America on the mid-ninteenth century naval arms’ race. I know that because the author, Dr. Howard Fuller, was one of the players who, in addition to telling me how to re-create period photos using coffee grains and extolling the pleasures of ironclad warfare, also managed to persuade me to buy his book entitled "Clad in Iron". Dr.Fuller also suggested that I start collecting ACW ironclads. And pointed me in the direction of the Tumbling Dice stall selling said ACW ironclads. And smiled when I returned and mentioned that I’d bought some. Thanks Howard! Crush the Kaiser” was a brigade level 15 mm Great War game set in 1918 with marvellous terrain and a very knowledgeable team of players. I particularly liked the planes flying over the table, the shell craters filled with a mix of cold tea and hard resin (making a very authentic muddy water), wire-wool explosions and some lovely 15mm London Omnibuses. Inspiration! Expect to see that idea stolen and copied soon at Roundwood Towers during the summer! Lone Pine: Gallipoli” was the heavily trailed and stunning game being displayed on the Battlefront stand. I’m told this will feature in this month’s Wargames Illustrated, so any further comment by me is a bit superfluous. However, it was truly a magnificent looking piece of terrain featuring, amongst others, sunken boats, boxing rings, graveyards, grenade factories and casualty stations. It probably doesn’t get better than this! The Alternative Battle of Worcester, 1651” was another wonderful game, this time with the Scots Covenanters taking refuge in the town from rampaging Royalists. The chaps at the table told me it had taken two years to finish the preparation of the game, and it was easy to see why. I really loved the abundant vignettes and the rich artistry of the painted figures. "Operation Barras” was a smaller game of the action with British Forces and the West Side Boys in Sierra Leone in 2001. I well remembered my visit to the game not just because of the very West African evocative terrain, but because of possibly the most enthusiastic team of demonstrators of any game on the day. It was wonderful to talk to the team who brought this game along and a pleasure to chat with them. And finally, the Salute 2011 painting competition. Readers of this blog might be interested to know how I got on as I popped my painting competition "cherry". Well, as soon as my entry was put in the cases, and I looked around at the other entries, I realised that I was out of my depth!!

The standard of painting this year was quite literally breathtaking. I’ve posted a few of the entries here, and I’m sure the South London Warlords will have others on their site soon. It was great fun to take part, and the winner were very worthy of their prizes. As for me, well, there is always next year! All in all, a great show and a fantastic day out.
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