Sunday, 30 June 2019

Early Doors

No, not a Jim Morrison inspired musical post. Or a quote from 'Big Ron' Atkinson. This is a self-indulgent post. A remiscence into childhood. I might make it more grandiose by describing it as a stage in the evolution of my thinking about wargames, which would be partly true.

Like most wargamers of my generation (end of the Baby Boom) I started playing with plastic toy soldiers, first Timpo cowboys and indians,  Britains (1/32nd scale) then with Airfix 1/72/76th(?). All the usual early methods* were used in games on the living room floor or dining table - toy canon firing matches, marbles, flicking coins, Subbuteo-style. Then my first ‘proper’ wargames would be when my older brother had discovered somewhere you could use dice to determine ‘hits’ and have limits on movement. There were even different ranges and different weapons had different effects (did we learn that from warfilms or had my brother read it somewhere?). Most games involved WWII, then WWI, French Foreign Legion, US Cavalry and Plains Indians. In the background there had been colourful pictures of soldiers in a compendium of fairy stories and nursery rhymes (The Tinder Box?). I’m sure this fixed the idea in my mind that proper soldiers had colourful uniforms (indeed the Guards in London wore red coats) and wore strange hats that I subsequently learned to call mitres, shakos and tricorns**.

* Later this would include a more unsusal method. My brother, by then a smoker, to the startlement of my staid friend interrupted a Pacific War game to simulate a flamethrower with his cigarette lighter and torched a Japanese sniper out of a tree. I was a bit less surprised, having on previous occasions witnessed salvoes of lit matches being fired from Britain's naval cannon. There was no saving throw for poor Sergeant Kawasaki. Thanks Mark!

** Even later I learned they were ‘cocked hats’

I think we found Airfix Waterloo figures around the same time dad took us to see Waterloo. That was it! Proper soldiers. Lined up in ranks. In colourful uniforms. And the British still won. I’d learned that their guns were single shot and slow to load and they fired in ranks, so rules were introduced that it was one dice per 6 men. I even think soldiers ran away when 1/2 of them were killed! More reading. These 'muskets' actually fired a lot further than I thought - normally under 100 yards but up to 200yards! That was 2 yards at scale, more than the length of the (6x4’) model railway board! Infantry regiments were 1000 men. I was going to need more soldiers. I was clearly never going to ‘play’ Waterloo or even some of the smaller battles I’d read about in the library book about the Penninsular War. It was only ever going to be about part of a battle or some of the actions of the Light Division units (another new term!). That was fine, I’d discovered the Carey books of Ronald Welch - Captain of Foot was explicitly about the ‘petit guerre’ of the Light Division (was it the 52nd Foot that Carey served in?).

Nevertheless, heavily choreographed, solo war-games were set-up on the chipboard my brother had bought years before for his Hornby train set. A thousand unpainted Airfix Napoleonics, with some AWI British grenadiers and Confederate infantry (as Spanish?) were thrown in for good measure.  Columns of French infantry,  each 100 strong, would pour forward and initially sweep all before them before being held in a last ditch stand by the Brits. French cuirassiers would appear and the plucky British would form square and decimate the French with their controlled volleys before the massed British hussars would sweep over the ridge and rout the French from the field. An old portable record player would be carted into the room and pressed into service, with the climax from the 1812 Overture providing a stirring backdrop!

More like this later. I promise no more toys will be hurt in the future.

Saturday, 15 June 2019

Hiatus and Life in the Trenches

Apologies to my esteemed reader for the lack of updates these past weeks. I plead Real World interruptions including a work trip lasting 12 days. I had intended to write up some posts based on thoughts I'd sketched out before I went away, but I hadn't accounted for how tired I would be in the evenings. I'm still getting back into the swing of things having landed in the UK on Friday following an overnight flight. I'll have a stab at those updates this week.

In the meantime I offer you another musical interlude. This time from the Continuation War of 1941-44. It has strong associations with the Finnish novel 'Tuntematon sotilas' by Väinö Linna (The Unknown Soldier) and films of the same name. I re-read the book (in translation of course) on the trip and it is just as powerful the second time round. If you appreciate All Quiet on the Western Front, I'm sure you'd value this too.

The song has a slow tempo waltz rhythmn, so I'm sure you'll soon be singing along  😉 (words below the description in YouTube) .

Elämää juoksuhaudoissa

There's a beautiful version ont'web by an American of Finnish stock called Diane Järvi. Well worth listening to too in my opinion.