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'A gaping silken dragon,/Puffed by the wind, suffices us for God./We, not the City, are the Empire's soul:/A rotten tree lives only in its rind.'

Saturday, 31 March 2012

'ere's to you, Fuzzy Wuzzy...

A few posts ago I featured some of Tony Burley's Anglo-Egyptian Boy Scouts in 54mm. That reminded me that I had not completed my Sudan project in 20mm. So, I have excavated the figures, and found, to my pleasure, that my Anglo-Egyptian forces exist in sufficient numbers to play a game. Here they are in their barracks:

They are a mixture of Hat and Jacklex (from Peter at Spencer Smith, of course). Needless to say, the anachronistic A13s and staff car in the top right hand corner do not belong to the force.

On the Dervish side, I have nice force of spearmen, cameleers, and riflemen, based, undercoated and ready to be finished:

I will finish them off soon! In fact, as soon as I have blogged I will get cracking.

As for rules, I have a copy of Peter Pig/RFCM's 'Patrols in the Sudan'. I have frequently used their 'Bayonet and Ideology' rules for 15mm and 20mm Spanish Civil War, and while they give a good game, I'm not sure they capture the political aspects, often linked to military ability and effectiveness, of the conflict. I've also used the first edition 'Hammerin' Iron' (the American War of the States, riverine set), which makes for an excellent game to match the very nice ships for the period produced by Mr. Pig. So, I will be interested to see how 'Patrols in the Sudan' plays. Looking at the rules, a great deal of thought has clearly gone into the terrain question, giving the Dervishes the sort of edge they need, and had.

On the tobacco front, I've decided that 'Charles Mixture' is a pretty decent smoke.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Pipe tobacco of the moment

Working at home today, I was able to happily puff away with a tobacco new to me, 'Charles Mixture':

The jury is out at the moment on 'Charles', but with the weekend nearly here I'll have one or two more pipes and reflect. Looking at the above photograph, I rather like the composition, a sort of 'Skull and Crossbones' for the stay at home pirate.

It's odd, now, how pipe smoking once had a certain cachet, even a tough guy cachet (mine is more the grey-haired gardener pottering in his greenhouse). One of the 'greats' in this respect is the fictional French detective, Nestor Burma. The novels, by Leo Malet, aren't really in the same league as Raymond Chandler, but Burma was big in France. Further, the great French graphic artist, 'Tardi', has produced some brilliant versions, here from 120 Rue de la gare:

Here's Burma puzzling over the case, recently released from a German PoW camp, and sporting an injury gained when falling from a train. While, below, Burma and a cop/flic fill the pages with tobacco smoke:

Funny how 'Station Road' doesn't sound quite the same.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

From the loft

Well, I braved the loft, avoided bashing my skull in, beat off the beasties, and found the FLW-style Austro-Hungarians. Absolutely first rate fellows, as I am sure you will agree:

'Sound "stand to" bugler!'

Praparapaparaaa ! Figures are by Dorset Soldiers, not, as I earlier suggested by Tradition. I dislike memory failures like that; next thing I'll be forgetting unimportant things, such as work-related tasks...

While in the loft, I also turned up these fine products of the somewhat blurred relationship between the UK and Egypt, in the days before that Nasser chappie turned up:

Well, at least we exported some useful ideas. Actually, looking at them reminds me of my unfinished Anglo-Egyptian debacles/victories in the Sudan project, in 20mm, using Jacklex figures. Damn! Or I could just read one of Michael Pearce's wonderful 'Mamur Zapt' detective stories - recommended to all right-thinking fellows, not least for the character of the beautiful Zeinab.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Home Guard matters

His Grace, the Duke of Tradgardland, a frequent visitor to this site, has, of late, fallen for the particular charms of the Home Guard. This post is dedicated to His Grace's new enthusiasm. I see from his recent post that his Home Guard, while equipped with Smith Gun and Lewis, lacks an armoured element. Let me suggest:

These two very nicely done Bevearette Mk IIs are, I think, from Stronghold Miniatures (who reside not far from the borders of the Dukedom), and are in 25mm. They are, I suspect a tad on the small size, and my 28mm Foundry Home Guard tend to look best when positioned a little way from the cars. So, it may be that these would fit reasonably with His Grace's 20mm fellows. On the other hand:

The lower Beaverette is 20mm, from Frontline, a most estimable, worthy, and virtuous supplier that I fully endorse. My 25mm Beaverettes have seen action, usually falling quickly to anti-tank weaponary, but cutting a Home Guard dash before their demise. These Home Guard fellows below, however, have yet to hear the din of dice:

"But, wait!", you cry, "These men are uniformed most strangely." Yet, they are most valiant defenders of our Kingdom. Here is their armour, and the clue:

Now you understand! Ulster Home Guard debuss from their Lancias in 1940. The RUC green interiors give a further clue, for, at the outset, the Ulster Home Guard was an offshoot of that force, from whom they inherited the Lancias, many of which had previously appeared in this form:

I am rather pleased with this 'conversion' (my skills, you understand, are limited), involving plasticard armour over the engine, and matchstick and tea strainer anti-grenade net.

The Ulster Home Guard have been very well served by the first rate history of the force by Davy Orr. I drew heavily on Mr. Orr's work for the chapter in my history of the Home Guard that covered the 'Celtic' countries (Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man) of the Kingdom, and I strongly recommend:

As for the Lancias in Irish service (of one form and another), much can be found in David Dunne's book, which is a goldmine for the armoured car geek:

The sheer variety of RUC armour is fascinating - M3 half-tracks, anyone?

Finally, to complete the Irish theme, Donal MacCarron's history of Eire's wartime/Emergency forces is full of excellent, war game inspiring photographs, and lovely bits of oral history. Another 'must':

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

K.u.K. and gallant little Belgians, in 20mm

My posts on Austria-Hungary appear to have struck a chord. I have yet to fight my way into the loft to dig out my Tradition 54mm K.u.K. fellows, but I have dug into the drawer of lost causes and found some figures that I painted in 1984/5. At that time, I was an impecunious student (not a commoner) of the noble University of Oxford, and could ill afford money for tin soldiers, so I only possess a few of these Great War figures in 20mm:

They are, as far as I remember, by Imperial figures, and some years later, as a slightly better off school master, I discovered, to my regret, that the company was no more. The moral of that tale for war gamers everywhere is 'buy quickly, and in bulk'! The figures were all early Great War period, rather limited in poses, with poorly rendered weapons, but very nicely done uniforms. What is also interesting looking at these figures now is how painting styles and techniques change:

All painted in Humbrol 'Authentics' (that much, much loved range), but with no washes, or highlighting; yet I remember being rather pleased with my efforts. Also from the Imperial range were some of Belgium's finest from 1914:

Line infantry on the left, Carabiniers on the right, with a solitary Guide following up.

In response to my previous K.u.K. themed post, the Duke of Tradgardland recommended an author whom I had not heard of, and a novel about the Imperial Navy in 1914-18. It is, I am pleased to say ordered through Warwick Books, one of the finest independent book sellers known to me, and I shall have the book by tomorrow. Sadly, the English language cover of A Sailor of Austria by John Biggins is not nearly as marvellous as this German language edition:

More than a few shades of that marvellous hero, Corto Maltese here!

Finally, before I sign off, let me mention an excellent middle-aged man's book on Trieste by the wonderful Welsh heroine, Jan Morris, Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere (Faber & Faber, 2001). A book for savouring, late at night, when dark thoughts gather in the corner of one's rooms.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Let sleeping...

My intention in starting this blog was to amuse myself for about 20 minutes each evening. I was a little concerned that it was yet another displacement activity (I am supposed to be writing a book about women on the ultra-right in the first half of the last century), and, of course, there was the figure painting time I would use up. What I didn't expect was that I would spend half the dam' evening searching for some photographs I took a few years ago of a re-enactor taking on the role of a Queen's Ranger! I know (I think, that is) that it was at English Heritage's Festival of History at Kelmarsh Hall (I was there in the guise of a Company Commissar in the British Battalion of the International Brigades), and that there was a small group of excellently turned out Queen's Rangers. They were perfection! The photo I wanted to use on the blog was of the painted Queen's Rangers badge on the knapsack. But can I find the thing?! What was worse, I turned up a collection of postcards from the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum, Vienna, of the Austro-Hungarian Army in their heyday, the glory days of K.uK.. I won't blog all of them, but here is a taster:

Ulanen, 1895

Jagertruppe, 1895

Bosnisch-herzegowinische infanterie, 1895

These are marvellous paintings, and an absolute gift for the FLW enthusiast. Now, I have started an Army Black for FLW ... ok, you can see where this is going, and what is worse, I have remembered that somewhere in the loft I have some Tradition K.u.K. infantry (now out of production). Why are we tormented thus?

The Army Museum in Vienna is a must, and covers a real range of the vanished Empire's glories, with everything from vast canvases depicting forgotten battles, to frighteningly gouged couplas from Great War fortresses on the Italian front. When I visited a couple of years ago, I was almost the only person there, which seemed apt. I wasn't sure if I was the ghost, or whether I was surrounded by the ghosts of K.u.K. Strange, too, how we see things as time passes. At school in the mid-1970s, Serbia was still the gallant country, but after the last set of Balkan horrors, how the popular image of Serbia has changed. And was the arch reactionary, Metternich, right when he warned against the fragmentation of the great multi-national Empire ? And is our latter-day Holy Roman Empire of the EU (but without a single iota of the sheer style of K.u.K., if in possession of all its schlerotic bureaucracy) similarly riding for a fall? But, now I must dream of apfelstrudel and a grosse braune, and my favourite Imperial city - Trieste.

Sunday, 25 March 2012


Another beautiful early spring day, another busy weekend day. Planting bedding plants in my aged mother's garden, planting alpines in odd, stony parts of my garden, scrubbing the quarry tiles in the hall, then painting on a sheen to welcome in the spring. Finally, down to my plot on the allotment, for an hour's digging, and planting more broad beans (aquadulce). One of the marvellous things about working the soil on the allotment, which lies on the ancient road into what was the walled town, and between those transformers of the world - the canal and the railway - is the constant turning up of:

echoes of the past. No, not the bones of our forefathers, but their clay pipes. Some will have been thrown away, broken, by men and women working the fields, but there is such a large number on the allotment that I suspect that many of these artefacts found their way there via farmyard middens. Broken pipes would have been thrown onto the dung heap, along with all sorts of animal, mineral and vegetable, then to be spread on the field which is (all hail Henry George) now a town allotment. The bowl above (a rare, intact, find, normally only stems survive) is a bit of a puzzle. According to Eric G. Ayto's categorisation of English clays, it could be an 18th Century pipe. I like this idea, a clay as smoked by:

This bold fellow is one of Newfoundland's stalwarts, defending that territory from the rebels throughout the late war in America (taken from Philip Katcher's Armies of the American Wars, 1753-1815 - a much loved book). However, it may be that the bowl is of the Dutch style, c.1850-1910, copied by some English makers. In which case, a clay smoked by men like these:

'Tobacco Pipe, Whiting & Putty Manufacturers' of 'Leigh & Co, Porchester' (from Ayto, p.13). Men like my grandfather, a time-served ship's joiner. But, whatever, and whoever, they would concur:

From A.J. Mugridge's self-published The Clay Tobacco Pipe, Telford, 1997, who also made the clay, decorated with a relief of the Manchester Ship Canal, that I occasionally smoke. On a happy day, by the River Severn (from where the Industrial Revolution swam out into the world), I bought clay and booklet from Mr. Mugridge, and rejoiced in the skills of enthusiasts. 

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Little England

Today was perfection in little England, well, in the small county town of Warwick, where I live. Surprisingly warm for this time of year, making the Magnolia trees look tardy, while daffodils, tulips and winter sown broad beans are really into their stride. Warwick has a Saturday market, and the English wander, shop and buy food, tools, and items of working clothes, much as they have done since the town was founded as a defence against the Danes. The sun shone, and the old, the halt, the lame, the young, toddlers and babes in arms enjoyed the warmth. The County Court is now empty, replaced in the latter stages of New Labour's (Neue Arbeit ?) rule by an American-style 'Justice Centre', but the Cross of St. George (also that of Christ Resurrected) lay as usual against its flag pole on top of the fine tower of St. Mary's, Warwick's glory, and visible for miles around. For a country and a people that are often deemed not to exist (especially by the metropolitan, globalising, power elites - to be seen later this year in all their hubris at the parody of an ancient ideal, the Olympics) we are still here, in all our Hobbit-like, particularly English quietness. We have divested ourselves of our Empire (strange that the English had such a schizophrenic personality, small, local, but expansionist and worldwide - was it the Norman virus that caused it?), and it may be that in a few years, an old-ish wing of the house that we live in will leave. That was a 'long song', but England will still be here. We have new changes to grapple with - social, ethnic, political, religious, demographic, and economic - but, always, somewhere, there will be 'old Mus Hobden'. I shall go into my little garden now, admire its reborn greeness, smoke a pipe, and smile at my grandson's reply to my telling him that flags outside a Leamington pub were Irish ones: 'but I am English, and daddy is, and mummy, and grandad, and granny'. Granny is a Scot, and there is Irish and Welsh in the little fellow, 'but I am English':

Friday, 23 March 2012

an errror!

My apologies, dear readers. I am at a loss to explain how this happened. Horse, centre company, light company, battalion gun .... and, er:

The grenadiers!
God Save the King!

Horse, foot and guns

In response to a gracious request from the Duke of Tradgardland, the Loyal stalwarts of the Queen's Rangers demonstrate their prowess in the field. The centre company:

The light company in open order, in true Ranger fashion, to harass His Majesty's enemy:

A view of the light company, the battalion gun, with the horse moving to cover the flank:

A distant view of the field. (The balloon back chair in the background was in existence when many veterans of the Queen's Rangers were still 'enjoying their bottle and their lass' in their new home in Upper Canada. I like that idea. It pleases and comforts me).

Figures, are, as you will recognise, Front Rank and Perry.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

A welcome parcel from the postwoman

Every so often, one comes across a book that raises one's hopes of happy hours of reading. It is wise not to allow oneself to be too optimistic, but hope springs... And I think I have found a book, new to me (and how have I reached such an advanced age without finding it before?) that will match my expectations and hopes. Originally published, in a private edition, in 1787 as Simcoe's Military Journal; a History of the Operations of a Partisan Corps, called The Queen's Rangers, Commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel J. G. Simcoe, During the War of the American Revolution; now published as:
I have only, as yet, dipped into Simcoe's memoir (the diurnals again - damn'd skirting boards, door frames etc), but it looks to be a delight. It is from that Enlightenment-influenced period when our ancestors appear before us as very much like ourselves, or we, like them. Happy hours beckon. And my 28mm Queen's Rangers will have to be drawn up in review, horse, foot and battalion guns.

A word about the current publishers of Simcoe's journal. They are a print on demand company called Leonaur, and their list contans many military gems, my favourite being Faraway Campaign; Experiences of an Indian Army Cavalry Officer in Persia and Russia During the Great War, by one F. James, about whom I have been able to find out nothing more than he told in his memoir. But what a memoir! Faraway Campaign is the finest ripping yarn I have ever read, and if it doesn't have you reaching for Copplestone's 'Back of Beyond' figures, then nothing will.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

1812 - Canada, not Russia

At last, I have had the chance to add a little more paint to my Upper Canada Militia. I am still at the block painting stage with these fellows, but in the unusual colours of blue 'trowsers' [sic] and green short jackets, a result of the shortages in Canada as it faced the aggression of the Imperial Republic, still at the early stages of its expansionism:

These fellows are the rather neat Hat Peninsular War British infantry, of the pre-Belgic shako period. When finished they will join their brothers in arms from the Upper Canada Sedentary (now we're talking!) Militia in their civvvies, with rather fetching 'round hats', Lower Canada Select Embodied Militia (Vive le Roi!!), and some regulars, seen here in their 'barracks':

Until recently, I have relied on three Ospreys for the period, one, British Forces in North America, 1793-1815, by the prolific, and rather marvellous, Rene Chartrand, illustrated by Embleton pere.  
Chartrand is incredibly learned in the military history of North America, and his barbed asides (thrusting into the thick historical hides of the partisans of that most infamous revolution against His late Majesty, George) enliven his many Ospreys. Imagine my delight recently when I discovered that last year he published what must be the authoritative account of British and Canadian forces in the War of 1812:

This - A Scarlet Coat: Uniforms, Flags and Equipment of the British in the War of 1812 (Ottawa, Service Publications, October 2011) - is a wonderful book, and an absolute must for the enthusiast of 1812. It is pricey, and only available from Canada or the United States, but how pleased I am that I have a copy. And for those who wish to read of the aggressors, M. Chartrand has also penned a matching volume on the blue coats.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

A good evening's painting..?

It's shortly before midnight, and I've just cleaned my brush after two and half of hours of painting. Unfortunately, it was 1 to 1 scale painting - bannisters, skirting boards, door frames. Commiserate with me, gentlemen, just think of the numbers of Upper Canada Embodied Militia that I might have finished! There is only one thing for it...

But which briar? And will my lungs cope with paint fumes mixed with fine Virginia?


Tim Gow, over on his Megablitz And More blog, has given us a very nice display of 1/144 Romanian air power from the Second World War, which featured a remarkable mixture of types from practically every aircraft manufacturing country in Europe. Denes Bernad's Rumanian Air Force; the Prime Decade, 1938-1947 is a must for aero-enthusiasts with a love of the outre, but, be warned, it might lead to a sudden desire to abandon the little men for nasty-smelling glue and the horrors of sanding off too much surface detail. Tim's comments about his need of some ground forces to match his air cover, sent me to my (unfinished!) Crimea project:

These are some of Hat's excellent 20mm Romanians (they come in one of Hat's much appreciated 96 figure boxes), while the armour is a mix of Frontline, Minimi and Fujimi (the latter from 28 years ago, which just goes to show that things do come in handy if one waits long enough), while the trucks and Krupps come from Minimi and Matchbox. The whole lot was supposed to be a Rapid Fire division - the 1st Armoured Division. I think the Romanians only managed to put together two, which, for a country that was poorer than Turkey in the 1930s was something of a feat. Now, I do have plenty of Red Army types, so I really should have a game....
P.S., for those of you of a literary bent, Olivia Manning's Balkan Trilogy -The Great Fortune, The Spoilt City, and Friends and Heroes - is a must for the period leading up to Romania's entry into the war, though some of the feeble, self-absorbed characters grate after a while, but that's literature!

Monday, 19 March 2012

I have a penchant...

... a penchant for militia units, second line troops, garrison chaps, Corps of Invalids, volunteers. It was that, I suppose, that led me, after many years, to write my history of Britain's Home Guard. But it also affects my troop raising:

Here we see some stout fellows, Loyal to His Majesty, garrisoning New York, some time after the liberation of that city from rebels in the Fall of 1776. In the background, a Provincial officer discusses the turnout of these most Loyal Americans with a professional. Aaah, how times have changed. Now all is noise, bustle and division in that Imperial metropolis. But, for a moment, leather soles tramp over cobbles, and birdsong can still be heard.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

'but it is madness!'

Advice that almost all of us ignore, even though it comes from one of our holy texts:
'If you are enormously rich and have plenty of room, you may be tempted to build up war game Armies of several periods. This is enticing, but it is madness!', Brig. P. Young & Lt. Col. J.P. Lawford, Charge! Or How To Play War Games, (1986, Athena edition, p.116). These words whisper to me at every turn, but I am struck by the disease whose first manifestation is the sensation 'ooooh, shiny!':

Above is a photograph of my dining room table. Not that I have a dining room, just 'a room' downstairs - so I don't pass the 'plenty of room' test. I had taken out the blue document drawer to look at over breakfast. Why? Because it is labelled 'Holland, 1940, 20mm', and I recently realised that Early War Minuatures have a range of Dutch for 1940... 'ooooh, matt'. The drawer does, indeed, contain Dutch marines and Dutch infantry, and 1940 German paras, but it also contains 20mm Tumbling Dice 1914 Germans, 20mm Who Knows (an e-bay purchase) early British commandos, 20mm Britannia 8th Army in the desert, 20mm Italeri Folgore paras for El Alamein, and a 15mm Peter Pig Panzer II. Worse, the cigar box contains pre-Dreadnoughts from France and Italy, the box itself being assailed by Armies in Plastic FLW project 'Army Black'. While on the newspaper rest part of my War of 1812 project - Upper Canada embodied militia in 20mm plastic, but, also, the ghostly forms of 30mm Zinnfiguren flats, not to mention some Perry AWI British dragoons, and AWI flags. While, off table, a packet of British colonial gatling guns glare at me - part of a half-finished Suden project.
It is madness .... but not a fraction as mad as the 'real' world...

Saturday, 17 March 2012

St Patrick's Day

An Englishman's greetings on this St.Patrick's day. Not for the commercialised nonesense that reduces our shared heritage to a sales opportunity, but for any spiritual and cultural comfort that is drawn from this fellow:

A votive figure (see how long the hand of pagan Rome is!) in 54mm, from France.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Still working out how to do this blogging fandango

All will doubtlessly become clear with practice, but I'm damn'd if I could work out how to post another image below. The image is 'Pipe tobacco of the moment':

A fine smoke, blended in Perth, the fair town, shortly to be city in this year of Her Majesty's jubilee. Perth, with its deep-flooding river, the two Inches, near the disappeared capital of the Picts, where I spent two years teaching the solid middle class of Perthshire.

By way of an introduction...

Yes, another blog. We live in strange times. Now we desire to combine the graffiti writing urges of old Pompey with the diary introspection of Pepys (or, in some cases, the depravity of 'Walter') in the form of the blog. And I am struck by the same desire. As usual with desires we can always blame others, so I blame the marvellous wargame blogs of Officer Kinch, His Grace, the Duke of Tradgardland, the noble Ross Mac, and our brother in Christ, the Padre. These are exemplary wargames blogs, and I can only hope to strive for such entertaining perfection.

Like many wargamers, I seek not to replicate war, but to indulge in a harmless past-time, find an escape from daily life (known to me as 'the diurnals'), and bathe in nostalgia. Among the odd memories of half a century, that of opening a Christmas day gift of a tin of size 2 Humbrol gloss royal blue (for a packet of Airfix Waterloo French) remains clear, when much else is lost. And the figures that I have painted, organised, admired, and occasionally gamed with also remain fresh in my mind's eye. They still have purchase too, as only the other day I picked up, in my grandson's house, a 54mm plastic Napoleonic Prussian and said to my wife, 'I painted this chap 40 years ago', to which my three old grandson said, 'And now he is in Toby's house!'. There may be 'no continuing city' for us mortals, but the little plastic and tin fellows have some immortality. So, these are the sources of my 'War Diaries'.

As for 'Little Englander', well, it reflects the little of the hobby, but also me as a Hobbit-like Englishman (no trade mark infringements intended - and I care not in any case, the globalisers can get lost). I am a middle-aged, pipe-smoking, grumpy, Englishman with an allotment, and apple trees in a tiny garden. I like the small, the local, the vernacular, the undemonstrative. Speaking of which, I recently returned from Denmark, a country that exhibits these virtues. Strikingly, to English eyes, Danes are happy with their national lot, and unabashed about their quiet patriotism. The Danebrog flies everywhere, here at the Royal Danish Navy base in Copenhagen:

And in the summer months the Danebrog flies everywhere over the perfect allotment huts of the Danes, which are far more orderley and well-constructed than our own allotment huts of old doors and palletts. It was, in fact, the example of the Denmark that led me to fly the English flag over my own few square feet of England.

So, a blog of toy soldiers, a blog of odd thoughts. Greetings!