Thursday, 30 June 2022

Fnurban #14 : Northumberland - Moss Troopers, Anti-Tank Cubes and pre-Wells Wargamers

All a bit quiet here recently, partly due to a pleasant week's holiday in Northumberland; as it turned out, there was quite a lot of what might be called 'hobby interest' there.  I suppose if you go anywhere in Britain, there will be history waiting to be discovered, of course - but Northumberland seems to have had more than its share!  Unsurprising, perhaps, given its location close to the English/Scottish border,  the scene of centuries of warfare.   

The area is peppered with fortifications  of various ages, styles and states of repair: a great example was the village of Elsdon, in Redesdale,  within a handful of miles of  our cottage ( which was in Coquetdale ). A walk fron the village started close to  a well-preserved Norman  motte and bailey: 

In fact the village, rather picturesque now, is a completely militarised landscape. The motte and bailey is on the right, and in the centre the large building is a Pele tower ( fortified manor house ) dating from the early 15th Century - the neighbouring church has thick walls so as to be defensible, and the the village green ( left ) was surrounded by a defensive wall too. They were well-prepared to see off any Scots raiders, Reivers or 'Moss Troopers'.  The churchyard also revealed a mass-grave, probably of  casualties from  the battle of Otterburn ( 'Chevy Chase' ) nearby in 1388.

The Norman castle at Elsdon was built by Robert de Umfraville,  soon after the conquest, but abandoned by about 1160 as his descendents moved to nearby Harbottle, where we also visited the  ruins of their stone castle.  


Mind you, it did them no good, as the new castle was beseiged and taken by the Scots in 1174, only a few years after it was built! the castle fell into decay after the accession of James VI of Scotland to the throne of England in 1605, which presumably brought peace to the region, after hundreds of years of strife. Until 1689, 1715 and 1745, that is! 

Moving forward a little in time, we also visited the splendid National Trust property of Wallington, home of the splendidly intellectual and eccentric Trevelyan family, and childhood home of historian G.M. Trevelyan, whose histories of Marlborough's wars  and of Garibaldi will be known to many. It's a good visit for anyone, and the Walled Garden is a particular highlight if gardens are your thing - we were lucky to see it in mid/late June, peak flowering season.  But there is a bonus, especially for readers of this blog. In the former servants hall, we saw this: 


"20 mil Semi-Flats sir, thousands of 'em!"

The guide book explains :

"The collection of model soldiers, now totalling 3,800, was acquired in the early 1880s for the three sons of George Otto Trevelyan - Charles, Robert and George. They were made in Germany. 

The boys set them out on the floor of the Museum above the Saloon, following plans of actual battles of the Marlborough and Napoleonic Wars. Books were used to represent hills. Careful calculations were made as to the correct fire-power of the guns and the agreed number of soldiers laid low at each volley: a battle might therefore take several days to complete. 


French infantry looking more 1880s than 1815 ?

Plenty of Cuirassiers!

 It was to this study of the game of Kriegspiel that G.M. Trevelyan attributed his own capacity for so vividly describing battles, and both he and Sir Charles gave Kriegspiel as their hobby in Who's Who, even as adults. 

and 'Prussian Guards' Grenadiers

 The soldiers are today laid out in regiments of Napoloeon's, Blucher's and Wellington's armies, exactly as Sir Charles left them in the Musuem."


and sets of ( surprisingly tiny ) kriegspiel blocks

Impressive stuff, and 25 years before H.G. Wells!  Though of course, Kriegspiel was around well before that.  The figures looked to me about 20mm ( maybe 25mm? ) and 'semi-flat' style, there was no information on the makers apart from 'German'.  Would any experts out there like to hazard a guess?  Much of the French infantry are uniformed in contemporary ( c.1880s ) style, but I'm sure they performed splendidly under the command of Bonaparte! 

 Now on to the 1940s: we spent a lovely sunny afternoon at Almouth beach, where we found another relic of our island's warlike history - a nice  grouping of 1940 vintage concrete anti-tank cubes.  These were part of the very rapidly-contrstructed defences which were installed all along the South and East coasts of Britain following the defeat of France - we are familiar with them on  East Anglian beaches too. 

What with the pill-boxes and other fortifications that still pepper the landscape and once made up the multiple  'stop lines'  intended to delay Hitler's Panzer Divisions if they invaded, I'm sure I've been told that this was the largest civil-engineering program in British history up to that time.  Though perhaps it was  overtaken only two or three years later by the construction of airfields for Bomber Command and the U.S. Army 8th Air Force, which resulted in  a concrete runway being withing 5 miles of pretty much any point in East Anglia.   

these are rather scupltural - good use of corrugated iron!

The sheer amount of effort that must have gone into these things, in a very short timescale,  is impressive  - but when confronted with them so far North, I have my doubts about them. Would Hitler have really tried to land an army here?  The whole point of The Battle of Britain being that air supremacy was a pre-requisite for successful landings, there was surely,  simply no chance of the Lufwaffe being able to put effective ( i.e. single-seater ) fighter cover over  beaches and sea-lanes so far North - they just wouldn't have the range. That must have been known at the time, so one wonders why so much effort was put into these defences. I suspect it was perhaps more about stiffening morale at home, and 'being seen to be doing something'. Does anyone have a view, or specialist knowledge,  on that?

So there we are - a very  pleasant week in Northumberland ( we were very lucky with the weather!), with lots of historical/hobby interest thrown in. All those castles, pele towers and defensible churches,  and the general landscape,  gave me ideas. Must dig out my copy of 'The Steel Bonnets' and learn about the Border Reivers and their exploits.  Hmmm, would it make a Portable '3 X 3' Wargame?    Keep well, and safe, everyone. 

Wednesday, 8 June 2022

Back to Broadside

Seven months ago I attended the 'Broadside 2021' show at Gillingham - back in the early days of the Omicron variant, all of us masked up and a bit nervous.   This Saturday I was able to return, unmasked and much more relaxed, to the same venue for Broadside 2022. For a dedicated royal jubilee avoider, it was a nice change from beacons, street parties and trooping the colour. 

And need I say, it was a good show; one of the smaller events, perhaps, but that makes it very manageable and relaxed.  The program listed a dozen display games and about 30 traders, plus commercial demo games, painting, and quite a few 'flea market' tables.     I took a few pictures of some of the games that caught my eye : 

First, Deal Wargames Club's  'The Real Guns of Navarone',  liberation of Elba, 1944, in 20mm scale and  using Rapid Fire rules.  This is what my childhood gaming buddies and I were aiming for with our Airfix figures.. As you can see, the hall is spacious and quite well-attended.

Shepway Wargames Club  'Viva La Revolucion'  Mexico game with Crush the Kaiser rules.  Great  terrain - and you can't fault a game with a train in it - and full marks for the sombrero sported by one of the players. I liked the figures,  non-uniform but in a nice 'limited palate' style  :


Next a near-contemporary game, Skirmish Wargames 'The First LRDG 1916-1917', set in the Egyptian Desert.  I liked the aircraft 'flying' on a plastic beer glass, and I gather all the vehicles were converted from those 'collectable' model vintage vehicles which were common a few years ago -  and now easily acquired in charity shops. 



More aircraft : SEEMS 'One Day in the Battle of Britain' - a right old melee with nice 1/144 scale models. 


Last and absolutely not least,  the show wouldn't be complete without Postie's Rejects. Big Lee's 'Beau Hunks'   French Foreign Legion game in 15mm with The Men Who Would Be Kings rules, incorporating a 'game within a game' involving Laurel and Hardy, inspired by their film which contributed the title. I admit I didn't really follow how that worked, but it looked splendid and they were clearly having a good time, and they won 'Best Game' with it - congratulations! 

( that fort concealed large amounts of cake! )

On other blogs you'll see many more and better pictures of these and all the other games, in particular Ray 'Don't Throw a One', Richard 'My Wargaming Habit' and Big Lee's 'Miniature Adventures' (featuring their game) - all highly recommended.

The day wouldn't have been complete without some shopping, and I was quite pleased with my acquisitions, which had a strongly WW2 bent. I'm still looking out for material for the 'D-Day Dodgers' in  Italy 1943-45, and I picked up some more troops : 

The heavy weapons will complement the Indian infantry I acquired at SELWG last year, and the Moroccans  will add even more variety to the polyglot Allied forces.  This does rather leave the opposing  Airfix Germans looking a bit lacking in variety - I think perhaps some Fallschirmjager may need to be acquired, and of course the Italians themselves need to be represented. Hmmm.. more shopping, then?

The flea market was well worth a look, and the  chaps from Rainham wargames club had a selection of various vehicles at a very good price. I think maybe  WW2 gamers can  tend to get a bit obsessed with tanks, but I reckon you can't have enough light vehicles and transport, so I was very pleased with this little lot: 

if in doubt, get a Bren carrier..
I also picked up some paint, and some nice 'gunpit' type terrain items (can't remember the trader, sorry!) which will come in handy for dug-in defensive positions and some flags for 7YW Prussians. Finally, my  'impulse buy of the month' was  a set of rules for a period that I don't do, and possibly never will - 'they just looked interesting' - oh dear! This way madness lies. The nice chaps at Real Time Wargames were the beneficiaries ( they had a nice-looking Indian Mutiny game in 10mm scale, which I forgot to photograph - I bet Ray did, though ) , anyway I will draw a mildly embarrassed veil on that!

 I spent a pleasant three hours at the show and thoroughly enjoyed it, so many thanks to all concerned - and if you are within range this time next year, it's well worth a visit. 

( Finally as a slight aside, I realised that 10  minutes walk from the venue was Barnsole Road Primary school - which I last will have seen  at the end of summer term in about July 1970. 

 It didn't look to have changed much - can't say the same for me! A nice bonus piece of nostalgia, glad I took a look ). 

Now I really need to get on with some more painting and some gaming - I think the show has been good for inspiration. I hope it's entertained you a little, too!