Wednesday 24 February 2010

A Blast from the Past

When I first embarked upon the war gaming road, back in the early 70s, I used to have a small group of friends that I shared the experience with whilst growing up on the Isle of Sheppey, just off the North Kent coast. We were all of a similar age and inevitably, as jobs, life, family and house moves all took their toll we drifted apart as is commonly the way with such early and formative friendships. I was delighted then, when an old gaming friend of mine renewed his acquaintance with me via Facebook. To be honest we had shared an on and off contact over the preceding years – especially after I had moved to London aged seventeen – so this was hardly a ‘bolt from the blue’ but was still most welcome all the same.

Paul, my friend and ‘comrade in arms’ during those formative years, and I enjoyed many games – primarily Napoleonic although with WW2 featuring as well. We started using Charge! and unpainted Airfix plastic 20mm figures and moved on to the Airfix magazine guide Napoleonic Wargaming (and the later WW2 volume) with the plastic figures being painted this time. We also used to play Waddington’s game Campaign (which I still have!) with Neil, another member of our then ‘secret’ society. Obviously as young teenage boys our street ‘cred’ was all important and so any mention of playing with toy soldiers was kept very quiet! I always had the impression that Paul was made of sterner stuff and would not let such considerations bother him in the slightest – he was, and indeed still is, a very easy going and laid back individual.

Our first games were played using unpainted Airfix figures and Charge! as mentioned but we soon graduated into far more serious gaming using Bruce Quarrie’s Napoleonic Wargaming. This was a revelation in many ways and I can remember using the complexity of the book to ‘blind them with science’ when challenged about the ‘playing with toy soldiers’ from any incredulous contemporaries – the tables and charts contained therein were enough to give anybody a nose bleed and so I was clearly and very obviously involved in an incredibly complex and cerebral pastime! Oh the intellectual vanity of youth! For WW2 we used continued to use unpainted infantry but oddly enough we spent a lot of time making tank and vehicle kits.

We dabbled in metal figures – small quantities of Hinchcliffe - and a smattering of Tradition 25mm figures acquired during a day trip to Tradition in London (then still in Piccadilly) accompanied by Neil (another member of the group) and courtesy of his Brother who used to drive to work at Holborn. We also visited Under Two Flags at St Christophers Place (sadly no longer there) and I recall that on the journey up to London from the Island I was violently car sick when we arrived! I remember buying a battalion of Russian Napoleonic Grenadiers for the beginnings of my small set up for 1812. Eventually this army consisted of three battalions of infantry, two of cavalry and some guns and the whole collection was sold to Eric Knowles shortly after I had moved to London. The Hinchcliffe Cuirassiers were huge figures and had a very good record on the table.

Our last gaming project together was to build up two armies for the 1815 era – he had the French and I had the allies – and I remember fondly the hours spent painting and converting figures to use – French Cuirassiers into British Heavy Dragoons and kneeling British Infantry into 95th Riflemen. I also managed to convert some slouch hat wearing Confederate Infantry into Brunswick Jager. Not to be outdone Paul managed to convert some British Hussars into French and also painted up a unit of Swiss Infantry. We also had a very small smattering of Hinchcliffe metal figures – these were obtained from model shop in Sittingbourne if I remember correctly. I remember his squadron of French Red Guard Lancers in action on more than one occasion. Sadly the plastics are no more as the dreaded plastic rot set in and most of the figures became very brittle and began breaking off at the ankles very easily. Still the memory of those games will never disappear and although I managed to amass a record of almost continual defeat against Paul I always enjoyed the experience – anyway, I used to beat him regularly at the aforementioned Campaign so overall the honours were probably even!

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