Sunday 31 October 2021

The Joy of Genealogy

The San Josef in Spanish service

 I have posted previously about my grandfather and his service in the Royal Navy from 1919 to 1945 some time ago - you can read about this here. Staying with the naval theme I was quite surprised to find out that a previous generation of my family also served at sea - during the Napoleonic Wars in fact. 

A cousin of mine has been working on the family tree on my father’s side and it appears that Thomas Crook (baptised 1782 from the village of Berry Pomeroy in Devon) served aboard H.M.S. San Josef - a 114 gun Spanish first rate captured at the battle of St Vincent and later the flagship of Sir Thomas Duckworth. I do not have any details of the extent of his service and given that in all probability he was a farm labourer I cannot help but wonder if he was ‘pressed’ into service. I would certainly like to find out more about him.

So it seems like my family on my father’s side originated in the West Country but headed east during the course of the 19th century - presumably to find work. Thomas’s son George (b. 1834) married in Erith, Kent in 1861 and after a brief sojourn in Prittlewell, Essex (according the 1881 census) were, by 1890 running the The Plough - a public house in Chelmsford. One of his sons, Lewis, moved to Walthamstow where my grandfather, Alfred, was born in 1901.

There are a number of coincidences in all this. For a short while I lived in Belvedere which is just up the road from Erith and I currently live quite close to Prittlewell and am not that far away from the Plough in Chelmsford. Small world isn’t it?

Saturday 30 October 2021

The Enduring Appeal of the Napoleonic Big Battle

 A ‘big battle’ set of rules for, well, big battles….

There is something of the operatic epic about many of the battles of the Napoleonic wars. Colourful uniforms, dashing cavalry, determined grenadiers, stoic infantry squares, the crash bang wallop of the artillery and plumed and resplendent generals and ADCs darting hither and thither whilst great lines of skirmishers harry, hassle and annoy in equal measure. Then there are the personalities - the rock stars of the age - imposing their will on the battle in question and leaving their mark, for better or worse, on the canvas of history. It is fair to say that in many respects history became legend and legend became myth - and the course of the history of the Napoleonic wars is replete with copious amounts of both.

During the life of this blog I have often mentioned my fondness for the 1815 campaign in Belgium. Waterloo exercises a peculiar fascination for me ever since I first started wargames back in the early 1970s. In fact my 1815 Allied army made up from Airfix figures and organised as per Bruce Quarries's Airfic Magazine guide - late morphing into Napoleon's Campaigns in Miniature - is one of the few armies I have ever painted to a state of relative completeness.

For me there is something about this campaign that I just do not seem to be able to get over - nor do I wish to! 

It is all about the big battle. For my Napoleonic adventures (aka 1815 with perhaps a side hustle in the shape of the 1812 Russian campaign) I wanted to fight (and still do) big actions involving divisions and corps. From a practical perspective - by this I mean in terms of playing space - I am limited to a table of 6ft by 4ft but in all honesty I prefer to fight over a much more compact space, say 4ft by 3ft, or even 3ft by 2ft. Clearly using  this small size of playing area  means using either smaller figures or fewer numbers of anger figures or even dispensing with using figures at all. I fully appreciate that the latter option may come across as heresy for many gamers but certainly not for me!

Several levels of Portable Wargame goodness

I have been inspired by the large scale Napoleonic rules in Charles Wesencraft’s Practical Wargaming as well as more recently, Volley and Bayonet by Frank Chadwick and the Portable Napoleonic Wargame by Bob Cordery. In fact the latter has been taken to a quite remarkable level by Mark Cordone. If you check out Bob’s blog you will see what I mean as Mark organised a very effective refight of the 1813 Battle of Leipzig using Risk figures - and Napoleonic ‘big battles’ do no come much bigger than that!

I really thought I was on to something with the Del Prado collection for 1815 but something about it did not sit right with me and so it was disposed of. To be honest I am thinking that for the scale of games I envisage fighting using figures is probably less of an issue - especially as the block armies work just as well along with 3D scenery. Something to think about going forwards anyway - and with implications for the ACW project as well.

When I saw that Osprey were releasing the set you see at the start of this post it was only going to be a matter of time before I acquired a copy. Absolute Emperor are also well supported by a dedicated Facebook group and there are certainly plenty of good ideas contained therein. There is absolutely no hurry with any of this as the ACW remains front and centre. Having said that the thought of a minor diversion into Belgium during 1815 would be hard to resist - except that I will.

For now anyway….:-)

Monday 25 October 2021

An ACW Refresher

C.S.S. Virginia doing that ‘ironclad battering a wooden warship’ thing

 It is hard to believe that it was just over a year ago that I put up the first post showing the construction of the original batch of ACW ships. If you are keen to to do then you can read about it here. Over the course of the year I have successfully completed over fifty models - probably more when you take into consideration the various rebuilds that have taken place - and have not yet finished. Under construction are a further nine models and then I will need to furnish some mortar rafts, tugs and barges in order to complete the collection. The supporting rules have been solo play tested and so the next stage will be to unleash them on some unsuspecting live players. I need to organise a larger playing surface as well as building some terrain pieces to go with the collection but overall it is in pretty good shape. 

There is nothing new or groundbreaking in this post but as I have just drafted an article for a journal about the collection I thought it would be fun to share the new pictures of what has been built so far. It was quite inspiring taking these out of the storage boxes once again and posing them. It has also served to give me a not so gentle nudge in respect of finishing the models that are currently under construction!

Confederate ironclads - historical types in the foreground and some more generic models bringing up the rear

Confederate river paddle steamers with the exception of the C.S.S. Little Rebel bottom right (she was screw propelled)

A brace of C.S.S. Stonewalls (I cheated slightly and gave them a turret rather than a gun house a la H.M.S. Wyvern) and a commerce raider

Union monitors with the original U.S.S. Monitor at the bottom right

A selection of Union river ironclads - from left to right the U.S.S. Benton, Essex, Carondelet and the Louisville

Assorted Union river paddle steamers. The smaller vessels in the rear also double as Ellet rams

Union ironclads from left to right the U.S.S. New Ironsides, Galena and the rather odd looking and short lived Keokuk

Union navy old and new. A Frigate and two sloops (black and white with gunports) with a newer sloop on the right based on the U.S.S. Kearsage and a pair of 90 day gunboats in the foreground.

I have to say that seeing all this lot again after having boxed most of them up was a pleasing experience and it certainly has given me the jolt I needed to crack on with the remaining models. I also need to think rather more seriously about about the playing ares I will be using. The cloth they are sitting on used to be a ‘throw’ that my daughter used in her accommodation when she was at University. I am thinking of adding white self adhesive ‘dots’ to form the grid as this will be less intrusive.

As ever, much to think about but at least my head is a lot clearer than it has been recently!

Sunday 17 October 2021

Vicksburg is the Key

 A very good overview of the campaign and siege of Vicksburg

Now that one of our domestic situations has relented slightly - at least temporarily - my headspace is feeling rather more willing to resume work on my ACW project. The first order of business is of course completing the ships but I have, in the meantime, been quietly researching the Vicksburg campaign.

Aside from the siege itself there is a whole raft of operations that provide plenty of ideas for gaming scenarios - both on the mighty Mississippi and its tributaries and on the land side. From the end paper of the book above you can see what I mean.

“The struggle for control of the Mississippi River was the longest and most complex campaign of the Civil War. It was marked by an extraordinary diversity of military and naval operations, including fleet engagements, cavalry raids, amphibious landings, pitched battles, and the two longest sieges in American history. Every existing type of naval vessel, from sailing ship to armoured ram, played a role, and military engineers practise their art on a scale never before witnessed in modern warfare. Union commanders such as Grant, Sherman, Farragut, and Porter demonstrated the skills that would take them to the highest levels of command. When the immense contest finally reached its climax at Vicksburg and Port Hudson in the summer of 1863, the Confederacy suffered a blow from which it never recovered. Here was the true turning point of the Civil War.”

Whilst I am not planning to replicate the campaign as such it will certainly serve as a great template for my own alternative version using the waterways of Essex as the theatre of war. One thing has come up on the naval side though - I will need to build some mortar rafts!

Looking forward to reading this one!

The land side will be covered using the block armies initially although I have some plans for something figure based in due course. A further addition to the library to support this project is the book you see above - acquired courtesy of some of the remaining balance of my birthday Amazon gift cards. 

It has been a really trying couple of months but with the note of cautious optimism concerning Laurel as well as some positive news from Canada about her brother - obviously this is relative given his condition - the month has taken on a slightly rosier hue at last.

Long may it continue!

Saturday 16 October 2021

That Was the Week that Was….

 It has been a trying and stressful week but with a cautiously optimistic outcome.

On Monday I took Laurel to Queens hospital in Romford for her pre op. Aside from a truly awful journey - it was during the he rush hour and morning school run, not helped by numerous roadworks - the procedures she had went very smoothly. They did a blood test, a Covid swab, an MRSA swab, and ECG, blood pressure and weight etc - all was good and swiftly and efficiently done.

Tuesday was spent with Laurel isolating in preparation for Wednesday. For a variety of reasons we felt that it would be a good idea for her to pack for an overnight stay which she duly did. This proved to be a very wise move.

Laurel had her spinal angiogram on Wednesday with the caveat that should they see the affected area in more detail than from the enhanced MRI they would then proceed to carry out the angioplasty - essentially repairing the AVM with surgical glue. That was the plan and naturally this would have been advantageous as it would all be done in one hit. After a myriad of delays (highlighting just how much the NHS in under due to staffing and resourcing issues) - a five hour wait (9am until 2:15) on her own until she went to theatre - she eventually had her angiogram and was out into recovery at around 5:45. There was some confusion as to what she had done as no one seemed to be sure if it just the angiogram or if the angioplasty had featured as well. This was cleared up the next day.

She was coming on on Thursday and as is usual had to wait to be discharged following the ward rounds. Eventually I was told it would be around 2pm so I left home in good time to collect her. For a variety of reasons it was not until after 4 that we were able to leave. In the meantime one of her consultants team came to tell us what actually had taken place.

The angiogram was not able to identify the place where the AVM was from the enhanced MRI. It appeared to have dispersed of its own accord! The increasing frequency and severity of lower back pain she had been experiencing over the previous couple of months were indicative of it ‘bleeding, clotting and then breaking down’. We certainly did not expect to hear that!

As expected Laurel was feeling tired, groggy and with a bewildering variety of surgical procedure induced  aches and pains. We got home and so after a bite to eat she hit the sack for some much needed sleep.

We had a phone call from the consultant himself yesterday evening. He apologised for not being able to speak with us whilst we were waiting for the hospital discharge but he was tied up in theatre until around 7. He explained in more detail what had taken place and it does appear that the increasing pain Laurel experienced was due to the AVM effectively repairing itself but to be on the safe side she will need to have a couple of further scans to confirm this and to rule out anything else untoward.

Overall this is reason to be cautiously optimistic although we need the effects of the angiogram to wear off - Laurel has some interesting bruising for sure - so that she can work out what is post procedure pain or the ongoing back situation.

Give it a couple of weeks or so and we should have a clearer idea, especially once the further scans have been done.

There are few things in life worse than seeing a loved one suffer and being unable to alleviate the pain and stress caused. It has been an exhausting week for her and for us as a family but with support and help from friends and relatives it has made it a little easier to cope with.

Many thanks one and all.

Monday 11 October 2021

A Definite Kind of Progress

Cockleshell heroes indeed and one that I am looking to reading and getting some inspiration from 

First of all and once again, a very big thank you to all for the kind messages of support in respect of the imminent surgery that Laurel is about to have. Both of us really appreciate it. This morning was the first visit to the hospital for her to have the pre op sequence - BP, blood test, MRSA and Covid swab as well as an ECG. It took us longer to get to the hospital than it did for all these tests to be undertaken. Even the parking was not too problematic! This Wednesday is the day so fingers and other extremities are firmly crossed for a successful outcome.

In the meantime life has meandered on and so I have found myself at something of a loose end this afternoon - I am working from home but have tackled the business of the day rather sooner than I would thought meaning that I have some spare time and of course, there is no commute involved unless you count heading up into the loft as such….

So I have some definite progress to report in a couple of areas as well as some new additions to the collection - one courtesy of a birthday Amazon gift cards and the other thanks to the generosity of a fellow gamer and blogger.

“Big wheels keep on turning….”

The ACW ships are finally taking shape and are beginning to look like what they should do! The six you see are the side wheel paddle ships - two for the Union and four for the Confederates with their respective paddle boxes in place. Originally I was going to paint the sun ray effect paddle boxes before fixing them in place but have opted instead to paint them in situ - mainly because it gives me something rather larger to hold on to whilst doing so.

The original versions. Note the dice frame that is incorrectly positioned over the edge of the large recess where the blocks sit. There is also a hole cut into the base beneath this which made the whole thing a little too deep for a 6mm d6.

The revised versions viewed from the front and the rear. I have opted to use just the dice frame to sit the d6 in and you can see that it has been positioned to that it is in line with the main recess. Altogether much smarter looking!

Originally in our kitchen but tucked away in the man cave for safekeeping - until now that is! Measuring 24” by 18” and ideal for a 2” square grid. It merely needs some work to get it ready for action and will make for a truly portable playing surface.

The revised movement tray prototypes for my block armies have arrived and I am delighted with them so these will be the production versions. I made a rather pleasant discovery with these - at least with the 1 1/2” square version - in that the small version will enable to make use of a 2” square grid with a single block per unit. This is really handy as I have an old cork notice board that measure 24” by 18” or, when using a 2” grid, 12 by 9 squares. Now that is what I call a Portable Wargame!

Gotta love some WW2 special forces action!

Over the past year or so I have been looking at and thinking about skirmish level games for various things, ranging from the crusades to the far future. A period of history I keep coming back to is WW2 in the Mediterranean, especially from the perspective of clandestine operations, raids and similar. Anything set in the Greek islands will always have my attention - shades of the Guns of Navarone - and so I have reading about various facets of this type of warfare. The two titles you see above are already in my collection - the SAS book came from a boot sale - but the newest addition concerns the exploits of the Special Boat Squadron. The book covers the Aegean as well as all the other theatres the men of the SBS saw service - including the Far East.

Planes, ships, vehicles, figures, artillery pieces and terrain items - all very useful and the inspiration for many thoughts within thoughts, schemes within schemes and plans within plans….

Finally, a most welcome package arrived from that well known bon vivant, wit and raconteur- the Jolly Broom Man - who was having a bit of clear out and kindly asked me If I was interested in the above bits and pieces from the board game Axis and Allies. Was I ever although I do have rather a lot of this already. There is a cunning plan afoot using much of this material but it is very much a long distance thing. The Jolly Broom Man is a thoroughly decent fellow and my thanks to him for this most welcome gesture - with the veritable apocalypse of things going on at home at the moment the impact of its arrival on my well being was far bigger than the bits and pieces contained therein.

My deepest thanks old chap!

In closing all I can say is that the support of friends and family has been absolutely priceless (many thanks once again) through this most challenging of times and although the above items are fairly low key in their impact and represent the work of but a small passage of time, the simple fact is that I had some time to do them and I feel far more normal having done so.

Thursday 7 October 2021

Events Have Moved on....

Rather more quickly than anticipated! Laurel (aka SWMBO) will be having the first of potentially three surgical procedures next week. We are hopeful that she can get away with two because if it goes to the third it means that the condition is rather more serious than first realised. The first procedure is very much exploratory in nature with the second being the one that hopefully puts her right. She is in great hands as her surgeon is one of only two in the UK that can perform the procedure she will be having.

With this in mind I shall once again be 'going off the grid' for a short while but rest assured that during my absence thoughts will be thought, schemes will be schemed and plans will be planned....

See Y'awl on the other side!

Sunday 3 October 2021

The Way We Were….

Not a bad selection of types. I have around 75 of the above moulded in three colours - the shade you see above, red/brown and green. Not bad for 50p for three bags of 25 or so figures - £1.50 in all. They look rather like the troops from the film Starship Troopers.

Now that I am back in the gaming saddle, after a fashion, I figured it would be a good idea to take stock of where I am and why I am there. Previously I have mentioned that I have been undertaking a lot of reading and the thinking of great thoughts, scheming of great schemes and planning of great plans. Sort of.

Actually is is not hugely different from previously but it now has the benefit of some clarity of purpose.

Five more ships for the Confederates. The ‘sun ray’ effect on the paddle boxes is etched into the MDF although I have deepened the lines to take paint better.

ACW is ‘front and centre’ once again. Work has resumed on the remaining ships for the collection and alongside of this will be the redrafting of the naval rules into a more reader friendly format. I also have the small matter of penning an article for the Naval Wargames Society about, you’ve guessed it, my ACW ships and how they got there. In truth I feel positively energised about all three of these so let the creating (re)commence!

On the subject of the ACW there is something for the land side in the offing that will work really nicely with the ships. I will say no more at this time and in truth it is a way off yet but it will serve to complete the ACW collection.

The new version of the bases will not have a square hole in the base that would have been framed by a dice frame. I shall be using solely a dice frame for the d6.

Due to my draftsman skills being somewhat lacking, the revised sample order from Warbases for my block army movement bases is not quite correct but in truth it has done me a favour as I have been able to further revise them into something far simpler. Essentially I shall be losing the small square hole on the base as the depth of a dice frame will be more than sufficient to hold a small d6. I have a number of actions I want to fight once I have these ready so when the revised designs are back I can make some definitive plans. No details as yet but suffice it to say the Portable Wargame will have centre stage.

My thoughts around skirmish games have moved in numerous directions and the only decision I have reached is that the forces will be around a dozen or so figures a side. The rules from Wiley Games - the ‘Fistful’ series - absolutely tick all the boxes for me in terms of mechanics and ‘flavour’. The jury is out but I have a hankering to tackle the various ideas I have in a larger scale than normal - 40mm or larger, just for the fun of it as I fancying a painting challenge!

On the subject of larger scales I forgot to mention about the selection I picked up at a boot sale some weeks ago. I had seen a couple of painted samples of these on a Facebook group  and thought they looked rather nice so I was very pleased to pick up three packs of these, each of which contained around 25 figures so I have a nice selection (too many really) to work with. They are obviously Sci-Fi and are roughly 45mm. I just need to source some opposition but needless to say I have a couple of ideas floating around.

The Crusades are a slow burner in whatever shape I decide to tackle them - as a cheap source of material I have a whole pile of Risk: Medieval figures which could be pressed into service. I am very much at the occasional reading and research phase for this so it will not be happening anytime soon. 

So, in closing, I am once again rummaging around in the swampy bayous of the Confederate South - looking forward with renewed vigour.

For now anyway!

Friday 1 October 2021

Gently Easing Back Into Things

An excellent companion to the author's title on Crusader Armies

 It has been a challenging time at Maison Crook for a variety of reasons, most of which have been mentioned previously. As the initial shock of the 'triple-whammy' has now subsided somewhat to more manageable levels so we have been able to take stock of what has happened and the implications going forwards. Make no mistake, none of the outcomes are particularly appealing but at least we are now better placed to plan accordingly and so can resume what passes for normal life in our neck of the woods. 

I should also say that all the messages and emails received have been enormously appreciated and I thank each and everyone of you for taking the time to do so.

I will not go into details about all of it but the one positive is that we finally have a diagnosis for the affliction that has been troubling Laurel for some years and with increasing severity. She will require a surgical procedure, possibly two depending on whether or not the first one works, and this is likely to be in the next month or so. It is a serious condition and with potentially dire consequences if left hence the urgency. It will not be pleasant - surgical procedures rarely are - but at least it is progress and hopefully a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. In any event, at least we now know what we are dealing with.

Now that we have sort of come to terms with the various travails that are besetting us I have at last been able to clear some all important head space. From a practical perspective it means that I will some capacity to tackle some gaming related bits and pieces - especially now that I shall be reactivating the lounge based work station - at Laurel's suggestion I might add - that I used to have prior to when we decorated. I am delighted about this as it means that I can resume work on the ACW ships rather more conveniently than being exiled to the man cave. I hope to get this set up over the weekend. I have also been able to make some rather better decisions about the grand disposal I was planning. This will still go ahead but on a rather more modest scale.

The 28th of September was of course my birthday (again, many thanks for all the good wishes) and this year, perhaps due to the deluge of adversity we have been dealing with, as a family we may a great day of it. Of immediate interest I received some £65 of Amazon gift cards which are always most welcome and I have already invested some of the balance.

The big 'retainer' of my planned disposal concerns the Crusades. Despite having disposed of a couple of books from this part of the library I have decided to persevere with the period and so have in mind a couple of ideas to play around with in due course. Rather embarrassingly and as a result of this decision I needed to replace one of the books that I had disposed of - Crusader Armies by the author of the book pictured above.

I should be taking delivery of the revised movement trays for the block armies soon so I shall ready these and post on the blog in due course. I want to get then painted first of all before doing so, to capture the full effect.  

There is also the small matter of finishing the write up of the ACW naval rules and an article I am penning for the Naval Wargames Society.

My head is in a far better place now and I feel far more inclined to spend time on gaming stuff which should prove to be a welcome distraction. It is good to be back!