Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Guest Writer of The Month - Don Houghton

A real find - another article by Don Houghton, author of the series "At the Colonel's Table". The phrase "a thinking wargamer" was a frequent refrain in Don Featherstone's comments on those of whom he approved... and I'm not sure about Rachel Welch, either.

Don Houghton

Not only an enthusiastic and thinking wargamer but a professional T.V. script-writer who writes such series as "Dr. Who" and "The Flaxton Boys". Don wrote "At the Colonel's Table", perhaps the most successful series ever to appear in Wargamer's' Newsletter. The contribution that appears below is in the same class.


Extract from Campaign Diary. Monday, the 14th:

I'm worried about the 27th of Foot - the Inniskillings. Not just mildly worried or apprehensively worried - but sick-worried. It's absolutely no consolation to me to know that Wellington felt the same way about them on the eve of Waterloo. He was to learn the next day how they would perform. By all reports they didn't do too badly. As for me - I shan’t know for the best part of a week. Not till next Saturday.

Of course, I have no one to blame but myself. I've loft them formed up in a sort of lopsided square defending the southern approach to a small bridge. The battalion's position is overlooked by a hill. And sitting on top of that hill, looking very smug, very dangerous and very superior, are a Regiment of Cuirassiers, two squadrons of Polish Lancers and the biggest damned Regiment of Carabiniers you've ever seen! And I have a horrible suspicion that there are some infantry forming up behind them. Probably the Imperial Guard Grenadiers. It would be just my luck. The Guard invariably have a strong battery of Artillery in support...

Trouble is - my Inniskillings are such a rag-tailed mob. All shapes and sizes. Some Hinton Hunts, a sprinkling of Minifigs, a few old Alberken and at least four or five figures that defy any identification. And their uniforms are really a disgrace. I must have painted the majority of them in one heck of a hurry -or perhaps when I had a hang-over. The whole battalion should have been shipped back to its depot months ago. Years ago. For example, there is a Sergeant in the Fourth Company, a great towering oaf (I think he started life, in better days, as a Hinchliffe) who, for some inexplicable reason, parades himself in green facings and silver lace. He looks odd amongst the buff and gold of his colleagues. And he will persist in drawing attention to himself by continually falling flat on his face, despite the fact that, like all the others, he is supposed to be firmly stuck to his Company tray. I wonder what Regiment he’s a fugitive from? Only in the ranks of the Innlsklllings could a deserter find sanctuary!

And I don't like their Colonel. Never have. He rides that ridiculously small horse of his with a decided (and perpetual) list to starboard. He’s got so much tarnished bullion on his uniform (ostentatious devil) it’s a wonder to me that dwarf-nag of his doesn't give up the ghost and spread eagle itself beside the Adjutant — who doesn't even boast a horse.

On top of all that their Regimental Colour isn't a colour anymore. It's more of a chipped dull grey shade with specks of buff clinging onto it here and there - and, as far as I know, they've never owned a King's Colour!

And this is the battalion I've left holding an important, a vital bridge, a direct access to my Reserve Division. could so easily have sent in the splendid Coldstreamers. Now there's a Regiment. A joy to behold. A full complement of fine Rose figures, beautifully and painstakingly painted by an expert in Colne, Lancashire. Every musket at just the right angle, every button shining. Just the sight of them advancing is enough to scare the living bejasus out of a faint hearted opposition.

Or the 95th Rifles. I could have sent them. Not as immaculate as the Coldstreamers - but they've got an exemplary battle record. And they're lucky with the dice.

Yet, despite their Colonel, and the derogatory things I say about them, I must admit to a sneaking affection for the Inniskillings. At least they've got character. Well anyway, they look different. Individualists, obviously. No geometrically dressed ranks for them, no uniformity in size or shape and they'll never find a picturesque home in a colourful diorama on retirement. They'll just slog on, battle after battle, campaign after campaign. And I suppose they'll finally end their days ingloriously - at the bottom of my 'spare-parts' box.

I wonder if other wargamers get as emotionally involved with their troops as I do? It makes for lousy Generalship, that's for sure. I remember one battle - a close run thing - wherein I withheld the 12th Light Dragoons from the fray, simply because they are my favourite cavalry unit. They were amongst the first figures I painted myself (in the days when I had the time to lavish on that sort of thing) and every single trooper is as perfect as I was capable of making it. Probably more by luck than good management, I managed to get just the right sheen on the coats of the horses. And the flashing sabres are all silver-leafed. How there's dedication for you. (Today I don't attempt to paint anything more complex than a simple cannon - and I usually make a fair old hash of that.) It took me nearly a month to outfit the whole Regiment - and just about cost me my eyesight. Anyway, I lost that particular battle - but I had the satisfaction of knowing that the 12th Light Dragoons escaped the carnage in the same pristine, undiminished perfection in which they arrived on the field of battle. I couldn't bear to think of their glittering ranks torn by shot and shell. (Unlike the 95th they have always been notoriously unlucky with the dice.)

Then there's my Brunswicker Regiments. I'm over-cautious with them, too. Possibly a subconscious desire not to offend or embarrass our Allies. But they're a characterless lot anyway - always scowling, their black uniforms dull against the scarlet of the other infantry... Or maybe it's because their morale factor is so abysmally low. They take a delight in vanishing at the first whiff of powder. They arrive on the field all dark and ominous - and then they're gone at the merest glimpse of a French uniform. But back to the Inniskillings. They've given me a hell of a day. I had a production conference this morning. An important one. Can't remember a thing that was discussed or a single decision that was taken. The notes I jotted down are of no help. They concern alternative deployments for the Inniskillings - rather than ideas on how to keep the production budget down. My Director is worried about a £500,000 film - I'm concerned about the fate of ten moth-eaten Companies of raucous Irish soldiers. A motley bunch of Hinton Hunts, Minifigs, Alberkens, and some unidentifiable figures. Good grief, the whole battalion doesn't weigh more than 20 ounces!

Hold on, though - supposing I was to bring up that reserve battery of Horse Artillery to cover their left... It's a disease, not a hobby. I mean, one could so easily find other, less absorbing pastimes. I could collect Jacobean chamber pots - or pictures of Rachel Welch. Or become an authority on the emerging Outer Mongolian jazz groups. Or run for Parliament. Or take up Morris dancing... Or collect pictures of Rachel Welch. The things I could have done with all those lost hours...

But on Saturday I'll know the worst. We'll resume the table-top battle then. My home is in Herefordshire and I'll drive all the way down to Northamptonshire - my Wargame opponent lives there - I'll have a worried, hurried lunch, get a lousy attack of indigestion as a consequence, and then, with frayed nerves, I'll move to the battlefield and watch helplessly as the Inniskillings meet their fate. My opponent is an ex professional soldier. Retired a full Brigadier. Cool as a cucumber - and deadly in command of French cavalry. He'll send in those bloody Cuirassiers, and the Lancers, and the Carabiniers - and any spare infantry he happens to have knocking around in the vicinity. And they'll be Imperial Guardsmen. Bound to be.

It’s his turn. The Inniskillings are waiting patiently. And I have to live through the next four and a half ghastly days. I wish I could parley. I wish I could call a truce – if only for humanitarian reasons. I wish Donald Featherstone had never sent me that encouraging letter years ago, extolling the delights of Wargaming. I wish he’d never got me hooked on this business. I wish he’d introduced me to heroin instead. I wish…

Extract from Campaign Diary. Monday, the 21st:

A week later. It’s a glorious day. The sky may be full of black clouds, it may be teeming with rain and blowing a gale – but for me, it’s a glorious day and my heart sings.

The Inniskillings held. My opponent sent down the Lancers and Carabiniers – but held back the Cuirassiers, for some unexplained reason. The Inniskillings met their murderous attack – and repulsed them! Gloriously. I even feel a mild twinge of affection for their lopsided Colonel. They gave me a breathing space. Miraculously.

Time enough for me to send in the magnificent Coldstreamers, supported by the dashing 12th Light Dragoons, to relieve the battered but unbowed Inniskilling square. Even that monstrous sergeant in the Fourth Company kept his feet.

Unfortunately the Coldstreamers and the Light Dragoons were cut to shreds as soon as the Cuirassiers joined in. And, of course, I lost the battle.

But the Inniskillings held.


Mad Carew said...

What a beautifully written piece. Thankyou for sharing that with us.

Capt Bill said...

Yes, yes very enjoyable indeed!!!!

Steve-the-Wargamer said...

I remember it the first time!! Brilliant read... happy days...

Anonymous said...

I remember this as if it was yesterday. I recall reading it over & over again. Ah, the memories.