Wednesday, 21 October 2009

A year with the Don

Don Featherstone republished this article of his from Wargamers Digest March 1962 in Wargamer's Newsletter 111 in June 1971. A fascinating insight into a formative year.

A Wargamer’s Year

by D. Featherstone

Back in 1962, when wargaming was in its infancy, most of the British wargamers knew each other personally, their friendship and enthusiasm is recalled with nostalgic warmth. Reading through the March 1962 issue of War Games Digest I came across the following article which amply revives the feeling of those days. This month's cover picture of myself and daughter Sally was taken in the same year.

Sitting idly reviewing the events of the past year, I was struck by the amazing number of interesting things that have happened to me wargames-wise since December 1960. I have always realised that the hobby had brought me untold pleasure but did not anticipate so many varied events resulting from collecting model soldiers and fighting battles with them.

JANUARY. Waited with some interest to see who won a rather comic race between Commercial T.V. and the British Broadcasting Corporation, both trying to be first to screen in magazine programmes some filmed stuff taken in my wargames room. Commercial T.V. won and made a very good job of animating cavalry and artillery with a most realistic background of battle noises. The B.B.C. did a more restrained job - but both of the programmes resulted in a lot of correspondence with would-be collectors.

FEBRUARY. Interviewed by the Manchester Guardian, the Daily Herald and the American Forces paper Stars and Stripes, all with pictures, and all calculated to win friends and influence people with wargame interests. Carried on with the campaigns of January both in my house and at Tony Bath's battlefield - think I won the Franco-Prussian War about here! But I lost Rome in the Punic War.

MARCH. Five lights, two cameras, six technicians, a director, interviewer MacDonald Hastings and myself crowded into my small wargames room to film the usual set-up for B.B.C's "TONIGHT" programme. Set-up - the fight for Little Round Top, questions were the usual novice type and the resulting film again brought letters.

Exciting phone call from C.B.S. of New York who seemed to think I was the man they wanted to make a scale model of Gettysburg battlefield not less than 6' x 3' and two days in which to do it! Succeeded, took it down to the home of Field Marshall Montgomery where it was used in the film he made for C.B.S. with Henry Steele Commager, discussing the American Civil War. A most stimulating day spent in and around Monty's Desert caravans and marvelling at the Great Man's effervescence!

Continued Thursday night battles with Tony Bath - don't recall what we did here but those Romans carried on losing the Punic War.

APRIL. The Month of the Convention - great, stimulating, provocative, and inimitable. But we hope to have another one next year! Appeared on T.V. with Brigadier Peter Young when we gave publicity to the Convention.

Asked by Hutchinsons the Publishers to write a book on War Games - began book.

Stonewall Jackson began to chase up the Valley followed by Bath's Federals - in spite of doubling on my tracks, the Union boys were a little too much for me!

MAY. Visited Warwick Hales and Peter Pringle in Chatham, where a most interesting weekend was spent discussing the usual hobby subjects. Watched a demonstration Napoleonic battle between Warwick and Peter, learned some new curses and varied lines of argument over rules. Fought Warwick next morning with Peter as umpire - good battle in which history was altered when I discovered an even stronger defensive formation than the British Square!

Drove to Bristol with Roy Blackman to see Lionel Tarr, whose modern set-up and application never fails to amaze me. Learned a lot, returned home very stimulated and full of admiration for this great stalwart of our hobby.

Continued fighting battles with Tony Bath - won and lost about my usual number. Wrote book in spare time.

JUNE. Peter Young visited me and we spent a very hot Sunday fighting a wargame between Federals and Confederates. At the end of it I knew how Peter had become a Brigadier, won so many medals and stayed alive during W.W. II - but it was good hard and drawn battle! Anyway, we fought to my rules!

Continued with book, fought more battles with Tony and spent a week on holiday, during which I found a shop that sold Airfix model tanks so bought and made a dozen of them en masse during the spare times off the beach!

JULY. Had a most interesting Marlburian battle at Peter Young's house, when he cunningly made himself Umpire and I fought a three-cornered battle with Ian Bale and David Nash. It lasted from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. when I conceded the game, I attach no blame whatsoever to the gargantuan quantities of excellent food provided by Mrs. Young and liquor by the Brigadier. He also bore me no malice for so violently arguing about his rules - he was the most flexible Umpire!

Spent a lot of time chasing photographers taking shots of staged battles for the book.

AUGUST. Events this month were a little crowded off the screen by the arrival of another little Featherstone - a boy this time who, up to time of going to Press, shows absolutely no aptitude for wargaming.

Book nearly completed - photographers go bankrupt and make life even more difficult.

SEPTEMBER. Visited Bill Gunson at his home in North Wales - he was home on leave from Kuwait. Drove 256 miles each way, glorious scenery, then drove another 120 miles to find a shop in that uncivilised part of the world that sold Airfix figures! Bill's army had not arrived from Kuwait but he had bought lots of modern plastic stuff on his way home via Germany, so we decided to buy some boxes of 00 gauge figures and fight a modern battle (I wasn't going to drive over 500 miles and not have a wargame!).

Finally got them in Llandudno - and had our battle on a dining room table and a large side-board 18" higher so that an intriguing sloping terrain was used!

Book went to publishers - I received part of the advanced royalties! Fought more battles with Tony and lost more than I won!

OCTOBER. Bill Gunson drove 256 miles to spend weekend with me (highly delighted because he did it half-an-hour quicker than I did!). Aided by Carl Reavley (home from Aden) Roy Blackman and Tony Bath, we fixed up the wargame to end all wargames.Using an 'L' shaped table 16" x 12' x 6' and with two armies of 1,200 men each, we fought for about nine hours, with a beer and cheese buffet on one side of us - no result and a fervent urge to fight small scale battles in future!

Tony and I began the Boer Revolt 1885 - in which the Boers aided by a Zulu rising on the West of the Province, attempt to throw the British out of Natal. The British being scattered in various towns and garrisons find it hard to concentrate, but aided by gunboat and landing party made a good fight of it.

NOVEMBER. Boer Rising still going strong - Tony curses the civilians and live stock he has to shepherd to safety and my Boers (masquerading as Confederates) have a couple of small successes but two big defeats.

Soldier Magazine send down Staff Photographer and we have great fun faking shots for article in January edition. Carry on fighting battles with Tony at his house - Jungle Warfare now!

Lot of time spent sorting out fabulous collection of SAE 30mm stuff bought from Bill Gunson (who has now gone over to 20mm figures). Details of surplus stuff elsewhere in book.

DECEMBER. Sit here typing this stuff for the March WGD. Boer Rising still going on - Tony has got a very fair Native rising going in his mythical Continent and my savages had fun last week raiding settlements and cutting throats of soldiers disguised as women settlers!

Note; During this past year, I have also endeavoured to earn a living (my wife and children have become accustomed to such luxuries as food and clothing), read a large number of books on military subjects, painted and made a considerable number of figures, done some high class swapping with various fellow collectors and carried on a large correspondence with other enthusiasts. Life doesn’t get tedious, does it?


Mad Carew said...

What a fantastic read!! "Wrote book in spare time". One of THE classic books!!!! Amazing.

Steve-the-Wargamer said...

Amazing guy - a total dynamo!