Tuesday, 3 November 2009

A.J. Symons

by Derek Atwell, from Wargamer's Newsletter 94, January 1970.

Following on H.G. Wells and Robert Louis Stevenson, there is a strange gap in the literature on our pastime.

'Little Wars' is short, practical, and eminently readable: it seems strange that a flood of Wellsian War Game Clubs did not instantly spring into action. Instead we find almost a Dark Age lit only by the rules of Captain Sachs in this country and those of Fletcher Pratt in the States.

With this in mind, it was with considerable interest that I read:-

October 20th, 1921 – For the first time explained to Symons Rules for a Strategic War-Game.
November 4th, 1921 – First practice game on SwintonCirencester Street
November 19th, 1921 – Most considerable game yet. 3.30 p.m. – 9.00 p.m.
November 21st, 1921 – First campaign of THE WAR GAME commences. 1st Cavalry and 2nd Infantry Divisions on each side involved.

Here at last was proof positive that H.G's little masterpiece had not entirely fallen on stony ground.

A.J.A. Symons is less well known than R.L.S. or H.G. Yet his book “The Quest for Corvo” is in its way a masterpiece.

The 1921 WAR-GAME was the brain-child of Captain Harold Fisher, who had met A.J. at a debating society of all unlikely places. A glance at the list of debates shows that the Psychology of Crowds was one subject. which suggests that our modern morale rules would have been seized on with enthusiasm. The arrangement was that Fisher devised the Rules and A.J. spent his time trying to circumvent them - at which he was remarkably adept!

To return to the War Game; it was played on a 1" Ordnance Map; a session of 4-5 hours was likely to result only in the pushing back of one section of the line a mile or two. A campaign taking several months. To quote yet more from Julian Symons most interesting biography about A.J. "For a year this game occupied a good deal of my brother's time, and his characteristic passion for verisimilitude in games is well expressed by the typed reports of Campaigns which accompanied the War Game, as well as the Race Game. Now the latter game is concerned with Horse-Racing and one of A.J.'s reports is published; although he must have been very young at the time, it sparkles with all the polish of a really top-flight racing journalist. Who knows if the missing Campaign reports might not rival Robert Louis Stevenson's classic account of the affair around the Sandusky; of the sad end of the editor of the Yallobelly Record. He was hung by order of Lloyd Osbourn.

A.J. was a man of many interests; he had written books on Emin Pasha and the explorer Stanley; he was an expert amateur forger! Co-founder of the Wine and Food Society and a born club secretary. With all these interests and talents had he been with us still; one could visualise a Colonial Wargame Convention; the rules would be complex, written orders might well have been forged!

In the alcoves would be Palm-Trees; the doors would be guarded by immense Africans with fearsome tribal tattoos and assegais; as befits the organiser of The Wine and Food Society the menu would have been unforgettable certainly and possibly indigestable. This I am not inventing, it is the menu that he did lay on for an African dinner.

Paw-paws - Peanut soup - Turtle Fins - Egg-Plant and Mango Fool - Corn on the Cob. Of course they should have washed it down with Palm .Vine; actually the wines were more suitable an exclusive cavalry Regimental dinner or perhaps a similar affair at Sandhurst?

Many readers will rightly say that there is little about wargaming in this article. If I have done no more than introduce a few readers to the 'Quest for Corvo and Julian Symons1 - A.J.A.Symons. His Life and Speculations - published by Eyre and Spottiswoode 1950, I shall be quite content.

1 comment:

Vince The Savage said...

I read about this in the Julian Symons book mentioned in the article. My impression is that it was probably some form of Kriegspiel.