A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

ECW - Bill Baillie, won't you please come home?

De Schuttersmajltid (Van der Helst)
A few years ago I bought a big load of pre-owned ECW figures via eBay. They came from a Belfast charity shop, and had formed part of a vast collection included in the estate of a gentleman who had recently passed away.

The good news was that these figures were very cheap, were of the correct scale (mostly SHQ and Tumbling Dice) and - unbelievably - were very obviously intended and organised to fight the campaigns of Montrose, which was exactly why I had wanted them. The bad news was that, though they were simply but adequately painted, they were finished in a strange mixture of what appeared to be cat hairs and boat varnish. It took a lot of work to get them into any kind of shape. My long sessions attempting to clean up and rebase these figures seem to have deranged me a little, and I recall that I used to have long, rambling conversations with the previous owners, whom I named Mike and Whiskers. Most of the conversations were connected with varnishing figures with a bucket and a broom, from the far side of the yard, and involved a fair amount of profanity.

Anyway, I got through all that, I came out with a load of useable Scottish and Irish units for my ECW armies, and I still have a big box of spare figures left over - the best of them are fairly good, in fact, but there are a lot of marching figures which don't really suit my ECW set up.

Among the spares I found a strange little figure, mounted on a full-sized horse. When I stripped him, it was obviously a conversion - someone had manufactured a personality figure of some nature, by using an underscale officer casting (late 17th Century, I guess) and soldering on big gloves and boots and giving him a big hat. I did nothing further with it, but it has always seemed to me that, given the very specific Montrose nature of Mike and Whiskers' collection, someone had obviously gone to some trouble to produce a very small general.

It couldn't be General William Baillie, could it?

For a start, I have no evidence that Baillie was small other than the fact that he appears to be so in his portrait at one end of Van der Helst's De Schuttersmajltid (the shooters' lunch), which shows a load of celebrities from Gustavus Adolphus' army in the Thirty Years War - and there are a lot of Scots present - James Lumsden and Alexander Leslie and - far right, with the orange sash - William Baillie, who I think was colonel of a Dutch regiment at this time.

The other evidence is that Nigel Tranter states (in whichever of the Montrose novels) that he was of very small build, with a high-pitched voice like a boy's. Did Tranter have something more to go on? Had he just seen the same Dutch painting I've seen?

I'm on shaky ground here - apart from my lack of real proof, I suspect I am potentially going to fall foul of some unwritten (or, even worse, written) rules of Political Correctness - an area in which I have an unfailing ability to put my big foot in it. Is it OK to feature some personal characteristic or disability of General Baillie in a model to appear in a game? Just a minute - it isn't me that is claiming he was in any way impeded by his lack of stature, is it? - that was implied by the PC lot. He had a long and successful military career, though he was not always a lucky general. He was one of Lord Leven's main men in the Covenanter army of 1643-44, and played a major part in steadying the Allied foot at Marston Moor. That was as good as it got. Subsequently he was sent back to Scotland to deal with Montrose, and his army was definitely of second string material. He managed his campaign with some skill, but was heavily defeated at Kilsyth.

Later he commanded part of the Duke of Hamilton's "Engager" army, now fighting against his former Parliamentary allies, and he was obliged to surrender the infantry of the army at Winwick Pass, after the Battle of Preston in 1648. The surrender was made to Cromwell himself, at Warrington.

Legend has it that Baillie was pleading with his soldiers to shoot him after Winwick Pass, to spare his disgrace.

Enough of this; this has been merely a brief headscratching moment, wondering whether I should bother to depict Baillie on my Marston Moor battlefield, and whether it would be correct (and/or acceptable) to make him a small man. My excuses are:

* I suspect Baillie was, in fact, a small man - if I field a small miniature, I am not mocking or criticising his memory [I shall avoid impersonating his voice, though].
* I don't pretend that Prince Rupert didn't have soppy long hair, do I? And a dog, come to that.
* Listen - if Nigel Tranter says Baillie was small, that's good enough for most people.
* I already have a suitable figure, so if necessary I could sort of blame Mike and Whiskers.

Does anybody have any further clues about our William B? Any of his relatives prepared to sue me if I go ahead?

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Hooptedoodle #292 - Name, Rank and Cereal Number

The Final Instalment
A while ago, while I was looking out for some sort of acceptable breakfast food which would offer a more healthy alternative to my favourite toast and jam, I tried a few brands and varieties of "instant" porridge. I took a liking to some of the products of Dorset Cereals, especially their Gingerbread mixture, which is pretty good for a zero-effort production straight out of the shower.


* Slit the packet open
* Empty into a deep porridge bowl
* Add one cup-full of semi-skimmed milk (little green plastic cup in the cupboard, filled 1cm from the rim)
* Microwave on full power for 3 minutes
* Allow to stand for 1 minute, stir well
* Leave to cool for a few minutes (while making coffee)
* Bingo - gingerbread flavour porridge

Now all right, all right - I know this isn't proper porridge. Proper porridge is made with rolled oats and water and a little salt, and has to be eaten on a mountain top in a blizzard, while you are wearing a kilt and sandals - maybe a hair shirt would be OK. Any milk or sweetener (especially golden syrup) is a dreadful offence, and not acceptable at all. Even thinking about it is shameful.

Well, to coin a phrase, shove it. The microwave packet stuff is pretty good, especially on a cold morning, it's quick to make, and it is definitely better for you than toast and jam (real butter, Bonne Maman strawberry preserve, 3 slices, mmm, stop it...).

Back to the original tale. The Contesse found it was hard to purchase locally, but found a source online. Nice big packs too - one big box contained 5 smaller boxes, each of which contained 10 of these little sachets. That's 50 days' porridge, chaps - almost certainly sufficient for a lot longer than 50 days, since the odd portion of toast and jam would probably sneak in from time to time, not to mention occasional pains au chocolat etc.

If you are looking for humour in this story, then the only funny bit is coming up, so be careful not to miss it. The Contesse, who is good at these things, spotted that our big box of Gingerbread Porridge (hereinafter GP, for brevity) had a use-by date only 8 days later than the date of receipt - this implied some very intensive porridge consumption for a while, so she emailed and protested about the short date. The suppliers were as good as gold - they apologised at length and unreservedly, and promised to ship us a replacement box immediately, which they did.

Only snag was that it was from the same batch as our original box, and thus had the same use-by date. Thus we now had 100 sachets of GP, all of which in theory had to be eaten within a very short time. I'm not sure what would have happened if we'd complained again, but we didn't.

At this point commonsense bubbled to the top of the bowl. A sealed sachet of instant porridge contains almost nothing which is going to deteriorate. Dried oats, some flavouring and sweetener - maybe some actual dried gingerbread from Grannie Dorset's kitchen? In theory, you should be able to eat this stuff long after the official expiry date - what could happen to it? What is it going to turn into, in the absence of moisture and light? Bear in mind that the warring Highlanders, in their day, could subsist indefinitely with just a small bag of oatmeal and a little spring water. I don't know what they plugged the microwave into, but that is impressive.

So that's all fine. I slowed right down on the manic porridge-eating schedule, and in fact it's taken me a couple of years to get through it all.

Today I am left with the last packet - so I hung it on the fridge to register my respect for the occasion. I shall now eat it. It's OK. I am not exactly excited by the stuff, but it has some advantages (as discussed) and I can savour the fact that I got it for half price.

Half-price porridge is a good deal, even if it's not proper porridge.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

1809 Spaniards - Light Infantry Sample Figures

A couple more pilot figures painted - synchronised musket-loading on the bottletops!

Fellow on the left is from the Cazadores de Barbastro, on the right is a member of the Voluntarios de Gerona. These are 1/72 white metal Falcata castings, and I have to say that I have some very sore fingers from trying to clean up a couple of battalions of these. Considering the figures were only marketed for 4 or 5 years, the moulds were pretty broken up by the end of that period, and the casting was definitely a bit variable - lots of grinding and trimming needed, a few replacement scabbards, even a replacement head in one instance, and a number of spindly bayonets built up with layers of superglue. Hmmm.

Anyway, they should look OK when they are all painted and based. My usual arrangement for Spanish, British and Portuguese light infantry units - each battalion will have 2 close-order bases of 6 figures each, including the command, and 2 open order bases of 3 figures in skirmishing poses, which is where the loaders and firers get a gig.

These guys are now officially in the painting queue!

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Painting Royalists, a Minor-League Give-away and the Fog of War

Topic 1 - Painting Royalists

Reinforcements on the way
In two weeks the scheduled Marston Moor game should take place here, so I've been working away at some painting to boost the armies a little. The problem with Marston Moor, of course, is the number of troops - no, I don't have enough, but I worked out that I should be able to lay out a game at about ⅔ of the original size - the horse will be a little light, but that will be the same for both sides.

My original head-counting exercise was flawed - amusingly so, in hindsight. I very carefully put everything into spreadsheets, to work out how my toy regiments should best be given historical roles to play. I have a number of units which were deliberately painted to be capable of turning out for either side, and when I failed for the third time to balance the numbers of required figures I realised that I had, rather brilliantly, added these ambidextrous units to the OOB for both sides. [I used to work for an insurance company which, famously and allegedly, once did its solvency returns using this same accounting basis, so maybe there's an unconscious hangover there.]

Whatever, I decided that it would be better to paint up 3 extra units of Royalist foot, rather than start all over again with the calculations. I have enough spare figures, and I also had the remains of a pre-painted collection I bought a while ago from something of a wargaming celeb (by my standards, anyway) - they would require some repainting, and I'd need to add some 20-odd extra figures to make up the roll-call, but that would be a pleasing way to kill a number of birds with one shot.

These chaps are just about ready now - as ever, they are Old School in one of its more primitive forms, but they are fine. I still have a few officers to finish off, but they should be ready sometime today. One of the problems with using old 20mm figures is the lack of choice when looking for command figures and other odd-bods. I mostly use Les Higgins castings for the ECW - these, of course, are still available from Old John, who has added a good number of conversions and extra poses to the original range now. Higgins' 20mm ECW and Marlburian figures are small - noticeably smaller than their 25mm products, and too small to fit comfortably with modern plastics. I can mix in Hinton Hunt, and also (with careful selection) more modern products from SHQ. For the cavalry, I also use Tumbling Dice, though I mount them on SHQ horses to keep the scale creep to a minimum.

So the new/old units of foot are now just awaiting the last few officers. The drummers will be Higgins - they are almost ready - and the two colonels still to be painted are from SHQ - strictly they are a tad hefty, but they are OK. I was very pleased to be able to draft in an Art Miniaturen ensign - these are normally too big, being sort of plastic-sized 1/72, but in a packet which I've had lying about for 5 years or so I found a 30YW standard bearer who is a bit smaller than usual, and offers a decent match with the Higginses. He's a little stout for a fighting man, but presumably he paid for his own rations, and he has very thick hide underwear under his finery.

I still have to polish up the scenario notes, with OOBs and rule-tweaks for the day, but it's going to be fine. Marston Moor. Yes.

Topic 2 - A Trifling Giveaway
This is the dealer's own image

This may be of no interest at all, in which case no harm done. I recently ordered up a couple of 3-D printed medieval towers from a firm which sells via eBay. Part of this was a consequence of my general interest in the whole subject of 3-D printing - I thought I'd have a look at a sample before rushing to order up their very impressive Waterloo-type farmhouse. I ordered the towers in 15mm scale (since I use one-size-down buildings with my 20mm figures). I've now built one, and it's very nicely made. I haven't painted it up yet - it will not fit into a walled town or anything, so it's more a sort of pele tower, such as we get up here in the Border country. In truth it is rather more Warhammer than I thought - the point is I really don't need two. If anyone would like the second one, as a gift, please just send me a comment or an email explaining how desperately you want it, and how you will use it. I'm looking for some entertainment here, so "You owe me a tower, you bastard" will not score highly, even if true. As ever, the selection criteria will be completely subjective and unfair. Only restriction is that you must either be a known follower of this blog or else someone who corresponds with me by email.

You will have to glue together the [small number of] components and paint the thing. It stands some 138mm high, and the door is about 25mm high, so I reckon that, though it is officially 15mm scale, it would also work as a nice bijoux pele tower in 20mm scale or HO.

Check out these people's products on eBay, by the way - I have no stake in this, but it's good to see 3-D printed products getting better and cheaper and more widely available. The farmhouse is particularly good...

Topic 3 - Fog of War (painting with dodgy eyesight...)

A friend tipped me off that I had been mentioned in someone else's blog. This was a couple of months ago, in a blog which I used to read fairly regularly when I had more time and possibly more patience.

I was very surprised that I was taken to task for being rude about 5mm and 6mm figures, and for implying that they were difficult or impossible to paint. The gist of the message was that, even in jest, this is an irritant, does the small scales no favours, and that anyone can easily paint 6mm castings, regardless of the state of their eyesight.

It is possible that the bloggist should cut down on his coffee intake, because I meant to be neither critical nor disparaging about the little figures - I am really quite a fan, and the post to which he took exception was merely an affectionate look at the old 5mm Minifigs blocks (which were a bit unsatisfactory, in fact) and an old chap I once knew who used to use them for wargaming. Though I had several attempts, I could find nothing in my text nor the comments which might reasonably give offence. Still, if you give offence you have done it wrong, whether or not you meant to, so I can only repeat my eyebrows-raised disclaimer and apology. No harm meant.

On the other hand, one element of the response did manage to ruffle my own feathers just a little, so let's return the favour here. Anyone can paint these figures? Well I couldn't, old bean - no chance.

I am still doing a fair amount of painting, but it is getting slower and is harder work. Last year it was confirmed that I have the beginnings of cataracts in both eyes - nothing dramatic, no hard feelings - this stuff comes with the turning of the seasons. I can now paint only with very bright light, and a x2 jeweller's loop device (which reminds me - must get the prescription checked again), and I'm having difficulties with certain colours. I have given up on black undercoat - if I try to apply dark blue or brown over black I can't even see if it's going on - hopeless. I've changed to mid-grey undercoat, which is far better. If I have black or dark brown paint in my palette, I need a bright light, carefully angled, to be able even to see when my brush makes contact with the pool of paint. If I have to paint a belt behind a sword (for example) I have problems getting the 3D to line up properly - my focus is distracted by the nearer object.

None of this is serious or especially worrying - I can still drive without problems, my life is unaffected by any concerns about my sight, but painting soldiers is harder and slower than it was, and I am aware that figures I painted 30 years ago - even in the days of Humbrol enamels - are often far crisper than I could manage now. How quickly cataracts progress is variable - and they can be fixed, of course, though they will have to get worse before they are made better, I guess. In the meantime, I am enjoying my painting, I subcontract some big jobs - it all works out.

I mention this not because I am feeling sorry for myself - heaven forbid - but because I really do not appreciate being told what I should be able to paint.

Monday, 5 February 2018

Splish Splosh - Marston Moor visit

Geese in York - webbed feet were a great idea
At the weekend I attended York Wargames Society's Vapnartak show at York racecourse - big show, lots of stuff to look at, one or two old friends to say hello to.

To round out my weekend, I took the opportunity on Saturday to visit the Marston Moor battlefield. I've never been there, and I felt it would be useful in preparing for a planned wargame later this month.

It was a very wet day, I have to say. Before I went, I was trying to keep my packing as light as possible, and after some agonising I decided not to take my proper hill-walking boots on my trip. Saturday was so wet and muddy that I couldn't really get off the road (which runs across the battlefield, just as it did in 1644, between the two armies), but the hiking boots wouldn't have helped - I'd have needed waders or something to make much progress off-road.

I took the public bus from York (route 412, destination Wetherby) to Long Marston, and walked to Tockwith, at the far side of the battlefield. I had a decent lunch in the Spotted Ox, and got the bus back to York.

No visitors on the battlefield at all - just a few passing cars to splash the puddles over me. The modern farmland is obviously very different from the rough moorland on which they fought the battle, but one important thing I learned from my visit is that the ground where the Parliament side set up is a definite ridge - not steep, but quite marked; from the road you can only see up to the crest, and there is dead ground beyond (which is why Rupert maybe underestimated Leven's numbers on the day). On the other side of the road, where Rupert and Newcastle formed their lines, it is pretty much as flat as a billiard table. You may be able to see towards York from up on the ridge, but from where I was you can see very little.

Get off the bus at the Sun Inn in Long Marston

Sounds as though this might be one of the older buildings in Long Marston, but I
understand there is hardly anything here which dates back to 1644

Looking south towards the Parliamentary lines - this would be the join between
Fairfax's horse on the right flank and the Scottish foot in the middle - definitely rising
ground. The hedges are all post-Enclosure Act, so would not have been present on the day

Looking along the road between the two armies, heading west. You can just see
the battlefield monument peeking over the hedge on the right

Moor Lane - or Bloody Lane, as it was famed. Today it's just Muddy Lane, and I
chickened out of going up there. I would never have made a soldier - I only just make it as a
tourist on my braver days

The monument, on the corner of the road and Moor Lane - we
are looking North here

The commemorative plaques have strange political overtones - does the wording
here strike you as oddly specific? - does this line up nicely with Cromwell's own
dismissal of the part anyone else played in "his" victory? Are his press agents still working?

Looking north-west across Rupert's position - pretty flat, I reckon

More politics - walk around the monument and the locals have put in a special mention of
Black Tom Fairfax

Ah yes - the Cromwell Association - who'd have expected that?

The Official Story - no mention of the Earl of Leven here, then, and not much about the
Earl of Manchester

Opposite the monument, there's a footpath up onto the Allies' position - some
other day, maybe - but I got the idea

Not a big battlefield - the fighting took place between Long Marston and Tockwith, and
they are about 2.5 miles apart.

More violence - monument in Tockwith to a bomber crew who crashed at the end of WW2

Tockwith village - Bilton church is off to the left somewhere here - the Bilton Bream was
an area of rough ground on the Allied left flank that was levelled by Cromwell's
engineers before the battle - one of the things they sorted out was a man-made
rabbit warren - I wouldn't mind seeing a picture of what that looked like!

Time for lunch - homemade fish pie and veg and a pint of Tetley's, then the bus back
to York to dry out

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Hooptedoodle #291 - Traces of Olaf?

More Local History for Those with a Short Attention Span

I recently wrote a post about having finally had a look at the remains of Auldhame Castle (really a fortified house), which is in a wood, near the edge of a cliff overlooking the sea, on the farm where I live. It had only taken me some 17 years of living here to realise that it was there and go and visit it. You can't just rush into these things...

Today I was doing a little more reading about the history of my immediate surroundings. On the edge of the modern-day farm at Auldhame, about 200 metres from the ruins of the eponymous castle, there is a large field which is known here as Old Adam. As I think I've mentioned before, there is a tradition that Old Adam may be a corruption of Auldhame, though I personally favour the theory that it is named after Old Adam Otterburn, who lived at the castle around 1500. Here are a couple of links to some articles I was looking at today - yes, all right, it was 3 years ago now, but no-one's been waiting for me to catch up - have a look here and here.

The team from the University set about turning over an entire wheatfield with
tweezers and a toothbrush. Bass Rock in the background.
One day, when I had not lived here very long, the farmer ploughed up some human remains in Old Adam field - this is a major hassle for farmers, since they are legally obliged to notify the authorities, and they have to suspend all work there until they are given official permission to carry on as before. This was in 2005. We had a Portakabin erected, complete with night watchman, and we were challenged - or at least recorded - on our way to and from the public road, every trip, every day, for some months. It wasn't much of an inconvenience to us, in fact, though I used to wonder if the appointed watchman of the day would feel entirely satisfied with the progress of his academic career as an archeologist.

The dig at Old Adam - aerial view from 2005
The team from Edinburgh University unearthed a previously unknown settlement - apparently a monastic community of some sort. There was evidence of various old buildings, including what was probably a timber church, and the human remains were actually in a Christian graveyard. So there was no immediate excitement involving murders or anything - at least, any such implied murders were over a thousand years ago.

Eventually the scentific world moved away, the farmer was allowed to sow wheat on his field, and I mostly forgot about the matter, though I did remember that one of the bodies found was a source of some excitement - he was clearly an outsider, and from his personal goods he appeared to be a Viking - and almost certainly an important or high-born Viking, at that. Why he was there, no-one knew.

Belt buckle buried with the mystery man - identified as Irish-Sea-region Viking style
Well, time has passed, I have a new interest in the history of Auldhame, and today was a rather wet Sunday with nothing pressing in the to-do list. Time to find out what happened to the mystery Viking.

What they dug up - plan from 2005 - traces of stone buildings and 242 graves
It seems that, though I had not been paying attention, the scientists have been earnestly labouring away on this since the dig ended. Apart from research into old archives, they have also been working on carbon-dating and DNA analysis. It seems that the monastic settlement was almost certainly founded by St Balthere (or Baldred, as he is known here), and that the rogue Viking was almost certainly from a raiding party commanded by one Olaf Guthfrithsson. There is good reason to consider that he might actually be Olaf himself.

Nearby there were other remains - this fellow has been killed by a blow to the
head with a sword or similar weapon - he is elderly - not a Viking and too old
to be a soldier. His date of death is pretty close to 941 - he was probably a
monk killed in a Viking raid 
Olaf is a big deal; a surprisingly big deal to have been bothering himself with raids on timber churches on the east coast of Scotland. Olaf was indeed a Viking - at the time of his death he was the king of whatever Viking province had its capital in Dublin, also of Northumbria. As part of an alliance with King Constantine II of Scotland, he was present in action against King Athelstane at the mighty Battle of Brunanburh - generally held to be the largest battle ever on British soil, fought near the modern township of Bromborough, on the Wirral Peninsular (very close to where my Uncle Harold lived when I was a boy, in fact, so you can see I have all sorts of potential family tie-ins with Olaf). He is believed to have died in 941 (that's Olaf, not Uncle Harold), following raids on churches on the East Lothian coast, at Auldhame and Tyninghame. Why was a big shot like Olaf persecuting these churches? Was there, perchance, some vendetta between Olaf and St Baldred's Christians?

No-one knows - interesting stuff though. It is suggested that Olaf (or whoever this bod was) was buried by his mates in the enemy's graveyard, to make some form of posthumous penance for the violence he had done them - maybe they were hedging their bets?

So - though he's not there any more (my bet is that his remains are probably in a drawer somewhere at the university) I shall give Olaf (let us assume it is he) a friendly wave tomorrow when I drive past his former resting place. Makes you think, though - this was a harsh, violent place 1000 years ago. Old Adam is a fine place for a walk - the field margins run around the cliff tops, there are fantastic views over the Bass Rock, across the little bay to Tantallon Castle and over to the coast of Fife. A nice setting for a church, you might think, with plenty of visibility to spot Viking raiders.

Friday, 26 January 2018

1809 Spaniards - More Foot Guards

Painted and ready to go in the official box files, here are two battalions of the Guardias Españolas. They will form part of the Reserve Division of my 1809 army.

They've been in the pipeline for a while. Apart from a couple of Falcata interlopers in the command department, these are all OOP NapoleoN castings - the rank and file are a special conversion, with changes to the cuff detail to make them into guardsmen. My thanks to Old John, for duplication of the converted figures. I originally intended to field the units with a random mixture of blue and brown overalls, but for some reason it seemed pleasing for the battalions to be different - another aid to recognition on the battlefield, and also it seems not unreasonable that the Guard should maintain some vestigial extra bits of organisation appropriate to their status. Someone might suggest that the coronela flag for the first battalion should be purple with a pattern of Bourbon fleurs de lis - I'm aware of this flag, and if the unit had been intended for 1746 it would have been a banker choice, but my sources seem to be divided on what they carried in 1809, so I've gone for the majority opinion. If it's wrong they can live with it!