First of all – if you’re looking for an actual competition here, you’re too early – come back in a week or so!
Since it’s just a couple of weeks short of what passes for Midsummer in this part of the world, and since it’s a while since I did a competition, I decided it was time to do something about it.
The bad news is that the prize on offer consists, in part, of a very humble booklet which I put together in the 1970s. The value, if it has any, is in its rarity! I’ll set out the competition, with full details of the prize(s), in a day or so, but in the meantime a couple of stories associated with this booklet seemed appropriate – you can regard them as something to add background or, if you prefer, as further injury added to the insult already presented by the wretched prize!
Subplot 1 – the Publication
Around 1976 I was attempting to put together a Portuguese army for my 20mm Peninsular War, and became so frustrated about the lack of helpful, explicit reference information about this army that I decided to do something about it.
What I did was put a letter in the Military Modelling, asking for anyone who had any useful contacts or information to get in touch. It worked. I had been prepared to bet I would get no response, but I got a lot of mail quite quickly. Most of it was from people with a similar frustration, asking me for whatever information I already had(!), but I also got some really helpful replies – from all over the world. I remember that a chap named Gallo, in South Africa, sent me some very rare photocopies of an ancient typed monograph, with line drawings, which was better than anything I’d seen to date.
I also received a response from Herbert, who features in Subplot 2, below, which resulted in a lengthy correspondence during which we became quite good friends and exchanged a lot of information. By early 1977 I was in possession of so much material that I set it out in a formal booklet (which meant old-fashioned typing, in those days). Someone put me in touch with the Napoleonic Association, who were producing uniform and organization booklets at that time, and they were happy to publish my Portuguese effort as one of the series.
My involvement with the NA at that time was restricted to discussion of the forthcoming booklet, and I dealt mostly with Rob Mantle, who was enthusiastic and helpful throughout. I did attend their annual dinner once, in Knaresborough, and enjoyed the evening, though I became aware of some factionism within the ranks – there were definitely insiders and outsiders, and the re-enactors treated the wargaming section with a rehearsed indifference which struck me as very amusing, but then I was a complete outsider anyway.
The booklet took a while to manufacture, which was normal for 1979, during which I was requested to add an extra chapter on available reading sources, for which, I regret, I produced a half-hearted lash-up, partly because I was expected to say something controversial, or critical of established works or authors. Also, to my great disappointment, there was no time to include a lately-acquired pile of additional detail on flags and cavalry standards.
When the booklet appeared, it was given a collective roasting, along with the NA’s other publications, in a review by Donald Featherstone (would that be in Wargamer's Newsletter? - I'm not sure now), who expressed himself as increasingly tired of the flood of low quality booklets by amateur historians. There is a potential case of pots and kettles in this, but apparently DFF and the NA had some gentle history of friction – it may be that they represented a new generation of wargamers of which he did not entirely approve (I am guessing), but it also became evident that he was one of the established writers they had set about annoying, so they had certainly succeeded in this.
As for the credentials of their authors, I confess that Mr Featherstone had a point (none of them had served in the Tank Regt in WW2, after all), but the line-up included Pete Hofschroer, who is regarded pretty seriously now.
The booklet sold a modest number of copies, as you would expect, and was eventually remaindered. I never did anything about the improved, expanded version I contemplated, but I did make a lot of information available to Terence Wise, who credits me as a source in his Osprey title on flags. The booklet was also identified as a reference by George F Nafziger PhD* in his own booklet on the Portuguese and Spanish armies, and it is listed somewhere in the Napoleon Series materials.
Not that any of this matters – I am not particularly proud of my booklet, but at the time it was probably the most thorough attempt at the subject to date in English. Since then it has been surpassed by a good many later works – particularly Chartrand’s Osprey books. Whatever, I have one or two copies left in the bookcase – I found them when I was clearing out the other week – so I’ll add a fairly clean specimen to the Almost-Summer Grand Prize. I hope I think of something half-decent to fatten up the jackpot…
* I never mention Nafziger, or his fine contributions to wargaming and military study, without reference to his doctorate from the Union Institute
Subplot 2 – Herbert
Herbert replied to my Military Modelling letter, very enthusiastic. He was an interesting fellow – he was born in Austria, of Italian descent, and his father had been an officer in the Austro-Hungarian Army at the end of WW1. Having been such an officer was not a great career enhancer in 1918, so a number of the officers handed over their savings to an entrepreneur and bought land in Brazil, and took their families to make a fresh start in a very different world. After a long voyage, they discovered it was a scam – they had bought a piece of swamp, in the jungle.
There seems to have been a violent disagreement – Herbert’s father returned to Salzburg, while his mother took the children and walked about 100 kilometers to the nearest civilization, which was the city of Sao Paulo. Herbert spent the rest of his life there, mostly working very successfully in the retail trade. When I had dealings with him he was in his eighties, retired but walking for an hour every day, reading and painting and delighted to hear from someone in (or near) Europe. He was fluent in Portuguese, German, English and French, and could turn a good hand to Spanish and Italian. He had a huge personal library of military history, acquired through a long life of private study and collecting, he had an excellent portfolio of his own watercolours of uniforms of all sorts of nations and periods and – above all else – he had contacts in the Brazilian government and the national libraries who could get copies of all sorts of obscure materials on the Portuguese army and their colonial offshoots. Some of these documents – being stored away in a colonial outpost at Brasilia – had survived political upheavals in Portugal which had put paid to the Lisbon copies, so some of the dress regulations and so on I saw were thought not to exist in Portugal.
Thus the very idea of my humble booklet, and the rather more ambitious follow-up which I abandoned, is very largely due to the input and support of my elderly Brazilian collaborator – at times, he was far more enthusiastic than I was! We eventually lost touch – he might, of course, have died, but I prefer to think he moved to a quieter part of the city. In due course I got no response to my letters. Since he would now be 120-odd, I can safely assume he is no longer alive, but I won’t forget him, or his good-humoured wisdom. He used to write (in 1976) that the Western powers should not worry overmuch about the Russians or the Chinese, and that the future threats to the world would centre on the Middle East. I would be more positive about his understanding of the world if he hadn’t been a regular reader of the Daily Telegraph, but no matter!
If anyone reads German, the adventures of the Austrian emigrants to Brazil after WW1 are the subject matter of Das Geschäft mit der Hoffnung: österreichische Auswanderung nach Brasilien 1918-1938 (Böhlaus Zeitgeschichtliche Bibliothek) by Ursula Prutsch, published 1996.