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


Saturday, 31 May 2014

Hooptedoodle #136 – Just One More Bus


All right, all right – I said there would be no more, but I’d already secretly made up my mind to get one of these if one came up in the right livery. I know it isn’t a proper, real bus in my traditional terms, but these were being introduced when I was still at school, so it squeaks in.

This is a Leyland Atlantean in the colours of Liverpool Corporation Passenger Transport, on route 82, which travelled between Speke and the Pier Head, and was a familiar sight on Aigburth Road, in my old stomping ground. These must have been introduced around 1962 or so, I would guess, and were the first buses Liverpool acquired which were designed for single-man operation, though the conductors were retained for a good while thereafter (negotiated union agreement?).

It was one of these – albeit on route 86, which had similar termini to the 82, but ran through Allerton – which caught out my racing cyclist chum, Kenny, who used to train by slipstreaming the buses along Mather Avenue on his way to and from school. He couldn’t cope with the automatic gearboxes and superior brakes of the new generation of buses, and he lost his teeth in a brief but decisive misunderstanding.

I am satisfied now that my collection is complete. Unless I spot a nice vintage Leyland in Wallasey colours…

Friday, 30 May 2014

Hooptedoodle #135 - Capt Graeme Nixon MC

British tank before the Battle of Flers, 1916
Something a little different today. In a recent exchange of emails with a former school colleague, some photos of the teaching staff appeared, and there was discussion of what we remembered about the individuals. One of them, Graeme Nixon, has always been a shadowy figure from my past. He taught me Mathematics for one term in around 1959, but he was clearly in poor mental health and was completely unable to manage a classroom, so he left in mid term, never to be seen again.

At the time, there was a tale that he had been a hero in WW1, commanding a tank unit. There was even a legend that he had been decorated for leading his unit into action on foot after his tank was disabled, but I always regarded that as unlikely.

This week I was directed to the marvellous website The First Tank Crews, which is dedicated to the men who fought at Flers in 1916, and I found out rather more about Mr Nixon. I reproduce a little of the website’s text below, with all due humility and with no permission to do so, but I would urge anyone interested to examine the website from the link above.

It seems that GN was, in fact, a hero – he commanded a tank section in support of the NZ Division attack at Flers, in September 1916. The tale of leading the section on foot is a myth, apparently derived from an infantry messenger directing them into position, a very early example of a spotter acting in this way.


All I have is this tiny photo fragment, taken when he was approaching retiral age, and (without wishing to do any Internet stalking of the dead, which is a creepy pastime) I know that he was a witness at the marriage of a teaching colleague of his, Walter Simmonds, in Allerton, Liverpool in 1931. The text reproduced here suggests that he was still alive in 1967, though elsewhere I read that he died in 1966.

Given that I may well be one of the kids who finally put paid to his teaching career, I have no deep personal interest in this, apart from a vague feeling that we should have shown the poor old guy more respect at the time. I understand that Nixon appears in a contemporary photograph in a very respected 2-volume work, The Tanks at Flers, by Trevor Pidgeon. I don’t suppose anyone has access to a copy?

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This is the excerpt from The First Tank Crews:

D12 (Tank No 719 - Male).
Sect Comds tank supporting the New Zealand Div assault. D12 with D10 (2Lt Darby) and D11 (Die Hard - 2Lt Pearsall) were to work together on the NZ Div right flank, close to the village of Flers. Midway across the NZ frontage, Nixon’s tank worked its way north until he received a request for help at 09.15 hrs.  The message, carried through heavy fire by Rfn JW Dobson, was follows:  “From Lieut Butcher to O.C. Tanks. Enemy machine guns appear to be holding infantry in the valley on your right.  Can you assist in pushing forward? Dobson was the target of heavy enemy rifle, as he tried to reach D12, but eventually got inside and accomplished the first example of infantry – tank target indication.  He guided the tank crew to the east and identified a farm building where the machine guns were located.  Nixon used the tank to collapse the building and its occupants scattered in all directions.  He then pressed on, heading for the northwest corner of Flers until his tank was hit by artillery fire. The tank’s steering was damaged so Nixon headed south, eventually becoming ditched in a shell hole.  The tank was once again hit by enemy artillery fire, which killed one of the crew (Gnr W Debenham), and caused a fire.  Although this was subsequently put out, by other tanks crews; D12 had become totally unusable and was therefore abandoned.

Capt Graeme Nixon was born in Sep ‘95 West Derby, Lancs, the third child (second son) of Robert Nixon a schoolmaster and Annie G Nixon.  Graeme studied Engineering at Liverpool University 1913. He was commissioned into the Royal Scots Fusiliers and served at Gallipoli from 3 Nov 15, then transferred to MGC in Apr ‘16. He was promoted T/Capt 12 Aug ‘16 (Sect comd) and led 4 tanks in support of NZ Div attack at Flers-Courcellette. On 14 Nov 16, he lead a section of six tanks from Auchonvillers to Beaucourt Station, crossing own lines and German lines to relieve Capt Mortimore and his six tanks.  He continued to serve as a section commander in D Bn . At Ypres, on 22 August, he commanded 12 Sect of 12 Coy during their attack near St Julien.  He then lead 1 Sect, 12 Coy of D Bn during the battle of Cambrai – he was wounded and replaced on the opening day of the battle; two of his three tanks being destroyed by direct fire as they attempted to push into the village of Flesquieres on the eastern side (by the Chateau wall).   He commanded a coy (probably A Coy) from 5 to 20 Dec 17, being promoted A/Major . In early 1918, he lead his company to Merlimont where they undertook gunnery practice. He commanded A Coy throughout the Kaiserlacht withdrawal, when the tanks were either destroyed or abandoned and Battle Of Lys, when his coy was used in the MG role. Awarded MC Jun ’18.  At the Battle of  Amiens his Mark V tanks were in support of 2nd Cdn Bde for the initial action.   He relinquished command on 6 Sep ‘18 and returned to the UK and served with 22nd Bn Tank Corps as a company commander until 11 Jul 19 when he lived at Overmoigne near Dorchester. On resigning his commission, he moved to Radstock Rd, Fairfield Liverpool and later became a school teacher. In 1967 still living in 16 Pinfold Road, Hunts Cross Liverpool. Note – his elder brother Robert Nixon (who studied Medicine at Liverpool University) volunteered for the Kings Lancashire Regt in August 1914 but was discharged due to ill health in early 1915).
2993 Sgt Reginald John Vandenbergh (spellings change) was born 8 Dec 1889 in Islington, the second son of commercial clerk  Reginald was also a clerk when he enlisted (aged 26 years) at Whitehall. Posted to Bisley on 13 Mar, he was promoted three times in five months. Deployed to France on 28 August, he was posted to D Bn on formation. Attached to Reinforcement Bn on 13 Jul, he returned to the UK on 19 July 1917 as an instructor. On 1 Dec 1917, he was posted to J Bn on 1 Dec 1917, deployed overseas on 20 Dec 1917 and served with C Coy 10 Bn as Tech MS from 23 Jan (OC was Maj Kemp-Robinson. Returned to Tank Trg centre, as an instructor, on authority of GHQ on 14 August 1918. Married Amelia Whitehead on 5 October 1918 at Christchurch Kensington Liverpool, he was posted to the Central Schools. Discharged 27 September 1919, he settled in Brighton, the couple had three daughters – Betty born in 1920; Norma in 1921 and Audrey in 1923; all registered at Steyning.  Reginald died in Brighton in the Spring of 1977.
32206 Gnr Horace Allebone was born 29 Aug 89 the elder son of Augustus Allebone and the director of a boot manufacting company at Rushden. He intially attended to avoid conscription but volunteered and enlisted on 10 Mar 16. Later 200864 of D Bn Tank Corps, he served as a driver and was awarded 2 parchment certificates: one for gallant and meritorious service in the field; one for soldierly conduct under heavy fire 4th Oct ‘17, during the 3rd battle of Ypres. Promoted LCpl he was KIA aged 28 on 20 Nov ‘17; whilst serving with No 2 Sect of 10 Coy, when his tank was hit by direct artillery fire to the west of Flesquieres. Commemorated in the Louveral Memorial and Rushden War Memorial Northants.
32105 Gnr William Bertram Debenham born Canterbury ‘90. Moved to Coventry by 1901 and was living with mother Annie and stepfather James W Appleton. Enlisted Coventry. MIA age 26 on 15 Sep 1916 (CWGC states 24) son of Mrs Annie Laureen Appleton of 33 Northumberland Rd, Coventry. Commemorated on the Thiepval memorial later allocated no 206155.
2963 Gnr Cecil Frederick Gloyn was born in Plymouth Devon ‘97 the son of Frederick Albert Gloyn and Jesse A Gloyn. Living in Plymouth 1901. Attested on 22 Feb ’16; aged 18 years 11 months. Employment shown as Grocer , weight 7 st 13 lbs. height 5 ft 63/4 inches; chest when expanded 34 inches. Father shown as NOK, living at 2 Sussex St, Plymouth. Mobilised in MMGS at Bisley on 3 Mar ‘16; Transferred to HS MGC 4 May ‘16, Posted to D Coy 24 May ‘16 and proceeded to France 28 Aug ‘16.  Casualty Form Active Service signed by Capt AG Woods (D Coy) - majority of service details indistinct. Continued to serve with D Bn. Later 200824 Tank Corps, Granted UK leave by OC 4th Bn, 16 to 30 Dec ‘17; he rejoined his unit on 4th Jan ‘18. . His contact sheet was lost during action on 23 March ’18 (Kaiserslacht); the replacement shows him serving as a Cpl with B Coy of 4th Tank Bn.  No Hosp admissions recorded.  Discharged, with clear conduct sheet and no claim for injury, as Cpl from 25th Bn Tank Corps, as part of early release scheme on 29 Jan 19. Home address shown as 2 Sussex St in Plymouth. Medals issued 28 Jun ‘21. Married Elizabeth E.B Pain April to Jun ‘22 in Plymouth.
Gnr Mead
205666 Gnr Harry Zimmerman (later Tank Corps) possibly earlier service as 9881 Pte Ox and Bucks LI.
M2/191040 Cpl Robert R Murray ASC re-badged as a Private in the MGC (75064) then transferred back to the ASC with original number.

Further info; the remains of the tank were still on the edge of the village in the early ‘20s where they were played on by local children

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Hooptedoodle #134 – The Information Age and the Common Turnip



Occasionally I have a little go at Royal Mail here, and usually I get my knuckles rapped – there is great belief and customer loyalty out there. Since my last cheap poke at our worthy national carrier we have had a mighty hike in postage prices, a controversial privatisation and a bewildering – I hesitate to say nonsensical – new set of regulations concerning shapes and sizes of parcel. My appreciation of them has new lighting, some changes of script.

And yet they almost always deliver – if slower and more expensively than previously – so we have to be grateful. Mustn’t gwumble.


One of the services offered – at a cost, of course, is trackability. The idea that you can see exactly where your precious package has got to is very attractive, especially in the somewhat tense world of eBay, where a painstakingly-built reputation can be destroyed by a single accident in the post. I am saddened to observe that this service is neither so useful nor so reassuring as it once was. The last three or four attempts I have made to check progress on parcels (including a guaranteed-delivery item which was 2 days overdue) have discovered only that my item was “in progress”. Since I already had a paper receipt which confirmed that it was in progress, this was not a big help.

I doubt if the internal rules or guidelines have changed. I suspect that the RM staff have discovered it saves effort and generates some useful fog if they do not bother with a full log of the adventures of our tracked parcels. You can take a horse to water, you can provide the posties with a state of the art online information system, but you can’t force them to use the thing properly – especially if not using it makes accountability (and potential blame) easier to avoid. Students of Brehm's (or was it Marr's?) Boomerang Effect will be nodding sagely at this point.

The logging system does, of course, record successful delivery, but then we have normally been contacted already by the recipient if the package was in any way precious, and this is also Brownie Points time, so you would expect flawless record keeping at this stage.


International tracked packages have always been a joke, since they simply tell you that the package has left the UK, and is no longer visible to the RM system. It seems that inland tracked mail may be heading the same way – the only reason to make anything signed-for or to pay for a trackable service is to ensure the maximum amount of evidence in event of loss, and the insurance cover is normally better.

It’s not a real defence, but the competition are about the same – one nation-wide courier I used recently provided a tracking reference which for 4 days told me that my package was “in the system”. Thank you for that – that’s a relief. This represents a genuine downgrade; the previous time I used this same courier I got to follow my parcel from Harwich, to their West Bromwich depot, to Livingston, and eventually was told it was on the van and would be delivered between 4pm and 5pm. Now that’s more like it. Not only was that useful, but also quite exciting for a poor old soul who doesn’t get out much.

Somehow, “in the system” is not quite the same. I kept checking again later, naturally, to see if the message had changed to “what bloody parcel?”.


Sunday, 25 May 2014

Spanish Colonels - Conversions


Needs must. Since there is really nothing suitable on the market in metal 20mm, I've been experimenting for a while, trying various hybrid figures to provide mounted infantry officers for my new Spanish army. After some real disasters, I have finally found a conversion which I think works rather well.

Here's a couple of the new lads - the officers are Kennington French colonels, with Falcata Spanish heads grafted on. To provide a little variety, I'm going to mount these fellows on a selection of horses from the spares box - the examples shown here use Falcata and NapoleoN horses, which I think both look reasonable. These prototypes will be off to the painter on Wednesday.


It has also dawned on me that these converted officers would also work well in French or Confederation units. Hmmm.

Spanish Infantry Colonels 1805 - horse furniture?

Gallery picture borrowed from Front Rank website - thanks, guys.
Red? Facing Colour? White? Sky-blue pink?
Very quick post looking for clues, if anyone could be so kind as to supply any information. My Spanish army of 1809 now has a supply of mounted infantry colonels, conversions from bits of various figures, which look promising, but I cannot - for the life of me - turn up any pictures of such chaps on their horses.

With particular reference to the 1805 (white uniform) regulations, anyone got any idea what the officers' shabraques looked like? White is unlikely (impractical), though logic suggests they might be in regimental facing colour, braided in the regimental button/lace colour, but Front Rank's gallery pictures show red saddle cloths and holsters for (by implication) all regiments, since they depict a charging infantry unit with green facings, accompanied by a fiery looking colonel with a red shabraque (to match his sash). Red, as a national colour, was used by the general staff, so it is a possibility, but I'd like some kind of confirmation.

I checked out all sorts of books and online sources - the HaT site page showing painted test figures for set 8279, the Napoleonic Mounted Officers - which includes such a Spaniard - shows him painted up as a Wurtemburger, to demonstrate the versatility of the set. Drat.

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Subsequent Edit: thanks to the very fine sleuthing work of my main man Johnny Rosbif, here is some more evidence - a plate by Alvarez Cueto of the colonel of the Regto de Toledo, together with a standard bearer of the Regto de Mallorca.


Thus it looks as though Front Rank are probably correct (I never doubted it), and the colonel has a red shabraque with braid in button colour. Only slight quibble now is that the Toledo regiment should by rights have brass/gilt buttons…

Still. I'm happy to go with this.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

A Run of Good Fortune – and a New Book


Like everyone else, I normally puddle along and fit my hobby activities in with other, less pressing matters, and sometimes things work out better than others. Swings and the other fellows – you know – roundabouts, that’s it.

On occasions, the gods seem to smile on what I’m doing, and I get lucky. Well, either they are smiling or else they were busy persecuting someone else, took their eye off the ball and allowed a few good breaks to sneak through by mistake.

One recent example was when the batch of pre-owned Scots and Irish ECW troops I got from eBay turned out to have been organized for Montrose’s campaigns, which is exactly what I wanted them for.

I’ve had a surprising run of fortunate coincidences, too, in connection with the arrangements for my proposed new 1809 Spanish army. As soon as I decided that there was no way I could ever collect enough metal figures for such an army, and had therefore shelved the idea, I suddenly got a series of windfall lots of OOP infantry on eBay and elsewhere, and I was in business. The army was feasible.

As I am hunting around trying to find all the fiddly bits to make up the army – command figures, gunners, staff and all that – and also trying to correct a lamentable lack of suitable cavalry figures, I get some good news from an associate in Madrid, who reckons he has tracked down some more obscure figures for me, and almost at the same time Hagen Miniatures begin to show the early proofs of some new Spanish artillery for the early Guerra de Independencia – the start of a mooted range which will include infantry later on. As if all this isn’t exciting enough, Ken Trotman have published a fine new book on exactly this period of the Spanish army, and it is a cracker.

Spanish Infantry of the Early Peninsular War, by Gerard Cronin and Dr Stephen Summerfield, is exactly what is needed by anyone who, like me, is trying to get a wargamer’s view of this army. Unusually, it makes use of Spanish sources, and presents a lot of information which I haven’t seen before, along with lovely reproductions of colour plates by Suhr, Knoetel, Bueno, Bradford and others. It also – importantly – features up-to-date research by Luis Sorando Muzas, and there are some marvellous reproductions of regimental flags as well as uniforms. This book, for the first time ever, makes sense of the bewildering variety of uniforms which were worn by the Spanish army – even before the chaos years of 1810 onwards, when manufacturing capacity disappeared under French control and units were clothed in whatever they could get hold of. The reality of the early years was a series of changes of dress regulations, of 1797, 1802 and 1805, each of which was never fully implemented, so that mixtures of uniform styles and improvisations on each and all of these were seen. There is a table giving a snapshot summary as at April 1808 of the known state of the dress of each regiment – this table is worth the price of the entire book, but there is much more besides.

The militia are covered, as are the Swiss and other foreign units, but the cavalry, guards, artillery and technical services must wait for the next volume. If you are interested at all in this period – especially if you field a Spanish army – you should seriously consider buying this book.

I have a few, relatively minor reservations. The first is entirely a hobbyhorse of my own: possibly because they are not from the inner sanctum of academic historians, the authors have really bent over backwards to cross-reference everything correctly, and the extent to which they have done this actually adds some clutter to the work. Referencing Von Pivka as a source, for example, might be regarded as a step too helpful.


My other complaint is also survivable, but annoying. If I were the author of this book, I would be furious at the lack of proof reading. Some words are reproduced incorrectly, there is the odd typo, which we should expect, but in some places the grammar is so strange that it requires a little unscrambling. I think I have worked out that it looks as though corrections were made to the text, but in many cases the corrections seem to have been added to the original text instead of being substituted. How can this happen? The book appears to be printed in the UK, so it is not as if there were no English speakers on the premises when it went to press. Were the publishers in such a hurry, or are their standards so low, that they did not have someone to check the final text? In the case of this volume, I would have been delighted to have carried out that service for them, free of charge – Trotman please take note.


In any case, I am so delighted with the book that it would be snivelling to make too much of these shortfalls. It will not give you a detailed history of the war or its campaigns (which you can get from other sources), but it will certainly show you things about the appearance and organization of the Spanish army that you have not seen before. I am very pleased with it.

A little clarity, at last.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Les Oreilles de Truie

1/17eme Léger, at long last - Les Higgins figures with a few interlopers in the
Command section - Qualiticast and Kennington, and the nonchalant eagle bearer in
the bicorn hat was previously (hush) a Falcata Spaniard...
After much muttering and retouching, and re-correcting of corrections, the first (and probably only) battalion of the 17eme Léger is ready for The Cupboard.

Refinishing these fine fellows has taken a lot of time and a lot of fiddling about – they will henceforth be known, not as “Napoleon’s Incomparables”, nor “Un contre huit”, nor even “Les Chasseurs du Diable”, but as “Les Oreilles de Truie” – the sows’ ears, in commemoration of the fact that they never quite made it into the Silk Purse section.

In fact I’m fairly pleased with them, and am especially pleased that I have finished the beggars. Perhaps at long last I may have learned that touching up a so-so buy on eBay cannot achieve miracles, and that – whether I like the idea or not – a complete paint job from bare metal will almost always give a better result, with probably less effort and certainly a lot less irritation.

Whatever, here they are, and it’s hardly their fault their military career with me got off to a bad start… 

Friday, 16 May 2014

Foy Gone to Pot?


Here's one I hadn't seen before. It's me, Max Foy!

This is a ceramic bust of me, manufactured in 1820 - which is after I'd retired from the army and become a prominent liberal politician, orator and effective leader of the opposition in the French Chamber of Deputies, but it is also before I died in 1825, so I guess this is a representation of me as I then was.

The bust is in the Musee Lorrain, in the Palais Ducal in Nancy. It is not there because I myself came from Nancy (I was born in the department of Somme), but because the piece was manufactured at Niderviller, in Lorraine. This is rather more jovial than I am customarily portrayed, so I have mixed feelings about it - perhaps it's sardonic? Anyway, I came across the picture by accident, while looking for something else entirely.

Hooptedoodle #133 - Hadrian's Wall - a quick revisit


In September 2012 I walked the entirety of Hadrian's Wall, West to East (which is traditionally the "wrong" way). It was a worthwhile trip, but there were a few minor regrets which caused me to make a mental note to come back another time.

(1) Doing the whole of the Wall - right across England from coast to coast - is an achievement in itself, but, of the six days it took us to do it, the first two (Bowness on Solway, through Carlisle to Banks) and the last two (Chollerford, through Heddon on the Wall and downtown Newcastle to Wallsend) show very little evidence of the wall itself, and are pretty uninspiring really, not least since parts of them have been re-routed by the National Trails people to take them right away from anything vaguely Roman.

(2) The weather was pretty awful for the second half.

(3) To be honest, my two companions really didn't get on very well, which had a lot to do with one of them having failed to prepare properly for the expedition, and thus struggling with blisters and lack of physical condition and slowing everything down. I was cast in the role of reluctant piggy-in-the-middle for much of the trip.


I promised myself I would come back, in a quieter season, with more suitable company, in decent weather, and do the lovely middle section again. This week I did it.

With three old walking buddies, I stayed two nights at the Twice Brewed Inn (which is worth the trip just for the beer and the grub), and on Tuesday we walked from Banks Turret to Steel Rigg, scrambling along the crags for much of the way, and on Wednesday we spent the morning completing the crags, from Housesteads Fort back to Steel Rigg.

Excellent - the weather was clear and actually hot, and it was really most enjoyable. We also won the pub quiz by a Roman mile on the Tuesday night, which may be connected with being the only entrants who were old enough to answer most of the music questions.

Once again, I am humbled by the engineering achievement which the wall represented in its day - or by any standards you care to name, for that matter. You couldn't get one built now, I think.

Walking alongside the River Irthing, which has moved a few hundred metres
sideways from the place where the Romans put a bridge across it


A good day for being a Roman soldier - Foy in the orange jerkin (easily visible
to rescue helicopters - which is a joke) and silly old lucky campaigning hat
(to avoid optical migraines caused by bright sunlight - which is not a joke)

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Hooptedoodle #132 - The Third Light

Reckless behaviour
A long time ago, I worked in Edinburgh with a fierce old Aberdonian named Ken.

Ken was a heavy smoker, which killed him in the end, sadly, and once, in a pub session (during which smokers used to take a religious pride in making things as uncomfortable as possible for non-smokers in those days), he suddenly blew out a match offered to him, shouting "Third light!".

When I asked about this, he explained that it was very unlucky to be the third person lighting a cigarette from the same match, and that he always took this very seriously. He believed it dated from the First World War, when it was considered that the time taken to light a third cigarette gave an enemy sniper a chance to draw a bead on the third man. I imagine that no-one in the trenches was prepared to go to any lengths to disprove this practical guideline, so it became a law. Ken - and many others, apparently - were convinced that bad luck would still come to anyone accepting a Third Light, though WW1 was long gone, and there were very few snipers around in Rose Street on a Friday lunchtime in the late Seventies.

Putting the theory to the test
I have always been intrigued by pieces of folklore and common-use idioms which come from a military background. This probably comes from a time in my childhood (in Liverpool) when I suddenly realised that our everyday language and school slang involved many words and phrases which were, on the face of it, meaningless, but which on further investigation turned out to come from the merchant seaman's lexicon or from the British army in India.

An obvious attempt at suicide
OK - back to Ken. My interest in this subject is very casual, but I understand that it is likely that the origins of the Third Light superstition - also known as "Three on a Match" - are older than WW1, and may come from the Crimean War. Idly, I find myself wondering if they had snipers operating in the Crimea (I know they had them in the ACW), and just when it was that smoking became universal in the British army. In the Peninsular War, I believe that the widespread smoking habit of the Spanish was regarded as something rather peculiar by their British allies.

Anyone have any views on this? Just idle curiosity on my part.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Touching & Retouching - Sows' Ears & Silk Purses


There are a few real life distractions going on at present, and I’m recovering from a major refurb effort on some bought-in ECW figures. As a result I have been doing very little painting for a few weeks, and have only just started on another retouching job, which I can pick up or put down as time permits in the evenings.

This time it is a French Napoleonic light infantry battalion. I didn’t need or expect to have another of these, but they were on eBay, and they looked quite nice…

I should have them finished in a few days, but at present they are progressing more slowly than I had hoped, and – a recurring theme for the past 15 years or so – yet again I find that I am surprised by the manner in which simple refurb jobs never turn out to be what you thought they were going to be. You would think I would get the hang of this – it isn’t a problem, but constantly being surprised by the same phenomenon is worth thinking about, at least. My grandmother used to maintain that every day you learn something, but that it is not good if it is always the same thing.

The starting point for buying old figures always involves the same decision point – the figures are suitable, and either

(A) they are cheap enough – or rare enough – to justify a full strip-and-start-again job, or

(B) they are nice enough as they are to fit in with just a little touch-up and some new bases

...and it goes wrong immediately from that point.

I am the man who once bought some really pretty Nassau infantry from eBay, and had them in the Nitromors within a day when I saw what the paint job was really like close up. I am also the man who stripped and repainted a fairly expensive pre-owned cavalry unit when I realized that the paint had been “professionally” applied to castings which still had the original flash on them. There are many tales like this – in fact almost all of my repainted units involved a post-delivery reclassification from (B) to (A) to some extent or other.

The present battalion of Frenchies are typical. They looked super on eBay – Les Higgins figures, painted in a plain, old-fashioned style similar to mine own – they would fit right in. A bit of an indulgence to add yet another unit of lights, but hey. There was an early setback when it came to light that the seller had counted them incorrectly, and the batch was 3 figures smaller than advertised. OK – we sorted that out. So I had 15 chasseurs (they even had their bayonets) plus an officer, all painted. My bold friend and ally Iain came up with another 3 unpainted figures to provide some carabiniers, I added a charging officer and a hornist (both by Qualiticast) from the spares box, a mounted colonel by Kennington and an improvised eagle bearer, really a Falcata Spaniard. Bingo – a battalion, as defined by the house standards. More painting than I had had in mind, but fine.

And then you sit down with the painting glasses and the bright lights, and line up the selected paint pots in the right order, and get fresh water pots, and a good coffee, and put on the music (Debussy and Sarah Vaughan and Steely Dan, this week…) and take a deep breath, and then the truth starts to filter through.

It’s pointless to analyze absolutely everything, but I think I retouch things for a number of reasons:

(1) The paint is damaged
(2) The uniform details are incorrect
(3) The paintwork does not please me, for any reason at all (it’s easier to change them now than live for years with the wish that I had changed them)
(4) Wow – now that I get a good look, that white paint is pretty yellow – better sort that out
(5) …and those red plumes have faded very badly…
(6) …and any combination of the above…

These Vallejo paints are much better...
This particular batch have failed on points (2) to (4), and it is now clear that they were once expertly painted, but subsequently touched up by a less skilled artist. In the list of ouches there is a classic bad decision – the later painter decided to improve things by applying white piping to the edges of the dark blue turnbacks (on dark blue coats). Mistake. Inaccurate contrasting piping sticks out like a sore thumb – spoils the whole thing. I probably could not have done any better myself, but I wouldn’t have attempted it. I firmly believe that no piping at all looks superior to bad piping – I shall ensure that the prominent piping around the lapels is done as well as I can, but in an inconspicuous spot such as the turnbacks (and these are 20mm figures, in modern terms) it is better not to bother. I have now obliterated the piping – anyone who knows it should be there will see it anyway…

They’ll be ready soon – I’m so unprepared that I’ll have to find a suitable identity for them, so they can have a proper flag. Great stuff, but will I have learned anything? – probably not.


Sunday, 4 May 2014

The Spaniards of 1809


This is all a bit of an about-face, since I have previously decided – and justified – that I would use an unexpected supply of bicorned Spanish infantry to provide units of Urban Militia to supplement my post-1811 army, rather than starting to tinker with adding battalions of white-uniformed chaps from 1809, however attractive they might be.

The decision was fairly easy, since I couldn’t possibly expect to collect enough figures to make a decent 1809 army, and since the earlier and later versions of the Spanish army don’t really mix very comfortably. Well, not for me.

Since then I have very quickly obtained a pile of figures – remainder stocks of NapoleoN and Falcata still existed, if you ferreted about a bit, and someone unloaded a stack of unpainted figures on eBay. Suddenly – to my considerable surprise – a proper 1809 army is a real possibility. Amazing what you can achieve when (because?) you are not really trying. OK – let’s be honest – they may not be much of a prospect for winning battles, but they should be beautiful. The white uniform introduced in 1805 is a great favourite of mine.

At present I have enough figures for some 18 battalions of line infantry, 4 of light, 4 of grenadiers, plus an adequate supply of generals, command figures and some very natty sappers. Some of my existing (post 1811) army will slot right in – particularly the light cavalry and the voluntarios in round hats. I am negotiating (haltingly) with a supplier in Spain for some 1809 artillery and cavalry, and am looking very seriously at the Kennington Spaniards – these last are just a tad small compared with the NapoleoN and Falcata boys, but self-contained units from a single manufacturer will be fine; Kennington do very nice artillery crews and line infantry. All sorts of possibilities are shaping up.


Thus far I’ve sent two 2-battalion regiments of infantry to be painted (Africa and Reina), but it now behoves me to sit down with the order of battle for the real Army of the Centre from early 1809 (which I have managed to correct and re-engineer by painstaking comparison of various sources) and plan exactly which bits of it will make up my new army.

The idea – to start with – will be to have infantry divisions each containing (typically) 2 x 2 battalion regiments of line (or guard), 2 or 3 battalions of lights, 2 battalions  of provinciales (dressed in white like the line, but all with red facings), 1 combined battalion of grenadiers and a foot battery. How many such divisions is possible or even sensible I have yet to decide – 3 might be a decent effort – I’d like 4, but that’s not feasible at present, so I’ll maybe go for a Vanguard Divn, a Reserve (with the guards in) and a Line Divn.

Having made some token show of top-down planning, I can now get back to the fun business of drooling over which uniforms I fancy! My sketch OOB includes 2 battalions of the Guarda Real, 1 of the Walloon Guards and 1 of the Regimiento Irlanda, this last in their sky blue with yellow facings, so that should all be a good colourful addition. The grenadier battalions will mostly be converged from the relevant companies of all the regiments in a division, so mixed facings will be the order of the day. I am contemplating the painting of the ornately embroidered bags on the grenadiers’ bearskins with a little alarm…

There’s no rush – I’ll just work away at building the army, and when they reach some kind of critical mass they can start doing some fighting. Pictures will appear here from time to time as parts are completed.

Cavalry is interesting – I have 2 regiments of light cavalry from my existing Spanish army who will be perfectly fine in the earlier period, and two regiments of irregular lancers, just right for Baylen. My friend Goyo is working to get me some cavalry figures which will work well as Line Cavalry (in blue) or dragoons (in yellow – I always wanted some yellow dragoons!).

Just a labour of love, really.