Napoleonic, WSS & ECW wargaming, with a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Monday 30 August 2021

Kilsyth 1645: Our Roving Reporter's Day Out

 Weather was reasonable today, so I packed some sandwiches and my camera and my walking boots, and drove off to Kilsyth. My intention was to get a better idea of the area of the battlefield to the north and east of the [modern] Banton Loch. Here's an annotated aerial view, courtesy of Google Maps and Paintshop Pro.

I've added the initial positions of the armies, as I understand them, a couple of extra place names, and the asterisks show the scope of my walk. North is at the top. A very quick resumé of the build-up to Kilsyth:

William Baillie's Covenanter army had been well beaten at Alford, and Montrose took the opportunity to head south, for the Lowlands. The Scottish government were terrified he was going to make for Edinburgh, but that city was plague-bound, and Montrose headed for Glasgow, via Stirling. Baillie followed, but was delayed by a number of issues, not least being the fact that he had to wait for someone to round up three Fife regiments which had decided to head for home. By the time the Covenant forces got onto our map, Montrose's troops had been camped on an elevated "meadow" in the Valley of the River Kelvin for a day or so, overlooking the road from Stirling to Glasgow, waiting to spring a nasty surprise on Baillie and friends.

[Please note that the village of Banton, the reservoir of Banton Loch and most of the roads apart from the Stirling road at the bottom did not exist until some time after 1645]

Baillie had the additional burden of having with him the chiefs of the Committee of Estaits (Argyll and others, whom Gardiner's history describes as having "a grasp of strategy proportional to their ignorance"). His scouts realised the Royalist army was waiting for them, so Baillie agreed with his "advisors" that his troops would  leave the road, taking up a position on Montrose's flank, concealed by some rough ground. Baillie knew that the Earl of Lanark was coming from the West with a reinforcement of 1500 men for him (described as "tenants of the Hamiltons"), and appears to have been prepared to wait in this position until Lanark arrived. What he did not know (though Montrose, it seems, did) was that Lanark was only about a day's march away.

The political whizz-kids were keen that Baillie should attack Montrose's flank straight away. Baillie was convinced that the rough, rising ground to his front made such an attack impossible, so his counter-proposal was that he should face his troops to their right, and march them in column up to high ground at Auchinrivoch, where they would be above Montrose's left rear. This was agreed, so off went his column, with (I think) Balcarres' cavalry in the front, followed by a converged unit of commanded shot commanded by a Major Haldane, then Robert Home's veteran regiment of Foot, and the rest strung out, with the unhappy boys from Fife at the rear.

It's quite a pull up the hill (I did it today); it might have been a fair plan, but they didn't make it. Well, Balcarres' Horse might have, but the commanded shot and Home's regiment spotted some Highlanders occupying an area of enclosures at Auchinvalley, and headed west to attack them.

Thus the Battle of Kilsyth becomes, in effect, an encounter-type action. Montrose's army was rushing to its left flank, to face an attack coming from that direction, and Baillie was forced by the actions of his subordinates to form into an improvised battle line on rough ground, well short of (and lower than) the position he had intended. The subsequent progress of the day is for another post, or maybe for a game, so I'll return to the story of my scouting trip now.

I parked in Banton, near the Swan pub, at the crossroads, with the intention of walking up towards Auchinrivoch and Auchinvalley, to get some photos of how the land lies. Before I started, I spoke to a couple of residents, who were interested to know what this strange chap with hill boots and a stupid hat was doing in their village on a quiet Bank Holiday. I asked to check my directions for Auchinvalley - no-one had heard of it. They knew of Auchinrivoch - there is a farm there - but otherwise all places are known by who lives there. They wanted to know was it the Hendersons' place. Obviously I had no idea - and I certainly don't know who lived there in 1645. However, they were very kind, and got me on my way, and it isn't a very obvious track! 

The village of Banton is modern. It was built when coal and mineral mining were introduced to the valley in the late 18th Century. Most of it, today, consists of post-war bungalows. Peaceful, though.

This is the Swan, the village pub and restaurant, at the main crossroads, which has been taken over by a community venture, and looks pretty good (I didn't partake).

The oldest building I spotted was the one on the left, which was built in 1811 and rebuilt in 1845 (create your own story here).

I'm now on my way out of the village, heading north towards the next village up the hill, High Banton.

A lot of water here - it comes down into the valley from the Kilsyth hills, so everywhere there are burns (streams) and drains to keep the fields workable. Banton Loch was built as a cistern to maintain the level of the Forth & Clyde Canal.

I'm instructed to turn left up a gravel path, just after the little Baptist Chapel - ah - here we go...

...up the hill towards Auchinrivoch... the left I can see towards Auchinvalley, where the Highlanders were spotted in the enclosures. I suspect that Baillie's men may have been heading parallel to the modern path, but down in the dip a bit.


At the top there is a little crossroad - to the right is Easter Auchenrivoch - do they have an Air B'n'B?

Straight ahead is Wester Auchenrivoch...

...we're higher up now, so a general view south across the valley can be seen...

...and, going left at the crossroads, the gravel path drops steeply towards Auchinvalley, which does exist after all
From this position you can see down into the valley (where they now have Banton Loch). I reckon that Montrose's initial position was on this side of the Loch, to the right.

I'm heading north here, on my circumnavigation of Auchinvalley, and I'm probably off the fighting area, but you can see the bigger hills in the Kilsyths in the distance. If Montrose had been defeated in his original position, his highlanders would have disappeared over those hills like melting snow.

Righto - now we are getting somewhere. This is just North West of the steading at Auchinvalley, and I reckon the main fighting ground would be beyond that little rise, in the wooded area. I was reminded that 1645 is a long time ago, and really there is not much to see. The valley has been farmed for centuries, the field boundaries, with their drystane dykes and the lines of trees, are later than 17th Century, and I suspect there is a lot more woodland than there was then. Robert, who lives at Auchinvalley, told me that the occupant of Auchinvalley House before it was modernised was a historian. He also told me that when he was a kid he found a cannonball in a neighbouring field, which he presented to the local primary school. That's interesting in view of the general acceptance that Baillie didn't get to use his guns, and Montrose didn't have any.

I was on the lookout for traces of the old enclosures - I didn't really find anything. It's rough ground, boggy in places, and the walls are more recent - though the stones must have been around for a long while!
The best I could achieve was a feel for what the terrain must have been like. Heck of an untidy place to have a battle!
This whole area must have been crowded with Montrose's men, racing up from their original position (above where the lake is now) to meet the attack from their flank.


My last photo is looking up the hill from Baillie's view - you can just see the roofs of Auchinvalley peeping over the top. There must have been some dreadful fighting around here, and it's a fair old puff up to the hill!

Saturday 28 August 2021

Kilsyth 1645: Wargame Homework - Facts and Legends

 I am preparing for a Zoom wargame, to take place in a little over 2 weeks - I shall host it and I'll be the umpire, which is a situation I enjoy very much, though the experience of the remote generals is heavily dependant on the technology and the picture-quality at their end!

I once had a solo game which was (sort of) based on the Battle of Kilsyth, which in reality took place on 15th August 1645. The game was interesting and a great deal of fun, and I've had a hankering to try it again, with some changes based on things which I've read subsequently, and on aspects of that first attempt which I'd do slightly differently now.

Kilsyth? Well, you may know a great deal about the battle, maybe not. It took place in Lanarkshire, not far from Glasgow, during one of the Scottish bits of the ECW. It featured the Covenanter army, in which I am very interested, and (of course) James Graham, the Marquis of Montrose. Montrose is a fascinating character - to this day there is still an active society to preserve and enhance his legend; in its way, this is a warning sign - the central personality can get in the way of any kind of impartial study. Trying to get some facts about the campaigns of the Marquis is not unlike trying to find some factual history about Robin Hood. The ghost of Walt Disney never seems far away.

I'm having a great time preparing for my Zoom game - I have a lot of books here, most of them excellent, and there is some good stuff online, but there are some surprises for the amateur student. First of all, we have the first-hand narrative of the General in command of the Covenant troops, William Baillie, which - since he was badly beaten - is bound to be something of an exercise in self-justification, but overall it's not a terrible account. We also have the version of the tale which comes from George Wishart, who was Montrose's personal chaplain, and later his biographer - this is adulatory throughout. This theme goes through all the subsequent secondary works. 

Dame CV Wedgwood (Montrose - 1952) and Nigel Tranter (Montrose: The Captain-General - 1973) are both historical novels, really, written in homage to the handsome, brilliant, tragic hero. The good guys are perfect - brave, and breathtakingly wise and just - and the bad guys are - well, ugly, and evil. Boo. Tranter has Montrose and his chums speaking like the lads from a GA Henty novel, and there is much reference to keen eyes, and frowns upon noble brows.

Vol.2 of SR Gardiner's marvellous History of the Great Civil War is heavily pro-Royalist (which was seen as a patriotic position to take, it goes without saying). Again, the references to Montrose and his short career emphasise that he is a heroic character who can do little wrong, and the sizes of the forces involved are tweaked throughout to polish the legend - Gardiner's numbers for Kilsyth look very unlikely. His estimate of 6000 Foot for the Covenant forces seems far too high, and the statement that all but 100 of them were killed is preposterous.

John Buchan (Montrose - 1928) admits in his foreword that the book is really about his fascination with the central character - it is not primarily a historical record, it is the splendid tale of Montrose's adventures. I have no problem with this - it's an excellent read, but it's as well to be aware of where it is coming from.

And so on. The big discord comes with the modern works of Stuart Reid, of which I am a big fan. Reid is a thorough, nuts and bolts military historian, but he, also, seems a bit partial. Stuart gives the impression of having been irritated by the traditional representation of Montrose as a god-like martyr, and strives to present the flaws as well - maybe he pushes too hard the other way - but this is a good starting place from which to construct my game.

A couple of trivia facts - you may disagree with them - if you do, then it's OK - I'm sure you are right.

* Montrose's campaigns of 1644-45, though regarded as part of the Civil War, were not primarily driven by support for King Charles. Charles eventually saw some advantages for his failing war effort in Montrose's success, but this was opportunist rather than planned. The main drivers were clan-based rivalries of great age - the MacDonalds, the Ogilvies, the Gordons and various others vs the Campbells and the Hamiltons and their allies. The Covenant (and, no doubt, the Presbyterian vs Catholic struggles) gave a context, but this was fundamentally older stuff 

* It is interesting to observe that in my reading of the last week or so I have seen both sides described as "rebels".  Royalists considered that Montrose was fighting against the Covenant "rebels", who were allied with the English Parliamentarian "rebels", but a more logical view is that Montrose was leading a rebellion against the armies of the Scottish Parliament. However you view this, the Campbells vs The Rest thing is always there.

* Montrose himself was a signatory to the Covenant, and fought against King Charles in the Bishops Wars of 1639 and 1640. His change of allegiance had a great deal to do with the fact that his personal standing in Scotland was leapfrogged by the rise of the Marquis of Argyll (Archibald Campbell) - there was ambition and a personal feud in here as well. When Montrose first went to join with the King, Charles was neither interested nor welcoming.

OK - this is rambling on a bit. I now have a decent grasp of the OOBs I'm going to use for my tabletop Kilsyth. These are, I hope, based on fact, but they are also drawn up to give a decent game. The next point of interest is the battlefield itself. There is a good overall description in the Battlefields Trust's section on Kilsyth, but there are a few big holes in our knowledge. Much of what the BT sets out is the reasons we know surprisingly little.

Again, Stuart Reid is a useful source, but there are many things which are not clear. Partly because the battlefield has never been properly examined, and partly because some of it has now been altered by coal and ironstone workings, and by the creation of a man-made lake, Banton Loch, which covers at least part of the centre of the fight. We know where the battle took place (roughly), and there are some definite identifiers in Baillie's account, for example, but there are still arguments about exactly where the armies were, and maybe even about which way they were facing. None of this is a problem, by the way, I will happily set out a battle on my table!

Here a few random photos of the Kilsyth battlefield - not mine, by the way.

I confess to something of a blind spot when it comes to looking at battlefields. I can read a map, I think, and I can understand a toy battle laid out on a table, but place me on the ground and I will struggle; for a start, I am very poor at judging distances! This was brought home to me very forcibly when I spent a day on a guided tour of Eggmühl, a few years ago. I had a great time, but spent the day nodding rather dumbly and trying to relate what I was seeing to the map! 

Having said which, I did get a lot of valuable understanding in preparation for another wargame, a few years ago, when I walked the full width of Marston Moor (in the pouring rain). I may use this approach again - if there's a suitable day next week, I live about 80 minutes' drive from Kilsyth. I could go and have a look at it. Rain is not essential.


You will hear more of Kilsyth before long. This has just been a little explanation about why I am so busy (and enjoying myself very thoroughly) during the homework phase!

Monday 23 August 2021

Hooptedoodle #404 - More Adverts from DumbFeed

 I was amused to find another example of OTT locally-targeted advertising - this time in the Edinburgh News website.

Some algorithm somewhere obviously worked out where I live, and that my age suggests I am just bursting to go on a cut-price luxury cruise, and it concocted - for my personal excitement - this tempting glimpse of how I may sail away from North Berwick in style. Just keep a steady supply of booze coming to my cabin, please, Steward. Oh - and cheese Quavers.

Grand! In fact this is just ox-droppings.

In the real world, as everyone who has ever been here knows, North Berwick harbour looks like this [and for a short video, click here], and you will note a total lack of cruise liners - nice, but no cruises, apart from the little motor boat around the Bass Rock.

Sorry about the music on the video, by the way - I guess it was very cheap, though.

Friday 13 August 2021

Hooptedoodle #403 - Radio Tarifa

 This morning I have a lot to do, so I was having a look through my CDs to find some invigorating music to get me going. Ah! - Radio Tarifa - just the job... 

I was a big fan of these guys - still am, I guess, though they no longer exist. I am always a little nervous of World Music as a heading - so much of it can be meaningless if you weren't brought up in the culture and the musical traditions of the country you are listening to, though it's often very refreshing, and sometimes eerily familiar.

Radio Tarifa
were something of an enigma - founded by two Spanish students of medieval music and North African music, they teamed up with a Flamenco singer, and became very successful in 1993. The band is named after a fictitious radio station they dreamed up, in Southern Spain, and the music, they reckoned, is the sort of stuff you would pick up late at night on such a station. The emphasis is Mediterranean, rather than Spanish, so there's all sorts in there - Flamenco, Jewish, Algerian and Moroccan music, and what I would regard almost as "Turkish Wedding" music, a rich mixture - always energetic, always brilliantly performed. They specialised in exotic and ancient instruments, and, though much of the material was traditional, they wrote a lot themselves, "in the style of" this multi-cultural genre they had created. I have seen a couple of live shows on video, and was confused to see that the band, on tour, was enormous - though nominally a 3-piece, they had many guest players. A real riot.

Their aim was to explore the music of the Mediterranean area as it was before the current nations were so well defined - when the Moors were still in Spain - maybe 15th Century is some kind of watershed; though this sounds a bit academic, the music is often festive and exciting. Heartily recommended by me, for what that is worth. The band took an extended break in 2006, which became permanent, alas, when the main singer died in 2012.

The track in the video clip is from, I think, their 3rd album, Cruzando el Rio, which dates from 2001. Of course, you may find it irritating, but it's great music for washing the recycling, I can tell you!

Monday 9 August 2021

Hooptedoodle #402 - International Trade after Brexit; Your Call Is in a Queue

 A couple of weeks ago, I arranged for a package to be sent from Germany. Since there are concerns about the increased likelihood of loss of or damage to goods entering the UK during our "settling in" period, I arranged for the shipment to be fully insured, and for all paperwork, and the package itself, to show the full value clearly.

Sure enough, on Friday I received a letter from Parcel Force's Edinburgh depot, explaining that they were holding a parcel from overseas for me, and that I would have to pay Import VAT of £55 and a handling charge of £12 before they could deliver.

Righto - that's what I was expecting. I went online, on Friday (6th Aug), paid the charge and was offered a calendar to choose a delivery date, there being an additional £12 charge for Saturday deliveries. I swerved the Saturday offering, and arranged for delivery for Monday 9th - that's today, in fact. So I can sit and wait for my parcel to arrive.

Well, maybe. If I check with the Parcel Force Worldwide tracking page for my parcel (above), it tells me that my package is held, pending payment of import charges - this has been the status since 3rd August. If I phone to ask whether it is on its way to me, I get a completely automated service - one of the countless options tells me that my parcel is held pending payment of charges; another option tells me that the charges have already been paid.

I searched in vain for a number which might get me though to a human being. At one point I was offered the chance to speak to a customer service desk, and was presented with a long preamble about how my call might be recorded for training purposes, and that Parcel Force's staff are key workers, and they have the right to expect to be treated with dignity and respect. Eventually a phone started to ring, and then I got irritating music, interspersed with repeating messages about the many shipping services they offer, and how my call was in a queue.

You know what? I'm really not as daft as I may seem. I think it would be possible to spend a very long time in this queue, because I don't think the customer service numbers get answered, especially in the current (predictable) shambles which our departure from Europe has spawned. They leave it to the robots. There may or may not be any key workers present in the customer service area - it makes little difference.

Will my parcel arrive today? Has some decent person at the Edinburgh Parcel Force depot stuck it on the wagon, since the charges have been paid, and since they have promised me delivery today? If they have, why haven't they updated the tracking system?

This is only slightly inconvenient - if the parcel arrives then that's fine - if it doesn't arrive, then I have to change some plans for the rest of the week. Not a big deal - presumably it will arrive eventually. If I had paid the extra 12 quid for the Saturday delivery I'd be really rather cross, though, eh?

I was told by a friend in Germany that his business was looking at buying some equipment recently, and they chose American kit because doing any trade with the UK at the moment is a bureaucratic nightmare. I do hope his impression is not typical.

I shall get myself a mug of tea and read for a bit, keeping an eye on the lane. I am quite a fan of Parcel Force - they have always done a good enough job for me, notwithstanding my occasional rants, and I believe that they will not pretend they have been here, or that I wasn't in. The fact that their online tracking record is wrong is quite a shaker, really...

***** Very Late Edit *****

Parcel finally delivered safely on 12th August - no damage. Delay would appear to be caused by procedures for recording payment of import charges being swamped. If the coin-counters would only tell them, the shipping people would deliver. 

I sent in a pro-forma enquiry on 10th - entry requires the Parcel No (which I supplied). I now have a reply, which says they cannot help me, since I didn't supply the Tracking No (which I wasn't asked for, and which is different). Someone, apparently, will be in touch in 3 working days - now that's strangely familiar.

I'm really happy to have received my parcel, but very disappointed with Parcel Force's bizarre concept of "Customer Experience" - maybe things will improve. A Customer Experience without the option of speaking to a human employee smacks of not treating the customers with dignity and respect, but I guess that's the way we are heading.


Tuesday 3 August 2021

The Old Metal Detector - a Personal Recollection

 It is certainly not my place to offer any kind of official tribute to Clive Smithers - I have neither the authority nor the knowledge - but I have not seen any media mention within our hobby since he passed away on 15th July, apart from private emails, and I felt I ought to write something.

He and I were good friends for some years. I made his acquaintance, as did a number of others who shared his hobby interests, through correspondence associated with eBay purchases, and I met up with him at wargame shows at Stockton and Falkirk. Since he lived only a couple of hours drive away, I was privileged to visit him a few times at Langley Moor, which was always a remarkable experience, including explorations of the soldier and magazine collections in his attic [which, famously, had to have the floor strengthened with steel girders to support the weight of stored metal, and out of which, less famously, I almost fell on one occasion!] and a good Old School lunch in the Miners' Institute. 

 He stayed here with us on, I think, five occasions, for wargaming weekends. He was always a very courteous and enthusiastic guest, and he was very kind to my youngest son, which I shall not forget. He first came here in 2008, and his last visit was in December 2012, a date I remember very well, since he arrived the day after our village fire station burned down. The fire station is immediately next door to the railway terminus, so I had an interesting journey to pick him up from the train!

As the years passed, he had increasing problems with his health, and eventually travel became more difficult. He suffered with diabetes, and had a series of alarming issues connected with this. On one occasion he came here wearing a surgical boot, a treatment for a bone condition known as Charcot's Foot, from which he recovered after months of wearing this torture device. He bore the encumbrance with praiseworthy good humour, and, typically, expressed his determination to paint up a unit of ECW infantry named after his condition. I don't know if he ever did, but it was a nice idea.

Like a lot of wargamers and collectors, I have quite a few ex-Clive figures around, and I guess there were some veterans of mine in his attic. He was a phenomenon. His knowledge of the history of the hobby and the manufacture of toy soldiers was encyclopedic. If I ever had a mystery figure of whose provenance I was uncertain, Clive would know what it was. His greatest lasting contributions to the hobby were his wonderful blogs, notably the Hinton Hunter, the Lone S-Ranger and Vintage Wargaming, which I certainly hope can survive in some way as the standard references they have become. 

I know a little of his background. A native of Durham, he studied History at Oxford, and did postgraduate courses in business and Theology. When I first knew him he had his own business, a consultancy which specialised in project management and website design, most of his clients being local government and charities. He called his firm Esra Solutions, one of Clive's many private jokes. At some early point in his working life, he fell out with some business associate or other, who accused him of "not knowing his arse from his elbow". When he set up his new enterprise, Clive named it Esra ("arse" backwards) as a gentle act of revenge. I have in my possession one of his corporate handouts, a pair of cufflinks engraved "esra" and "woble". The joke lives on.

When he last came here, in 2012, he had just started work as director and secretary of Lord Crewe's Charity - his job seemed to be to organise just about everything, from meetings to the website, including interesting extra duties such as managing the town of Seahouses, which is owned by LCC. It was very apparent from the number of phone calls he received while he was here that this was not a job that you walked away from at the weekend, and I believe that his workload, together with his deteriorating health, greatly reduced his spare time subsequently.

I met him again at Stryker's birthday wargame bash in 2016, in Bath, and he was in poor shape physically. However, I visited him at Langley Moor the following year, to swap some figures (of course), and he seemed rather better, though he admitted he no longer travelled very much. That was the last time I saw him. Apart from occasional email contact, we lost touch, and I was surprised how much time had passed when I was informed by Mark that he had died on 15th July. I reckon he must have been 58.

He was a remarkably intelligent and very amusing fellow, very good company, and could be extremely generous. He had a devotion to toy soldiers since childhood, and seemed to have a nostalgic view that a pastime for gentlemen had been rather spoilt by over-commercialisation and by the influx of the unwashed hordes (make your own joke out of that), yet he had a waspish contempt for what he saw as posturing within the hobby, and for self-promoting cliques for which he had little time. He was also, let us not forget, a passionate supporter of Newcastle United.

I am glad that I knew him; I am sad that he died so young, and offer my condolences and best wishes to his friends and family. 

***** Late Edit (6th August) *****

I received a very nice note from Clive's elder brother, thanking me for my efforts to write something suitable. He mentioned that the funeral was on Wednesday (4th August). It seems Clive had an emergency op for cancer in March, and had been receiving chemotherapy subsequently, though the coroner recorded pulmonary embolism as cause of death. Clive was 59, in fact, and is survived by two brothers and a sister.

His family are aware of the significance of his blogs, and will try to ensure they are left as they are.