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

Tuesday 29 November 2022

The Real Northampton

 Here's a rather fine portrait of James Compton, 3rd Earl of Northampton, who commanded the cavalry on the left flank of Charles I's army at the Battle of Cropredy Bridge in 1644. I was privileged to take part in a remote game last night, replaying Cropredy, and one of my roles was that of Compton.

 In the actual event, Northampton played a distinguished part at Cropredy, leading a successful charge against Waller's cavalry, so this is stimulating stuff; those of you who know me will recognise that I was an obvious fit for the brave, romantic, 21-year-old hero, who succeeded to his title when his father, the 2nd Earl, was killed at Hopton Heath the year before. It is probably worth mentioning here that the story is that the 2nd Earl was captured and offered quarter, but refused it in such a contemptuous manner that he was promptly knocked on the head. Hmmm. [Discuss]

Last night's game was both captivating and entertaining, and I must send my compliments to my fellow participants, most especially to Jon Freitag, our host and umpire, for his generosity and his patient game management. For myself, I maintained my remarkable record of being involved in turning history upside-down; it was an excellent game - the only faint shadow was that we Royalists took an absolute hammering, and my performance with the left-wing cavalry was especially fleeting.

No matter. I always play wargames with the primary objective of having a ringside seat for a bit of history, to see what happens, so the odd hammering is not a problem, but I am keen to dig out a few books to try to understand how The Real Northampton made a better job than I did of the left flank!

Monday 21 November 2022

WSS: The British Army

 Now I have some staff ready, it is time for a proper group photo for the British. In theory, there could be another dragoon regiment to come - I have the figures, it's just a question of getting them in the painting queue. Priorities - you know how it is.

I've now put a link to my Prinz Eugen rules - somewhere over on the right.

Wednesday 16 November 2022

A Bit of a Change of Scene, All of a Sudan

 Arranged at rather short notice, I was delighted to welcome a visit from Count Goya today. He hasn't been here for a while, what with pandemics and suchlike, but I met him off the Edinburgh train, and then he very kindly treated me to lunch (naturally, I chose the most expensive venue in the High Street), followed by a very quick introduction to The Men Who Would Be Kings at my house. He brought all the kit with him - cloth cover for the battlefield, scenery, soldiers, dice, counters - everything! All packed in a big toolbox - at North Berwick railway station I had to protect him from people pestering him to see if he could come and fix their central heating. 

We didn't have a lot of time to try out the game, so the intention really was just to get a general idea of how it works and feels. Goya has played just a few games before; my total experience consists of reading a pdf of the rules last night, and watching an introductory YouTube clip. As I said to Goya, I am the man who has read the course material, but cannot remember what it said, which rather neatly summarises my whole academic career.

The game is neat, looks good, and was particularly interesting for me since it is a period about which I know very little. We didn't get very far through our game, which was a small action from the Mahdist Wars, before it was time to call a halt, but it was a fascinating glimpse, and I'd like to have another go before too long. Predictably, unfamiliarity dominated the time it took to do anything; an awful lot of table-checking and re-reading rules. We were getting slicker as we went along, as we were meeting less concepts for the first time. It would help, I think, if the rules gave more worked examples, to turn on a few more lights during a read-through, but I guess the Osprey format limits the space available.

We also would have benefited from rather more pre-work of our own on identifying and listing (and evaluating) the attributes of the units and their leaders. With more preparation, and a more realistic time to spread out, this looks a very decent game indeed.

And the soldiers were pretty, as well, of course.

Thanks again to Goya - a most enjoyable day.

I was the British, which gave me less troops to manage, as a rookie. Early on, my cavalry unit spotted some chaps on camels heading my way. Confident that we could sort this lot out in short order, we closed with them, and they attacked
My cavalry were driven back, and then wiped out on the follow-up. Not a promising start...
Now the main Mahdist force came onto the field
With only my 3 regiments of regular infantry left, there was nothing to do but set ourselves up in positions where our superior rifle fire could be used to best effect. We eliminated the camels, and as the Mahdist troops advanced, we began a long-range rifle-fire exchange in which we seemed to have the edge, which was the stage we had reached when we had to call time. Good game - something completely new for me!

Sunday 13 November 2022

WSS: A Gratuitous Group of Glossy Generals

 I've been picking away at some more generals, and am pleased with the results. Pretty run-of-the-mill 20mm chaps really, but the progress is welcome after a bit of a wait.

This is (or could be) Earl Cadogan, accompanied by his faithful companion, Jupiter, who is black entirely because I cribbed it from Aly's blog
Normally I'm not really in favour of British Generals wearing cuirasses over their uniform coats, but this fellow is obviously some form of flaky cavalry commander or similar, so I'll take him on; he even has a moustache, for goodness sake
The main French Command Stand; the grey coat on the Grand Fromage is taken from a photo of a painted sample on the Front Rank website. My research does sometimes use secondary sources, I admit it
Two gentlemen from Hesse-Kassel. The chap on the left has a very old-fashioned hat, but he's a Les Higgins sculpt that I like very much. The more characters in my army, the better. His colleague is an Irregular casting, and this is the first official sight of a new experiment, standing Irregular foot figures on little brass discs, to give a better match in height and general appearance with the Higgins lads

***** Late Edit *****

I meant to mention this, because it made me laugh, but I forgot, so here it is, as an afterthought.

It will be apparent that the photos above were taken with the help of my new light-box, which is still quite unfamiliar. I took lots of photos, kept the ones I liked best, cropped them, resized them and all that.

When I had everything ready for the post, I was nonplussed to see something very strange had happened to my selected picture of the Hessian officers - exactly what had happened was a mystery, but the picture was faulty. It was apparent that a small child with a pencil had scribbled on the photo - a strange, rambling scribble, but definitely a scribble. Since I had seen neither children nor pencils during my photo shoot I was once again thinking in terms of some weird conspiracy to gaslight me.

However, when I went back to the original version on my camera, the mark was still there. You couldn't see it until the photo was zoomed, but the scribble was there. It was also present in some other shots I had taken at the same time, and the penny dropped. My light-box is held together with velcro - yards of it - round all the edges; it folds flat for storage, and you assemble it like a play-tent. The velcro had obviously captured a long (man-made) fibre from the sleeve of my winter sweater, and it had attached itself to the figure stand. It was almost impossible to see with the naked eye, but, once I had cropped and enhanced the picture, there it was. 

Original version, with supernatural digital scribble... [Click on this for a clearer view]

Easily fixed - the light-box was still set up, I just turned the lights back on and took a couple more photos. Tip for the future: consider wearing a wet-suit during light-box sessions...


Thursday 10 November 2022


 As I believe I have related previously, my maternal grandfather lived in Paris when I was a boy. Once, when we visited him during school holidays when I was about 12 or so, he took me and my cousin along to the Musée de l'Armée, one wet Sunday morning when it was officially closed (the curator was a friend of his - he was that sort of a guy), and I was introduced to Napoleon and his soldiers.

Thereafter, he used to send me occasional Napoleon-themed gifts for my birthday and suchlike. There were a few toy soldiers, but he also sent me some books. Throughout my teens, I gradually acquired a series of little paperbacks, in French (my grandfather was keen on self-improvement!), by an author named, apparently, "Erckmann-Chatrian". I had "Le Conscrit", which is the adventures of a young soldier in the campaign of 1813, "Waterloo", which is a sequel set during the 100 Days, and I also had "Le Blocus" (siege of Phalsbourg) and "L'Invasion" (which is about the 1814 Campaign in France).

In fact, Erckmann and Chatrian were two separate men, lifelong friends from the north-east of France, who wrote a great many books together - ranging from horror stories to collections of regional folk-tales from their part of France. They did most of their writing during the 1860s and 1870s, so the Napoleonic books are novels, written long after the events depicted, but were heavily based on interviews the authors held with old soldiers; thus there is a great deal of reported eye-witness detail which I find very interesting. It's also worth noting, maybe, that E-C were frequently in trouble for their provincial views on Republicanism and kindred topics! 

By way of personal apology, I have to explain that my mother spent a lot of her childhood in Paris (until her parents fell out...), and to this day she is (in theory, at least) completely bilingual. As a result, I had very reasonable French when I was a kid, certainly by the local standards of Toxteth. With some coercion from my mum, I got through the first two E-C volumes when I was about 14-15, but not, as far as I remember, the others.

Years later I got back into Napoleon through the world of toy soldiers. With my fast-fading grasp of French I made rather heavy weather of my old E-C paperbacks, and they disappeared forever when I was divorced in the 1990s.

However, I do have a little hardback of "The Conscript" and "Waterloo", published in English as a single volume by Collins sometime around 1950, I would estimate. I've decided to revisit it, as part of my Winter reading programme this year - we'll see how this goes. I am notoriously impatient these days! 

 It is also possible to download most of the works of Erckmann-Chatrian for free from Project Gutenberg, so I'll think about that as well.

The central character of The Conscript and Waterloo is Joseph Bertha, an orphan who lives in Phalsbourg with a Monsieur Goulden, a watchmaker to whom he is apprenticed. Joseph has a rather soppy girlfriend, Catherine, who lives on a smallholding outside the town, with her Aunt. The details of Joseph's private life are pretty slow going at times, though they do contain some interesting details on the etiquette and social attitudes of the day. Though he is a rather weak youth, and is partially lame, Joseph still gets conscripted in 1813 (to the horror of all parties - especially Catherine's aunt) and sent off to fight in Germany. It does make a man of him, let it be said.

The Waterloo story is less vivid to me now, but I'll certainly give it a read. Some of the early parts of this story contain a lot of interesting information about public attitudes to the return of the Bourbons in 1814, not to mention the arrival of Bonaparte shortly afterwards. Society seems to have split into Old Soldiers vs Everyone Else.

As in most historical fiction, the central character is invariably suspiciously close to the key events in the great battles, but I have to say I found some things I hadn't seen before.

If you are familiar with these books, then I have little to tell you about them. If you are not, then Erckmann and Chatrian themselves are worth reading about, and their recorded eye-witness tales of Napoleon's campaigns, hand-polished or not, are certainly worth a look.

Monday 7 November 2022

Hooptedoodle #433 - Thinking Inside the Box

 This is our door knocker. A cast-iron woodpecker is probably not to everyone's taste, but we have always been very fond of the wild birds in our garden, and the big stars are indisputably the Greater Spotted Woodpeckers. When we had our house extended, the door knocker just seemed to choose itself.

Last week, a courier rang the doorbell. After he had handed me my parcel, he said, "by the way, your knocker isn't working". This was a bit disconcerting; frequently someone will knock and tell us the doorbell isn't working, but this was a first.

I tried the knocker, while he was still there. It worked perfectly. He said, "no - you're supposed to bang its beak on the top bit - it's a woodpecker".

I said, "well, you could do that, but I've always just lifted its tail and banged it like a normal door knocker".

I tried it the other way, and it is hard to make a noise.

The courier was adamant. He said, "they wouldn't have made it like a woodpecker if you weren't supposed to knock with the beak".

I said, "but it could have been a horseshoe, or anything - it's just a door knocker".

And the courier grinned and went on his way, shaking his head at my stupidity. Quite rightly so.

Interesting. So if someone has made my door knocker to look like a woodpecker, I have to use it in imitation of a real woodpecker, though it doesn't work that way round? Maybe that's correct. I'm going to have to think a bit more about this.

Here's an old picture of one of our real woodpeckers; this was taken a good few years ago, but I'm prepared to bet his descendants are still around here somewhere.


Thursday 3 November 2022

Be Careful What You Wish For

 A slightly unusual tale.

Here's a photo borrowed from the late Clive Smithers' blog. It is one of a set of pictures he took at my house in June 2010. He brought a stack of his own soldiers with him, and we fought a Peninsular Battle here, using a hex board and my own rules (this was pre-Commands & Colors).

In the right foreground you will see two units of [Hinton Hunt] Portuguese (blue uniforms, dark green bases). They are mounted on borrowed sabots, which adds to the confusion a little, but they were part of Clive's visiting army, and he thought it was a nice touch to bring these particular soldiers on a visit, since he had obtained them from me about 5 years earlier, in a swap deal.

In 2005 I had been in the process of replacing my Portuguese troops with more modern 20mm castings, so the Hinton Hunt boys became surplus to requirements, and Clive was keen to get hold of them. At the time, I had a brief twinge of megalomania, and quite fancied the idea of hanging onto them, so that I would have extra Portuguese [you can never have too many Portuguese]. Anyway, I thought better of it, and happily passed them on. The swap took place in the cafe of the Brocksbushes farm shop, near Corbridge, I recall, accompanied by pie and chips. Clive subsequently rebased the Portuguese and added in a few other castings he had already.

I was pleasantly surprised to meet them again briefly when he brought them on his visit five years later, and then I subsequently forgot all about them. 

Until a couple of weeks ago, when I saw them on eBay. My old hand-drawn flags are just as awful as they were all those years ago, and instantly recognisable. The seller had obviously bought them from the recent auctions of Clive's collections. After some pondering, I made an offer for them, and was surprised to be successful. They have now reached me safely, I have removed them from Clive's replacement bases, and am now thinking what I might do with them. I could put them back into the front line, in which case my new house standards will require some extra command figures and a change of facing colours, or else I could use them as siege troops, in which case they are fine as they are. 

In the meantime, I have to say that they are exactly as they were in 2005, and I shall put them safely in a storage box while I decide what to do. In another context, could this be construed as "getting my own back"? I am pleased to have them, though the circumstances are very sad.