Sunday, June 20, 2010


Not exactly ExCel

Valhalla, run by the Farnborough Wargames Society, is one of those smaller shows that fill the calendar between the behemoths of the likes of Salute and Colours. I've not been before but today I was at something of a loose end. Having spent the last however many Sundays revising English and History with Guy I found that this Sunday, Father's Day, I was on my own. My wife was at work, Charlotte was doing her Duke of Edinburgh hike and Guy is in the French Alps mountain biking with the school. I could have spent the day painting but I did quite a bit yesterday (more of which later) and didn't feel like doing a whole day's worth. I was supposed to go and collect a bike at some point from my sister in law down in the Meon Valley and realised that if I took the A31 route I wouldn't be very far from Farnborough. Decision made.
This is not a part of Surrey I am familiar with. It is very much Army country although I also drove past the famous Farnborough airfield which reminded me of a funny story my sister told me about the air show which I can't repeat as it is contrary to the Official Secrets Act!

The show was held in Elles Hall, which is now part of a large sports and community complex. The hall was named in honour of Brigadier General Sir Hugh Elles, the first commander of the Tank Corps. It was a rambling old building and I'm glad they provided a map as games and trade stands were tucked away in all sorts of odd corners. It was a very small show with 20 or so traders and a dozen or so games. It reminded me of the only other small show I sometimes go to; To the Redoubt in Eastbourne. I had a chat with Mike, at Black Hat Miniatures, and vowed to get down to the club and play a game as he was the person that recruited me. Maybe another Sudan game with Keith would be an idea.

Speaking of which, I had a look at the Redoubt stand and they had a painted model of their Sudan camel borne artillery piece and I have to say it looked pretty good. Having seen their ECW stuff I am always under the impression that their figures are huge (their ECW figures dwarf Renegade's) but most of them looked OK. I thought that their French Indian War figures would go with Galloping Major's ones and their Trojans looked a reasonable size too.

My first Mexican (actually, her name was Alicia but that is another story)

I also got some more of the Boothill Miniatures Mexicans. Whilst the Alamo would be a silly project I have really enjoyed painting the one Mexican which I did yesterday and have already got a few more well on the way. This time I got some Presidial troopers, foot and mounted, because I read a book about mountain men last summer and there seemed to be quite a few cases of mountain men coming down from the mountains (naturally!) into California and having run ins with the local troops. These presidial troops would have been just the sort in the local garrisons that would have been in California at the time.

I also picked up some more of the Newline Designs Mycenaean figures for my Trojan project. Also on the Newline stand were a bunch of packs from a firm I hadn't heard of called Pontoonier Miniatures, who are based in the Eastern US. Looking them up, they have a rather elusive reeputation (no website, for example). Their figures were lovely, however, British colonial infantry and Burmese from what turned out to be the 3rd Anglo-Burmese War of 1885-1887.

The figures turned out to have been sculpted by Paul Hicks and there are a few (not very good) photos of the range here:
They look like they may be easier to get from now on through Newline, however.

A multi use building from Frontline

Finally, I found myself at the stand of another firm I didn't know, Frontline Wargaming, who had some lovely buildings and other resin scenic pieces. I picked up a thatched bungalow which would work for Darkest Africa and India and an adobe type flat roofed building which would work, at a pinch, for Mexican Texas or California, the Pirate Caribbean, the Sudan, Arab Africa and maybe India also. In addition, I got a couple of explorers tents and baggage. I recently rewatched Mountains of the Moon and they would be perfect for the attack on Burton and Speke's camp by Somali tribesmen. Maybe I should do a scenic piece of the month as well as an artillery piece!
So I bought more than I intended but hopefully I will have a bit more time at the weekends going forward.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Huge relief...

St John's

Things have been very tense over the last ten days at the Villa Hedlius as my son, Guy, has been doing his common entrance exams and we have been waiting to hear about his result. We have been helping him with his revision for the last month and so I have had very little time for painting. Him passing these exams was by no means a foregone conclusion, as he is quite dyslexic (my daughter sensitively calls him "Yug"). He needed to get 55% in his core subjects of English, Maths and Science and an average of 55% in the others. We got the results today and despite failing French he managed to get enough on the others (including an A for physics: shock!) to get his place at St John's, Leatherhead.

Where I used to work

St John's alumni include the architect Richard Rogers (who kindly got his studio to make a scale model of the Lloyd's building, where I met my wife, for our wedding cake) and Anthony Hope, the author of the Prisoner of Zenda.

Serious uniforms in Ruritania

From a military point of view the most interesting old boy is Lieutenant Geoffrey Harold Woolley, who was the first Territorial officer to win the VC. He was a member of the Queen Victoria Rifles and his unit was posted to Ypres where on his first day at the front a hand grenade was thrown into his trench. Woolley calmly picked it up and threw it out saving six or seven men.

Woolley on Hill 60

On the night of April 20th-21st 1915 the Germans launched an attack on the trench held by the QVR. Soon all his superiors had been killed leaving him in command of the forces on Hill 60. He was ordered to withdraw but refused, saying he would only pull back if properly relieved. Waves of German troops attacked the position but Woolley stood on the trench parapet in full view of the enemy throwing bombs at them and encouraging his men to hold on. When eventually they were relieved their unit had been reduced from 150 to 20 men. Woolley was promote to captain two days later. He survived the war, served in North Africa during WW2 as a chaplain and died in 1968. His brother, who also went to St John's, was the famous archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley who excavated the Sumerian city of Ur.

Leonard Woolley (right) with TE Lawrence in Carchemish where they were excavating between 1911 and 1914

Now of course, I have all the expense of getting Guy's uniform and sports stuff so that will cut my wargaming purchases a bit this summer !

Sunday, June 06, 2010

On the Workbench..

Black Scorpion pirate girl

After a rather disastrous May, when I only completed four figures, I have already had a much better first week in June getting nine figures finished this week. Apart from my Baluchis and my Elizabethan cannon

I also finished another Black Scorpion lady pirate and a Trojan War figure. The Black Scorpion figures are bigger than my Foundry ones but their girlie pirates are just irresistible! Next up I have some very Pirates of the Caribbean marines and skeleton pirates to do.

Ajax by Wargames Foundry

The Trojan is a Foundry Ajax figure and, like many of that range, is based on the illustrations in Peter Connolly's The Ancient Greece of Odysseus. Although this is a children's book, the pictures inside are wonderful; alternating between telling the tale of the siege of Troy and the Odyssey and sections on costume, warriors buildings etc.

Ajax from the Connolly book

I first got to know the story of Troy from a book about Greek heroes by Roger Lancelyn Green, which had evocative pictures of warriors fighting outside the walls of Troy. The Greeks wearing turquoises and blues the Trojans in red. The problem of differentiating armies for this conflict remains so I am considering, for my Trojans, giving them earth colours such as terracotta, red browns and ochres etc. A book I had as a boy on archaeology, by CW Ceram, introduced me to Heinrich Schliemann and the historic background of the legends.

The best hats in cinema history: Helen of Troy (1957)

Next, I remember seeing the film Helen of Troy (1957) at my uncle's house in about 1972. He had a colour TV a long time before we did (I think it cost £400!). The impact of the colourful Mediterranean backdrops, girls in very short pepla and thousands of extras attacking Troy with siege towers imprinted it in my memory and for weeks afterwards my Airfix Romans became Greeks as they tried to get into my Lego Troy. I even made a Lego Wooden Horse!

I'll be your dog! Brigitte Bardot in Helen of Troy

Watching it today, it seems, appropriately, rather wooden but contained some good battle scenes and a very young Brigitte Bardot as a slave girl. Actually, I have stopped being a fan of Brigitte Bardot since I lost my Ray Bans. We had anchored in the bay outside her house just round the corner from St Tropez and suddenly her dogs started barking. Unfortunately I was just climbing into our dinghy and the cacophony (she has a lot of dogs) made me jump causing me to lose my sunglasses into the sea.

I even enjoyed the 3 hour American TV version of Helen of Troy (2003) with the luminous Sienna Guillory.

Sienna Guillory as Helen

Wolfgang Petersen's Troy (2004) wasn't as bad as everyone said (well, apart from Brad Pitt and granted they completely changed the story...) and I liked their take on the wooden horse. Part of Troy was filmed in Malta and I had to spend some time  there a few years ago, working with the Finance Minister. My favourite restaurant was also Brad Pitt's, when he was filming there, and this had the distinct advantage of attracting lots of young women to the place.

Frankly, if its got Mediterranean scenery, galleys, girls in Greek frocks, chariots, big walls and a wooden horse I'll watch it!

Foundry archers

Some time ago I painted some Foundry archers for the Trojan war but lost interest given the limited figures in their range. Recently, however, we have had the Newline Designs Mycenaean range and they fit perfectly with the Foundry Trojans. I picked up a pack at Salute so may add them to the never ending list soon.

Currently in the active section of my workbench I have Perry Wars of the Roses cannon and crew, Foundry Masai, Empress miniatures Zulus and British, Galloping Major French Militia, Musketeer Russian GNW, Foundry Trojans and Crusader Miniatures Normans. I'm hoping to have a good go at them this month now we have finished revising with Guy for his common entrance exams.

Artillery piece of the month: Elizabethan Sea Dogs' cannon

Slightly late again for the May artillery piece. This is a more recent purchase from eBay and is designed to give some punch to my Elizabethan Sea Dogs as they roam the Atlantic looking for trouble. They are Mike Owen sculpts for Wargames Foundry's sadly short-lived Sea Dogs range.

More pictures on my Swashbucklers blog: