Saturday, October 30, 2010

Even more thoughts on the Crimea...

I am rapidly talking myself into this one, unfortunately. In the very little time I have had this week I have started to paint my eight Warlord Games figures. The Paul Hicks sculpts are very detailed in the Perry style, rather than the chunky Foundry style, which means the details are rather fine but already I am enjoying painting them.

I have now started to order some of the Gary Douglas Kilworth novels off eBay to keep me in the mood and have bought a few reference books. In fact I seem to have bought four books this week. An overall history, Crimea, by Trevor Royle which I managed to get for £4.99 instead of £14.99. Secondly, I picked up the Osprey Essential History as a quick primer. Another book The Thin Red Line, which is based on eyewitness accounts, by Julian Spilsbury has some nice colour illustrations. The Battle of the Alma by Ian Fletcher and Natalia Ishchenko covers the first major battle of the War and has some useful maps.

Finally, while sorting out the books on my shelves to find space for this new Crimea collection, I discovered I had already bought a book on the Crimea in the Isle of Wight in August so I must have been thinking about the period longer than I remember! This was the out of print Uniforms and Weapons of the Crimean War by Robert Wilkinson-Latham which has some great illustrations. I bought this in a funny little second hand bookshop in St Helens on the Isle of Wight which, nevertheless, has a great military history section. In fact, the basis of the whole bookshop business was a huge private colection of military books that the current owner purchased.

Just to give you an idea this photo is of just one of around three sections of military books they have.  I always find half a dozen or so books there when I visit, although it is by no mean a cheap bookshop. Expect to pay antiquarian prices for some of the older volumes. I have paid £60 or £70 pounds for nineteenth century accounts of the Sudan Wars.

Further good news from Warlord Games today with the announcement of a splendid mounted officer by Paul Hicks.

Off to Abu Dhabi for a week tomorrow so won't get any painting done this week. I am really hoping that this will be my final overseas trip this year but you never know...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Thoughts on the Crimea...

Laura in Bogota. Very much the acceptable face of government!

Well, I have just returned from a ten day trip to the Americas (Mexico City, Bogota and Houston) and accompanying me for much of the way (apart from the lovely Laura) was To Do or Die by Patrick Mercer.

Now I have never bothered with novels about the Crimean War (notably Garry Douglas Kilworth's books about "Fancy Jack" Crossman) as I never found it a very inspiring war (if there can be such a thing). My view has always been, informed by period photographs, that it was a very grim affair (as if any war isn't) fought in horrible conditions in a dull, treeless landscape. Perhaps it is the recollection of Roger Fenton's The Valley of the Shadow of Death taken on the battlefield of Balaclava.

The Valley of the Shadow of Death by Roger Fenton

I bought Mercer's book at the airport as I calculated that the novel I had packed wouldn't last me the five flights I had to make (correctly). The real reason I bought it was that he has written a sequel set during the Indian Mutiny, a period and theatre I am interested in and I felt I had to read the first book as a matter of course. The problem with it is that it is a very good novel indeed and so am now, not surprisingly, contemplating getting some Crimean War figures. In fact it is worse than that as I have actually ordered a pack from Warlod Games of their new range sculpted by Paul Hicks, whose Zulu War British for Empress are so characterful.

Warlord's elegant British line figures

Now, of course Great War Miniatures have just started a range as well and, in fact, have far more troop types out already. The problem is is that GWM seem to have missed the fact that 28mm figures are increasingly tending towards better proprtioned anatomy. As a result, given big bearskins and big beards some of their figures are somewhat gnomic.

Great War Miniatures Guardsmen gnomes

Warlord are claiming on their website that Hicks will create a full range of French, Russians and British (when will he have the time?) and I am more prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt as their other ranges so far have been admirably heading towards completeness.

95th Regiment troops 1855

Mercer's book features as its hero an officer of the grenadier company of the 95th Regiment and, as a former army officer commanding operational British troops he has a good eye for striking images and a good ear for the troops' badinage. It also gives a great idea of the fog of war in that the combatants have absolutely no idea of what they are doing most of the time. This is probably the key to my approach to wargaming it (if indeed I ever do) as having (eventually) enjoyed the Flying Lead rules then something using a small number of figures in a big skirmish at company level may be the answer. Possibly, even a 1 to 1 ratio.

95th Regiment 1855

Oddly, the book, which generally has such narrative drive that I finished it on one 10 hour flight, does slow a bit in the middle (he has to find a way to break the action to allow the hero to return to the Crimea for the final battles) and this begs the question as to why he didn't turn his story into two novels. Nevertheless, it is one of the best novels of nineteenth century warfare I have read for a long time.

95th Regiment

Another part of my interest in the period may stem from the Black Powder rulebook which includes a scenario loosely based on the Battle of the Alma. However, the fact of the matter is that the Crimean War contained a very few set-piece battles and little in the way of extended skirmishing (cf the Peninsula, for example) and for Britain it was, in reality, more of a naval war.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Mexican Lancers in a very big landscape

Mexico City 1837

I was having dinner in the British Ambassador's residence in Mexico City earlier this week (as you do) and was very struck by this magnificent painting of Mexico City in 1837. Mexico City is now around 28 million people so to see what it looks like less than 200 years ago is rather thought provoking. At home I have a painting of my great great great grandmother, aged about 12, painted in the same year. I remember my grandmother telling me about how she met her when she was young which gives me a rather spooky direct connection to the time when both this picture and my great great great grandmother's portrait were painted.

The painting in situ in the Ambassador's residence

The picture, entitled, accurately if rather unimaginatively, Mexico City 1837, was painted by an English artist Daniel Thomas Egerton. Mexico city can be seen on the left and beyond is Lake Texcoco, which surrounded the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan. It has now been completely filled in. In the background is the Sierra Nevada mountain range and the snow-capped peak of the Popcatépetl volcano. It was unusually clear in Mexico City this week and you could actually see the mountains surrounding the city. Yesterday I flew over Popcatépetl on my way to Bogota.

The mountains from the top of the HSBC tower this week

Daniel Thomas Egerton, first exhibited in London in 1824. He arrived in Mexico some time before 1834 and traveled through Mexico and the United States later publishing a set of 12 lithographs of views of Mexico when he returned to London in 1840, where his wife had remained. He returned to Mexico in 1840 with a lady called Agnes Edwards with whom he lived, rather controversially. In April 1842, as the couple were walking their dog, they were attacked by bandits and murdered.

Although the painting, as a whole, is splendid Egerton was obviously more comfortable with landscape than figures but I liked these Mexican lancers in the foreground, very familiar for anyone who has watched The Alamo, and it has got me keen to paint some more of my Boothill Miniatures Mexicans when I get back. Hopefully. they will produce some of these lancers in due course.