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.


  1. Welcome back!

    Great uniform illustrations-where did you get them?

    Finally, do you ever meet, er, plain looking women?


  2. Couldn't agree more about the Mercer book - mine was an impulse buy as well for much the same reasons as yourself (no great interest in the Crimean War) but was very pleasantly surprised, and the next one will be on the Christmas list....

    PS. Matt - no such thing as a plain looking woman - some are more good looking than others I'll grant you... :o))