Thursday, 24 July 2014

A breath of fresh air ... or I have been to ... Severndroog Castle

My wife Sue decided this lunchtime that what I needed was a breath of fresh air and a bit of exercise to help me get better ... and so we paid a visit to the newly reopened Severndroog Castle.

Severndroog Castle is a folly that was built by Lady James as a memorial to her husband, Commodore Sir William James. Commodore James achieved fame in April 1755 when he led a force that attacked and destroyed the Maratha fortress on the island of Suvarnadurg (which was pronounced Severndroog by the British). The island fortress was situated on the western coast of India between Bombay (Mumbai) and Goa.

The folly has a triangular floor plan and was designed in the Gothic-style. It is 63 feet (19m) high, and on its roof there are hexagonal turrets at each corner of the triangle. Its prominent position atop one of the highest points around London has meant that it has always enjoyed excellent views across London and the surrounding counties of Essex and Kent. In 1797 the castle was used by General William Roy when he made his trigonometric survey of Southern England, and again in 1848 when the Royal Engineers conducted their survey of London. The Castle is also reputed to have served as of the one stations on the Admiralty semaphore system between London and Chatham during the Napoleonic War, and was a fire-watching station during the Second World War.

The Castle was purchased by London County Council in 1922 and it was a local visitor attraction, with a ground-floor tearoom serving drinks and cakes. This closed in 1986 and the local council took over care and maintenance of the site. In 2002 the Severndroog Castle Building Preservation Trust was set up with the intention of renovating the Castle and returning it to public use. After mounting a very long and sustained campaign, the Trust received £595,000 of Heritage Lottery Funding, the necessary work was done, and the Castle was officially reopened to the public on 20th July this year.

The Castle

The views from the top
(These are quite large images. To see them in detail you are advised to click on them.)

The view from the top of Severndroog Castle looking towards the south and south-west. 
The view from the top of Severndroog Castle looking westwards towards Central London.
The view from the top of Severndroog Castle looking eastwards towards Kent.
The City of London.
Some of the City's newer landmarks: the Cheese Grater and the Gherkin.

Laid low by a bug

I had hoped to spend Wednesday doing some more sorting out of the contents of the crates I took out of the now-defunct shed ... but it was not to be.

During Tuesday afternoon my stomach felt a bit queasy. I took some antacid but this seemed to have minimal effect. By the time I ate dinner at approximately 8.00pm I felt very bloated and uncomfortable, and nothing seemed to relieve the pain and discomfort. By 10.00pm my temperature was going up and down, and I decided that the best thing that I could do was to go to bed and to try to sleep.

I had been lying down for about ten minutes ... and then I had to rush to the bathroom where I was was violently ill several times. Afterwards I cleaned myself up and went back to bed ... but I woke up at 3.30am and was ill again. I finally managed to sleep through until just before 10.00am. When I woke up I had no appetite, a terrible headache, ached all over, and had a raging thirst. After a long shower and a shave I felt a bit better, and my condition gradually improved as the day went. I managed to eat some dry toast for breakfast and some chicken soup for lunch, and by late afternoon – and after a very pleasant hour or so dozing in front of the TV – my headache finally disappeared.

The twenty-four hour bug was very unpleasant whilst it lasted, but after a good night's sleep I feel almost back to normal ... and now I can get back to the contents of those crates!

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

My Hungarian World War II army ... and other 'finds'

Inside a file box that I found in one of the crates that was in the shed was a small Hungarian World War II army.

I created this army at a time when I was considering using Frank Chadwick's COMMAND DECISION rules, and they represent a Hungarian Infantry Regiment with some supporting artillery. In the end I never used the rules, and the figures went into storage ... although I have vague memories of having lent them to another wargamer for a time.

The figures were originally Spanish Civil War infantry that were sculpted by the late Dave Allsop. I modified some of them so that I could field heavy machine guns, machine gun crews, and gunners . I also scratch-built a field gun and a light anti-tank gun, which I used as masters from which I was able to create a silicon rubber mould.

The bases are looking a little 'sad', but I think that it will be possible to rebase the figures so that I can use them for my Eastern Front/Great Patriotic War project.

I have also made some other 'finds' during the great sort out. These include a number of 1960s/1970s-era pre-assembled and painted model British military vehicles manufactured and sold by Denzil Skinner ...

... and a complete hard plastic 1920s/1930s-era wargames army created with figures from Fijumi, trucks from an unknown model railways supplier, artillery tractors scratch-built from Airfix US half-tracks, light tanks scratch-built from various bit and pieces, and artillery scratch-built from Airfix Napoleonic field guns and a Napoleonic board game.

Monday, 21 July 2014

The Shed ... has gone!

After lunch yesterday (and before the storm arrived!) I finally emptied the shed, unscrewed the bolts holding it to its concrete base, and tried to demolish it.

I tried taking the shed apart, but many of the self-tapping screws that were used in its construction were so rusted that they proved impossible to move. In the end I managed to remove the roof ... and as a result the walls lost all their rigidity and I was able to split them into two separate sections.

This morning I telephoned a local scrap metal dealer to come and remove the old shed ... only to be told that the company had changed owners and name, as a result of which they had had to reapply for new operating licences in all the local government areas they serve. Unfortunately the London Borough in which I live – Royal Greenwich – is one of the few who has not yet issued a new licence, and I will have to wait for about a week or so until the new licence is issued, at which point the old shed will be collected and removed.

I could not wait that long before replacing the shed with a new garden store, so I moved the remains of the shed from the bottom of the garden to the driveway that runs alongside our house. The bits of the shed can stay there until the scrap metal dealer can come to collect them.

Once that was done I cleaned the concrete base as best I could ...

... and then assembled and installed the garden store on it.

Whilst I was clearing the shed I found several plastic tool boxes. I assumed that they contained tools ... although I could not, for the life of me, remember having that many tools.

I was right; I didn't!

Two of the toolboxes contained my very old O-gauge Hornby train set. The tracks are very rusty, as are the locomotives and rolling stock ... but I suspect that with time and quite a bit of effort they could be restored.

The third toolbox weighed a ton ... and when I opened it I found that it was half-full of more wargames figures ... some of which appear to have been painted.

I am not sure what I am going to do with this latest find ... but I suspect that sorting out the contents is likely to take done time.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

The Shed: The rest of the contents of the box of mainly painted figures

I have finally finished sorting out the rest of the figures that were in the box that I found a couple of days ago ... and a mighty odd collection they are.

Firstly there are some of the lovely figures produced by Les Higgins. These include some English Civil War pikemen and gunners, some Malburian standard bearers, and some interesting-looking infantry figures.

There are some Rose Miniatures American Civil War figures painted in an odd-looking brown uniform. I think that they were intended to be used for an abortive South American imagi-nation project.

The rest of the figures are 15mm-scale American Civil War Minifigs painted to represent Union Infantry ... and three Confederate gunners.

There is a story behind these figures. Back in the early 1980s I became very ill as a result of stress, and undertook six weeks of treatment as a day patient at a local mental health unit. Each night I came home and painted figures. I started with some Confederate Infantry and Artillery, and when they were finished I gloss varnished them and based them. I then began work on the Union forces ... but by the time my treatment was over and I was deemed fit enough to return to work, they were still unfinished. I put them away ... and forgot about them ... although at some point it would appear that I did paint some additional details on some of the figures, probably so that I could use them as French Garde Mobile in a planned Franco-Prussian War campaign that never came to fruition. I never used the Confederate troops, and some years ago I passed them on to an old friend.

When I saw these figures again for the first time in over thirty years, it was a bit of a shock ... but now I want to finish them as it will – I hope – enable me to draw a line in my mind under that unhappy time. I already have a couple of ideas about possible uses for them ... but I think that they can wait for another few weeks or months until I get around to turning my ideas into something practical.

The Shed: The box of mainly painted figures

One of the first boxes that I found when I began sorting out the shed contained a number of painted figures. I recognised some of them as being old Minifigs and some as being Hinton Hunt figures that I bought back in 1968!

I have now had the opportunity to begin sorting out the contents of the box, and what I found surprised me.

In one corner of the box were a number of Crimean Wars Minifigs that are – I understand – old 'S' Range figures. I have no recollection of buying them, but I suspect that I may have made the purchase in Eric Knowles' shop in the early 1980s.

Also in the box were some old Minifigs 'S' Range Prussian Napoleonic figures that I bought and painted in my late teens (i.e. the late 1960s). They look rather dark in colour ... but they seem to have survived their incarceration fairly well, and here has been little damage to their paintwork.

There were also a number of badly painted Hinton Hunt British Crimean War Guard and Line Infantry figures (and a very odd looking Lancer!) ...

... and they are accompanied by some equally badly painted French Crimean War Infantry from another of the early figure manufacturers ... Douglas Miniatures.

The final figures that I have sorted out are an odd collection of badly painted metal Napoleonic figures that may well be early Minifigs ... with the odd Hinton Hunt figure thrown in for good measure. I have yet to sort out the remaining figures in the box ... but I will write a further blog entry when I do.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

The Shed: The big sort out continues

The big sort out continues. Since I wrote yesterday's blog entry I have continued to empty crates and to sort out what I am going to keep, what I am going to pass on to other people (either as gifts or via eBay, and what I am going to have to throw away.

The latter category includes some of the plastic model kits that were stored in the shed. For an as-yet-unknown reason some of the kits that were moulded in very dark grey or black plastic have apparently melted during storage. When I opened the packaging they had been put in, they looked misshapen, and on closer examination some of the larger parts had completely changed shape. What is baffling is the fact that this 'melting' has not affected any of the model kits that were moulded in light grey, green, silver, or white plastic.

As it requires quite a reasonable amount of heat to mould the plastic used to make model kits, I can only surmise that these kits were close to a wall of the steel shed when it was exposed to extreme heat at some point during the last ten years. I cannot think of a time when this could have happened, but for the present I cannot come up with another theory that explains the phenomena.

I have not made any particularly notable 'finds' today, but I did find several half-built models that need to be completed. Of especial note are three Fujimi Pzkpfw 38(t)s that were at some point in the process of being converted into something approximating to Pzkpfw 35(t)s. The basic hulls and turrets have been built according to the kit's instructions, but all the running gear has been removed. The turret mantlets have been slightly modified, and the original guns were due to be replaced with cut-down and inverted Airfix 6-pounder anti-tank gun barrels. These are in the same plastic bag as the incomplete model tanks. Also in the bag are several sets of modified ROCO Pzkpfw IV tracks, and as far as I can remember I was going to use these to replicate the style of tracks found on the Pzkpfw 35(t).

I plan to complete these model tanks as soon as I have finished sorting out the contents of the shed, although I think that I will replace the modified ROCO tracks with something that is more akin to those used on the Pzkpfw 35(t).

The side view of a Pzkpfw 38(t).
The side view of a Pzkpfw 35(t).

Friday, 18 July 2014

The Shed: A ROCO and Roskopf bonanza!

Last night I began selecting the next couple of crates that I wanted to sort out ... and had quite a shock when I opened the first.

The crate was full of plastic bags that were covered in a very thick layer of dirt. In fact they were so dirty that I could not see what was inside the bags, and the labels had faded so much that they were unreadable. With some trepidation I tore the first bag open ... and found four ROCO Pzkpfw VI Tiger Is inside! The next bag contained two ROCO Pzkpfw VI Tiger IIs, a ROCO Jagdtiger, and three ROCO JS-IIIs.

By the time I had finished opening all the bags I had rediscovered the following model vehicles:

  • 1 x Pzkpfw III
  • 1 x Pzkpfw IV
  • 1 x Pzkpfw IV (AA)
  • 4 x Pzkpfw VI (Tiger I)
  • 3 x Pzkpfw VI (Tiger II)
  • 2 x Jagdpanzer VI Jagdtiger
  • 1 x Sdkpz 234/1
  • 2 x Grille 10/88mm
  • 1 x sWS (Cargo)
  • 2 x Sdkfz 18 (AA)
  • 4 x Kubelwagen
  • 2 x Schwimmwagen
  • 1 x Opel Blitz Truck
  • 10 x T-34/85
  • 3 x JS-III
  • 1 x Sherman
  • 2 x M10/M36 SPGs
  • 1 x 155mm Long Tom M2A1
  • 1 x M53/M55 SPG
  • 3 x M113 APC
  • 2 x M113 APC (Mortar)
  • 1 x M113 (Command)
  • 4 x Motorcycle + Sidecar

I also found some other useful model vehicles in the crate. These included:
  • 8 x SIKU Bulldozers (If the cab and dozer blade are removed, this looks very like a Russian heavy artillery tractor)
  • 2 x Vikiing Hoch Limousines (Ideal for senior officers' staff cars!)
  • 3 x Viking Citroen Saloon Cars (Also suitable for use staff cars)
  • 2 x Viking VW Beetles

Thursday, 17 July 2014

The Shed: Into the (almost) completely unknown

Regular blog readers will know about my garden shed. About ten years ago I put a load of wargaming stuff into the shed 'temporarily' ... and it has been there ever since.

During that ten years I have opened the door a couple of times, looked at what was inside ... and then shut the door again. At one point the shed almost completely disappeared from sight thanks to the neighbouring laurel hedge, but earlier this year I began the process of cutting back the hedge. The shed now became visible, and I promised my wife Sue that as soon as we had a longish period of good weather, I would remove everything that was in it ... and sort it out.

Yesterday I opened the shed door ...

... and looked inside again for the first time in many years. It was stacked high with plastic storage crates, and my first task was to remove them.

The first batch of crates looked like this, ...

... the second batch looked like this, ...

... and the final batch (which had had the benefit of having lids on each crate) looked like this:

I have already begun the long, slow process of sorting out the contents of each crate, and it looks as if it is going to take me quite some time. To date I have found a crate containing a box in which were stored a number of very old painted and unpainted figures (including some Crimean War figures by a Minifigs and Hinton Hunt), ...

... a quantity of die-cast Dinky Toy metal aircraft that are approximately 1:200th-scale (these include several Hawker a Hunters, a Supermarine Swift, some English Electric Lightnings, a Hawker Fury, a Gloster Meteor, an F-80 Shooting Star, and a Bf 110, all of which have been painted matt grey), ...

... and quite a lot of Lone Star N-gauge push-along railway track, locomotives, and rolling stock. (These have now been cleaned and placed in a new storage container.)

I have also discovered another crate that is full of HO-scale plastic model buildings from a variety of different European manufacturers ...

... as well as an A4-size file box that contains some painted 20mm-scale German military vehicles, including a Pzkpfw III and a Pzkpfw IV.

My final 'find' of the day was my old tin-plate fort, which was in remarkable condition considering it was not new when it was given to me in the mid 1950s!

Since I started to write this blog entry, I have now found some more die-cast Dinky Toy metal aircraft. These are:
  • An Avro York transport aircraft
  • A Gloster Javelin fighter
  • A Vickers Viking transport aircraft (which is showing signs of damage to one wing root due to the use of poor or low quality zinc during the manufacturing process)
In addition I also found some other die-cast model aircraft from unknown manufacturers, and these include:
  • A MiG-17 fighter
  • A Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bomber
  • A Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter

Wednesday, 16 July 2014


I left home just before 2.00mm with the intention of arriving at Knuston Hall by 4.00pm, but thanks to a number of 'traffic incidents' that were picked up by my satnav, I finally arrived just after 5.00pm. By then the conference attendees were already beginning to get into their stride. The main hall was already occupied by people and the 'bring and buy' stall set up, ...

... the small bar was doing good business, ...

... and the conference timetable was up and session signing-in sheets were already filling up, ...

... whilst some of the attendees took advantage of the good weather to sit outside to relax and chat.

I booked in, dumped my bags in my room, and went to join in.

Friday Evening Sessions

We ate dinner at 7.00pm (it was the traditional Friday night curry with all the usual trimmings!) after which we all went into the Lounge for the introductory briefing and welcome ...

... which was immediately followed by the Plenary Game. (The conference always starts with a plenary session. This is generally an 'icebreaker' game that involves everyone, and is designed to get newcomers and experienced old hands working together.)

This game was entitled A MIGHTY WIND (AKA kamikaze) and was designed by Tim Gow (with the assistance of other members of the Sheffield Wargames Club). It was set in the waters around Japan in 1944.

The attendees were split into pairs. One member was designated the 'pilot', and was tasked with writing a haiku (the subject of the haiku was up to the 'pilot') whilst the other player (the 'ground crew') made the 'pilot' a suitably embellished headband.

Whilst this was going on the umpires prepared the target for the kamikaze attacks ... the US Navy's fleet of aircraft carriers and escorts!

After many Banzais! ...

... and tearful farewells, the 'pilots' and 'ground crew' assembled on the patio area for the attack.

Unfortunately not many of the kamikazes hit a target ...

... and the 'pilots' and 'ground crew' were forced to change places ... and the whole thing was repeated. (This gave everyone the opportunity to take a full part in the session.)

The second wave of attacks was no more successful than the first, and the US Navy sailed on to deliver its knock-out blow in 1945. The attacks may have failed, but everyone seemed to have enjoyed the game.

Because I had not signed up to take part in any further sessions on the Friday evening, I wandered around to see what was available. Tom Mouat was running a session entitled SPECIAL FORCES IN WW2 in the Panel Room. This was a role-playing game, the first part of which involved the individuals being briefed about their mission before they selected the equipment that they would need to take with them.

In the Lounge Mike Elliott and Will Whyler were running games of GLADIOLUS, the old Society of Ancients game about gladiatorial combat.

In the end I returned outside to the patio area and took part in Kiera Bentley's SCOOTERAGE. This can best be described as 'Car Wars on Mobility Scooters', and involved a number of players who represented members of the older generation who use mobility scooters. The object of the game seemed to be to cause as much mayhem as possible in a shopping centre whilst doing your shopping and preventing your rivals from doing theirs.

The game is an absolute hoot to play ... as long as you could keep out of the way of the murderous 'Sally Segue' (AKA John Bassett).

(There was a bit of a debate about the name of the game. Should it be pronounced SCOOTER-AGE because it is about people of a certain age who use mobility scooters, or SCOOTER-RAGE because the players seem to have it in for each other ... and any innocent bystanders who get in their way. As far as I know, the jury is still out as to the correct pronunciation.)

I remained outside for last session of the day in which I took part. This was a re-run of Ian Drury's ENEMY COAST AHEAD game. I managed to pilot my Handley Page Halifax MkIII on two missions over Germany before going to bed ... but some of my fellow pilots were not so lucky.

Saturday Morning Sessions

After a very filling cooked breakfast, I made my way to the Practical Room to take part in John Curry's session entitled BRITISH ARMY COUNTER INSURGENCY MODEL. This is a wargame that is currently under development for the British Army (hence the lack of photographs) and is a map-based game about British-led multinational operations somewhere in mythical Fafrica.

I had seen the basic design of this game at the Connections UK conference last September, but this was my first opportunity to see it in operation. It struck me as being an almost complete work-in-progress, and the generic rules that are used seem to produce the sorts of problems a modern army has to face and deal with in these sorts of situations.

Saturday Afternoon Sessions

Once the lunch break was over, I joined a number of other attendees on the back lawn at Knuston Hall to take part in Tim Gow's LITTLE COLD WARS wargame.

I was given command of a Forbodian Motor Rifle Regiment. I was ably assisted by Ian Drury (who commanded the Tank Battalion) and Nick Huband (who commanded the Motor Rifle Battalion). I retained command of the Reconnaissance, Artillery, and Air Defence elements of the Regiment. Our opponents were units from a French Armoured Brigade (well that is what is said in my post-battle report to my superiors).

The Forbodian Motor Rifle Regiment's reconnaissance units (two PT-76s) move forward.
These were followed by the six T-55s and the command vehicle of the Regiment's Tank Battalion, ...
... the Motor Rifle Battalion (in three BTR-60s), the Artillery Support elements, the Anti-aircraft Platoon (which was equipped with a ZSU-23-4 'Shilka'), and the Regimental Commander's vehicle.
The Forbodian PT-76s cautiously advance towards Regiment's objective.
Tim Gow demonstrates the correct method to determine whether or not an anti-tank missile or tank gun hits its target ...
... and Jim Roche attempts to copy him and avoid putting a dart into his own foot!
The reason why Jim Roche needed to learn how to 'fire' a tank gun; his Panhard AML armoured car had just ambushed a Forbodian PT-76!
The Panhard did a 'shoot and scoot', having hit the PT-76.
A French Air Force F-100 Super Sabre then made a low-level appearance ...
... but the 'Shilka' engaged it and the Super Sabre's bombs went wide of their intended target.
A French anti-tank missile team fired at the other Forbodian PT-17 ...
... which it hit and damaged.
During the next two turns the PT-76 was hit twice more – without effect – before finally being destroyed by a fourth missile.
At this point some of the French armour appeared ... two AMX-13 tanks.
The two leading Forbodian T-55s turned to engage the AMX-13s.
Realising that they had a tactical and numerical advantage, the Forbodian Tank Battalion advanced towards the French left flank.
In the centre, the French AMX-13 DCA 30 anti-aircraft vehicle engaged an attacking Forbodian MiG-17, which flew off after having inflicted very little damage on the French forces.
Elsewhere on the battlefield the Forbodian T-55s destroyed the French AMX-13 tanks. This precipitated a French withdrawal which enabled the slightly depleted the Forbodians to advance and capture their objective.
This was a most enjoyable session, and was my highlight of the whole conference. It was interesting to note that the models were very difficult to see due to their camouflage (even if it was only a coat of green paint!), and the size of the playing area enabled players to attempt to outflank opponents and to use dead ground ... something that is rarely possible on a conventional tabletop.

Saturday Evening Sessions

Thanks to my own stupidity (I spent the entire afternoon in the sun without wearing a hat or drinking enough fluid) I missed all the Saturday evening sessions as I felt unwell and had to go to bed straight after dinner. That said, I was awoken at 11.00pm by Jim Roche's IT'S A LONG WAY TO TIPPERARY session. This was a singalong to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War and the seventieth anniversary of the D-Day Landings. Even in my addled state of mind, I managed to hum along to most of the tunes before I went back to sleep.

Sunday Morning Sessions

I was still feeling a bit unwell on Sunday morning, and it is probably just as well that Jim Wallman cancelled his 'Little Wars' session (THE WAR OF FIREFLY'S NOSE) which would have been held outside on one of the Hall's lawns. As I had not signed up for an alternative session, I spent some time wandering around looking at what other people were doing. This included Phil Steele's talk and wargame about the BATTLE OF NORTHAMPTON 1460.

Phil uses a wallpaper table as the basis of his terrain boards ...

... and mighty fine they look as well!

His modelling skills – as well as his knowledge of the Medieval period – are exceptional.

Also on at the same time was Jim Wallman's SEALION map wargame, ...

The German team ... looking suitably superior.
The British team planning their defences against the German invasion.
The British concentrated their forces around Dover, ...
... Hythe, ...
... and Folkestone.
... Tom Mouat's CHALLENGES AND ADVENTURES game (which was a tribute to Gary Gygax and the fortieth anniversary of the original 'Dungeons and Dragons' fantasy role-playing game), ...

... and John Bassett's OVID FOR WARGAMERS.

I missed most of John's talk, but was able to take a role in the follow-up game about the political situation in Rome that followed the death of Augustus. (I was the bringer of news ... good, bad, or indifferent!)

After morning coffee I attended John Curry's talk about Donald Featherstone. It was entitled DONALD FEATHERSTONE: HIS RISE, FALL AND RISE and it covered Don's early life, his introduction to wargaming as a child, his career in the Royal Tank Regiment, and his role in popularising wargaming.

This latter section of the talk covered Don's editorship of the UK edition of WAR GAME DIGEST, his role as publisher and editor of the WARGAMERS' NEWSLETTER, and his authorship of numerous books about wargaming, military history, and physiotherapy.

Sunday Afternoon Sessions

The Sunday afternoon 'slot' is always a short one, and after packing my stuff into my car in readiness for the drive home, I only had time to visit two of the sessions that were on. The first of these was LIES, DAMNED LIES AND STATISTICS. This was a wide-ranging discussion about the use of anecdotes and statistics by wargame designers, and was led by John Bassett and Jim Wallman. Had it not already been somewhat overcrowded ...

... I might have been tempted to stay and take part. Instead I went and observed Tom Mouat's session entitled CYBER TRUMPS!

This is a game that Tom devised to teach people about cyber awareness. The game mechanisms are based upon those used in the old 'Top Trumps' game, but revised, updated, and expanded. I certainly learnt a lot just by watching the players interact and discuss their various options.

The final session of the conference was the AGM of Wargame Developments. The usual reports were made and the only major change in the group's 'officers' was the appointment/election of a new editor for THE NUGGET. By then it was 4.00pm and it was time for us to leave.

COW2014 was finally over ... but the planning for COW2015 had already begun!