Wednesday, 17 November 2010

More about John Ruddle and the Garden Wargame

I spend some time this evening reading through the two magazine articles that featured John Ruddle's garden wargames ... and they are still as inspiring as they were when I first read them.

John's garden was laid out to represent six countries: Austria, France, Germany, Great Britain, India, and Turkey, and areas that include Flanders, Africa, Arabia, and Northern Italy are regularly fought over. The actual layout was in no way geographically accurate, with the lawn acting as the 'sea', the paths as 'rivers', and the various flowerbeds and rockeries as the countries.

His British infantry regiments were made up of sixteen men and two officers (except for the Gurkhas, who had eighteen men and two officers) whilst the German infantry regiments had fourteen men and one officer. All cavalry regiments had sixteen troopers and two officers. Each of the officers was named, and a proper record of deaths, promotions, and retirements was kept.

Besides an army, each country had a navy. The British had two battleships, two cruisers, eight destroyers, and six torpedo gunboats, and facing them was a German force of one battleship, four cruisers, six destroyers and four torpedo boats. The French was unique in that their navy had a pocket battleship.

The following pictures show some of the model ships John Ruddle made and used.

The first picture shows a naval dockyard. In the centre is one of the larger warships, and elsewhere in the harbour are two motor torpedo boats and a merchant ship. The picture also shows some of John's cast concrete buildings.

The second picture shows the main French naval base, with their pocket battleship – Richelieu – alongside. Also in port are a destroyer, two motor torpedo boats, and a small merchant ship.

Although these pictures only give a flavour of what John's garden wargames must have been like, I hope that they make it easier to see why I found them (and still find them) to be inspiring.


  1. Bob,

    Would those be the articles from WI and PW(?) back in the late 1980s? Ruddle's garden set up seems to go back to the early 70s at least - a picture in Sandars 'An Introduction to Wargaming' shows a substantial section of it, and that was published in 1975. IIRC Ruddle has been a big cheese in the BMSS for years, and is involved in the business side as a retailer.

    Garden wargaming is a nice idea (shades of Wells, etc.) - maybe a project for when i retire (if i can ever afford to).

  2. DC,

    I would say that the dates you suggest are about right. The pages that I saved don't have dates on, so I cannot be sure.

    I knew that John Ruddle was involved in the BMSS, but not how important he was in that organisation or that he was a retailer.

    I would love to be able to at least try a garden wargame at some time in the future ... but as you say, that is probably a project for my retirement as well.

    All the best,


  3. I knew John very well back the late 70's and early 80's (I lived only a mile from him and viewed the garden on many occasions).

    He was the secretary for the BMSS for many years and also the curator for the National Collection.

    As for being a retailer, I think this is incorrect as he was an avid collector of Britains soldiers (one of the countries biggest private collections).

    John was one of the nicest people I have had the pleasure to meet and work with (the BMSS National Collection).

    Lost touched with him in the mid 80's as I married and moved away from the area.The last time we saw him was at one his annual openings of the garden.

    Does anyone know if he is still with us?

  4. Sarah-Jayne Albright,

    Thank you for providing this very helpful and interesting background information.

    I have been told that John Ruddle was certainly still alive until recently, and that he still attended meeting of the BMSS.

    All the best,


  5. John Ruddle is alive and well and as stated was never a retailer. Elected collector of the millenium 1999 by channel 4 viewers. Sent on John's behalf by his daughter.

  6. Soapstar (Janet),

    That is really great news! Please give him my best wishes.

    His garden wargames were an inspiration to many of us even if we could not emulate them.

    All the best,


  7. Hello, just chipping in. I remember the original magazine article about the garden wargame. It was a one-off publication called "Wargames World" which had a bright yellow cover. The only other article I remember from that issue is a game depicting the "Battle of Tottenham" where two anarchists have to escape the police in Edwardian times.

  8. Chadwick,

    I have a copy of the article in my clippings collection ... and re-read it every year or so.

    The interest in HG Wells's LITTLE WARS (and therefore garden wargaming) has grown since I wrote the original blog entry ... and I have managed to take part in a few. They were great fun ... and I wish that my garden was flat enough to fight a garden wargame on it. (I live on a hill and my garden has a 1:10 slope!)

    All the best,



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