Friday, 13 November 2009

159 Years On: A Martial Elegy For Some Lead Soldiers

Today is the 159th anniversary of the birth of Robert Louis Stevenson.

Besides being one of the earliest wargamers he wrote what is probably the first (and possibly only) poem about wargaming:

For certain soldiers lately dead
Our reverent dirge shall here be said.
Them, when their martial leader called,
No dread preparative appalled;
But leaden-hearted, leaden-heeled,
I marked them steadfast in the field.
Death grimly sided with the foe,
And smote each leaden hero low.
Proudly they perished one by one:
The dread Pea-cannon's work was done!
O not for them the tears we shed,
Consigned to their congenial lead;
But while unmoved their sleep they take,
We mourn for their dear Captain's sake,
For their dear Captain, who shall smart
Both in his pocket and his heart,
Who saw his heroes shed their gore,
And lacked a shilling to buy more!
It says it all, doesn't it!


  1. Bob, you should also read RLS's Magic Land of Counterpane, which describes moving lead soldiers across his quilt or bedspread when confined to bed through illness.

  2. Arthur1815,

    I must admit that I have never heard of this before. I will trawl the Internet later tonight to see if I can find it anywhere.

    All the best,


  3. Bob,
    Here it is:

    The Land of Counterpane

    When I was sick and lay a-bed,
    I had two pillows at my head,
    And all my toys beside me lay
    To keep me happy all the day.

    And sometimes for an hour or so
    I watched my leaden soldiers go,
    With different uniforms and drills,
    Among the bed-clothes, through the hills;

    And sometimes sent my ships in fleets
    All up and down among the sheets;
    Or brought my trees and houses out,
    And planted cities all about.

    I was the giant great and still
    That sits upon the pillow-hill,
    And sees before him, dale and plain,
    The pleasant land of counterpane.

  4. OK, only a pastiche, but...

    Peter Constantine posted this little gem a few years ago on the Old School Wargaming Yahoo Group. Since it is buried among thousands of messages, and not easily retrieved there, I asked him to reproduce it on my blog, in order to save it from oblivion. Since he thus allowed me to make it public knowledge, here it is.

    - with New School (edition 6) amendments
    (...and with deepest apologies to Lord Tennyson)

    "Half a league, half a league..."

    "Er... sorry, Alfred. I think you'll find that should be 17.5cm - light cavalry movement rates, table 2, page 14"

    "Oh... right... 17.5cm
    All in the valley of death
    Rode the six hundred..."

    "Four stands of four figures, plus command stand. I think we've bent the rules more than a little in allowing you to mix light dragoons, hussars AND lancers in a single brigade and I'm really not sure the 11th should have the cherry coloured trousers when in battledress. Get 'em changed for next time."

    "Yes... OK.
    "Forward the Light Brigade! Charge for the guns!"

    "Frontal cavalry attack on artillery. Is that really allowed? Hang on... I'd better check..."

    "Into the valley of Death
    Rode the... twenty leaden men"

    " it is. Event matrix 4, page 34. Apparently it'll be OK if you make an initiative roll"
    "OK... five! That should be good enough"
    "No... sorry mate. The Earl Of Cardigan is rated 'timid' so that's minus three. Still... your hussars have got an 'emboldened' marker so they can move"

    "Some one had blunder'd:
    Theirs not to make reply,
    Theirs not to reason why,
    Theirs but to do & die,
    Into the valley of Death
    Rode the... twelve leaden men"

    "Right Alfred. I think I have priority in this Firing Phase. I have cannon to your right, cannon to your left and cannon in front of you. I'll declare shot AND shell fire and claim the volley fire bonuses, of course"
    "Oh... of course"
    "Yay... good dice! Looks like it's the Jaws Of Death for those little guys!"

    "Into the mouth of Hell
    Rode the... eight leaden men
    Flash'd all their sabres bare,
    Flash'd as they turn'd in air
    Sabring the gunners there..."

    "OK Alfred... don't get so worked up! Have you got table 16B with the cavalry melee matrices? And don't you think those ramrod thingies should allow me the pike/halberd type weapon modifiers?"
    "What about the battery smoke? I want to break through the Russian line"
    "Oh... I think that'd be rather unrealistic, don't you?"

    "Then they rode back
    Not six hundred but... four leaden men"

    "Looks like I've still got cannon to your right, cannon to your left and now cannon BEHIND you Alfie-boy! That'll be light cavalry, unsupported, shot and shell from the rear... I don't think I even have to roll. Get 'em off the table. Result!"

    "Nothing left of the leaden men
    When can their glory fade?
    O the wild charge they made!
    All the world wonder'd.
    Honour the charge they made!
    Honour the Light Brigade,
    Noble little leaden men!"

    "Knock it off Alfred. No-one likes a sore loser."

  5. Arthur1815,

    This poem reminded me so much of an incident many. many years ago in my youth that I have decided to share it with all the other readers of my blog.

    Many thanks for this,


  6. abdul666,

    Another great wargaming poem!

    The editor of THE NUGGET has been running a section of 'military' poetry in recent issues; perhaps he should extend it to include 'wargaming' poetry!

    All the best,



    This was in our copy of the Book of Knowledge and has thus been a favorite since childhood.

  8. Ross Mac,

    As you will see from my most recent blog entry (and comment), I have decided to 'share' this poem with the readers of my blog.

    All the best,



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