Roundheads and Cavaliers

Well… in my last post I said I’d not done anything for 27 years. That isn’t true I’ve just remembered. In 2000 my son was born and as he grew older I decided that the young chap should see what his Dad USED to do and also to see if said Dad could actually still DO. So in 2007 I decided that I would invest in some Minifigs ECW troops, Cavalry and Artillery and assemble two armies for me and him (when he was older) to battle with.

The miniatures began to arrive and to my great relief I hadn’t lost the knack at all in 20 years. I bought quite a few Parliament troops and had started building up my Royalists when I just gave up. I used to paint them at work during spare moments but then changed jobs and thus the production line I had developed at work went out of the window.

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A view of one of the Parliament Guns

One of the nice things about ECW troops is the amount of armour some guys have so they were perfect for drybrushing and the Minifig range have some really lovely sculpted figures.

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Cromwell’s cavalry 

I decided on painting the pre-new model army era as firstly painting all the Parliament troops in Red seemed VERY VERY boring to me and how much better it would be to have free range on the colour schemes.

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The Royalists of The Northumberland Regt stand firm supported by artillery

The Royalists of course also could wear any type of uniform so it seemed ideal to me.

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Really need to finish some pikes
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Pikes are so bendy though
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Some Napoleonic men join the action, watched by Gandalf the Grey.
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These were the full amount of Prince August figures I had painted 20 years earlier.
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The left flank of the Parliament troops featuring Cromwell.
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Fairfax on the left wing
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The Royalist centre

So quite a few troops done and I may well resurrect this project soon now that I have some extra Revell Swedish and Imperial troops to add in to this collection so watch this space.

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Enter the Dragon

So there I was, back in 1983,  all set to start Wargaming by building up a collection of lovely Prince August Napoleonics. I’d just left College and got a job working in the local Dole office so was earning the tidy sum of £4000 a year! Within about 6 months I’d paid off all my student debts, those were the days. Then again mobile phones hadn’t been invented yet and there was no internet either really so how the hell did I manage to get a degree without those? In fact I had to use my girlfriends typewriter to type up my dissertation. Curiously when it was her turn to hand hers in two years later she insisted that it could only be done on a Word processor. Funny that. So off we trotted and spent £500 on this…

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The wonderful Amstrad PCW 8256

Now 500 quid was expensive at the time but bear in mind that in the UK if you wanted an IBM PC XT (4.77mhz cpu and 64kb RAM) then you would be talking about £2k or more back then so Amstrad really did sell a lot of these as not only did you get the PC you got a workable printer too. A standard dot matrix printer would have sold for at least another £200 back then. In fact I didn’t get my first proper PC until 1988 and I had to steal that. Ahem.

Back to the plot. So there I was working in the Dole office making friends with some of the staff there when one fateful day one of the chaps furtively whispered to me ‘Have you ever fancied playing D&D?’. Whether I’d already broadcast my obvious nerd-dom via my love for Tolkein, Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, the sort of music I liked (Prog obviously) and the movies I watched (The Beastmaster, Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings, Hawk the Slayer, the Conan movies) then he clearly believed I’d be well up for that sort of clandestine, behind closed doors activity. And of course he was completely correct.

Dungeons and Dragons

So there it began with me buying some metal figures of Dwarves, a magic user, a Cleric and some Fighters  to begin with and started some pitiful attempts at painting them. After about a year we met some other guys and started a regular D&D club and swapped tips on painting. That was when I was shown how to dry brush and do washes which was as if some arcane spell had been passed on to me. You just didn’t read about that sort of thing anywhere. Of course the hobby was in it’s infancy in the UK so we had to buy Dragon Magazine that was imported from the States and supplied by the local toy shop that was beginning to expand it’s range of D&D related products.

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The wonderful Dragon magazine, I still have this edition

It was in that Toy shop that I managed to get my own rule sets as they were released

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We never got far enough to have to buy the Immortals rules

and it also started supply the excellent White Dwarf Magazine

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So after a couple of years I’d built up quite a collection of Character figures plus some Kobolds, Orcs, a Dragon, a Minotaur, a Hydra, some elves and a few others. Some of which I still have, others, sadly, are long gone. Left behind in a mad scramble to leave an ex-wife.

My favourite magazine at the time was called ‘Imagine’ ( basically the UK version of Dragon magazine, produced by TSR but always ran at a loss)and I managed to get every copy of it’s all too brief run. Driven out of business by what was fast becoming the all powerful Games Workshop in the UK market.

 

This mag was eagerly anticipated round my way in 1983 and so much so it was the first magazine I ever subscribed to hence I have every copy ever produced. I also started subscribing to White Dwarf so have a fair few of those too. But this was by far my fave as it had absolutely everything in it and never mentioned that bloody awful Warhammer or Blood Bowl. Sadly I was almost sitting looking at the letter box in the mornings waiting for this one to arrive in my keenness to read it. So throughout 1983 up to 1987 I was D&D mad. 4 of the happiest years of my life. Unfortunately we were essentially evicted from our council flat so rather than rent somewhere else we decided to buy a flat together instead and managed to get a 2 bedroom flat in Tottenham for the massive sum of £47k leaving behind my D&D chums for ever and that essentially killed the hobby stone dead for me for the next 27 years! Blimey. Not one figure painted or terrain made or scenarios written.

Talisman and D&D

Well the 70’s came and went and I headed off to North London to do a degree in History and Classics. All my board games were left behind apart from my beloved Subbuteo set (still in my loft to this day). As a student I spent many nights playing Risk with my new chums. We didn’t have a TV as a Student Grant (yes they did exist) wouldn’t stretch to buy one or pay the licence for that matter either. Amazingly none of had a car or a mobile phone or laptop either (it was 1981 after all) so how the hell did we survive? Then again none of us ended up with a 45k debt either. After 3 years my overdraft was just over £600 which I payed back in a few months anyway once I got a job. Yes, a job students. I didn’t just swan off back to my parents and sit playing Playstation games all day as they hadn’t been invented either. I did have an Amstrad CPC 464 though that my girlfriends brother had tired of so had a few games on cassette tape for that.

Anyway… one Xmas my girlfriend decided to buy me a Prince August starter set of British Foot Guards infantry with 4 poses, some lead and all the other equipment for casting some soldiers. I still have this some 3o years later and the moulds still work perfectly. The figures I first cast and painted are still here and were intended to be my first step into creating some Napoleonic armies. I cast and painted about 16 figures and then ran out of lead and that was that. I never bought any more lead for years because something else loomed on the horizon and rapidly took over.

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Games workshop released Talisman and then a series of expansion sets so I got heavily into playing that but it was around 1985 that I discovered Dungeons and Dragons™.

Now that rapidly took over my life for the next few years as I bought and painted figures, made scenery, designed quests and even ran a Play by mail game as a small business venture. Players would send me their moves, they’d get the results and I’d produce a monthly newsletter. That was seriously good fun but also time consuming.

Board Games

Now being the eldest of 4 boys we had a lot of board games in our house. Everyone had Monopoly, Cluedo, Mousetrap, Buckaroo, Connect 4 (we never had Scrabble as that was considered far too middle class by my Dad so I never ever played that until I was in my 20’s) of course in the 60’s and 70’s and board games were played very regularly in our house and even more so during the frequent power cuts as there was NO TELLY. Ahhh the smell of candlewax and paraffin as the 6 of us huddled down to a game of Monopoly, shivering. As I got older though other games appeared that held a bit more interest for me.

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Vroom Vroom!

I really loved this. Very simple in it’s rules but hours of fun. Particularly if you increased the number of cards and laps. In played this solo too with a league table for the drivers and extra cars on the grid. I also decided that the race track was fine but a bit boring if it was the ONLY track to racve on so I designed a few more tracks on large bits of stiff cardboard so that I had a choice of venues. Hmmmm… my first steps into fiddling with rules and customising games probably started with this one. I still have a copy of this fortunately and it gets an airing every now and then. It did temporarily take a back seat when I got a proper Scalextric set with lots and lots of track. But that is another tale.

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Ahaaargh me shipmates!

Now Buccaneer we played a fair bit but the gems and gold bars were a bit fiddly in the ships but that was part of the game anyway as anything that went overboard was lost. It was a rudimentary strategy game really and damn good fun.

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England expects every man…

Trafalgar was another fave amongst my gang. Each side had 4 ships, 2 Ships of the line and two Frigates with a set number of guns on each deck. You used the wind which could change each turn and all in all it was quite a well thought out game.

It was round about my early teens that I’d visit my mates, play a new board game then come home and create my own copy using card, paper, coloured pencils etc all from memory until I might be lucky enough to get a real copy as a present so the inner game designer/forger was unleashed.

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Campaign

This one was trumpeted loud on TV adverts as the game for Xmas one year and I got a copy to play with my dad. It was a bit chess like and to be honest it didn’t really match up to expectations. I used the pieces to make my own tiddlywink football league game and played that a hell of a lot more with monopoly money, a Striker board for the pitch and built stands so that gate money could be collected. Boy did I play that a lot. Melchester Rovers often faced Queensley in the Final whilst Southport and Carlisle were usually also rans. I used to produce match reports with hand drawn illustrations of the match action so my imagination and creativeness had hit a rich vein at this point. Happy days indeed.

Tank Battles

In 1976 Airfix brought out the Gun Emplacement assault set

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Take this Fritz!

From what I recall apart from the 4 different armoured vehicles shown on the cover art you got a set of Commandos and a set of British Infantry plus one set of German infantry defenders (if not two seeing as they are seriously out numbered plus some rudimentary sand bag redoubts. I have to say I spent MANY MANY hours playing with this set and I am pleased to say it is still in production. So, I may well invest in a set for nostalgias sake as I really loved that armour so next time I go to the National Army Museum  (currently closed at time of writing for a revamp) I’ll see if they have it.

Another thing I spent many hours playing with was the excellent Tank Battle game. There is a great Youtube video about it.

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Oberst Fritz Von Pickelhaube takes on the Tommy Cookers

This was a cracker. You got three objective buildings six tanks a a number of anti-tank guns. There were little flags for the tanks too that served some purpose that escapes me now. I think once you killed enough tanks or something you could then move diagonally? Summat like that anyway. There were hidden minefields on there too so a really well thought out game. I buy quite a lot of figures on Ebay and in one batch of unwanted Airfix figures there was one of the anti-tank guns from this game in there which brought a tear to my eye. *Sniff*. Of course the tanks and guns could easily be used with all my WWII airfix men so massive battles could now take place in the back garden with trenches dug and craters created by borrowing my dads hammer.

 

Bigger men

Airfix 1/32 Scale troops were also very popular among us lads in the 70’s. I had sets of the Afrika Corps, Desert Rats, WWII German infantry…

…Russian Infantry, lots of the Commandos and also fought jungle battles between the plucky Aussies and the inscrutable Japanese in the long grass in my garden. Happy days.

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Cor strewth mate!

Got to love the guy with the Panga/Machete, a brilliant sculpt from when Airfix were at their height.

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Banzaaiiiiiiiiii!!!!!

All of these figures were available (with extra poses) in the 1/72 scale. I’ve started collecting all these sets again now with the intention of having every 1/72 and 1/32 scale set once more. Only the WWII sets seem to be still in production which is a great shame. You’d have thought with Waterloo this year (2015 so last year now) that as well as producing a commemorative 1/72 scale Waterloo set the 1/32 scale figures could have been re-issued?

So what inspired all this fighting with toy men? Well the war was still very much part of our consciousness in the 70’s and there would be at least one war movie on Tv every day it seemed. The Great Escape, Bridge over the River Kwai, The Dambusters, The Longest Day appeared every Xmas if not Easter too and add to that the older stuff like Reach for the Sky, In which we serve and Ice cold in Alex, for example then  we were positively steeped in it. It didn’t stop there. Every lad I knew had a collection of Commando books

We all knew that the Japs could only say Banzai and Aiiiieeeeeee!, the Germans said any combination of Achtung, Gott in Himmell, Vorwarts, Donner und blitzen, Raus, Los and for you ze war ist over. My Commandos would launch daring raids behind enemy lines sneaking up on Fritz and Hans wondering when the war would be over, slip them the dagger, blow up the heavy guns or fuel dump and then disappear back into their canoes. All good Cockleshell heroes stuff.

So we had the movies and the Commando dime novel style books but every lad I knew also collected Warlord and Victor comics religiously.

These mags sold in the millions in the pre-internet 24hr kids TV days but I wonder if they would get past the censor in these politically correct days now? The Victor ran until 1992 but I think I stopped getting it when Look and Learn appealed to me more when I was about 12.

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Every thing a boy ever needed to know and a lot more

Not only did L&L teach you about how stuff worked, facts and general knowledge (which still helps me get by even today) it had a great cartoon series called ‘The Trigan Empire’

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Peric ponders his future

Based on a planet a long time ago in a galaxy far far away (ahem) the story concerned the adventures of Trigo and his family advised by the great architect and scientist Peric. Set in a Graeco-Roman-Byzantine like world it featured great story lines that ran as  a series across several issues of the weekly magazine (to make sure you didn’t miss an issue) and the artwork was fantastic. For Xmas or a birthday I was given this book which (for once in this tale) I still have as a treasured possession.

Trigans

I’ve said this before but I wonder what all the comics and Commando books and soldiers would be worth now If they hadn’t been thrown out?

Airfixation

The hardest thing of all for a soldier is to retreat.

Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington

The late 60’s were a fantastic time for model soldiers as we had the mighty Airfix! I’m not sure which sets I had first but it may have been these as they were both released in 1960 and would have been the logical follow on from the Britain’s Guards band in my first blog post.

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Airfix Guards band and Colour Party 1960

I certainly remember playing with them for hours and hours and even after not seeing them for 45 years their poses are ingrained on my mind even now.

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The various colours of moulds produced by Airfix.

Perhaps because my Britains soldiers had been ruined my dad started bringing boxes of Airfix soldiers home and I recall having every set ever produced including the Farm animals, zoo sets and the Tarzan figures. Woolworths were the big supplier of Airfix kits and soldiers at the time and the boxes were very cheap. I built up quite a collection of the Waterloo sets when they came out and remember playing with the WWI sets with the British guys carrying barbed wire and the Frenchman on the bike. But what I most enjoyed were the Waterloo sets that started appearing in 1969 with the Scottish Highlanders and French Curassiers arriving first. The Highlanders are all in poses suited to being in square whilst the Cuirassiers try to break in and slaughter them. Many days were spent playing with these two sets.

Obviously the Scots squares held fast as the next set out in ’71 was the much maligned French Artillery. So as the Cuirassiers reform after yet another abortive charge the guns come up to pound the squares.

The Scots were now at a distinct disadvantage so Airfix then produced some Hussars…

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My 2014 attempt at the Airfix Hussars

… and British Infantry to help them out. They were joined by one of Airfix’s best sets, the British Mounted Artillery which are still an excellent set and a welcome part of any 1/72 ho/00 scale army. Ok, the guy with his sword trapped in the bucket is a it silly but you get EIGHT poses for ONE gun! And a limber with SIX horses. What more could you want and having done this they are joys to paint too.

So now the balance had firmly shifted in favour of the British so Airfix released the even more maligned French Infantry set. Now awful as they were there was nothing else on the market at all in the way of plastic French Napoleonic infantry so you had to get them anyway. After a while I had a lot of guns, cavalry and infantry to do battle with across the bedroom floor and some of them could even stand up to face a matchstick hurtling at them from a spring loaded cannon. Great stuff but what came next was astounding and the most eagerly awaited toy of 1972.

The Waterloo Farmhouse

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The ‘must have’ of its day

All my mates were VERY exited about this one as finally we would have something for all our Airfix men to fight over and as we had all seen the great Waterloo movie two years earlier we were almost frothing at the mouth over the release of this one. I’m not sure now if I ever got my own but I certainly played with one at my spoilt mates house (an only child of course). None of us were bold enough to bother painting figures at this point beyond the odd black bearskin on a highlander or a Black shako so if I still had all these they would be relatively unspoilt.

1976 had several highlights with it being the year of the Montreal Olympics. Nadia Comaneci and Nellie Kim attracted my 13 year old attention for some reason more than Lasse Viren, Alberto Jantorena and Hasley Crawford. It was in that year that Aifix released their French Imperial Guard. Surely now the miniature Napoleons amongst us could win the battle we had relentlessly fought for the last 7 years? And so we re-fought and re-fought and the French were still sent packing. Just like in real life 3 years later the final set of Prussians arrived to save the day for the Allies. The Imperial Guard and the Prussians rank as two of the best sets Airfix ever made. I’ve recently finished painting the Imperial Guard and have started the Prussians and they are both good sets to paint as we shall see….

 

Welcome to my Blog

Greetings!

My name is Gary Wright and I have been painting miniatures since 1982. So how did this all begin? Well I shall come on to that shortly taking you through the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and right up to the present  via this blog and links to my Youtube channel.

The Beginning

Well… I was born in 1963 and one of my earliest memories was of my dad bringing home some lovely Britains Coldstream Guards Band. There was a fantastic old fashioned toy shop in Hexham, Northumberland (next to the Bus Station) that had thousands of model soldiers displayed on shelves and to me (aged 5 or 6) it was wonderland!

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Britains Coldstream Guards Marching Band

My dad wasn’t in a well paid job at the time so there was no way he was going to buy me lots of them so he did the next best thing, he bought them in installments. So I think he bought me 2 or 3 first time and then over the next few months and years he would bring home one or two more until I had probably the full set. I remember lining them all up on the carpet in front of the coke fired fire every time he brought some more back and that, I reckon, is where I first got my love for model soldiers.

I have no idea whatever happened to them as now they would be worth a few bob, ( a quick search on eBay shows the set goes for over £200) I suspect my younger brothers chewed them to bits but I LOVED them and one day I’ll have to replace them.

Later on I recall having this set that probably was a birthday or Xmas present. Then again my parents were very good at finding these sort of things in Jumble sales so they may have got them from one of those

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The shop is still there but very much to my chagrin it is no longer used for that purpose, its a take away shop called ‘Amigos’ as you can see below.

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Amigos at Hexham Bus Station

The outside of the shop hasn’t changed at all though and those long windows displayed rank upon rank of soldiers, Dinky and Corgi toys, How wheels… all sorts to tempt in the inquisitive boy or girl and relieve them of their pocket money and dads of their spare wages.

I vaguely recall having a few of the Marines as pictured below, wish I still had THOSE! All I have left of those formative days are the fading memories.

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So now if I see any bargain lead soldiers in an antique shop, jumble sale etc I snap them up. A couple of years ago I spotted this fella and bought him on the spot for a fiver. Bargain!

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Britains 3097 Royal Marines Drum Major. (Some are selling for £30) 

You can NEVER have enough soldiers.