Reading Donald Featherstone’s War Games (1962) again, I came across references to the origin of H. G. Wells’ Little Wars when he demonstrated his ideas for the book in his publisher Frank Palmer’s office.
Little Wars was a seminal and special book for Featherstone as he often claimed to be the only British tanker or squaddie who went off to WW2 with a copy of it in his kitbag, leaving his lead figures behind to perish in the Blitz.
The recent reprint of Little Wars by Peter Dennis with beautiful print and cut out 54mm figures in his PaperBoys series (Helion) featured Peter’s own take on these early games in his house. It could almost be that scene in a Frank Palmer’s office! As a lovely touch by Peter Dennis, the gent on the left in the straw boater is the late Wargames magazine editor Stuart Asquith, champion of the revival of 54mm gaming and Little Wars.
An R. Thurston Hopkins is mentioned by Featherstone as being at this Little Wars event. I know G.K. Chesterton had also been around as part of this process towards publishing Little Wars.
John Curry at the History of Wargaming Project has recently reprinted Little Wars in his volume on the Early Wargaming Pioneers
Who was this R. Thurston Hopkins?
There is not much published information in him beyond his ghost hunting books, and I have found no photo so far, so I have done a little digging around,
Robert Thurston Hopkins was a bank cashier and English writer, who was born in 1884, lived mostly in London and Sussex and died in 1958.
He wrote mostly about the English countryside, ghosts and literary biographies of H. G. Wells, Oscar Wilde and Rudyard Kipling. His son was the photojournalist (Godfrey) Thurston Hopkins (1913-2014).
The same year that Frank Palmer published Little Wars, Robert Thurston Hopkins published his first book, topically on Oscar Wilde (1913). He also published a book on Wilde in 1916. I wonder if this was the book he was discussing with Frank Palmer, although I believe it was eventually published by another publisher.
Wilde had died a few years earlier and would still have been a scandalous and controversial figure at the time.
This was the first of the literary biographies or commentaries that Thurston Hopkins published, eventually adding Kipling and H.G. Wells himself to the list.
In his 1922 book on H.G. Wells., Thurston Hopkins compares the ‘Peterpantheism’ or eternal boyhood of Wells with that of Robert Louis Stevenson, not always favourably I feel in RLS’ case. Like Wells, Robert Louis Stevenson was another early ‘War gamer’ with his toy soldiers.
A copy of his book H.G. Wells: Personalty, Character, Topography (1922) can be found free on Archive.Org:
Anyway, a little glimpse into the period that H.G. Wells created Little Wars.
Robert Thurston Hopkins was a passing player to the birth or publishing of Little Wars and the slow spread of wargaming beyond the Kriegspiel played by the military.
A little more about Robert Thurston Hopkins, bank clerk, author and ‘ghost hunter’
A literary man with some military experience was accidentally present at the birth of Little Wars.
Robert Thurston Hopkins was born on 12 July 1883 or early 1884 in Bury St Edmonds, Suffolk (noted in 1911 Census as Thetford on the Norfolk / Suffolk border) into a family of Furniture Brokers. His father Frederick Hopkins was born in London c. 1848, his mother Mary in Norfolk in 1850.
In the 1901 Census his father appears to have died, his brothers running the Furniture business. Robert is listed as a bank clerk. However his WW1 records note that he had previously served in the 2nd County of London City Imperial Yeomanry, buying himself out (‘discharge by purchase’) c. 1904/5. (This may have covered the period of or immediate aftermath of the Boer War.)
Having continued work as a bank clerk, by the 1911 Census he is listed as a visitor on census night at the house of Robert Godfrey Bately, a surgeon in practice of Gorleston, Norfolk. This is not a surprise, as in 1912 he married the daughter of the family, Sybil Beatrice Bately (born c. 1887?). He was living at 21
1913 – The year Little Wars and Thurston Hopkins first book was published, Robert and Sybil had their only son.
Their son, Godfrey Thurston Hopkins (S. London, 16 April 1913 – 26 October 2014) became a press photographer before and after WW2. His photographs were used in some of his father’s books. He went on to serve in WW2 with the RAF Photographic Unit https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thurston_Hopkins
Thurston the son went to school near Burwash, Sussex near where Kipling lived, another literary figure from the Wells era that his father Robert Thurston Hopkins wrote about.
In 1915 Robert and his family were living at 21 Westdown Road, Catford, London. In December 1915 Robert Thurston Hopkins volunteered for the Army, joining the ASC Army Service Corps (Motor Transport) section. His service records note as the occupation the words ‘Bank Clerk’ but also ‘Motorcyclist’ and ‘Lorry’ (2). Having signed up he then spent December 1915 to March 1916 in the Army Reserve.
Presumably he had an interest in transport or a driving licence that helped his topographical or travel books about England.
His bank clerk and authorial skills led to him rising in WW1 from Private M2/167077 to Company Quarter Master Sergeant, Army Service Corps serving at home throughout 1916/17 and from October 1917 to September 1919 (theatre 4A) Egypt with 1010 M.T. Co. Here he ended up hospitalised and discharged from hospital in September 1919 for two months with a carbuncle, a condition aggravated by the climate of Cairo / Egypt.
As a CQMS his character was by his O/C (Officer Commanding) described as Sober, Very Reliable, Very Intelligent and Thoroughly Trustworthy and Conscientious.
He was demobilised on 18 January 1920 as a CQMS.
On 21 December 1920 he re-enlisted for 3 years service in the 28th Battalion County of London Regiment (Artists Rifles) Territorial Force until no longer needed on 29 November 1922.
After his WW1 service he returned to writing (and possibly his bank clerk role).
In the 1920s electoral registers, he and Sybil are living in (possible apartments in) No. 21, Sillwood Place, Brighton.
By the 1939 wartime census he is listed as Bank Clerk and author (retired), living with wife Sybil and son Godfrey (by then a photographer) near the sea at Portslade in Sussex, near Brighton and Hove. Unusually, despite his CQMS experience in WW1, the 55 year old Robert Thurston Hopkins is not listed at the time as involved in ARP or Civil Defence as is sometimes recorded in the 1939 Census.
He died on 23 May 1958, survived by his wife Sybil and son Thurston.
His science fiction or supernatural works (books, articles, stories) are listed here with a gap during WW1 after 1916 to the early 1920s.
Some of his main books are listed on his Wikipedia entry including some available in the Internet Archive:
• Oscar Wilde: A Study of the Man and His Work (1913)
•War and the Weird (1916)
Despite leaving the Army and rejoining the Territorials, Robert published several literary and landscape books in the early 1920s:
•Kipling’s Sussex (1921)
• Rudyard Kipling’s World (1925)
• The Kipling Country (1925)
• The Literary Landmarks of Devon & Cornwall (1926)
• Old English Mills and Inns (1927)
• This London: Its Taverns, Haunts and Memories (1927)
• London Pilgrimages (1928)
• In Search of English Windmills (1931)
• Old Windmills of England (1931)
• The Man Who Was Sussex (1933)
• Life and Death at the Old Bailey (1935)
• Moated Houses of England (1935)
You can see the WW2 gap of no books published during wartime, other than a couple of short mystery stories.
• Adventures with Phantoms (1946)
• The Heart of London (1951)
• Ghosts Over England (1953)
• Cavalcade of Ghosts (1956)
Blog posted by Mark Man of TIN, December 2020.