The Invisible Men and Women behind H G Wells’ Little Wars and Floor Games

Lovely illustration by Peter Dennis for his Little Wars PaperBoys volume (Helion)

We present Mr H G Wells (General HGW of the Battle of Hooks Farm)

Supported by a cast behind the scenes, acknowledged and unacknowledged: which makes this a bit of a long post.

A C W – Amy Catherine Wells, or Robbins (1895-1927) his second wife (known as Jane) who took the photographs for the original magazine articles and the book of Little Wars. The photographs in the companion “uniform with this volume” Floor Games (1912) were ‘taken by the author’.

Colonel Mark Sykes and the Kriegspiel Appendix to Little Wars (1913)

In his appendix to Little Wars, Wells writes that Little Wars:

“is not a book upon Kriegspiel. It gives merely a game that may be played by two or four or six amateurish persons in an afternoon and evening with toy soldiers. But it has a very distinct relation to Kriegspiel; and since the main portion of it was written and published in a magazine, I have had quite a considerable correspondence with military people who have been interested by it, and who have shown a very friendly spirit towards it–in spite of the pacific outbreak in its concluding section.

They tell me–what I already a little suspected– that Kriegspiel, as it is played by the British Army, is a very dull and unsatisfactory exercise, lacking in realism, in stir and the unexpected, obsessed by the umpire at every turn, and of very doubtful value in waking up the imagination, which should be its chief function.

I am particularly indebted to Colonel Mark Sykes for advice and information in this matter. He has pointed out to me the possibility of developing Little Wars into a vivid and inspiring Kriegspiel, in which the element of the umpire would be reduced to a minimum …”

“Of course, while in Little Wars there are only three or four players, in any proper Kriegspiel the game will go on over a larger area–in a drill-hall or some such place–and each arm and service will be entrusted to a particular player. This permits all sorts of complicated imitations of reality that are impossible to our parlour and playroom Little Wars. We can consider transport, supply, ammunition, and the moral effect of cavalry impact, and of uphill and downhill movements. We can also bring in the spade and entrenchment, and give scope to the Royal Engineers. But before I write anything of Colonel Sykes’ suggestions about these, let me say a word or two about Kriegspiel “country…”

“the following sketch rules, which are the result of a discussion between Colonel Sykes and myself, and in which most of the new ideas are to be ascribed to Colonel Sykes.

We proffer them, not as a finished set of rules, but as material for anyone who chooses to work over them, in the elaboration of what we believe will be a far more exciting and edifying Kriegspiel than any that exists at the present time.

The game may be played by any number of players, according to the forces engaged and the size of the country available. Each side will be under the supreme command of a General, who will be represented by a cavalry soldier. The player who is General must stand at or behind his representative image and within six feet of it. His signalling will be supposed to be perfect, and he will communicate with his subordinates by shout, whisper, or note, as he thinks fit. I suggest he should be considered invulnerable, but Colonel Sykes has proposed arrangements for his disablement …”

“The toy soldiers used in this Kriegspiel should not be the large soldiers used in Little Wars. The British manufacturers who turn out these also make a smaller, cheaper type of man–the infantry about an inch high--which is better adapted to Kriegspiel purposes.”

Who was this Colonel Sykes?

Colonel Sir Tatton Benvenuto Mark Sykes, 6th Baronet (16 March 1879 – 16 February 1919) was an English traveller, Conservative politician, and diplomatic advisor, particularly with regard to the Middle East during WW1.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Sykes

His name is associated with the Sykes–Picot Agreement, drawn up while WW1 was in progress regarding the partitioning the Ottoman Empire by Britain, France and Russia. He was a key negotiator of the Balfour Declaration. (Wikipedia link)

Mark Sykes – The man who discussed Kreigspiel and Little Wars with H. G. Wells for pleasure was associated with the partition of the Middle East in a way that would rumble on into Great Wars decades later into the next century.

Sykes never got to see any of this as he died suddenly during the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1919 – and nearly 100 years later, helped in the ongoing research into the Spanish Flu.

Mark Sykes, Lt Col Mark Sykes, MP or Our Mark, caricature by Wallace Hester ‘WH’ for Vanity Fair 1912 “Men of the Day” series No. 2278 – image source: Wikipedia

I like this Vanity Fair caricature from the Little Wars period, it has a cheerful Wellsian look to it. Look closely, you can see Hull (his constituency as an MP) mentioned and a tiny picture of a Redcoat Soldier (Marlburian? colonial?), maps of Turkey noting his travels, and a paper with Politics written on it.

Sad to realise that only 7 years later after the sort of Great War that Wells talked about in his final “pacific” chapter of Little Wars, Sykes would die aged only 40 of Spanish flu in 1919, leaving a widow and 5 young children. Sykes was in Paris in connection with the peace negotiations in 1919.

Image source: eBay press cutting

With the permission of his family descendants, Sykes’ remains in a lead coffin were recently exhumed in 2007/8 as part of the ongoing scientific investigation into the 1918/19 Spanish Flu pandemic, preparing for pandemics of the 21st century.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/humber/7617968.stm

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/humber/6402539.stm

http://www.bbc.co.uk/insideout/yorkslincs/series11/week8_flu.shtml

Robert Thurston Hopkins

Hopkins was the accidental witness of Wells’ meeting with publisher Frank Palmer and demonstration of Little Wars – I have written more about him here: https://manoftinblog.wordpress.com/2020/12/24/r-thurston-hopkins-on-rls-h-g-wells-and-little-wars/

G K Chesterton we have already mentioned in another post

https://manoftinblog.wordpress.com/2021/01/16/toy-soldiers-and-the-napoleon-of-notting-hill-by-g-k-chesterton-1904/

Jerome K. Jerome (JKJ)

As H G Wells says of the origin of Little Wars being the spring loaded cannon:

“It was with one of these guns that the beginning of our war game was made. It was at Sandgate–in England.

“The present writer had been lunching with a friend–let me veil his identity under the initials J. K. J.–in a room littered with the irrepressible debris of a small boy’s pleasures.”

On a table near our own stood four or five soldiers and one of these guns.

Mr J. K. J., his more urgent needs satisfied and the coffee imminent, drew a chair to this little table, sat down, examined the gun discreetly, loaded it warily, aimed, and hit his man. Thereupon he boasted of the deed, and issued challenges that were accepted with avidity. . . .

He fired that day a shot that still echoes round the world. An affair– let us parallel the Cannonade of Valmy and call it the Cannonade of Sandgate–occurred, a shooting between opposed ranks of soldiers, a shooting not very different in spirit–but how different in results!– from the prehistoric warfare of catapult and garter. “But suppose,” said his antagonists; “suppose somehow one could move the men!” and therewith opened a new world of belligerence. The matter went no further with Mr J. K. J. …”

So that seems to have been the limit of Jerome’s input into Little Wars.

The Cannonade of Sandgate?

On several Websites it mentions that “It was at Spade House that Wells wrote ‘Mankind in the making’, ‘A Modern Utopia’, ‘In the Days of the Comet’, ‘The New Machiavelli’, ‘The War in the Air’, ‘Tono Bungay’, ‘Anticipations’, ‘The Food of the Gods’, ‘Ann Veronica’, ‘Kipps’, ‘The History of Mr Polly’, ‘New Worlds for Old’,

But no mention of Floor Games or Little Wars, the writing of this appears to have happened when the family returned to London.

Sandgate in Kent was the seaside town where Wells lived from 1896 until 1909. A small plaque marks the writer’s first Sandgate house, where he lived from 1896 until 1901, when he built a larger family home known as the Spade House (now a nursing home). Here his two sons were born in 1901 and 1903. This gives us an idea of his family life and what play was happening in the nursery in the decade before Little Wars 1913

https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/house-of-hg-wells

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spade_House

Wells with his first wife, his cousin Isobel lived in Woking where he based War of the Worlds. His poor health took him and his new second wife Amy Catherine Robbins (known as Jane) to Sandgate in 1896, near Folkestone in Kent where he constructed a large family home, Spade House, in 1901. It was here he and Jane had two sons:

George Philip Wells (known as “Gip”; 1901–1985) G.P.W.

Frank Richard Wells (1903–1982) F.R.W.

They appear in the text of Floor Games as Captain F.R.W and Captain G.P.W.

These two sons are the two boys on the cover of the 1911 Floor Games.

By 1910 the Wells family had moved to 17 Church Row (now Church Way) in Hampstead, where Wells had another of his extramarital affairs:

https://www.london-walking-tours.co.uk/17-church-row-hampstead-hgwells.htm

There are several others who were involved in the origins of Little Wars that I have not yet identified.

1. The mysterious Mr W?

Wells then wrote in his introduction to Little Wars: “The seed lay for a time gathering strength, and then began to germinate with another friend, Mr W. To Mr W. was broached the idea: “I believe that if one set up a few obstacles on the floor, volumes of the British Encyclopedia and so forth, to make a Country, and moved these soldiers and guns about, one could have rather a good game, a kind of kriegspiel.”

I am not yet sure who the mysterious Mr W. is?

Update: suggested that this is Wells’ friend Graham Wallas

https://manoftinblog.wordpress.com/2021/01/22/mr-w-and-a-dear-friend-who-died-two-more-invisible-men-behind-little-wars-1913

2. A Very Dear Friend who died

Another of these invisible men behind the origin of Little Wars is his unnamed ill friend (who died c. 1906/7, if Little Wars was written 1912/1913)

“But the writer had in those days a very dear friend, a man too ill for long excursions or vigorous sports (he has been dead now these six years), of a very sweet companionable disposition, a hearty jester and full of the spirit of play. To him the idea was broached more fruitfully. We got two forces of toy soldiers, set out a lumpish Encyclopaedic land upon the carpet, and began to play …”

Update: Suggested that this is the writer George Gissing

https://manoftinblog.wordpress.com/2021/01/22/mr-w-and-a-dear-friend-who-died-two-more-invisible-men-behind-little-wars-1913/

3. Mr M and his brother Captain M, hot from the Great War in South Africa

“But as there was nevertheless much that seemed to us extremely pretty and picturesque about the game, we set to work — and here a certain Mr M. with his brother, Captain M., hot from the Great War in South Africa, came in most helpfully — to quicken it. Manifestly the guns had to be reduced to manageable terms.”

Hot from the Great War in South Africa? That sets the origins again in the decade before it was published, the Boer War having finished eleven years before Little Wars was published.

There are others of whom little biographical information can be easily found.

4. J. R. Sinclair, the illustrator of Floor Games and Little Wars, worked as an illustrator of many children’s books in the Edwardian period – worthy of more research and a future blog post himself.

I think that J.R. Sinclair is possibly James Ramage Sinclair, a Scottish artist or illustrator born in 1866 in Edinburgh. His father Lauchlan and brother were both Lithographers (Engraver) in Giles St Edinburgh

1881 Giles Street Edinburgh Census – J.R. Sinclair – Draughtsman Litho

As well as Little Wars and Floor Games, he is also known for an illustrated c.1910 edition of Alice in Wonderland.

By 1901 he had moved to Islington and was a boarder at 71 Mildmay Road , his trade listed as Artist (Painter). In 1909 he married Lila Smith and in the 1911 Census the forty-something newly-weds were living at 78 Gleneagle Road Streatham, S.W. London. His career is listed as ‘Artist’.

1911 Census entry for James R Sinclair and wife Lila

If my identification of J.R. Sinclair as James Ramage Sinclair, this marriage was a short one:’

James Ramage Sinclair’s probate for his death aged only 50. October 1916.

5. Frank Palmer the publisher of Floor Games and Little Wars

Palmer was based at Red Lion Court (“Bloomsbury”?) and seems to have gone into partnership with (Harry) Cecil Palmer (1889 -1952) – any relation? – around the time Little Wars and Floor Games were published. There is not much information about Frank Palmer online:

Incidentally, Cecil Palmer & Hayward seem to have been in business from about 1910 to 1919. Overlapping with that period, Frank Palmer published a number of books between about 1909 and 1914, at which point Cecil Palmer joined him to form Frank & Cecil Palmer. Together they published several books between about 1914 and 1915, including H.G. Wells’ book The War that will End War, in 1914, and an H.G. Wells Calendar in 1915, this latter having previously been published by Frank Palmer alone in 1911.

(In fact, the calendar idea came from Frank Palmer originally – amongst others he published a George Bernard Shaw Calendar in 1909, an Oscar Wilde Calendar in 1910, and even a Napoleon Calendar in 1911.

Cecil Palmer seems to have gone solo between about 1920 and 1935, during which period he published a large number of books in a wide range of fields, from novels, poetry and plays, via books about music & musicians, people & places, literature & history, to ghosts, palmistry, astrology, reincarnation, and what we would now call self–help health books for both men and women … Many of Palmer’s other titles will get a mention in what follows. A list of the various calendars published by him up to 1920 is shown in Fig.6a, for example, and another list of his “National Proverb Series”, again dating from 1920, is shown in Fig.6b. Again, though, the National Proverbs series originated with Frank Palmer – he had certainly published a dozen such by 1913, beginning with England in 1912. (1c)

http://www.bobforrestweb.co.uk/The_Rubaiyat/N_and_Q/Doris_M_Palmer/Doris_M_Palmer.htm

What happened to Frank Palmer? According to Bob Forrest, he appears not to obviously appear in the 1911 Census.

In the 1911 census H.G. Wells is living at 17 Church Row Hampstead

6. Mathilde Meyer

The author’s sons’ nurse Mathilde Meyer once wrote:

“Hopelessly damaged soldiers were melted down in an iron spoon on the schoolroom floor, and others had a new head fixed on by means of a match and liquid lead.”

Excerpt from H.G. Wells and His Family by M. M. Meyer (1955) memoir quoted from the BBC article link below.

According to Sotheby’s catalogue for a Wells book inscribed “To Mathilde Meyer | from | H.G. Wells | grateful as ever | for two well taught | sons | Xmas 1918”

“Fraulein Mathilda M. Meyer was a Swiss governess hired by the author’s wife Jane in October 1908 to give their two sons Gip and Frank lessons in English, French and German. She was employed for five years and later wrote an enthusiastic and perhaps over-flattering account of Wells and his household, but one which nonetheless is a valuable record of Wells’ home-life in the years leading up to the First World War. It was during this period that Wells developed the ‘Floor Games’ which he played with his sons and sometimes even visitors, leading to a book of the same name published in 1911. These games, and Wells’ account of them, have enjoyed a new vogue recently among child psychologists as an authentic form of non-verbal psychotherapy.”

Her inscribed copy of Floor Games survives:

https://www.sothebys.com/fr/auctions/ecatalogue/2015/library-english-bibliophile-part-five-l15416/lot.126.html

https://historical.ha.com/itm/books/children-s-books/h-g-wells-floor-games-london-1911-two-copies-of-the-first-edition-one-inscribed-by-wells-to-his/a/6094-36457.s

Then there are the really invisible people who made Little Wars and a hardworking prolific writer’s life possible. Those “swishing skirts” of lady visitors, those of the other domestic staff apart from nurse Mathilde Meyer, the the servants who swept the cork floors and those who trimmed the lawns for Wells’ Little Wars played in the Dunmow Essex garden as seen in the photographs.

Mathilde Mary Meyer, Governess, 28, single, born Switzerland Lucerne

Jessie Allen Brooks, 38, single, cook (domestic) born Richmond, Surrey.

Mary Ellen Shinnick, 27, single, housemaid (domestic) , born in Ireland (Co. Cork, Coppingerstown)

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22777029

Nice to see that Peter Dennis acknowledges these other people in his Little Wars illustration, the child with alarm clock and whistle to call time, the butler bearing drinks, the aloof young lady with the tea cup …

and on the left in a 2019 tribute, wargames magazine editor the late Stuart Asquith in that straw boater.

Blog posted by Mark Man of TIN, 20 January 2021

18 thoughts on “The Invisible Men and Women behind H G Wells’ Little Wars and Floor Games”

  1. Mark, what a splendid post, breaking much new ground for me. Thanks for your endeavours! It is both fascinating and moving to read of these people. I will recall them when I am reading or browsing through LW & FG from now on. I do like the Vanity Fair cartoon and the moving story of this chap and Spanish Flu. A tale for these pandemic days. I was interested in the Edinburgh connection not to mention Lucerne where I had a holiday with my parents once a found it a beautiful place. Great to end with Peter Dennis and the BBC FLW link. I recall the Centenary game with great affection and was proud to be part of it. Coffee has been a splendid experience this morning as I read this looking out onto crisp newly fallen overnight snow, what could be finer?

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    1. We work hard to accompany and enrich your morning coffee!
      I find it fascinating to know who these supporting cast were. Wells is a fascinating, talented, complicated, self-made man, even if there is much focus on his many affairs.
      I hope to track down over time some more of the missing people – no quick answers from the helpful H G Wells society, so at least I know nobody knows (and maybe I will never find them).

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  2. Do the H G W Society know of wargaming at all? I wondered if they did what they made of it. There are many strands in the hobby and some are much more LW in spirit and in practice. Some perhaps can be seen as direct heirs almost but all ( whether they like it or not ) having their origins there in.

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    1. I think that Wells wrote so much and knew so many people that Floor Games and Little Wars are to many (non gamers) a minor element in his satirical and science fiction writing career.
      I had a positive response from Eric Jukes who remembers Lead soldiers fondly and was interested in the BBC Funny Little Wars game / article. He mentioned there is a Canadian war museum exhibition coming up where they hope to cover Little Wars and feature some of his surviving soldiers. I will post the link separately.
      From some of the published (and unpublished*) material by Featherstone that I have read (or found and passed on to John Curry*), H G Wells was a direct influence on Donald Featherstone who went off to WW2 with a copy of Little Wars in his kitbag, probably he claimed the only Bristol serviceman to do so.

      Obviously the Great War and the death of Sinclair, Sykes, Cecil Chesterton, the move away from war toys to the Britain’s farming and civilian ranges and his own children growing up must have all snipped off and left stranded Floor Games and Little Wars as footnotes or curiousities in his long and productive life.
      I have ordered a second hand copy of Mathilde Meyer’s memoir (£4!) for more 1955 reflection on Wells’ home life at this Floor Games Little Wars period of Wells’ family time.
      Have you heard more about the BMSS and its wargaming section past and future?

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    2. Eric Jukes treasurer at the H G wells Society wrote in his recent email to me: “We recently received an enquiry from the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. They have an upcoming exhibition which they are developing there for the spring of 2022 – “War Games”. In the exhibition they say that they hope to feature “Little Wars”, and to display alongside it, if any are available, pieces from H.G. Wells’s own miniature soldier collection.” (Which we know exist in his descendent Dominic Wells’ family.)
      This was the original exhibition dates June 2021 to early 2022 – obviously impacted and pushed in to the future by Covid https://www.warmuseum.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/cwm-exhibitions-calendar.pdf

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  3. This is a wonderful piece of research! Little Wars is the reason i started war gaming and I have long wondered who those initials and names referred. Cheers!

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    1. Hi John. Little Wars through Featherstone has been a great influence – its also an enjoyable and charmingly illustrated read. I only saw once in a library a 70s reprint copy as a child. Intrigued.
      Hopefully I will be able to track down one or two more of the missing names (but this might not be possible after all this time).

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  4. Thank you, a lovely post! I had only recently read ‘Little Wars’ for the first time ( Naval and Military Press have a facsimile edition which I picked up in their sale ) so this is wonderfully timely! Thanks also to Alan Gruber for pointing us to you.
    Stretching the time-line a bit, but could it be possible that the ‘dear friend who died’ might be a doff of the boater to Robert Louis Stevenson? I have no idea if they met, RLS was a little older, but the author of ‘The Land of Counterpane’ would surely have been interested..?

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    1. Interesting idea – RLS died in 1894, which challenges the death dates c. 1906/7. The two writers careers certainly overlapped in dates, although RLS was out of the country towards the end of his life. Not sure if they were friends but may have known of each other – Wells later opinion of RLS was not promising according to this https://theconversation.com/how-robert-louis-stevensons-reputation-was-shipwrecked-by-his-inner-circle-55666

      Did Wells know about RLS and his toy soldier Games? Maybe not until after his death. Maybe not if it was published in an American periodical? RLS’ toy soldier world was revealed several years after RLS death by Lloyd Osbourne his stepson in the American based Scribners magazine in December 1898 issue http://vintagewargaming.blogspot.com/2009/11/robert-louis-stevenson.html

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    2. The Thurston Hopkins book section on Wells (featured in my recent blog post on Hopkins) also goes in for some Stevenson bashing in his chapter on Peterpantheism (about who between HGW or RLS was the better eternal boy). This Hopkins book was written in the 20s when RLS reputation was fading. Little more evidence that Wells did not rate RLS too highly is given in some of Wells’ reviews of RLS’ works here: http://www.robert-louis-stevenson.org/richard-dury-archive/critrec.htm

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    1. Thank you very much for the link to this – freely accessible research for once!

      This is an excellent introduction and scan version of the text with some new snippets like another paragraph from The New Machiavelli, the Asquith paragraph, the Britain’s Civilians set, lots of useful points.
      Not sure I agree with everything they say yet, I will have to test out some of their statements to my own satisfaction.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I thought about this eerie parallel whilst writing the post and rereading the Sykes story, having read the story years back (and possibly seen the BBC4 programme) about a coming animal-related Pandemic … they said it would happen …

      Liked by 1 person

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