In the fourth and final week, there was a short section on this Future Learn: British Army From Waterloo tothe Rhine course, which showed briefly a US Army training film clip on the British Army’s WW2 ABCA (the Army Bureau of Current Affairs). I spotted what looks like a sandtable in the midst of the education and training room, full of plane identification charts and models, German equipment and uniform.
Watch the ABCA film here, the sandtable is about 14:30 and 15:30 into the film:
A screenshot close up reveals a little more fuzzy detail:
Donald Featherstone writes in War Games (1962) about the wargames use of the sandtables whilst almost wistfully for a former tank regiment sergeant, he remembers the military use of these at Bovington during WW2:
“… the author recalls, with some pleasure, a fascinating hut at Bovington Camp, Dorset, in the Second World War, where miniature tanks were made to move over realistic countryside, being made mobile by the movement of magnets under the table.” (P. 16, Featherstone, War Games, 1962).
Sandtables are a bit of a gaming rarity these days. They had many operational drawbacks, not least the weight of the sand, but several pages were devoted by Donald Featherstone to their use and construction in War Games (1962).
I recently spotted sand tables in use again for 1944 tank battles by some such as John Muzy on 1/72 forums and pages on Facebook, linked to a YouTube video here https://youtu.be/vNnOQJa7mvc
Eighty years ago today 14 May 1940 was the founding day of the Local Defence Volunteers, the LDV or the “Look Duck and Vanish” as some unkindly folk called them – you might now them by their Churchillian rebrand as “The Home Guard”.
It would take another twenty five years and a TV sitcom for them to earn their modern nickname of “Dad’s Army.”
Over my last forty odd years or more of shoving tiny plastic figures meaningfully around a felt covered tabletop, vaguely inspired by historical events, the Home Guard has been a World War Two theme that I have often returned to.
Small numbers of Airfix German Paratroops and Infantry frequently encountered the lightly armed Airfix British infantry who were my “Dad’s Army” figures, invading some fictional village or small town, lashed together from spare buildings and scenery borrowed from my model railway making family. Sadly, being the 1970s, no photographs exist of these tiny titanic struggles.
After the 1984 40th anniversary, gaming D-Day with my Airfix landing craft felt a little too close in history. It was well within living memory. My game scenarios often shifted and reversed then to a British setting for the familiar Airfix Beach Head and Coastal Fort play-sets, manned by spindly Airfix British Infantry seeing off tankloads and Landing Craft loads of determined Germans and, after 1976, OO/HO German Paratroops.
Watching the Dad’s Army movie and episodes, then and now often on TV, obviously had some influence on my childhood games. So too did the glimpse of the odd pillbox, dragons teeth by the railway line and occasional blank .303 bullet, found with a metal detector.
The fact that Britain wasn’t invaded keeps the tabletop game of war as one of “what if?” historical fantasy, rather than gaming people’s lived experience as I grew up.
Growing up in the 1970s, there were plenty of older men and women around who lived through the war as children, civilians or service personnel, my evacuee parents included, some of whom had unpleasant experiences.
I wish now I had spoken to them more about this period of history but the general rule of “getting on” and “putting it behind you” meant that if they didn’t readily tell, you didn’t ask. As an older child, I slowly felt slightly conflicted that I did not want to trivialise their real-lived and often unpleasant experiences of war into my ‘games of toy soldiers’.
The Home Guard and the early war period of Operation Sea Lion, preparing for the invasion of Britain that thankfully never happened, were a different matter.
These Sealion and Home Guard games were in many ways an Imagi-Nation of Britain in 1940 and 1941 in much the same nostalgic way many railway layouts are a fictionalised portrait of “Britain in Steam in the 30s to 50s”. “The past” as L.P. Hartley wrote in The Go Between (1953) is a “foreign country, they do things differently there.”
What happened during four years from 1940 to stand down in late 1944 was effectively a series of mostly realistic gaming scenarios, live action role play, played with a deadly earnest and a determined purpose. These are set out in Home Guard training manuals (and often form the episodes of Dad’s Army, drawn out by Mainwaring in chalk on his black board ).
Dad’s Army at the same time on TV also gave me a key that it was possible to explore this invasion scenario in a respectful but imaginative way. It also gave the strong impression of the boredom, bravery and occasional buffoonery of service life.
The training against other Home Guard patrols and regular troops also gives some interesting possibilities for “non-lethal warfare”.
Adapting rules to Home Guard “non-lethal training exercises” against other Home Gaurd or regular units as “the enemy” should prove interesting.
These non-lethal training exercises are quite similar to the Scouting Wide Games that I have also been exploring on the Tabletop, working with fellow blogger and Tabletop gamer Alan Gruber, Tradgardmastre of the Duchy of Tradgardland.
Alan has also been posting recently about gaming the Home Guard.
The inscription reads: “For Freedom. This seat and the path leading to it thereto have been provided as a memorial to the men of the Number [1?] Company (Falmouth) Home Guard who during 1940, 41, 42, 43, 44, after their day’s work, nightly patrolled this coast armed and vigilant against German landings. Thus they watched 1000 dawns appear across these great waters which form our country’s moat.”
There are some excellent reprints of Home Guard manuals around, a short Shire History volume and some great resources for your local area about the Auxiliary Units of the Home Guard from Coleshill House, the British Resistance Archive.
The Home Guard look to be a suitable focus for future WW2 themed games.
As my free 3 Gigabytes of Man of TIN blog on WordPress are now three quarters full or used with photos since 2016, I will give “Look Duck and Varnish” WW2 Home Guard Games for the Tabletop their own separate blogspot as needed, as I have done with Scouting Wide Games for the Tabletop:
This Manual certainly explains the many odd bayoneting poses by manufacturers.
Bayonet Drill or used in action – That would be a very niche toy soldier collection!
Update: As mentioned in my reply to comments, there is a range of military training manuals from a range of countries on the late Thor Shiel’s Milihistriot website (whilst this remains online). Check out his Sandpit rules and OMOG variants too
The uniforms are accurate as they were originals borrowed from a Danish Museum.
“The Mellem Slesvigs Grænser museum in Bylderup-Bov was approached by Nordisk Film in the autumn of 2013 with regards to assisting with uniforms and weapons. In March 2014, the film company collected 120 Danish steel helmets, 100 gas-mask canisters, 50 pairs of wool pants, 24 dummy-rifles, 32 cartridge belts, and a khaki officer coat. Moreover, the museum loaned two old Nimbus motorcycles with side-cars.” (Wikipedia article source)
Dominic Cummings, some Tory Brexit politico adviser, in his blog set out a Churchillian request for hiring people to make No. 10 and the Civil Service (and his Brexit / post Brexit team) much less ” public school bluffers” and “Oxbridge English graduates”, more “misfits and weirdos“.
He writes: “We want to hire an unusual set of people with different skills and backgrounds to work in Downing Street with the best officials, some as spads (special advisers to ministers) and perhaps some as officials. If you are already an official and you read this blog and think you fit one of these categories, get in touch.” He says the categories he wants to recruit are:
Data scientists and software developers
Junior researchers – “one of whom will also be my personal assistant”
Send your CV to Mr Cummings if you think this applies to you. You may only last a week, in our “hired and you’re fired” modern world, as instant dismissal is threatened, in which case you will no doubt be known as a “Cummings and Goings.”
Well intentioned and headline grabbing as it may be, the whole “weirdos and misfits” thing is a gift to cartoonists and satirists.
Oddly Mr. Cummings forgot to mention on his list: wargamers and “board game geeks”.
I am reminded of Churchill’s wartime request to “leave no stone unturned” to recruit the right people to staff Bletchley Park and SOE. Part of GCHQ’s ancestry, Bletchley recruited a strange team of debutantes, crossword puzzle champions, Post Office engineers, mathematicians, linguists and graduate oddities to break German cyphers.
Too busy to read? Just watch the cinema shorthand, myth-making movie versions of such an eccentric cast of characters: Robert Harris’ Enigma and the Imitation Game.
After meeting Alan Turing and his other eccentric colleagues at Bletchley Park, Winston Churchill reportedly said to MI6’s Stewart Menzies, “I know I told you to leave no stone unturned to find the necessary staff, but I didn’t mean you to take me so literally.”
Extraordinary jobs require unusual people. Polar explorer Ernest Shackleton would agree!
Which is why my mind straight way turned to SOE, inspired by Churchill “to set Europe ablaze”, Bletchley Park, inventive backroom boffins, the Commandos and the scruffy but tough and talented Long Range Desert Group. All the cast of Mr Churchill’sMinistry of Ungentlemanly Warfare as they were termed in a recent book title.
Such people and characters in small teams are perfect for small scale gaming scenarios.
Weirdos and Misfits wanted? Small teams of characters (figures) who can see what is going on in this gridded aerial reconnaissance photo and improvise a plan when it is not what it seems …
“Sketch map in preparation by Desert Air Force Intelligence Officers, ready to brief some scouting parties of LRDG (D) – D For Demolition.
This is a mixed bag made up of various disruptive elements from the Royal Angrian Defence Force from West Africa (Bronte ImagiNations), some men of the Yestershire Regiment (Man of TIN Imaginations), various other upper class desert traveller, novelist and travel writer misfits, and some Royal Engineers and Commandos in training.
Two tooled up long range fast Desert Jeeps called “Ragtag” and “Bobtail” (Pound Store finest) being prepared.”