In the early chapter of Little Wars, H.G. Wells identifies by initials some of the men who had helped in the development of his ‘Floor Game’ that became Little Wars. This material was published first in magazine article form in late 1912 and in book form by Frank Palmer in Summer 1913.
A number of famous men are identified – J.K.J. – Jerome K. Jerome the writer, another writer and invalid friend of Wells was probably George Gissing, Mr. W as the socialist and writer Mr Graham Wallas.
One of the unnamed men involved in developing the Little Wars game was “here a certain Mr. M and his brother, Captain M., hot from the Great War in South Africa came in helpfully to quicken it …”
The Scholarly Editing team edited by Nigel Lepianka and Deanna Stover working on Little Wars identified Gissing and Mr. W – Graham Wallas – but had no idea who Mr M and Captain M were.
Scholarly Editing – Editor’s note 15. “This refers to the 1906–1907 Bambatha Rebellion where the Zulu revolted against the British. We have been unable to identify Captain M. or Mr. M.”
I’m not sure if the Great War in South Africa meant the Boer War which Captain M. served in, the Great War not having yet acquired its WW1 connotation or this 1906 Bambatha Zulu Rebellion.
Having read H.G. Wells and his Family, the 1955 memoir by Mathilde Meyer, Swiss Governess to Wells’ two young sons Frank and Gip, I noticed that she described how on wet afternoons at Wells House, one of the favourite indoor pastimes was “The Floor Game” as it was called in the house. Three more of the named players were Liberal politician Charles F.G. Masterman, engineer Mr. Harold Hobson of the Bloomsbury literary set and Mr. E.S.P. Haynes.
This gave me a clue to who might be “a certain Mr. M” – could this be Mr Charles Masterman, important enough a political figure not be obviously named by Wells in association with Floor Games and Little Wars?
Did he have a “brother, Captain M. hot from the Great War in South Africa”?
I started tracing the Masterman family tree and a Boer War connection.
At first sight, the Tonbridge Boer War Memorial lists only a dead brother Captain Henry [Thomas] Masterman (1875-1900) who died on service in South Africa, a casualty like so many in that war of disease.
MASTERMAN, HENRY (Harry) [Thomas]. Captain. 3rd Battalion, Welsh Regiment.
Died 28 November 1900. Aged 25.
Born Wimbledon, Surrey 17 July 1875.
Fifth son of Mrs. Margaret Hanson Masterman, (1841-1932) (née Gurney) of “Lonsdale,” Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent, and of the late Thomas William (Willie) Masterman, F.R.G.S. (1839-1894) of “The Hall,” Rotherfield, Sussex.
Buried Prieska, Northern Cape, South Africa.
“At the time of the 1881 census, the Masterman family resided at “South Villa,” Main Road, Bexley, Kent. Head of the house was 41 year old Wanstead, Essex native Thomas William Masterman, who was of Independent Means.
Henry was a Day Boy at Tonbridge School, Kent in 1889, and after leaving Tonbridge School he went to Weymouth College. At the latter establishment he was in the cricket and football teams. On leaving Weymouth College, Henry went up to St. John’s College, Cambridge, and afterwards to Christ’s College.”
“Whilst at Cambridge he was a Captain in the University Royal Volunteer Corps. In January 1899, he entered St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, but his battalion was embodied in December 1899, which he joined and accompanied to South Africa in February 1900. Whilst at Prieska he was appointed the Garrison Adjutant, a post which he held until he was taken ill. Henry died of Malaria and Meningitis at Prieska, which is situated on the south bank of the Orange River, Northern Cape, South Africa.”
This was not looking promising – Captain Henry Masterman died in 1900, so he could not be Captain M., until the same useful Kent Fallen Boer War Memorial Tunbridge publication mentioned another brother who became a Captain after service in the Boer War in South Africa:
“Henry’s brother; Walter Sydney Masterman was a Day Boy at Tonbridge School from 1889 to 1893, and he too served in the 3rd Battalion, Welsh Regiment which had included serving in the Second Boer War in 1900 and 1901.
Whilst at Tonbridge School, Walter won the Swimming Points Cup in 1893. From Tonbridge he went up to Christ’s College, Cambridgeshire.
In 1901 following the Second Boer War he was promoted to the rank of Captain, and attached to the 1st Cadet Battalion, Kings Royal Rifle Corps.
In 1910 he became an Inspector of Musketry, and resided at 25, Woodbury Park Road, Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent.”
Surely this must be our Captain M hot from the Great War in South Africa?
Amazingly a group photo of the six brothers by photographers Thomas Stearns exists at the National Portrait Gallery from 1899, the year before Henry was killed. https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw147474/The-Masterman-family?LinkID=mp93958&role=sit&rNo=0
The six Masterman brothers were:
Arthur Thomas Masterman (1869-1941), Zoologist.
Charles Frederick Gurney Masterman (1874-1927), Politician and author.
Ernest William Gurney Masterman (1867-1943), Medical missionary and scholar.
Henry Wright (‘Harry’) Masterman (1875-1900), Army officer.
John Howard Bertram Masterman (1867-1933), Bishop of Plymouth and writer
Walter Sidney Masterman (1876-1946), Writer, civil servant and army officer
What did Mr M and Captain M add to Little Wars?
Chapter 1: “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.
“We cut down the number of shots per move to four, and we required that four men should be within six inches of a gun for it to be in action at all. Without four men it could neither fire nor move—it was out of action; and if it moved, the four men had to go with it. Moreover, to put an end to that little resistant body of men behind a house, we required that after a gun had been fired it should remain, without alteration of the elevation, pointing in the direction of its last shot, and have two men placed one on either side of the end of its trail. This secured a certain exposure on the part of concealed and sheltered gunners. It was no longer possible to go on shooting out of a perfect security for ever. All this favoured the attack and led to a livelier game.”
[It is difficult to know how much of Little Wars was developed with Mr M (Charles Masterman) and Captain M (Walter Sidney Masterman) but I assume here that ‘We’ and ‘Our’ refers to his collaboration with Mr M and Captain M, quickening the game.]
“Our next step was to abolish the tedium due to the elaborate aiming of the guns, by fixing a time limit for every move. We made this an outside limit at first, ten minutes, but afterwards we discovered that it made the game much more warlike to cut the time down to a length that would barely permit a slow-moving player to fire all his guns and move all his men. This led to small bodies of men lagging and “getting left,” to careless exposures, to rapid, less accurate shooting, and just that eventfulness one would expect in the hurry and passion of real fighting. It also made the game brisker. We have since also made a limit, sometimes of four minutes, sometimes of five minutes, to the interval for adjustment and deliberation after one move is finished and before the next move begins. This further removes the game from the chess category, and approximates it to the likeness of active service. Most of a general’s decisions, once a fight has begun, must be made in such brief intervals of time. (But we leave unlimited time at the outset for the planning.)”
“As to our time-keeping, we catch a visitor with a stop-watch if we can, and if we cannot, we use a fair-sized clock with a second-hand: the player not moving says “Go,” and warns at the last two minutes, last minute, and last thirty seconds. But I think it would not be difficult to procure a cheap clock—because, of course, no one wants a very accurate agreement with Greenwich as to the length of a second—that would have minutes instead of hours and seconds instead of minutes, and that would ping at the end of every minute and discharge an alarm note at the end of the move. That would abolish the rather boring strain of time-keeping. One could just watch the fighting.”
“Moreover, in our desire to bring the game to a climax, we decided that instead of a fight to a finish we would fight to some determined point, and we found very good sport in supposing that the arrival of three men of one force upon the back line of the opponent’s side of the country was of such strategic importance as to determine the battle. But this form of battle we have since largely abandoned in favour of the old fight to a finish again. We found it led to one type of battle only, a massed rush at the antagonist’s line, and that our arrangements of time-limits and capture and so forth had eliminated most of the concluding drag upon the game.”
“Our game was now very much in its present form. We considered at various times the possibility of introducing some complication due to the bringing up of ammunition or supplies generally, and we decided that it would add little to the interest or reality of the game. Our battles are little brisk fights in which one may suppose that all the ammunition and food needed are carried by the men themselves.”
Little Wars, H.G. Wells, 1913
After Little And Great Wars
If we are correct about Captain M being Walter Sidney Masterman, then he had a strange career path after the War, not unlike H.G.Wells’ early career.
Colin Salter’s family blog has some interesting information about Harry and Walter at this stage of the Boer War and the years up to WW1 including the brothers’ sporting achievements. http://talltalesfromthetrees.blogspot.com/2013/10/harry-masterman-1875-1900-and-second.html
I wonder if their semi-professional football career and games had an effect on the shaping and briskness of Little Wars, as much as their military careers:
“fight to some determined point, and we found very good sport in supposing that the arrival of three men of one force upon the back line of the opponent’s side of the country …We found it led to one type of battle only, a massed rush at the antagonist’s line.” (Little Wars, 1913)
Walter became an Assistant Headteacher (1903-5) in a private school after the Boer War in the period when Little Wars was being developed. He was also active as a Football player with Tunbridge Wells FC.
For a brief while Walter Masterman was part of the British Boy Scouts, the BBS, a more ‘pacifist’ Peace Scouts rival to the more ‘militaristic’ Baden Powell’s Scouting Movement –
Being an Inspector of Musketry attached to the 1st Cadet Battalion of the King’s Royal Rifles, at the same time as being part of the BBS or Peace Scouts, whilst also being involved as Captain M. in the shaping of Little Wars shows what a complex character Walter Masterman was and what odd times that he was living in.
He served as a Major with the Welsh Regiment during the Great War / WW1. After Demob in 1919, Walter became again a Fisheries Inspector (civil servant) in Grimsby in his zoologist brother Arthur’s area of fisheries.
According to Colin Salter, Walter married in 1920 one Olive Doreen Lowrie, 24 years his junior, the youngest of eight children of a Northumbrian commercial traveller. She was born in Cardiff. Walter appointed to the Fisheries Inspectorate about 1911 spent time in Wales. http://talltalesfromthetrees.blogspot.com/2013/03/olive-doreen-lowrie-1900-1973-and-death.htm. They had one daughter together.
According to his relative Colin Salter in his family history blog, this career ended in court and jail for three to four years in 1922 over allegations of embezzlement.
Walter Sidney Masterman, fishery inspector at Grimsby, a brother of a former Liberal Minister, is being charged with embezzling £862 belonging to the Board of Fisheries. The prosecution alleges that the defendant paid into his own account sums received, for the sale of coal and gear handed over from German trawlers.
February 1922 the Sunday Times of Perth in Western Australia
His ‘Former Liberal Minister’ Brother Charles’ position (Mr. M) was the only thing that made this newsworthy around the world.
His next career move in the mid 1920s was to become a writer of science fiction, detective and mystery novels as Walter S. Masterman.
His first book The Wrong Letter in 1926 had a Foreword or Preface by Charles and Wells’ mutual friend G.K. Chesterton which can be read here on these sample pages
I wonder if his author brothers Howard Masterman the bishop and Charles the Liberal Politician (Mr. M.) or H.G. Wells were in any way able to help or involved in aiding Walter’s postwar literary career?
Chesterton was also friends with Charles Masterman and dedicated a book What’s Wrong with the World to him – see
This closeness with other authors helped Masterman set up the War Propaganda Bureau WPB and recruit authors like Wells or Chesterton for the Allied cause when War was declared in August 1914:
He published his last book in 1942 and died in Brighton in 1946.
Who could resist a biography and bibliography with titles like this?
• The Wrong Letter (1926) Foreword by G.K. Chesterton
• The Curse of the Reckaviles (1927)
• 2 LO (1928)
• The Green Toad (1929)
• The Bloodhounds Bay (1930)
• The Yellow Mistletoe (1930)
• The Mystery of 52 (aka The Mystery of Fifty-Two) (1931)
• The Flying Beast (1932)
• The Nameless Crime (1932)
• The Crime of the Reckaviles (1934)
• The Baddington Horror (1934)
• The Perjured Alibi (1935)
• Death Turns Traitor (1936)
• The Rose of Death (1936)
• The Avenger Strikes (1937)
• The Border Line (1937)
• The Hunted Man (1938)
• The Wrong Verdict (1938)
• The Secret of the Downs (1939)
• The Hooded Monster (1939)
• The Curse of Cantire (1940)
• The Death Coins (1940)
• Back From the Grave (1940)
• The Silver Leopard (1941)
• The Man without a Head (1942)
The outline of plots sounds as outrageously odd as Wells’ early science fiction – underground races etc. Wells is also featured on the same sci-fi databases with an aptly very long entry:
The list of titles and supernatural topics is not so far from fellow Little Wars witness and fellow Sussex resident, the author and ‘ghost hunter’ Robert Thurston Hopkins, also on such a sci-fi database.
The Rest of the Masterman Family
The Masterman family were quite amazingly accomplished – writers, bishops, politicians, army officers, medical missionaries and naturalists.
The two Captains Henry and Walter we have already mentioned.
They had one sister called ‘Daisy’ or Margaret Masterman, who had an academic career.
1. One older brother, easy to tell by his dog collar in the photo is the second son John Howard Bertram Masterman (1867-1933), Suffragan Bishop of Plymouth, author and Historian. Howard the bishop married Theresa Boroder (b. Saxony, Germany) and became father of Cyril Masterman (1896-1973) OBE (1956 for services as Technical Director, Underground Gasification Trials, Monistry of Fuel and Power). https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howard_Masterman
2. His younger brother was the natural historian Dr Arthur Thomas Masterman FRS FRSE (1869 – 1941) was an English zoologist and author. He was an expert on the British fishing industry. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Masterman
3. Ernest William Gurney Masterman, (1867-1943), Medical missionary, RCS surgeon, author and scholar
4. The youngest brother was the writer and Liberal MP Charles Frederick Gurney Masterman, H.G. Wells’ friend. He must be Wells’ Mr M.
There is an interesting 1914 Punch cartoon of Charles in this Colin Salter blog:
These were the six sons of Mrs. Margaret Hanson Masterman, (1841-1932) (née Gurney) of “Lonsdale,” Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent, and of the late Thomas William (Willie) Masterman, F.R.G.S. (1839-1894) of “The Hall,” Rotherfield Hall , Sussex. Rotherfield Hall in Sussex.
The Masterman brothers were the grandsons of William Brodie Gurney (and so a distant relation to prison reformer Elizabeth Fry through him). The Gurney and Masterman families were variously involved with Banking, shorthand, court stenography and with the Fox family of Quakers.
Thanks to Colin Salter for his interesting Tall Tales from The Trees family history blog – http://talltalesfromthetrees.blogspot.com/search/label/Masterman
Blog posted by Mark Man of TIN, 4 February 2021.