MARCH is my excuse to photograph my MARCHing figures and MARCHing bands in my collection so these are a small tribute to Don, the sort of Britain’s figures that he would have seen in his inspiration – H.G. Wells’ Little Wars.
Donald Featherstone (1918 – 2013) would have been 100 years old today.
20th March 1918 is an important date in WW1 anniversary terms as the shock troops of German storm troopers stood trained, in position and poised ready to roll through Allied lines on the dawn of 21 March 2018 – Operation Michael, The Kaiserschlact or the Kaiser’s Day.
Thousands of British and Allied troops were surrounded, killed or taken prisoner. My eighteen year old Maternal Great Uncle serving with the British Fifth Army was killed several days later in this confused fighting. Only stubborn Allied resistance by scratch regiments like his and logistics – the Royal Naval Blockade of Germany starving it of war materials – saw this German knockout blow rapidly run out of fuel and men.
Events of the Russian Revolution in 1917 through to the 3rd March 1918 – the Treaty of Brest Litovsk between Bolshevik Russia and Germany – released thousands of German troops from the Eastern Front back to the Western Front.
A more joyous event – Donald Frederick Featherstone was born on 20th March 1918.
** Some newspaper obituaries have him listed as born on 12 March 1918 but other newspaper obituaries and his death certificate listing says he was born on 20th March 1918.
That makes Tuesday 20th March 2018 the late Donald Featherstone’s Centenary anniversary or #Featherstone100.
As he came into the world, Allied victory in the Great War stood in doubt. He often said in interviews, that he chose the Tank Regiment on enlistment in 1939 because of all his family stories about the slaughter of Poor Bloody Infantry in the trenches.
How can we best celebrate in our own small gaming ways the Centenary and life of a man who changed my hobby life – man and boy – for the better, as he did for many gamers of a certain age?
Like many others, I owe a lot to Donald Featherstone. Many were the warm and richly deserved tributes and obituaries on Don’s death aged 95 in 3 September 2013.
My best Featherstone moment this year was tracking down at the BBC archives and receiving a PDF of the almost illegible typed and hand annotated talk scripts of two Donald Featherstone radio talks. As John remarked, I may have been the first person to read these since Don Featherstone in 1962/63. I have passed the copyrighted transcripts to John Curry for future use and publication through the History of Wargaming Project.
How amazing that the author of the handtyped 1960s Wargamers Newsletter and BBC Radio talks should be recording a podcast and only missed the games blogging age by a few years.
5. Do a Featherstone themed conversion such as finishing my Airfix footballer to saloon girl conversion?
Don was famous for his homecasting or his conversion of one available figure into many others.
This inspired many others and does still today including Rod MacArthur who had the privilege of gaming and figure making with Donald Featherstone and Tony Bath from 1960 onwards https://rodwargaming.wordpress.com/about/
Arguably every gaming day is a Featherstone day for many gamers, every day that we use a version of his rules, read his books or do our hobby thing, especially if you were inspired by Donald Featherstone’s books out of the library as a child, we celebrate his life, his hobby and his work.
What might you do to celebrate Donald Featherstone’s Centenary or #Featherstone100?
I’d love to hear your #Featherstone100 plans or your #bestFeatherstonemoment through your blogs or my comments page.
“The pleasure does not begin and end with the actual playing of the war-game. There are many pleasant hours to be spent in making model soldiers, painting them, constructing terrain, carrying out research into battles, tactics and uniforms …” Donald Featherstone, War Games 1962. Wise words indeed!
Blogposted by Mark, Man of TIN blog, 3 March 2018 (Centenary of the Treaty of Brest Litovsk)
My Fourth FEMBruary challenge: The lovely Land Army women from Annie Norman at Bad Squiddo Games have been on the painting table this weekend.
Some quick “pewtering” (a quick coat of paint and then wiped off before dry) brought out how much detail these figures have. It also usefully fills in some dark and shadowy places before the colour coat.
Rather then try and fail to emulate the superb matt realist painting on the packaging by Andrew Taylor, I thought I would use Gloss Acrylic (as I don’t have or normally use Matt paint anyway). I wanted a more gloss Toy Soldier style look which is a bit more difficult at 28mm, rather than at 54mm toy soldier size. Still some tidying up to do on the Land Girl figures including smoothing out the gloss / flesh Acrylic mix, which is a bit lumpy still.
I was trying to second guess what figures from Bad Squiddo Games that Marvin at Suburban Militarism would choose, having incidentally introduced me to FEMbruary. I chose Land Girls, he chose Catherine The Great
High kicking! Work has begun on FEMbruary No. 2 the Donald Featherstone suggested Airfix footballer to Wild West saloon girl conversion. First out comes the PVA and tissue paper to add some feminine attributes, hair and then flowing big flouncy showgirl dress.
At this early stage, the big hair still looks like a 70s footballer Kevin Keegan, albeit in a dress. Some more work required here! Once the frills, chokers, flounces and real tiny feathers are added, hopefully ‘she’ will look more like a 1880s saloon girl.
Pound Store Plastic Warriors FEMbruary challenge.
The Pound Store Plastic Warriors challenge to convert these Poundland 32-36mm plastic soldier figures into tribal African style Amazon female warriors is underway. These should be colourful, more red and yellow and bling, than the white robed male desert warriors that I have worked on recently.
To be fair, we started late, not on FEMbruary the First. There are still nine days left of the FEMbruary challenge 2018 and there are plenty of topics and figures left for FEMbruary 2019. There is always MOREFEMber too!
What might you do you for FEMbruary this year or 2019?
Blogposted by Mark Man of TIN, FEMBruary 18th 2018.
Some illustrators I know use roll top desks for much the same tidy domestic reasons.
Henry Harris’ useful little book also has a 6 page chapter on Wargames by Donald Featherstone including a short rules section, reprinted here and those in Featherstone’s own Book Tackle Model Soldiers This Way (Stanley Paul, 1963) :
The part played by medical science in the treatment of injuries to footballers is the subject of an interesting article by Mr Donald F. Featherstone, physiotherapist to the Southampton FC in the current issue of the Football Association Bulletin.
Mr Featherstone keeps a daily log book in which details of injuries and the treatments given have been set out. In addition weekly charts have been kept showing in graph form the rise and fall in injuries and treatments as the season progresses.
The facts help in ensuring that eleven 100 percent fit players go out to the field for each game. The policy aimed at is that the player, theoretically at least, should be ready to take his place in a team immediately his injury clears up.
In other words ‘treat and train.’ Evening News September 13 1952 (Sports Desk)
Another unusual Featherstone article for someone to track down.
This is an early press mention of Donald Featherstone in his physiotherapist years, several years before he wrote his book on sports injuries and before he was regularly (writing about) wargaming.
What interests me is the connection or overlap between a football team as a trained uniformed unit fighting a series of battles (matches) over the course of a season (or campaign) having to deal with injuries (battle casualties) and the war games campaigns that he would shortly be involved in and writing about.
This seems to me be an interesting overlap between Don Featherstone’s professional working life and his busy recreational gaming and writing life.
Football injuries and wargames campaigns?
I was reminded of this clipping whilst listening to the Veteran Wargamers podcast with Jay Arnold in America, interviewing Henry Hyde about his forthcoming book on Wargames Campaigns.
Henry and Jay talked about how battles are changed in real life and on the table if you are playing or disengaging from action as part of a campaign. In this situation, you are aiming to inflict as much damage as possible whilst conserving your men and materials for the next battle, whilst considering how to return the wounded or injured to front line service. Jay and Henry both mention various sports and also sports based RPG or board games in their discussion.
Calculations of 1/3 casualties are dead, 1/3 are wounded in hospital and 1/3 return fit for the next match (the remount department) are something that Donald Featherstone suggested in the Campaigns chapter of his first games book Wargames (1962).
Usually some kind of victory conditions are involved in the rules or scenarios – reach the enemy baseline with half your forces (sounds a bit chess-like here) or entirely defeat the enemy as in Featherstone’s Close Wars. Alternately in other rules or scenarios you might have to retreat or concede when you have lost over fifty percent of your army, a certain number of army points etc.
There would be none of the usual fight to the finish as my small skirmish games are, despite using such simple rules as Featherstone’s Close Wars useful appendix to his War Games book with its varied victory conditions.
No doubt when Henry Hyde’s Wargames Campaigns book comes out, it will be compared with Donald Featherstone’s original 1970 book on WargamesCampaigns. Copies of Wargames Campaigns are available secondhand online or reprinted fresh via John Curry’s the History of Wargaming Project website http://www.wargaming.co/recreation/details/dfcampaigns.htm
Football otherwise didn’t often make it into Don’s wargaming books, except a suggestion for high-kicking Wild West saloon girls in Skirmish Wargaming converted or being made from Airfix 1:32 Footballers.
“For dance hall gírls, and those who cannot afford Rose Miniatures’ classy ladies, try converting an Airfix 54mm footballer. Adding certain natural attributes with Plasticine, trimming the waist suitably and dressing her in tissue petticoats – a high stepping Mama emerges!” (Figure sources and ideas, p.97 Skirmish Wargaming, Donald Featherstone.)
No game of mine has ever required this radical gender reassignment or conversion.
The mention of high kicking dancing girls reminds me of one of his other non gaming books, 1970/1:
Tabletop Generals – Daily Herald article, March 21, 1961 A group of men who take toy soldiers seriously prepare for a council of war – article written by Jon Akass.
Refighting a war with hindsight often plays tricks with history. Donald Featherstone recreates a battle in the American Civil War.
Mr Donald Featherstone sent his cavalry charging towards me over the creek. I was pinned down, doomed.
“This,” I said, “seems a good time to surrender.”
“I see what you mean,” says Mr Featherstone, “but it goes to prove, doesn’t it, that you are not half as good a general as Stonewall Jackson.”
It did, too. For the battle we are fighting was one of the most elegant set-pieces of the American Civil War – the Shenandoah Valley in 1862, in which Jackson pinned down a Federal army which out-numbered him three-to-one.
With me in command, this classic encounter had turned into a dog’s breakfast.
Playing with toy soldiers is a very complex business. Mr Featherstone himself says it is like playing chess with a thousand pieces – and Mr. Featherstone does not exaggerate.
There are only about 20 wargame enthusiasts in the country and next month about half of them will attend a council of war at Mr Featherstone’s home in Southampton, another ten or so will come from abroad, one from Aden, another from Chicago.
[Man of TIN Note: the one from Aden must be Carl Reavley]. Rules
The basic rules for the British school of war games are usually taken from a book written, astonishingly, by H.G. Wells.
This is called “Little Wars” and involves actual little guns which fire actual little shells knock actual little soldiers flat on their backs.
“We have dispensed with the guns,” said Mr Featherstone, “because we now go to a lot of time and trouble to get the soldiers and uniforms exactly right.”
“We don’t want to knock them about all the time.”
Mr Featherstone, a rosily-fit physiotherapist of 42 was a sergeant in the Tank Corps, during the last war, serving in North Africa and Italy.
Modern wars, though, bore him. His speciality is the period 1861 to 1890.
“This was the last time colours were carried into battle and the troops wore elaborate uniforms. Modern war is too messy and the fire-power is too great to make a game interesting.”
He makes his own soldiers, mostly out of lead, moulded in plasticine and baked in a gas cooker. In the three and a half years since he took up the wargame he has collected 7000 soldiers ranging from Spartans to commandos.
A battle often last longer than a test match – and an entire war can linger on for years.
Playing against a Southampton accountant, Mr. Featherstone fought every ditch of the American Civil war over two years. This ended with the Federal troops screaming for mercy outside Washington.
“We sometimes get results like that because we can avoid the mistakes made by the losing side. The Indian Mutimy, for instance, always ends up with the total defeat of the British. We try to be as realistic as possible, but there are limits.”
Mr Featherstones’ version of the war games works like this.
The two opposing generals work out their first manoeuvres on maps, each trying to outwit the other, until they area ready to do battle. This usually happens at the same place as the original life-size battle.
They then go upstairs where Mr Featherstone has a table laid out with wet sand. The terrain is moulded and painted and a screen put across the middle so that the generals can deploy their forces in secrecy.
The screen is taken away and … bang. Well not quite bang. A wargame, like chess, moves very slowly and the contestants are lucky if they get through five moves in an evening.
Everything is taken into account. If a general loses two battles in a row he is deposed and the morale of his army goes down appropriately.
Troops moving across rough country are put at a disadvantage and special account is taken of things like fatigue, disease, fear and panic.
Incalculable factors like accuracy of aim, alertness, courage and so forth is taken care of by the dice.
“At first I was dissatisfied with the dice,” said Mr. Featherstone. “It seemed unrealistic. Sometimes you have a run of bad luck, throwing low numbers all evening.” Luck
“But then, as I studied the subject, I realised that this made for more realism, not less. Even the greatest generals had days when everything went wrong. Many battles have been won through sheer good luck.”
A special refinement of Mr. Featherstone’s game is that tactics employed in a later war cannot be used in an earlier one.
“If you are fighting the Marlborough campaigns, you can’t use the tactics of the Napoleonic Wars,” he explained.
This makes an already difficult game totally impossible for the beginner – unless he is prepared to spend months mugging up on military history.
For all that, Mr. Featherstone’s game is simple compared with the variations of other players.
One enthusiast, a brigadier at Sandhurst, starts from scratch. [Man of TIN Note: This suggests Peter Young?] He has invented a completely new world, divided into completely new, peaceful countries.
When these countries quarrel as they must, they have to raise armies in relation to their budgets, industrialise, build munitions factories and engage in frantic diplomatic quests for allies. All this has a direct bearing on the outcome.
The game is conducted by post, many contestants live overseas, and the rules are so fantastically complicated that they baffle even Mr. Featherstone. Realism
Another man, who plays all by himself at Exeter, is a stickler for realism. He specialised in the Russian front of the last war and has now carried the German advance as far as Stalingrad. [Man of TIN note: this must be Lionel Tarr of Bristol].
Americans have already adopted the war game for domestic use. For around £3 you can buy the “Gettysburg” kit, which comes complete with original mapboard and markers for the actual units used at this crucial stage of the American Civil War.
Individual soldiers are not used and the units can only be bought in at the time and place they really appeared. Opposing generals tick off their moves on the time-sheet divided into hours. At night a unit’s movements are restricted.
Advertisements for this “adult game” in sophisticated magazines like The New Yorker stress that “the South can win.”
It is all good clean fun and it goes to show jolly war can be. For generals.
Tabletop Generals – Daily Herald article by Jon Akass, March 21, 1961
Transcribed from the British Newspaper Archive by Mark at the Man of TIN blog. The Daily Herald ran from 1912 to 1964. The writer on the Daily Herald was Jon Akass (1933-1990) https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Akass
I found this a fascinating account of Don Featherstone’s early battles, admittedly at second hand through the eyes and lively pen of a Fleet Street journalist like Jon Akass.
This article was written the year before War Games was published in May 1962. Written in March 1961, when there were “only about 20 wargame enthusiasts in the country,” the next month in April 1961 appears to have been the date of the proposed War Games conference in Don’s house. Pictures of his event can be seen here at http://www.tabletoptalk.com/?p=709
Some of the names of people are left out in the article such as the Southampton Accountant as Don’s early contestant, who must be Tony Bath, featured or mentioned in War Games 1962.
Blogposted by Mark, Man of TIN blog, 1st December 2017.
All we need to do is build a time machine and head back to the morning of Thursday the 19th April 1962 and tune in or listen in to “This is the BBC Home Service …” we could have heard Donald Featherstone on the radio.
9.10: THE WAR GAME
DONALD FEATHERSTONE explains how a man of action can spend two years fighting the American Civil War in Southampton – and the South can win! He himself caused the Romans to lose the Punic War, and Napoleon to triumph at Waterloo.
Contributors / Unknown: Donald Featherstone
I doubt if a recording exists but good news (from a BBC archives email received today 1st December 2017)both scripts still exist, albeit I have been warned in variable quality, at the BBC Written Archives at Caversham. I am having copies made and if transcribable, I will discuss with John Curry whether (with suitable copyright / BBC permission) they could be reprinted in future.
1962 was a prolific period for Donald Featherstone. He published his first gaming book on War Games in 1962, around this time. He had also written about wargames in Tackle Model Soldiers This Way (Stanley Paul, 1963).
According to his many obituaries, he had been wargaming as an adult since the mid 1950s and organised the first U.K. wargames tournament in Southampton in 1961 with a national championship planned for 1963. He was involved with the UK side of The Wargames Digest around 1960 and set up Wargamers Newsletter in 1962. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_Featherstone_(wargamer)
A year later in 1963 Don Featherstone was on the radio again and we could have tuned in to the programme TWO OF A KIND on the BBC Home Service (Basic) on Tuesday 15th October at 9.05 am (and repeated on Thursday 17 October 1963 at 13.40). We would have heard Don as one of two speakers (hence the programme title “Two of a Kind”) on the theme of Models. The first speaker: Father’s Dolls by KATHLEEN BINNS
Playing with Soldiers by DONALD FEATHERSTONE
Introduced by presenter JACK SINGLETON.
This BBC genome website was based on old copies of the Radio Times.
I came across this BBC Radio scripts link whilst searching online for an article or interview that Donald Featherstone wrote for She Magazine (a women’s magazine) around 1962. Peter Gilder was shown the She magazine article about Don’s wargames by his wife, and the rest is gaming history …
I wonder if anyone still has that 1962 She magazine edition, if that is the correct magazine in Gilder’s memory many years later?
I asked John Curry who knows Featherstone’s books well and neither this nor the BBC scripts has not been reprinted in any of the excellent Featherstone reprints by John Curry.
Is it in some gamer’s scrapbook?
It seems rather improbable that Donald Featherstone should be writing in or be featured in a woman’s magazine like She Magazine. As a sports physiotherapist, he had written a book on Sports Injuries in 1957 and later on dance injuries, Dancing Without Danger (1970/71) but I can think of no obvious link.
I have done a quick online search. Past editions of women’s magazines from 1962 seem pretty scarce on EBay and other old magazine sites, unlike the many hoarded back issues of men’s magazines on transport, modelling and hobbies.
I have recently found an early press article or two about Featherstone which I will transcribe shortly. Donald Featherstone’s first book War Games waspublished in this period and as one of my favourite gaming books, it is good to recapture the early improvisational spirit of these games.
Blogposted by Mark, Man of TIN, 29/30 November 2017.