60 years ago this May 1962, the 44 year old WW2 veteran Donald Featherstone published his first book on War Games.
War Games was published with the background of the Cold War; my late Dad had recently finished amongst the last National Service men as conscription in Britain was coming to an end. The Cuban Missile crisis was only a few months away in October 1962.
In 1962 Featherstone’s own war service as a young Tank NCO in the Royal Armoured Corps in Italy was only 17 years behind him. Since WW2 he had established a successful business as a sports physiotherapist.
The Courier’s Timeline of Historical Miniatures Gaming has an interesting link to this first May 1962 publication, a copy inscribed by Don Featherstone to fellow Southampton gamer Tony Bath.
Cut this page out and stick this in your copy for inspiration … “Hazardous career”?!?
There is an affordable paperback reprint available from John Curry’s History Of Wargaming Project. Second hand copies of the original 1962 hardback and reprints can be found for reasonable prices online.
I’m sure many gamers cut their teeth on this first War Games volume. I did but it was 15 to 20 years later before I found this first book as a youngster (by then second edition, reprinted many times) in the adult section of my local branch library. I still have this exact well thumbed copy, bought when the library cleared old stock in the 1990s.
I also have a tatty 1962 edition picked up quite cheaply several years ago.
When did you first read or encounter this book?
Other tabletop gaming events of 1962 from the Courier Timeline.
Added highlights to this 1962 list should be the arrival of an increasingly varied range of cheap Airfix figures from 1959 onwards, according to Featherstone, “the latest and possibly most vital contribution to the wargames world”.
My tatty 1962 edition lists the existing and following figures to arrive in 1962:
Part of what piqued my interest when first borrowing this book from the branch library was seeing these older first version Airfix figures, ones that I had a few of, in use in this ‘grown up’ gaming book. These photographs said to me: I can do this, I don’t have flats or Spencer Smiths, but I have Airfix.
Main pic: Physio Don Featherstone manipulates the knee of full-back Bill Ellerington, while manager George Roughton looks on.
Don Featherstone, who has died aged 95, was the club’s physio at a troublesome time in the Saints’ history.
After war-service in the Royal Armoured Corps, Don was practising physiotherapy in his native London, hoping ‘very much to get into sport.’ He had spent a couple of years at the Athletes Clinic in Harley Street; and then, when AIK Stockholm visited London in November 1949, to play Chelsea and Arsenal, he acted as their physio during their stay.
For the 1950-51 season, Don was the first-team trainer to Hounslow Town in the Corinthian League and was writing a column, in Topical Times, on sports injuries. When that magazine received an advert from Southampton FC for a physio, the editor shared it with Don in advance of publication.
Thus given a head-start, Don dispatched a one-page letter of application-cum-cv. He didn’t’ mess about. He told the club that only two Hounslow players had missed a match through injury and the team had gone 17 weeks, unchanged – not bad, he suggested, for a part-time physio, treating injuries two evenings a week and an occasional Sunday morning. Just think what he might achieve, working full-time. Don told the Southampton directors that he’d appreciate a club-house and ‘a salary on a level with the basic pay of First Team players.’
He was appointed forthwith and started work in August 1951. It was an odd set-up, under Sid Cann, a former Manchester City and Charlton Athletic player who had qualified as a masseur. He had been Southampton’s masseur-cum-assistant trainer for three seasons, until the manager Bill Dodgin left in 1949. Of three internal candidates, Cann landed the vacancy. But trainer Sam Warhurst, an unsuccessful applicant, was still there. A former Saints goalkeeper, he didn’t have a lot of time for Featherstone, with his ‘new-fangled’ ways. At least Don felt that he got on well with the players, including the all-powerful captain, Joe Mallett – the “Godfather”, as Don saw it.
It was Mallett who tipped Don off about an odd development in December 1951. The side had been having a poor run, including an 8-2 defeat at Bury, when Cann resigned. So the Board apparently decided that, while they no longer wanted him as manager, it would be good to retain him as the physio, in which case Featherstone would have to go. Cann, to his credit, was having none of that.
So Don remained until 1955, when the chairman advised him that, despite his ‘excellent work’, the club’s ‘difficult financial situation’ required ‘the utmost economy’, which included dispensing with his services. Don was not without work – he had a private clinic round the corner from The Dell – but when Ted Bates became the manager in October 1955, Don did ask for his job back.
Bates continued to plead that the club had no money. Before long, Don realised that his dismissal ‘was the best thing that ever happened’ to him.
He was soon writing books on physiotherapy and then branched out into military history and war-gaming, a field in which he would become an internationally-renowned author, with 40-odd titles to his name.
One of the oddest Peter Laing adverts so far wasDecember 1973 typed advert (above) about the benefits of 15mm and the first six figure series or ranges totalling 100s of items that Peter Laing produced in his first year!
“Ifshe* (the little woman – Mum – the Wife – the Girl Friend – or the better half!) complains that your army or collection is taking up too much room (or you are spending too much money) then Peter Laing’s figures could be the answer …”
By Christmas 1973, interest was growing in the new smaller scales of 15mm and 5 or 6mm. Minifigs has also by then launched a 15mm and 5mm Range.
In December 1973 I was still literally cutting my teeth at “Floor Games” level on larger plastic Airfix figures. Ten years later c. 1982/83 I would be buying my first Peter Laing ECW figures with my pocket money and paper round earnings.
This cataloguing and celebrating my Peter Laing figures (all now sadly out of production) is one of my ongoing 2022 projects and New Gaming Year’s Irresolutions, counting down towards the 50th anniversary of the first figures in October / November 2022.
Why do this? Pertly it’s because Peter Laing never produced an illustrated catalogue before the range vanished in the late 80s / early 90s when he retired. Now the moulds have sadly vanished.
Fellow Peter Laing collectors from the MeWe Peter Laing collectors circle have already started to contribute photos of figures or ranges I don’t have and sometimes figures I have never seen.
I was surprised, whilst painting Airfix Paratroops and re-reading Donald Featherstone’s Wargaming Airborne Operations (1977) to find a rare mention of Peter Laing’s “growing range of 15mm metal figures of World War Two infantry“.
This Peter Laing WW2 range never grew very big, not much bigger than that listed above.
This is a bit of a surprise as these mid 1970s figures must have been some of the first 15mm WW2 figures. 25 to 30 years later, 15mm WW2 Flames of War figure and vehicles were all the rage.
Part of this “growing range” was probably the dual-use steel helmeted infantry, guns, wagons and others items from Peter’s extensive British, French and German WW1 range.
I use these figures interchangeably for WW1/WW2, as with Peter Laing’s deliberate under-detailing, the figures are easily converted by paint or file to other periods.
Some further Peter Laing WW2 German Infantry figures to be used as Paratroops and British Infantry / Home Guard have been stuck on my painting table for months, ready for a ‘Sealion’ type skirmish. Airfix figures keep just jumping that queue and getting in the way!
Who knows I might even have painted them all in time for the Peter Laing 50th anniversary 2022 next year.
Next autumn 2022 marks the 50th anniversary of the first 15 mm figures and the first Laing ranges being advertised for the first time in October / November 1972 Military Modelling magazine (starting with his Marlburian range).
Some of my original samples of 15mm Peter Laing WW2 ranges, bought and half painted c. 1983 (British, left and Germans, right)
I wish I had bought more Laing WW2 figures at the time but with limited pocket money funds and a good selection of Airfix WW2 figures, vehicles and scenery at the time, I focused my Laing purchases on periods and figures not covered by Airfix that Laing did such as the ECW.
The same “Airfix or Laing?” debate continues in my gaming and collecting to this day.
Pictures of Peter Laing WW2 figures on Tim’s Tanks blogpost
This simple WW2 range for platoon level action is highly praised for its balance on the Tim’s Tanks blogspot, which gave me my glimpse of the Americans for the first time (albeit doubled up as British Paratroops) :
Tim’s Tanks: “This range was ahead of its time and the figures surprisingly well thought through.”
“For each nationality (British, U.S. or German) there was a sidearm equipped officer figure, a SMG armed NCO, an infantryman advancing with rifle at high port, an LMG and No.2 and a Light Mortar and No.2.”
Lovely figures, perfect for the task”. (Tim’s Tanks Peter Laing WW2 themed blogpost)
Sadly, Peter Laing figures are no longer commercially made, whilst the moulds appear to have vanished after Peter Laing retired and sold the moulds to the late John Mitchell.
Your best chance of finding any Peter Laing figures is on eBay where – warning – not all ‘Peter Laing figures’ are Peter Laing, often they are early Minifigs. The strange Laing horses are often a clue Some ranges of these second-hand figures now command good prices!
There is a small and friendly Peter Laing collectors group set up by Ian Dury on the MeWe platform, a good place to flag up any Laing’s figures on sale, get figure IDs etc.
More of my childhood Airfix Veterans painted and based for the first time.
These OOHO Paratroopers’ figures Set S23 were first produced in 1965, sculpted by John Niblett who produced many of the slender first version Airfix figures.
Some of these “bunch of chubsters“, as Gary Cumston light-heartedly called these figures on this Facebook group (below), have fought bravely in my boyhood battles since the mid 1970s, but oddly never got painted. Maybe their useful khaki green plastic handily required no painting?
They were indeed tall “chubsters”, compared to the slender Version 1 Airfix infantry figures that preceded them.
Parachute regiments were usually made up of men from many regiments and sources. The same is true of my Airfix Figures. These are mostly the green colour 1970s ones but some brown 1990s Playset Coastal Fort / Gun Emplacment ones crept in. (Why make them in brown?)
Now my childhood elite veterans have been joined by a few 1960s/70s figures from Tony Adams and my former work colleague and friend Ken from his 1960s/70s tin of Airfix. Their figures are suitably coded with initials under the base.
To consider this chubster question, what better than to look closely at the figures, whilst painting up and basing some of these veterans?
Yes I know it’s a Bazooka rather than a PIAT. Support weapons mounted singly except mortar team vignette. Scrim helmet experiments (see later in post).
*** Digital camera or iPad photos do tend to show up forgotten or unpainted chin straps, mouldlines and flash etc but I have to remind myself that on the games table, you are seeing them at a distance. These are old figures / moulds too. ***
A few figures and fine fiddly bits were missing from my childhood originals including the two part mortar and base, the officer checking his watch with his “whatever” hand signal and the two deflated parachutes. I searched around and added these from my unused brown plastic 1990s play set figures, many of which were still on the sprue.
There are some surprising details to paint on these rather generic allied Paratroops like the ‘monkey’s tail’ tailpiece or crutch strap, that ran from back to front to button up the smock tight whilst parachuting.
Illustrations – Airfix boxes 1970s OOHO called generic ‘Paratroopers’ – with a US Airborne look on the left? – in this still used artwork by Brian Knight. Source image: Plastic Soldier Review.
The box art illustration by Airfix artist William Champion from the second version British Paratroops 1:32 boxes (shown in Denison smocks below) – still in use 2021.
Where can I get some?
WW2 Airfix OOHO or 1:72 figures seem to go in and out of production, as the British Paratroopers currently are (summer 2021). Recent releases of the Paras up to Red Box packaging style (2012) onwards are still around online for much the same price as the OOHO figure selection currently on Airfix.com
Airfix 1:32 British Paratroops are being re-released late summer 2021.
Painting my Paras at last
I had intended at first to do my usual childhood ‘Airfix basics’ simple painting of black boots, flesh faces and weapon colours.
Usually I use Khaki Afrikabraun for faces as it is not quite so pink and bright pale as flesh paints usually are.
Once I had painted in packs, gaiters and webbing in Khaki (Afrikabraun Matt in Revell Acrylic Aquacolor), it became necessary to use Flesh for the faces toned down with a hint of khaki or green. Any other webbing colour from the paints that I had available and had tried was too grey. I hadn’t considered using any washes at this point.
Afrikabraun – gaiters, webbing pouches and haversack
Tar Black – for boots and weapons
Leather Brown – for hair and wooden parts of weapons
Silver and black mixed for gun metal and grenades
Dark Green – for helmets
Shade and Wash?
Having done the old Airfix figure basic colours, I thought I would try some Citadel shade wash to pick out the detail and shadows of pouches, clothes and faces. I used a Christmas gift from the family last Christmas of Citadel Shade Athonian Camoshade (dark green) and Agrax Earthshade (brown). Nuln Oil (black) was generally too dark.
Flocking and Basing (F and B)
MDF 1p Penny bases from Warbases were used for individual figures, Tuppeny 2p MDF for lying down figures and support weapons.
Apart from lying figures, figures were glued with UHU onto these 1p bases before painting started. It makes them generally easier to paint.
The flock used was a mixture of several Woodland Scenics flock types, some Jacklex packing sawdust, fine beach sand and beach micro-gravel (gathered from beach trips).
PVA Glue mixed with brown and green craft acrylic was placed by cocktail stick onto the Airfix figure base and MDF penny base before burying them in flock in a small tray.
A little later, the figure bases were buried in a tub of the fine beach sand and micro-gravel.
Uniform Research – Denison Smocks
Some online sources, painted sample figures in ads and book illustrations show quite garish bright washes of brown cream and green for camouflaged Denison smocks.
Initially I did not even intend to paint the green sections of these already khaki green plastic figures, unless they required this like Tony Adams’ grey painted figures or the 1990s Brown issue Airfix OOHO Paratroops.
Once I had done the green or brown wash, I thought this might suffice.
However, having done the Citadel wash which seems at first to add a shine on matt colours, I went back and spent some time adding brush shade mixes onto the Airfix plastic green base colour of Olive (dark) Green and Dark Earth (brown) Revell Acrylics.
Whilst I did this, I listened for the first time to the DVD Special Features film makers’ commentary by “special effects, designers, cinematographers and film production staff” on my trusty A Bridge Too Far DVD.
After I had done this and it had dried, I couldn’t easily tell what I had done, which is hopefully the opposite of garish.
Early Denison smocks were supposed to slowly fade and the colours wash out.
These familiar Airfix Para figures seem to hold up well enough for me for gaming, especially considering that these figures that are almost 60 years old. Their modern equivalents are probably these 28mm Warlord Games Paras or any other plastic 1:72 / 1:76 British Paras you can find.
A Bridge Too Far 1977 quote: Anthony Hopkins as John Frost: “D’you know something’s just occurred to me. We’re wearing the wrong sort of camouflage … all very well for the countryside but I doubt if it’s going to fool anyone in the town …”
I tried this out but found my old time-expired bandages, once cut up were more like cotton fluff plastic than cloth, so I only did one trial figure in this style. I then trimmed a few millimetres of edging from a green gaming cloth, which had more of a weave to it and the benefit of green shade colours. I tried this finely chopped material out on a damaged figure and a few lying figures.
To Scrim or Not to Scrim and how?
Scrim Plus point: It does hide the unfortunate mould rim line or dent across across the top of the helmet.
Scrim Minus point: Many of the archive pictures that I looked at did not show British Paratroops with helmet scrim net or a leafy head scrim.
I want these figures to be as versatile for (ImagiNations) gaming in different theatres as possible, although generally on grass flocked bases.
What do you think?
Essential Reading Matter
Wargaming Airborne Operations by Donald Featherstone (1977) – same period as A Bridge Too Far film. The appendix sections show Airfix publicity shot pictures of the new German Paratroops OOHO and German Mountain Troops, along with OOHO British Paratroopers with minimal painting style.
In the game photographs, it shows that generally Featherstone barely painted his British Paras, or the newly released 1974-76 issues of Australian, US Paratroop, German Paratroop or Mountain Troop Airfix figures.
By chance, timely figures or the stimulus for producing this book?
Interestingly he also hadn’t added or updated to the Version 2 British Infantry or German Infantry, still using his Version 1 Infantry Combat Group and German Infantry from his WW2 game in War Games (1962) fifteen years earlier. Along with Matchbox US and German Infanty, he had surprisingly used Atlantic German and US Infantry in his games though instead.
Osprey Combat: British Paratrooper versus German Fallschirmjager (Mediterranean 1942-43)
A Bridge Too Far by Cornelius Ryan (extract) from True Stories of World War Two (Reader’s Digest). This thick hardback book of extracts was a welcome teenage Christmas or Birthday present from my parents.
“Hard to choose from the raft of westerns and 50s/60s war films and Battle Victor comics etc, the Zulu, Waterloo films mentioned. Probably ‘A Bridge Too Far‘ from its plan of ops beginning, suggested flaws before the gliders launch, its series of plucky little character vignettes, unlucky blunders, plucky heroism, independent individual skirmish actions and IGO YUGO-ness (now the Allied side, now the German side). Obviously the same could be said of The Longest Day and Battle of the Bulge movies, all a bit mashed together in my head. This happened roughly around the same time as finding Donald Featherstone’s Airborne Wargaming book from the library.”
This film has its detractors https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Bridge_Too_Far_(film) but this broadly accurate film by producer Joseph Levine, scriptwriter William Goldman and director Richard Attenborough is a suitable memorial to many brave young men who died in this tragedy of human flaws in the planning and general bad luck.
Like Attenborough’s earlier film version of Oh What a Lovely War! and many late 1960s and 1970s war films, it is arguably / almost an anti-war film. (‘Discuss’. Film Studies 101).
These Para figures will one day grace the gaming table again as they did in my childhood and teenage games but probably not in a historical reenactment game.
Maybe in ImagiNations games as the First Angrian Parachute Brigade?
Reading through Solo Wargaming, my second favourite Featherstone title, (War Games 1962 first, Airborne Wargaming third, before you ask), I spotted another of Richard Tennant’s beautiful wargames terrain pieces.
Richard (Dick) Tennant sadly passed away in March 2021, aged 77.
It looks like one of these Spanish farms by Holmes of Deltorama or Peter Gilder has been photographed for Donald Featherstone’s lovely book, one of only two colour pictures including the cover picture of Airfix Arabs.
Richard Tennant was an early opponent of Donald Featherstone in Southampton in the 1960s and a lifelong friend of his. They both shared an interest in the Napoleonic and Peninsular Wars.
As well as Richard Tennant’s collections being together in the USA in good hands, it is good to know that many of Featherstone’s figures are together in the collection of Daniel Borris in the USA.
Miscastings or half castings that are not too bad do not always go straight back in the ladle.
To avoid fumes and mess, I restrict my casting to days outside in warmer weather with no threat of rain; hot metal and moisture make an explosive mix.
As a result casting days (or days when I have time and feel like casting) are infrequent enough that I save the 90+ % figures that are ‘nearly all there’. I can then do some simple repairs on missing musket tips and other fiddly bits. Even missing heads can be swapped …
“Where’s your head at?” Missing a head, why not try swopping one with a Pound Store figure?
Such repairs that I make are usually fairly simple ones, such as drilling out a miscast musket to insert a short piece of wire.
On the repair tray where missing musket tips are replaced, heads swapped and bows repaired …
Old Toy Soldier DNA
You might notice from photos that I often drill, file and repair over sheets of white A4 paper, which I have folded into four and unfolded again to make a cross shaped crease.
This is because I keep the metal filings, drilling ‘swarf’ and trimmings from old Hollowcast figure repair, roughing up the base when rebasing or cleaning up home castings.
From time to time during repairs, I carefully slightly fold the crease-crossed A4 page and slide the metal filings and trimmings into a small lidded pot.
Why do I keep this toy soldier ‘magic dust’ mixed together in a small pot of this “old toy soldier DNA“?
It not only keeps the workbench of my roll-top desk clean but it also means that I can then add a minute pinch of this unique and special mixture from time to time to the casting ladle when home casting.
Each new shiny casting might then have inside it a tiny nano-percentage of an old Britain’s hollowcast casting or old flat tin figure.
Each shiny new casting then might have a small part of all the accumulated bravery, courage and adventure from the countless battles that the old damaged hollowcast veterans (from various makers and owners) have been through over the last hundred years or more.
Reinforcements for Tradgardland, Lurland or Afrika?
A small number of these unpainted Schneider castings of pith helmeted Colonial figures and fierce Natives will soon be heading towards Alan Gruber at the Duchy of Tradgardland blog as reinforcements for his interesting Lurland and Ost Afrika campaigns.
Alan has sent me some interesting spare figures and heads to keep me busy throughout Lockdown, so this is a small thin flat thank you heading to the Duchy of Tradgardland Post Office.
Fight well my tiny men, you have the brave DNA of old toy soldiers in you!
Previously on Man of TIN …
Here is one of the first blog posts that I wrote back in 2016 “type casting”. My WordPress avatar / host page @26soldiersoftin is still named after these famous “26 soldiers of Lead” of Gutenberg (or whoever first said this quote).
We finish with a fine picture of a dapper, almost Duke of Edinburgh looking Donald Featherstone, casting away on the kitchen stove in his cheerily enthusiastic 1960s book Tackle Model Soldiers This Way.
“In the author’s house, everyone slaves over a hot stove”. Note the plate drying rack and safety equipment of a shirt and tie. An inspiration to us all!
If you want to have a go at casting, these companies sell new moulds and casting equipment:
Prince August (Ireland / UK/ EU) do some great starter sets at their website
On the back of a David and Charles catalogue flyer for the book, someone has noted some proofreading errors and some photo reversal mistakes. Written by Richard Tennant?
Alongside the Featherstone signature are some pencilled notes that I take to be Richard Tennant’s corrections. The pencil handwriting appears different from Featherstone’s signature and dedication. It exactly matches the handwriting in Miniature Minions’ blogpost about Tennant’s figures and research notebook.
Reading the MiniatureMinions blog post, there is much mention of the Peninsular War and even a mention of this windmill made by George Erik.
See the fly leaf pencil note about the “model illustrated on page 197 custom made by G.Erik photographed with own figures” – written by Richard Tennant
The Peninsular War appears to be a particular interest of both Tennant and Featherstone; I recall reading some of Donald Featherstone’s later articles about the battlefields in modelling or gaming magazines in the 1980s.
Featherstone’s Complete Wargaming has been reissued in a revised and corrected paperback version by John Curry of the History of Wargaming Project, working to correct some of these original printing and photographic errors.
That distinctive Featherstone signature – in pink felt tip.
As well as Richard Tennant, I have come across another of Featherstone’s early circle, one who is still blogging:
Rod’s Wargaming is by another still blogging member of this early wargames conference / community, Rod MacArthur has on his website some great pictures of 1960s Airfix conversions that sometimes involved Featherstone’s mould making help: