Following up my blog post about H.G. Wells’ childhood battles in his head in the late 1860s and early 1870s across the wild spaces of Bromley, recaptured in his Little Wars floor games and garden games of the Battle of Hook’s Farm,
“The land was still mainly used for farming, divided up principally between Hook Farm to the west of Bromley Common, situated in the location of what is today the car park of Norman Park, and Turpington Farm to the east, close to the junction of Crown Lane and Turpington Lane.
Hook Farm was owned by the Norman family of The Rookery, and Turpington Farm belonged to the Wells family of Southborough Lodge (both of these residences are now destroyed).”
There are other mapping programmes or websites that allow you get an idea of the lie of the land as H.G. Wells saw it as an imaginative child General H.G.W. and as you can see it now.
Although the Bromley Local History site maps are placed online, it is worth pointing out that I do not own the copyright of any of these maps – I am sharing screen shots for research purposes, not commercial gain.
Hook’s Farm is where the Norman Park car park can now be found – mid centre of the map.
and scanning around such Street View images I spot a distant spire – Firely Church? I can’t pinpoint it on a modern map or know if it was there in late Victorian times but here is a church, visible just the same roughly from where Hook’s Farm was located.
I have yet to find a photograph of the old Hook’s Farm. Here is what it really looks like inside H.G. Well’s head and house in Little Wars 1913 wooden block form, Firely Church to the left, Hook’s Farm on the right ridge. The Ravensbourne stream is not marked.
Hooks Farm is now ‘Norman Park‘ and the demolished Farm is now a parking area. The restaging of Hooks Farm or a Little Wars centenary game in 2013 that was fought on the lawns of Sandhurst might have been a very different affair on a commandeered Bromley car park.
You can see in the wider Google satellite map how the Martin’s Hill site of many imaginary battles is still part of a green slice or wedge off to the South of Bromley through to the Norman Park Hook’s Farm site and on to Bromley Common and off the map, Keston Fish Ponds or Pool, mentioned in Wells’ battle narrative.
Nice to know from the Google maps overlay of businesses that not only the old Hook’s Farm site is now a place of leisure and hopefully imaginative play and Wide Games but that on the corner of Hook’s Farm Road is a nursery, hopefully full of imaginative play with wooden blocks and small world figures.
One excellent site is the National Library of Scotland websitehttps://maps.nls.uk/which allows you to look at the same place or grid reference on a range of maps over time – it works for your home, where you grew up and for looking up places like Hook’s Farm.
Thanks to Bromley Common and the other Bromley parks there is still a leafy edge that the young H.G. Wells might recognise, despite 150 years of building and suburban infill. The Ravensbourne Stream can be clearly seen.
Here we get a glimpse of Little Wars and the Battle of Hooks Farm in his boyhood imagination forty years earlier, The Battles of Martin’s Hills, Bromley, Kent.
Page 74: “I had reveries—I indulged a great deal in reverie until I was fifteen or sixteen, because my active imagination was not sufficiently employed—and I liked especially to dream that I was a great military dictator like Cromwell, a great republican like George Washington or like Napoleon in his earlier phases.
I used to fight battles whenever I went for a walk alone. I used to walk about Bromley, a small rather undernourished boy, meanly clad and whistling detestably between his teeth, and no one suspected that a phantom staff pranced about me and phantom orderlies galloped at my commands, to shift the guns and concentrate fire on those houses below, to launch the final attack upon yonder distant ridge.
The citizens of Bromley town go out to take the air on Martin’s Hill and look towards Shortland across the fields where once meandered the now dried-up and vanished Ravensbourne, with never a suspicion of the orgies of bloodshed I once conducted there.
“Martin’s Hill indeed is one of the great battlegrounds of history. Scores of times the enemy skirmishers have come across those levels, followed by the successive waves of the infantry attack, while I, outnumbered five to one, manœuvred my guns round, the guns I had refrained so grimly from using too soon in spite of the threat to my centre, to enfilade them suddenly from the curving slopes towards Beckenham.”
“Crash,” came the first shell, and then crash and crash. They were mown [p. 75] down by the thousand. They straggled up the steep slopes wavering. And then came the shattering counter attack, and I and my cavalry swept the broken masses away towards Croydon, pressed them ruthlessly through a night of slaughter on to the pitiful surrender of the remnant at dawn by Keston Fish Ponds.
And I entered conquered, or rescued, towns riding at the head of my troops, with my cousins and my schoolfellows recognizing me with surprise from the windows. And kings and presidents, and the great of the earth, came to salute my saving wisdom. I was simple even in victory. I made wise and firm decisions, about morals and customs and particularly about those Civil Service Stores which had done so much to bankrupt my [shopkeeper] father. With inveterate enemies, monarchists, Roman Catholics, non-Aryans and the like I was grimly just. Stern work—but my duty….
In fact Adolf Hitler is nothing more than one of my thirteen year old reveries come real. A whole generation of Germans has failed to grow up.
My head teemed with such stuff in those days. But it is interesting to remark that while my mind was full of international conflicts, alliances, battleships and guns, I was blankly ignorant about money or any of the machinery of economic life. I never dreamed of making dams, opening ship canals, irrigating deserts or flying. I had no inkling of the problem of ways and means; I knew nothing and, therefore, I cared nothing of how houses were built, commodities got and the like.
I think that was because nothing existed to catch and turn my imagination in that direction. There was no literature to enhance all that. I think there is no natural bias towards bloodshed in imaginative youngsters, but the only vivid and inspiring things that history fed me with were campaigns and conquests. In Soviet Russia they tell me they have altered all that.
 ”For many years my adult life was haunted by the fading memories of those early war fantasies. Up to 1914, I found a lively interest in playing a war game, with toy soldiers and guns, that recalled the peculiar quality and pleasure of those early reveries.”
“It was quite an amusing model warfare and I have given its primary rules in a small book “for boys and girls of all ages” Little Wars.”
“I have met men in responsible positions, L. S. Amery for example, Winston Churchill, George Trevelyan, C. F. G. Masterman, whose imaginations were manifestly built upon a similar framework and who remained puerile in their political outlook because of its persistence.”
“I like to think I grew up out of that stage somewhen between 1916 and 1920 and began to think about war as a responsible adult should.”
H.G. Wells, Experiment in Autobiography, 1934
A gathering of Generals and Staff Officers (Little Wars illustration by J.R. Sinclair)
It is easy to gain a sense of Wells the adult writer trying to recapture the world of Wells the imaginative child (in his hindsight autobiography) yet you can see elements in his recreation of childhood fantasies in his War of the Worlds and other such late Victorian and Edwardian Invasion Literature.
To be honest who amongst us, like H. G. Wells, has not as a child in their Wide Games over parks, woods and gardens had such imaginary battles as knights, cowboys, backwoodsman and troops, especially to relieve the monotony of repeated walks? It is what Baden Powell / Gilcraft in Scouting Wide Games (1933) called the Cloak of Romance.Puck of Pook’s Hill, Treasure Island …
I used, like Wells, on my several mile walks to school as a tweenager / teenager, especially if late, be marching uphill as head of a flying column or parade to get the pace up (music in your head, no Walkmans allowed in school then) before knocking on others doors to collect them and keep going. I had seen Star Wars but had not then seen the film Billy Liar. Thankfully I did not too often have to do the trumpet fanfare running March (of the Italian Bersaglieri) to avoid being late for school.
As a result I find it interesting to see the evolution of the boyhood imaginary heroic man “General H.G.W.” of the young child and early teenage days on St Martins Hill back into the equally imaginative adult “General H.G.W.” of Little Wars in 1913.
In his 1934 Experiment in Autobiography, his teenage ImagiNations now have to compete with the disillusion of WW1, his Shape of Things To Come (1933, later filmed) and the then topical modern world of the 1930s, of Hitler and Soviet Russia, the disillusion of their future crimes still then unknown.
Maybe our own modern War Games and Role Playing Games are a way to recapture these Wellsian “early reveries” and “fading memories of these early War fantasies” of our own ImagiNations, yard games and garden war games.
Not having sisters or daughters, I presume that, akin to or alongside my schoolboy heroic fantasies, that girls had their own versions.
The charm of Wells’ Little Wars were brought to an end by WW1. The Falklands and the Gulf Wars brought some more such gritty reality to our view of things for my generation.
Wells wrote more about his often quarrelsome relationship with Frank and his brothers
Later on I grew up to my brothers, so to speak, and had great talks with them. With Frank, the eldest, indeed, I developed a considerable companionship in my teens and we had some great holiday walks together. But at the time of which I am writing all that had still to come.
Our home was not one of those where general ideas are discussed at table. My mother’s ready orthodox formulæ were very effective in suppressing any such talk. So my mind developed almost as if I were an only child.
My childish relations with my brothers varied between vindictive resentment and clamorous aggression. I made a terrific fuss if my toys or games were touched and I displayed great vigour in acquiring their more attractive possessions.
I bit and scratched my brothers and I kicked their shins, because I was a sturdy little boy who had to defend himself; but they had to go very easily with me because I was a delicate little fellow who might easily be injured and was certain to yell. On one occasion, I quite forget now what the occasion was, I threw a fork across the dinner table at Frank, and I can still remember very vividly the missile sticking in his forehead where it left three little scars for a year or so and did no other harm; and I have an equally clear memory of a smashed window behind the head of my brother Freddy, the inrush of cold air and dismay, after I had flung a wooden horse at him.
Finally they hit upon an effectual method of at once silencing me and punishing me. They would capture me in our attic and suffocate me with pillows. I couldn’t cry out and I had to give in. I can still feel the stress of that suffocation. Why they did not suffocate me for good and all I do not know. They had no way of checking what was going on under the pillow until they took it off and looked.
A little later Wells mentions another of these Billy Liar-type fantasy moments to relieve boredom when a young teenage apprentice in a draper’s shop:
Part 4 First Start in Life—Windsor (Summer 1880)
…. The one bright moment during the day was when the Guards fifes and drums went past the shop and up to the Castle. These fifes and drums swirled me away campaigning again.
Dispatch riders came headlong from dreamland, brooking no denial from the shop-walker. “Is General Bert Wells here? The Prussians have landed!”
He refers back to his Hitleresque (based in the word Chaplinesque) fantasies once gain later (Part 5 p. 533?)
For a glimpse of Old Bromley in Wells’ childhood you can buy repro maps of 1861 from https://www.alangodfreymaps.co.uk/kent0716.htm in case you wish to recreate the Battles of St. Martin’s Hill for yourself as a Little Wars gaming scenario (a change from Hook’s Farm?)
Is Hook’s Farm a real place?
Intriguingly maps of Wells’ imaginative battle areas in 1860s 1870s Bromley feature an area called Hook and Hooks Farm Road (road name still there) . Just as wells wrote about people he knew under different names, maybe he recycled and wrote about real places under other names too?
“The land was still mainly used for farming, divided up principally between Hook Farm to the west of Bromley Common, situated in the location of what is today the car park of Norman Park, and Turpington Farm to the east, close to the junction of Crown Lane and Turpington Lane.
Hook Farm was owned by the Norman family of The Rookery, and Turpington Farm belonged to the Wells family of Southborough Lodge (both of these residences are now destroyed).”
Reading Mathilde Meyer’s memoir H.G. Wells and his Family (1955), about her time as Governess to Well’s two sons Frank and Gip, she makes occasional references to the ‘Floor Game’, which I take to mean Little Wars (1913).
Mathilde Meyer mentions the names of three visitors to Wells country home at Easton Glebe, Dunmow, Essex who took part in the “Floor Game”:
“On wet days, however, The Floor Game, was till the most popular amusement of all. Not only Gip and Frank, but also such friends of their father as the Politician the Rt Hon C.F.G. Masterman, Mr Harold Hobson and Mr. E.S.P. Haynes could be seen stretched out upon the schoolroom floor at weekends.”
Who are these people?
1. Politician, the Rt Hon C.F.G. Masterman
1. Charles Frederick Gurney Masterman MP, Privy Council, (1873 – 1927) was a British radical Liberal Party politician, intellectual and man of letters. He worked closely with such Liberal leaders as Lloyd George and Churchill in designing social welfare projects, including the National Insurance Act 1911. Masterman wrote ‘State of The Nation’ books such as “The Condition of England” 1909
From The Oxford Companion to English Literature, ed. Margaret Drabble (2000)
His postwar political career as a Liberal was a difficult and disappointing one and he died relatively young at 54 years old. In a similar way, the former Liberal Churchill had a long period in the political wilderness in the 1920s and 30s.
Wells, Masterman and Wartime Propaganda BureauWW1
In Masterman we have another link between early Wargamers H.G. Wells and Winston Churchill.
“During the First World War Masterman played a central role in the main British government propaganda agency, designed to counter the German Propaganda Agency and promote British interests in neutral countries like America. Masterman served as head of the British War Propaganda Bureau (WPB), known as “Wellington House.” (Wikipedia entry WPB)
Masterman’s War Propaganda Bureau enlisted eminent writers such as John Buchan, H.G. Wells and Arthur Conan Doyle as well as painters such as Francis Dodd and Paul Nash.
Until its abolition in 1917 to become the Ministry of Information headed by John Buchan, the WPB department published 300 books and pamphlets in 21 languages. It distributed over 4,000 propaganda photographs every week and circulated maps, cartoons and lantern slides to the media.
Masterman also commissioned films about the war such as The Battle of the Somme, which appeared in August 1916. (Adapted from Wikipedia source: Charles Masterman)
Wellington House was home of the War Propaganda Bureau on Buckingham Gate (the building has now been demolished).
The War Propaganda Bureau began its secret propaganda campaign on 2 September 1914 when Masterman invited 25 leading British authors to Wellington House to discuss ways of best promoting Britain’s interests during the war.
Those who attended included (then) well known authors such as William Archer, Hall Caine, Arthur Conan Doyle, Arnold Bennett, John Masefield, G.K. Chesterton, Henry Newbolt, John Galsworthy, Thomas Hardy … G.M. Trevelyan, H.G. Wells [and in the subsequent ‘Author’s Declaration’ several popular women authors].
Rudyard Kipling had been invited to the meeting but was unable to attend.
In view of its propaganda role, all the writers who attended on 2 September 1914 agreed to maintain the utmost secrecy. It was not until 1935 that the activities of the War Propaganda Bureau became public knowledge.
Some of these writers and their author friends agreed to write pamphlets and books that would promote the government’s point of view.
The War Propaganda Bureau went on to publish over 1,160 such pamphlets during the war. (Wikipedia entry WPB)
In 1917 the Department of Information partly took over this role under John Buchan before Lord Beaverbrook took charge of propaganda in 1918.
For a good book on British Naval intelligence and propaganda at home, America and in the more forgotten theatres of WW1 – see Codebreakers by James Willie and Michael McKinley (Ebury, 2015). Author A.E.W. Mason from the Authors Declaration (below) crops up in the book as an ‘interesting’ figure:
Two of those involved in the development of Little Wars signed the ‘Author’s Declaration of Support’ for Britain’s entry into the Great War – G.K. Chesterton and Jerome K. Jerome. It makes the final ‘pacific’ chapter ‘warning’ by Wells in Little Wars about the danger or blunder of Great Wars all the more poignant.
The Slate.com blog post authors state that “H.G. Wells satirized his own wartime career in Mr. Britling Sees It Through (1916), and by 1918 had withdrawn from propaganda work altogether.”
Another one for the Wells book list for this year … available in Project Gutenberg or Librivox.
Another unusual and even more direct or active link to the development of Little Wars occurred to me this week – read about this in my next blog post.
2. Mr Harold Hobson
At first a mystery – this is not the theatre critic Sir Harold Hobson (1904 – 1992).
Harold Hobson (1891–1974), David ‘Bunny’ Garnett’s friend, and a temporary lover of D.H. Lawrence ‘s wife Frieda, lived at 3 Gayton Crescent, at the end of Gayton Road [in what literary tour guide Catherine Brown calls Hampstead the “Montmartre” of London, where many famous artists and writers including H.G. Wells lived in Edwardian times https://catherinebrown.org/lawrences-hampstead-a-walking-tour/
Before WW1, “Bunny roamed the countryside with his ‘Neo-Pagan’ friends: Rupert Brooke, the Olivier sisters, Harold Hobson, Godwin Baynes and Dudley Ward, all of them swimming naked in lakes and rivers, worshipping nature and sleeping out under the stars.” (Source: Amazon review of Garnett biography).
Harold Hobson later married Coralie Jeyes von Werner or “Coralie von Werner Hobson” (1891 – 1946). Largely forgotten today, Coralie wrote novels, short stories and plays; from 1928 she published under the pseudonym “Sarah Salt”. She wrote her first novel ‘The Revolt of Youth’ in 1909.
They had two children: Sarah Elizabeth Hobson and Timothy John Hobson (Source: “Who’s who in Commerce and Industry”, Volume 6, 1948, p.705).
Harold Hobson was the son of New York-born writer Florence Edgar Hobson and noted journalist and social economist John Atkinson Hobson; Harold, an engineering graduate from King’s College, was tall, male, articulate, extroverted.
As a youth he belonged to a group that advocated freedom and spontaneity, was anti-intellectual and was called the Neo-Pagans by Virginia Woolf; the often changing members included Godwin Baynes, Rupert Brooke, Ka Cox, Gwen Darwin (later Raverat), Frances Darwin (later Cornford), David ‘Bunny’ Garnett, the Olivier sisters Margery, Bryn, Daphne and Noel, Jacques Raverat and Gerald Shove.
Hobson and David Garnett, his best friend went on a hike in the Alps in August 1912 with D. H. Lawrence and his companion Frieda Richthofen.
According to Helga Kaschl “Lawrence valued him – at least initially – for his uncompromising honesty; however, they soon parted ways after Harold and Frieda indulged in their passion in a haystack.”
D. H. Lawrence processed this “episode” in “Mr. Noon” and described Stanley (= Harold) as handsome, with big, dark eyes, an attractive, gaunt face, of casual elegance, who looked at Johanna (= Frieda) languidly. (Mr. Noon, p. 376)
Harold Hobson became a Consulting engineer at Merz & McLellan from 1919 to 1925, was involved in setting up the electricity grid in Great Britain and was then successfully employed in leading positions within the electricity industry.
Harold Hobson, Supply Engineer; Commercial Manager 1932–35; General Manager from 1935; Central Electricity Board Chairman 1944–46..
Harold Hobson’s fatherJohn Atkinson Hobson was close to the Fabians and influenced Margaret Cole with his ideas. Hobson senior was one of the liberal intellectuals who switched to the Labour Party after the First World War. Hobson senior worked for The Nation newspaper and became a friend of Leonard Woolf, who also started working for the newspaper in 1922. Hobson’ father published the essay “Notes on Law and Order” in 1926 and “From Capitalism to Socialism” in 1932 in the Hogarth Press. Leonard Woolf valued him as Britain’s leading theoretician of anti-colonialism.
Edward Taylor Scott, married to Harold Hobson’s sister Mabel, was the editor of the Manchester Guardian.
Here we have clear links to The Fabian Society, Liberal thinkers – all overlap with H.G. Wells, who knew D.H. Lawrence, putting Wells on the edge of the Bloomsbury Group of writers and artists, who later settled at Charleston House. Frank Palmer the publisher of Wells Little Wars and Floor Games also had his office in ‘Bloomsbury’.
Thanks to Rahway’s comments about the Scholarly Editing text edition of Little Wars, the two editors have suggestions on who two more of the unattributed names are: Mr W and a dear friend who died, suggested as Graham Wallas and George Gissing.
George Robert Gissing (22 November 1857 – 28 December 1903) was an English novelist, who published 23 novels between 1880 and 1903. His best-known novels, which have reappeared in modern editions, include The Nether World (1889), New Grub Street (1891) and The Odd Women (1893).
The dates of Gissing’s death fits Wells’ pen portrait of his dear ailing friend, who died six or seven years ago if Little Wars was published in 1913 but probably written in stages over several years including the two published Windsor Magazine articles 1912 and Floor Games in 1911.
Gissing died aged 46 on 28 December 1903 having caught a chill on an ill-advised winter walk. He is buried in the English cemetery at Saint-Jean-de-Luz. Veranilda was published incomplete in 1904.
H. G. Wells, after a Christmas Eve telegram, came to Gissing at Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in his final days and helped to nurse him. Wells characterized him as a “flimsy inordinate stir of grey matter”, adding: “He was a pessimistic writer. He spent his big fine brain depreciating life, because he would not and perhaps could not look life squarely in the eyes — neither his circumstances nor the conventions about him nor the adverse things about him nor the limitations of his personal character. But whether it was nature or education that made this tragedy I cannot tell.” Will Warburton was published in 1905, as was his final volume, the short-story collection The House of Cobwebs.. (Wikipedia source George Gissing)
Thanks Wikipedia – and happy 20th Birthday!
New Grub Street is a version of Fleet Street, the newspaper and journalists’ haunt of old, close to Red Lion Court (Bloomsbury?) where Wells’ publisher Frank Palmer worked.
I have ordered a second hand copy of Gissing’s letters to H G Wells, as I enjoy Gissing’s books.
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)
“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?
ColonelSir 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.
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.
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.
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
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:
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
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
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
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:’
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)
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.”
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)
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.
The Napoleon of Notting Hill is a novel written by Gilbert or G. K. Chesterton in 1904, set in a nearly unchanged London in 1984.
Wikipedia plot summary: Although the novel is set in the future, it is, in effect, set in an alternative reality of Chesterton’s own period, with no advances in technology nor changes in the class system nor attitudes. It postulates an impersonal government, not described in any detail, but apparently content to operate through a figurehead king, randomly chosen.
The dreary succession of randomly selected Kings of England is broken up when Auberon Quin, who cares for nothing but a good joke, is chosen. To amuse himself, he institutes elaborate costumes for the provosts of the districts of London. All are bored by the King’s antics except for one earnest young man who takes the cry for regional pride seriously – Adam Wayne, the eponymous Napoleon of Notting Hill. (Wikipedia plot summary)
From Chapter 2: The Napoleon of Notting Hill (1904)
“Sir,” said Wayne, “I am going from house to house in this street of ours, seeking to stir up some sense of the danger which now threatens our city. Nowhere have I felt my duty so difficult as here.
For the toy-shop keeper has to do with all that remains to us of Eden before the first wars began.
You sit here meditating continually upon the wants of that wonderful time when every staircase leads to the stars, and every garden-path to the other end of nowhere.
Is it thoughtlessly, do you think, that I strike the dark old drum of peril in the paradise of children? But consider a moment; do not condemn me hastily. Even that paradise itself contains the rumour or beginning of that danger, just as the Eden that was made for perfection contained the terrible tree.
For judge childhood, even by your own arsenal of its pleasures.
You keep bricks; you make yourself thus, doubtless, the witness of the constructive instinct older than the destructive.
You keep dolls; you make yourself the priest of that divine idolatry.
You keep Noah’s Arks; you perpetuate the memory of the salvation of all life as a precious, an irreplaceable thing. But do you keep only, sir, the symbols of this prehistoric sanity, this childish rationality of the earth?
Do you not keep more terrible things? What are those boxes, seemingly of lead soldiers, that I see in that glass case? Are they not witnesses to that terror and beauty, that desire for a lovely death, which could not be excluded even from the immortality of Eden? Do not despise the lead soldiers, Mr. Turnbull.”
“I don’t,” said Mr. Turnbull, of the toy-shop, shortly, but with great emphasis.
“I am glad to hear it,” replied Wayne. “I confess that I feared for my military schemes the awful innocence of your profession. How, I thought to myself, will this man, used only to the wooden swords that give pleasure, think of the steel swords that give pain? But I am at least partly reassured. Your tone suggests to me that I have at least the entry of a gate of your fairyland—the gate through which the
soldiers enter, for it cannot be denied—I ought, sir, no longer to deny, that it is of soldiers that I come to speak. Let your gentle employment make you merciful towards the troubles of the world. Let your own silvery experience tone down our sanguine sorrows. For there is war in Notting Hill.”
The little toy-shop keeper sprang up suddenly, slapping his fat hands like two fans on the counter.
“War?” he cried. “Not really, sir? Is it true? Oh, what a joke! Oh, what a sight for sore eyes!”
Wayne was almost taken aback by this outburst.
“I am delighted,” he stammered. “I had no notion—”
He sprang out of the way just in time to avoid Mr. Turnbull, who took a flying leap over the counter and dashed to the front of the shop.
“You look here, sir,” he said; “you just look here.”
He came back with two of the torn posters in his hand which were flapping outside his shop.
“Look at those, sir,” he said, and flung them down on the counter.
Wayne bent over them, and read on one—
REDUCTION OF THE CENTRAL DERVISH CITY.
On the other he read—
“LAST SMALL REPUBLIC ANNEXED.
NICARAGUAN CAPITAL SURRENDERS AFTER A MONTH’S FIGHTING.
Wayne bent over them again, evidently puzzled; then he looked at the dates. They were both dated in August fifteen years before.
“Why do you keep these old things?” he said, startled entirely out of his absurd tact of mysticism. “Why do you hang them outside your shop?”
“Because,” said the other, simply, “they are the records of the last war. You mentioned war just now. It happens to be my hobby.”
Wayne lifted his large blue eyes with an infantile wonder.
“Come with me,” said Turnbull, shortly, and led him into a parlour at the back of the shop.
In the centre of the parlour stood a large deal table. On it were set rows and rows of the tin and lead soldiers which were part of the shopkeeper’s stock. The visitor would have thought nothing of it if it had not been for a certain odd grouping of them, which did not seem either entirely commercial or entirely haphazard.
“You are acquainted, no doubt,” said Turnbull, turning his big eyes upon Wayne—”you are acquainted, no doubt, with the arrangement of the American and Nicaraguan troops in the last battle;” and he waved his hand towards the table.
“I am afraid not,” said Wayne. “I—”
“Ah! you were at that time occupied too much, perhaps, with the Dervish affair. You will find it in this corner.” And he pointed to a part of the floor where there was another arrangement of children’s soldiers grouped here and there.
“You seem,” said Wayne, “to be interested in military matters.”
“I am interested in nothing else,” answered the toy-shop keeper, simply.
Wayne appeared convulsed with a singular, suppressed excitement.
“In that case,” he said, “I may approach you
with an unusual degree of confidence. Touching the matter of the defence of Notting Hill, I—”
“Defence of Notting Hill? Yes, sir. This way, sir,” said Turnbull, with great perturbation. “Just step into this side room;” and he led Wayne into another apartment, in which the table was entirely covered with an arrangement of children’s bricks.
A second glance at it told Wayne that the bricks were arranged in the form of a precise and perfect plan of Notting Hill.
“Sir,” said Turnbull, impressively, “you have, by a kind of accident, hit upon the whole secret of my life. As a boy, I grew up among the last wars of the world, when Nicaragua was taken and the dervishes wiped out. And I adopted it as a hobby, sir, as you might adopt astronomy or bird-stuffing. I had no ill-will to any one, but I was interested in war as a science, as a game.
And suddenly I was bowled out. The big Powers of the world, having swallowed up all the small ones, came to that confounded agreement, and there was no more war. There was nothing more for me to do but to do what I do now—to read the old campaigns in dirty old newspapers, and to work them out with tin soldiers. One other thing had occurred to me. I thought it an amusing
fancy to make a plan of how this district or ours ought to be defended if it were ever attacked. It seems to interest you too.”
“If it were ever attacked,” repeated Wayne, awed into an almost mechanical enunciation. “Mr. Turnbull, it is attacked. Thank Heaven, I am bringing to at least one human being the news that is at bottom the only good news to any son of Adam. Your life has not been useless. Your work has not been play. Now, when the hair is already grey on your head, Turnbull, you shall have your youth. God has not destroyed, He has only deferred it. Let us sit down here, and you shall explain to me this military map of Notting Hill. For you and I have to defend Notting Hill together.”
Mr. Turnbull looked at the other for a moment, then hesitated, and then sat down beside the bricks and the stranger. He did not rise again for seven hours, when the dawn broke.
The headquarters of Provost Adam Wayne and his Commander-in-Chief consisted of a small and somewhat unsuccessful milk-shop at the corner of Pump Street …”
“With H. G. Wells as with Shaw, Gilbert’s relations were exceedingly cordial, but with a cordiality occasionally threatened by explosions from Wells. Gilbert’s soft answer however invariably turned away wrath and all was well again. “No one,” Wells said to me, “ever had enmity for him except some literary men who did not know him.” They met first, Wells thinks, at the Hubert Blands, and then Gilbert stayed with Wells at Easton. There they played at the non-existent game of Gype and invented elaborate rules for it. Cecil came too and they played the War game Wells had invented.
“Cecil,” says Wells, comparing him with Gilbert, “seemed condensed: not quite big enough for a real Chesterton.”
“They built too a toy theatre at Easton and among other things dramatized the minority report of the Poor Law Commission. The play began by the Commissioners taking to pieces Bumble the Beadle, putting him into a huge cauldron and stewing him. Then out from the cauldron leaped a renewed rejuvenated Bumble several sizes larger than when he went in.”
Cecil was Cecil Chesterton (1879-1918), younger brother of G.K. Chesterton and friend of Hilaire Belloc, was an English journalist and political commentator, known particularly for his role as editor of The New Witness from 1912 to 1916. He was injured fighting in WW1 and died on 6 December 1918.
Gilbert and Cecil appear to have played Wells’ Little Wars with Wells at Easton.
Easton Glebe is Wells’ one time house in Dunmow in Essex, alongside his Hampstead house nearer London. It was here in Essex that Wells’ second wife Jane died in 1927.
Besides his home in London, Wells rented Easton Glebe, on the Easton Lodge estate, between 1910 and 1928.
It was during this time that Wells had a 10 year affair with Rebecca West. They met in 1912 when Wells was 46 and West only 19. West was also a prolific writer, later being appointed a Dame for her service to English literature. Their son, Anthony West, born in 1914, grew up to became a well-known novelist.
The second chapter from H.G. Wells’ book The New Machiavelli published in 1911 seems very familiar.
I understand that this chapter led to publisher Frank Palmer asking Wells to write more about this area of boys’ games and celebrated uncles. This eventually became an illustrated article in the Strand Magazine and eventually a whole book of Floor Games in 1911. This book was followed in late 1912 by two magazine articles in Windsor Magazine that became Little Wars in mid 1913.
I have broken up the large blocks of text with my own paragraphsor sections.
Important to read the ‘I’ of the following as both a fictional character, the first person narrator Richard (‘ Master Dick’ or ‘Rich’) Remington but based on Wells’ own play with his two sons which led to Floor Games.
The childhood games room setting in the novel is not quite the comfortable cork tile carpet floored of the day nursery of Little Wars or Floor Games.
Floor Games (Dec 1911) can be read for free here with its illustrations:
I dreamt first of states and cities and political things when I was a little boy in knickerbockers.
When I think of how such things began in my mind, there comes back to me the memory of an enormous bleak room with its ceiling going up to heaven and its floor covered irregularly with patched and defective oilcloth and a dingy mat or so and a “surround” as they call it, of dark stained wood.
Here and there against the wall are trunks and boxes. There are cupboards on either side of the fireplace and bookshelves with books above them, and on the wall and rather tattered is a large yellow-varnished geological map of the South of England.
Over the mantel is a huge lump of white coral rock and several big fossil bones, and above that hangs the portrait of a brainy gentleman, sliced in half and displaying an interior of intricate detail and much vigour of coloring. It is the floor I think of chiefly; over the oilcloth of which, assumed to be land, spread towns and villages and forts of wooden bricks; there are steep square hills (geologically, volumes of Orr’s CYCLOPAEDIA OF THE SCIENCES) and the cracks and spaces of the floor and the bare brown surround were the water channels and open sea of that continent of mine.
I still remember with infinite gratitude the great-uncle to whom I owe my bricks. He must have been one of those rare adults who have not forgotten the chagrins and dreams of childhood.
Note: Wooden bricks, Celebrated Great Uncles or Uncles and out of work carpenters make it variously into Floor Games (1911) and Little Wars (1913).
He was a prosperous west of England builder; including my father he had three nephews, and for each of them he caused a box of bricks to be made by an out-of-work carpenter, not the insufficient supply of the toyshop, you understand, but a really adequate quantity of bricks made out of oak and shaped and smoothed, bricks about five inches by two and a half by one, and half-bricks and quarter-bricks to correspond.
There were hundreds of them, many hundreds. I could build six towers as high as myself with them, and there seemed quite enough for every engineering project I could undertake. I could build whole towns with streets and houses and churches and citadels; I could bridge every gap in the oilcloth and make causeways over crumpled spaces (which I feigned to be morasses), and on a keel of whole bricks it was possible to construct ships to push over the high seas to the remotest port in the room. And a disciplined population, that rose at last by sedulous begging on birthdays and all convenient occasions to well over two hundred, of lead sailors and soldiers, horse, foot and artillery, inhabited this world.
Justice has never been done to bricks and soldiers by those who write about toys. The praises of the toy theatre have been a common theme for essayists, the planning of the scenes, the painting and cutting out of the cast, penny plain twopence coloured, the stink and glory of the performance and the final conflagration.
See my blog post about RLS, his famous essay on Toy Theatre, Penny Plain and Tuppence Coloured, H.G. Wells and his circle …
I had such a theatre once, but I never loved it nor hoped for much from it; my bricks and soldiers were my perpetual drama. I recall an incessant variety of interests. There was the mystery and charm of the complicated buildings one could make, with long passages and steps and windows through which one peeped into their intricacies, and by means of slips of card one could make slanting ways in them, and send marbles rolling from top to base and thence out into the hold of a waiting ship.
Then there were the fortresses and gun emplacements and covered ways in which one’s soldiers went. And there was commerce; the shops and markets and store-rooms full of nasturtium seed, thrift seed, lupin beans and suchlike provender from the garden; such stuff one stored in match-boxes and pill-boxes, or packed in sacks of old glove fingers tied up with thread and sent off by waggons along the great military road to the beleaguered fortress on the Indian frontier beyond the worn places that were dismal swamps. And there were battles on the way.
That great road is still clear in my memory. I was given, I forget by what benefactor, certain particularly fierce red Indians of lead—I have never seen such soldiers since—and for these my father helped me to make tepees of brown paper, and I settled them in a hitherto desolate country under the frowning nail-studded cliffs of an ancient trunk. Then I conquered them and garrisoned their land. (Alas! they died, no doubt through contact with civilisation—one my mother trod on—and their land became a wilderness again and was ravaged for a time by a clockwork crocodile of vast proportions.) And out towards the coal-scuttle was a region near the impassable thickets of the ragged hearthrug where lived certain china Zulus brandishing spears, and a mountain country of rudely piled bricks concealing the most devious and enchanting caves and several mines of gold and silver paper.
Among these rocks a number of survivors from a Noah’s Ark made a various, dangerous, albeit frequently invalid and crippled fauna, and I was wont to increase the uncultivated wildness of this region further by trees of privet-twigs from the garden hedge and box from the garden borders. By these territories went my Imperial Road carrying produce to and fro, bridging gaps in the oilcloth, tunnelling through Encyclopaedic hills—one tunnel was three volumes long—defended as occasion required by camps of paper tents or brick blockhouses, and ending at last in a magnificently engineered ascent to a fortress on the cliffs commanding the Indian reservation.
With such an enthusiastic and detailed description, it is easy to here to remember J.R. Sinclair’s marvellous marginal line drawings and also the photographs in Floor Games and Little Wars. Note Celebrated Uncles bridge!
My games upon the floor must have spread over several years and developed from small beginnings, incorporating now this suggestion and now that. They stretch, I suppose, from seven to eleven or twelve. I played them intermittently, and they bulk now in the retrospect far more significantly than they did at the time. I played them in bursts, and then forgot them for long periods; through the spring and summer I was mostly out of doors, and school and classes caught me early. And in the retrospect I see them all not only magnified and transfigured, but fore-shortened and confused together.
A clockwork railway, I seem to remember, came and went; one or two clockwork boats, toy sailing ships that, being keeled, would do nothing but lie on their beam ends on the floor; a detestable lot of cavalrymen, undersized and gilt all over, given me by a maiden aunt, and very much what one might expect from an aunt, that I used as Nero used his Christians to ornament my public buildings; and I finally melted some into fratricidal bullets, and therewith blew the rest to flat splashes of lead by means of a brass cannon in the garden.
I find this empire of the floor much more vivid and detailed in my memory now than many of the owners of the skirts and legs and boots that went gingerly across its territories. Occasionally, alas! they stooped to scrub, abolishing in one universal destruction the slow growth of whole days of civilised development. I still remember the hatred and disgust of these catastrophes. Like Noah I was given warnings. Did I disregard them, coarse red hands would descend, plucking garrisons from fortresses and sailors from ships, jumbling them up in their wrong boxes, clumsily so that their rifles and swords were broken, sweeping the splendid curves of the Imperial Road into heaps of ruins, casting the jungle growth of Zululand into the fire.
“Well, Master Dick,” the voice of this cosmic calamity would say, “you ought to have put them away last night. No! I can’t wait until you’ve sailed them all away in ships. I got my work to do, and do it I will.”
And in no time all my continents and lands were swirling water and swiping strokes of house-flannel.
That was the worst of my giant visitants, but my mother too, dear lady, was something of a terror to this microcosm. She wore spring-sided boots, a kind of boot now vanished, I believe, from the world, with dull bodies and shiny toes, and a silk dress with flounces that were very destructive to the more hazardous viaducts of the Imperial Road. She was always, I seem to remember, fetching me; fetching me for a meal, fetching me for a walk or, detestable absurdity! fetching me for a wash and brush up, and she never seemed to understand anything whatever of the political Systems across which she came to me.
Also she forbade all toys on Sundays except the bricks for church-building and the soldiers for church parade, or a Scriptural use of the remains of the Noah’s Ark mixed up with a wooden Swiss dairy farm. But she really did not know whether a thing was a church or not unless it positively bristled with cannon, and many a Sunday afternoon have I played Chicago (with the fear of God in my heart) under an infidel pretence that it was a new sort of ark rather elaborately done.
Chicago, I must explain, was based upon my father’s description of the pig slaughterings in that city and certain pictures I had seen. You made your beasts—which were all the ark lot really, provisionally conceived as pigs—go up elaborate approaches to a central pen, from which they went down a cardboard slide four at a time, and dropped most satisfyingly down a brick shaft, and pitter-litter over some steep steps to where a head slaughterman (Mr. Noah) strung a cotton loop round their legs and sent them by pin hooks along a wire to a second slaughterman with a chipped foot (formerly Mrs. Noah) who, if I remember rightly, converted them into Army sausage by means of a portion of the inside of an old alarum clock.
My mother did not understand my games, but my father did. He wore bright-coloured socks and carpet slippers when he was indoors—my mother disliked boots in the house—and he would sit down on my little chair and survey the microcosm on the floor with admirable understanding and sympathy.
It was he who gave me most of my toys and, I more than suspect, most of my ideas. “Here’s some corrugated iron,” he would say, “suitable for roofs and fencing,” and hand me a lump of that stiff crinkled paper that is used for packing medicine bottles. Or, “Dick, do you see the tiger loose near the Imperial Road?—won’t do for your cattle ranch.” And I would find a bright new lead tiger like a special creation at large in the world, and demanding a hunting expedition and much elaborate effort to get him safely housed in the city menagerie beside the captured dragon crocodile, tamed now, and his key lost and the heart and spring gone out of him.
And to the various irregular reading of my father I owe the inestimable blessing of never having a boy’s book in my boyhood except those of Jules Verne. But my father used to get books for himself and me from the Bromstead Institute, Fenimore Cooper and Mayne Reid and illustrated histories; one of the Russo-Turkish war and one of Napier’s expedition to Abyssinia I read from end to end; Stanley and Livingstone, lives of Wellington, Napoleon and Garibaldi, and back volumes of PUNCH, from which I derived conceptions of foreign and domestic politics it has taken years of adult reflection to correct.
And at home permanently we had Wood’s NATURAL HISTORY, a brand-new illustrated Green’s HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH PEOPLE, Irving’s COMPANIONS OF COLUMBUS, a great number of unbound parts of some geographical work, a VOYAGE ROUND THE WORLD I think it was called, with pictures of foreign places, and Clarke’s NEW TESTAMENT with a map of Palestine, and a variety of other informing books bought at sales.
There was a Sowerby’s BOTANY also, with thousands of carefully tinted pictures of British plants, and one or two other important works in the sitting-room. I was allowed to turn these over and even lie on the floor with them on Sundays and other occasions of exceptional cleanliness.
And in the attic I found one day a very old forgotten map after the fashion of a bird’s-eye view, representing the Crimea, that fascinated me and kept me for hours navigating its waters with a pin.
End of chapter two of The New Machiavelli H.G. Wells (1911)
I have not read the whole 400+ pages but I think that is the end of the Toy Soldier (i.e. interesting) bit. I put a few interesting phrases in italics.
My Thoughts on this chapter of The New Machiavelli
I wonder how autobiographical this detailed chapter is? The rest of the book is heavily based on the events of his adult life at the time. According to Wikipedia:
The novel’s themes are politics and sex, both abiding preoccupations of the author. Biographer David Smith called The New Machiavelli “Wells’s most autobiographical novel”. (Wikipedia plot summary)
I wonder also whether the choice of named books means something for us to interpret about the character or the character’s father? The main character or first person Narrator, the ‘I’ of the book, Richard Remington is supposed to be an adult looking back accounting for his life and loves so far, a man:
“who has a lifelong passion for “statecraft” and who dreams of recasting the social and political form of the English nation.” (Wikipedia plot summary)
I find echoes of the diverse reading matter and intense Toy Soldier inspired games and juvenilia in the isolated but story and book rich household three Bronte sisters and brother Branwell.
The Wikipedia introduction / summary of the book mentions:
The New Machiavelli is a 1911 novel by Wells that was serialised in The English Review in 1910. Because its plot notoriously derived from Wells’s affair with Amber Reeves and satirised Beatrice and Sidney Webb, it was “the literary scandal of its day.”
The earliest first four editions of the Edwardian literary magazine The English Review in 1908-09 featured his novel Tono Bungay in four monthly parts before it was published as a book. Wells was obliviously used to serialising a book idea like Little Wars or Floor Games as articles in monthly journals before publishing them as a book.
I find a level of irony based on where it was probably written or completed, 1910/11 at Church Row, Hampstead not at his previous seaside home of Spade House in Sandgate, Folkestone in Kent. Wells is portraying an ideal of fathers and avuncular Celebrated Uncles in this chapter, as well as making public the games with his two young sons in Floor Games and Little Wars (either in magazine or book form).
However this guided walk around London entry outlines Wells’ “other family” and affairs that was developing at this time with young Fabian and feminist Amber Reeves (1887-1981), daughter of a New Zealand diplomat or politician , including the birth of an illegitimate daughter Anna Jane in late 1909.
The narrator of Wells’ The New Machiavelli also has echoes of the cheery and jocular tone of so many of the Edwardian satirical writers at the same time as Wells. Maybe with a hint of Dickens at his cheeriest too?
There is an echo of the cheeky sarcasm and patronising attitude especially to well-meaning uncomprehending women underlying Saki’s short story about toy figures, the Toys of Peace.
Chesterton even wrote a scene in his satirical comic novel The Napoleon of Notting Hill (1904) featuring an early Wargamer Mr Turnbull – one to come back to for another forthcoming blog post:
Wayne meets with predictable, and comic, incomprehension until he comes to the sweet and toy shop of Mr Turnbull, who stuns him by revealing that, in his spare time, he plays wargames with his lead soldiers and – has even built a model of Notting Hill which he uses to play wargames!
Reading again Robert Louis Stevenson’s toy soldier poem The Land of Counterpane on the Duchy of Tradgardland blog made me look again at some blog posts I had written about RLS’ toy soldier poems from A Child’s Garden of Verses.
I came across a link to these “old leaded soldiers” belonging to Robert Louis Stevenson at the RLS museum in California (currently closed due to Coronavirus):
Sounds a museum well worth a visit if you live nearby.
I wondered if there were pictures of these soldiers on their RLS Museum website or on the web of RLS’ “old leaded Soldiers”, RLS being a pioneer of early wargaming with his stepson Lloyd Osbourne, their battle or game reports written up stylishly in their “Yallobelly Times”.
I found this picture from the museum of these 19th Century (European? German manufactured?) tin flat toy soldiers with which RLS might have played these pioneer games.
Famous as the author of Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson was also an early war gamer.
His role as ” grandfather” or “great uncle” in the history of wargaming (depending where you place H G Wells) was acknowledged by “father of the modern wargame” Donald Featherstone in his book War Games (1962), a book that began the hobby careers of so many of us.
RLS mention from Donald Featherstone, War Games (1962)
Stevenson at Play, a magazine article describes a complex strategic wargame that the author and his 12 year old stepson, Samuel Lloyd Osbourne, played in the early 1880s which you can read reprinted here:
Stevenson’s complex game does not seem to have had the attention that H G Wells‘ Little Wars has had, even though despite the popgun driven firing system, there are many surprisingly modern features: four man units, concealed movement, ammunition logistics … well worth rereading.
Blog posted by Mark Man of TIN, 2 October 2020
Blog Post Script – some RLS and others toy soldier poems that I have featured on my blog over the years
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.