Female war gamers often describe themselves as legendary or mythical creatures.
Search around, there are now a fair number of female war gamers blogging (usually more fantasy than historical).
Cards on the table: I am not a club war gamer or club board gamer, never have been and probably never will be. I have always been essentially an occasional solo gamer, but mostly a repairer, converter, painter, collector and general hack-abouter of toy soldiers.
However the ‘social history’ of gaming and war gaming is an interesting one to me as it spread out from a military training tool in the nineteenth century onwards via H.G. Wells’ Little Wars, avoiding a destructive swish of skirts on the nursery floor to a more diverse civilian audience in the 1960s and 1970s boom.
I was intrigued whilst casually researching ‘war games’ on the British Newspaper Archive to come across this curious snippet from The West Briton November 18, 1971 (interestingly around the Armistice / Remembrance period):
“A meeting of wargaming societies from Truro School and Truro Girls Hugh School was held last week at Truro School to discuss the possibility of forming a Wargaming Society which would be open to members of the public of Truro.
About 20 attended the meeting, which was presided over by Mr. Derek Burrell, headmaster of Truro School.”
What makes this noteworthy fifty years later is the words “and Truro Girls High School“.
Both schools are still in existence, both long established (nineteenth century) independent, fee-paying or private schools in Cornwall.
The time of the event is not surprising: 1971 was midway through the ‘first Wargames boom period’ from Featherstone’s War Games 1962 onwards with Airfix riding high: cue vintage wargaming sort of nostalgia.
A month or so later a further interview turns up in the West Briton, 20 December 1971: almost no mention of any girl gamers or female gamers.
Club spokeswoman sixth former Bob Aldridge on “Britain’s fastest growing hobby” West Briton, December 1971. (Bob Aldridge was still active on Facebook in the last few years.)
I can find no further trace of this Truro Wargames Society involving girls or female gamers.
As club members move on, it may not have lasted very long. Clubs schism over rules, scale and periods played.
A Fantasy and Wargames Society was announced in the same area in the 1983, according to the article, one particularly seeking female members to play Dungeons and Dragons.
Kevin Roke, organiser of a Fantasy and Wargames Society of Cornwall, (21 March 1983 West Briton) sought more members including women gamers. Keen to “attract some women, secretary Kevin Roke believes, the games being played have appeal not only for men.”
This type of press article is always fascinating, as bemused local journalists try to get their head round a quirky niche hobby and make it sound interesting to outsiders:
An Armageddon Club of gamers also met in the Truro area in the 1980s, maybe not the most sensitive of naming in the Nuclear 80s when the phrase The War Game in the British Newspaper Archive ironically throws up multiple 1980s listings of the local CND groups showing ‘The War Game’ film in village halls.
Another West Briton newspaper snippet about a new Wargames West society was announced at a local boys club in Truro in 1993 suggesting the other 1971 Society or 1980s ones were no more?
As mentioned, the Cornwall Wargames Association and other SW games societies still exist, with a few outposts of Games Workshop stores down West and a declining number of local model shops.
Maybe other readers know more?
There may be some veteran Truro High School for Girls female war gamers in their sixties and seventies out there with vague memories in 1971 of pushing lead and plastic figures around a table
but sadly I somehow doubt this …
Blog posted by Mark Man of TIN, down far West, 2 October 2021.
In several Harry Potter films, magical orphan schoolboy Harry is shown living under his aunt and uncle’s stairs, living on their charity and cast offs, playing with his Cousin Dudley’s cast off toy soldiers. These are all shown as broken and headless. Very symbolic …
Toy soldiers, wargames and chess sometimes appear in films, books and adverts as shorthand symbols for tactics, scheming and strategy (Bond Living Daylights film, Callan, The Crown.)
At the end of the first Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone book and film, there is a giant, living and deadly chess game that Harry and friends must play and win to solve their quest.
The headless toy soldiers from “The Cupboard Under The Stairs” also appear briefly in the part 1 of the film adaptation of the final lengthy tome Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. They are briefly glimpsed as symbols of his deprived childhood as Harry leaves the magical protection of his neglectful blood relatives the Dursleys and their house on Privet Drive for the final time when he comes of age.
They did not appear in the books, although in a short interview clip with screenwriter Steve Kloves, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling approved of the film’s visual shorthand and symbolism of the headless soldiers, the “broken army” of cast out, cast off figures:
Obviously the headless soldiers have a symbolic role, as toy soldiers in films usually have. They symbolise his abused, second class, neglected, cast-off status as an unwanted, unloved orphan child.
Symbolic headless soldiers – Maybe Harry Potter is both a helpless pawn or a increasingly clever game player in the quests and riddles that run through the Harry Potter books?
The Harry Potter fandom site suggests: “It’s not known if these toy soldiers were a cheap birthday present for Harry on one of his birthdays or if they were inherited toys from his cousin Dudley that he most likely no longer wanted.
It is not very easy from these screen shots to recognise which original figures they were, ones that the props department found headless or beheaded as props?
Anyone recognise the originals or makers of these figures?
Maybe a good Halloween fantasy scenario (Pauline Clarke, Twelves and the Genii or Return of the Twelves style) where the headless figures must seek out their heads or the headless soldiers are some zombie automata …
I enjoyed reading the Harry Potter books, and later watching the Potter films, partly for their punning wordplay and also for their look, both the CGI fantasy of Diagon Alley and increasingly grungy, gritty look as the real world and the magical world collide.
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
A lost post draft from June 2016, in my first month of Man of TIN blog: I have several copies of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Steadfast Tin Soldier“, which was originally published close (1838) to the Brontes imagi-nations writing of the Angria and Gondal stories, also inspired by a box of toy soldiers.
The illustrations and story sections in some illustrated Andersen editions are darker and more troubling than others. A quick Google or Pinterest search on images throws up dozens of different illustrations for the Steadfast Tin Soldier.
There is more about Andersen’s disturbing or inspiring tale of ‘steadfastness’, interpretations of its psychology and its many variations from Balanchine ballet to punk songs on the Wikipedia entry for the story:
On his birthday, a boy receives a set of 25 toy soldiers and arrays them on a table top. One soldier stands on a single leg, having been the last one cast from an old tin spoon.
Nearby, the soldier spies a paper ballerina with a spangle on her sash. She too is standing on one leg and the soldier falls in love. That night, a goblin among the toys in the form of a Jack in the box angrily warns the soldier to take his eyes off the ballerina, but the soldier ignores him.
The next day, the soldier falls from a windowsill (presumably the work of the goblin) and lands in the street. Two boys find the soldier, place him in a paper boat, and set him sailing in the gutter … (Wikipedia summary)
25 Soldiers of lead (or tin), so nearly our blog title!
Surely there is the opportunity for further adventures or alternative endings rather than what usually happens. Is this the making of a board game, a figure game, a new story?
The usual ending goes:
… the boat and its passenger wash into a storm drain, where a rat demands the soldier pay a toll. Sailing on, the boat is washed into a canal, where the tin soldier is swallowed by a fish.
When the fish is caught and cut open, the tin soldier finds himself once again on the table top before the ballerina. Inexplicably, the boy throws the tin soldier into the fire.
A wind blows the ballerina into the fire with him; she is consumed at once but her spangle remains. The tin soldier melts into the shape of a heart. (Wikipedia plot summary)
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