Summer Reading

Christmas has passed and summer is heating up. The relentless war to maintain the garden is escalating as I try to thwart the airborne assaults by birds and the ground assault by various bugs and slugs in the vegetable garden. Fire and sword (or, less poetically, flame gun and weeder) are brutally being used to suppress the great uprisings of weeds that have surged forth due to the warmer weather. Heavy hangs the head that wears the broad-brimmed hat because that is the gardener’s lot during these hot months.

However, for those times when I am not out endeavouring to hold back the untamed wilderness and keep order, I have yet more books. I suppose one can never have enough books, even if one simply can’t get around to reading them all. My latest purchases were prompted by a passing fancy to know a bit more about “The Anarchy” of the 12th Century when King Stephen fought Empress Matilda for the throne of England.

So, to that end, I went looking online for a suitable book on the topic and came across the Naval & Military Press online bookshop. I fortuitously found the website during its summer (UK) sale, with many books heavily marked down, and that, of course, led to me buying more books than I had originally intended. To keep postage costs down, I chose surface mail, as I wasn’t in any hurry for the books. They arrived a few weeks ago, well packaged and enclosed in a Royal Mail bag, something I had not come across before, and included with my order was a newspaper-style illustrated book list with plenty more potential purchases.

Thus, “King Stephen and the Anarchy: civil war and military tactics in twelfth-century Britain” by Chris Peers was my initial choice. The title tells you everything you need to know about the book. My next two purchases concerned English Civil War topics. They were “A Rabble of Gentility” by John Barratt about the royalist northern horse during 1644–45 and “The Last Army”, also by Barratt, about the battle of Stow on the Wold in 1646 that saw the defeat of the last royalist field army by Parliament. They’ll be added to my extensive collection of ECW books, a period in which I’m very interested but haven’t played much.

My last pick was a hardcover tome of “Britain in the Age of Arthur: a military history” by Ilkka Syvanne. I had seen this book before, and it had raised my interest, but it was too expensive. However, during the sale, it was a fifth of its usual advertised price, so I took the opportunity to purchase it. Thus, my pile of reading materials grows ever larger.

As far as other stuff goes, due to the dust and dirt of having our bathroom renovated for what took a month, I packed away my paints and probably won’t get them out again before autumn. Before the builders started, I finished varnishing the fantasy miniatures and had them ready to glue to bases. I had almost finished the ECW Musketeers but had to set them aside once renovations began. However, while I may not resume painting for the time being, I am very likely to mess around with something, and the summer campaign will certainly keep me occupied.

A mostly dead hobby? 

It may seem that my blog and hobby are mostly dead. However, as Miracle Max in “The Princess Bride” said, “There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive”. So, while I haven’t been doing much hobby wise since my last post, it is, at least, still slightly alive. In any event, the spring and summer months are for campaigning in the garden and it is only in autumn and winter that I turn my attention to more sedentary pursuits.

My readings on colonial warfare have been furthered with the acquisition of “Battle in Africa 1879-1914” by Howard Whitehouse. This truly excellent little book was published in 1987 by Field Books and packs an amazing amount of information in its 48 pages. As the title suggests, it provides a general overview of warfare from the Zulu War, through the “scramble for Africa”, and ending at the start of WWI. The book details the logistics, weaponry, and tactics of both the imperial powers and their colonial and native adversaries. It is also beautifully illustrated throughout with drawings by renowned artist Peter Dennis.

More colonials!

Another buy, though not directly related to wargaming but running parallel to it, was “From Medieval Manuscript to Modern Practice the Longsword Techniques of Fiore dei Liberi” by Guy Windsor. It has been many years since I wielded a sword, but I still take a more than passing interest in the history and techniques of swordsmanship. One idle night on the internet, I came across this hardback book for well below its usual asking price, so I took the opportunity and bought it. 

Italian longsword action.

“From Medieval Manuscript to Modern Practice” has at its core “The Flower of Battle”, a fencing manual by the late 14th to early 15th Italian fencing master Fiore. Using that as a basis, Guy Windsor, presents a well researched and systematic exposition of longsword fencing in the Italian style as it was taught by Fiore. Unlike my older fencing manuals, and as a sign of the age in which we live, the book contains links to practical demonstrations online and that makes it very useful. Thus, “From Medieval Manuscript to Modern Practice” is a welcome addition to my small collection of swordsmanship manuals.

Do you like Kipling?

If your answer is “I don’t know I’ve never “kippled”, then perhaps you should give it a try. I have been into Kipling since childhood and heartily recommend it. With all my reading about colonial warfare, I decided I needed a decent collection of Rudyard Kipling’s “Barack-Room Ballads”. Searching around on the internet, I came across a new, pristine, old stock, copy of “Kipling’s Soldiers” from 1993.

Kipling’s military ballads illustrated.

The book is a wonderful collection of Kipling’s military themed poetry and is liberally sprinkled with 19th century photos of soldiers. The book’s 24 colour plates by renowned military artist Bryan Fosten depicting the lives and times of Victorian soldiers make it a true gem. The paintings alone make the volume a worthwhile guide to uniforms of the period. However, the real strength and pleasure of the book are Kipling’s ballads, which give voice to the experiences and conditions of Queen Victoria’s soldiers. Experiences that are universal for professional soldiers, from antiquity to the modern age.

Colonial Piles

Colonial piles is not some affliction that one suffers in a far flung tropical outpost of the empire but rather an assortment of second hand books I have rapidly acquired over the past month or so.  It all started with me innocently watching my worn old copy of the movie “Zulu Dawn” and idly pondering the recently reinvigorated Jacklex range of colonials on their new website. That prompted my interest and led to me buying a couple of books on the Zulu War and then everything just snowballed from there.

Colonial Pile No. 1
Colonial Pile No. 2

As an odd bit of synchronicity, the shiny British Camel Corp chaps on the mountain of books (presumably seeking the hordes of the Mahdi), were a gift from John during a visit for an enjoyable meal. The figures are 54mm Armies in Plastic toy soldiers that John had splendidly painted. We also had a fun colonial game utilising some old paper flats and a colonial variant of the One Hour Wargames rules. It was the first outing for the paper flats for about 12 years, since the last time I was last bitten by the colonial bug.

Splendid chaps bound for Khartoum.

The bulk of the books are on the Zulu War, that being what originally pulled me down the rabbit hole. It has long been of interest to me, mostly because there are two great films set during it and I had a copy of Cy Endfield’s book “Zulu Dawn” in my formative years. The Sudan Wars also constitute a good proportion of the books; while the North West Frontier is in a very poor third place (I will try and remedy that). Of course there are plenty of other colonial campaigns that are of interest but I will have to stop somewhere. However, I now have plenty of reading material to entertain me over the summer days and provoke dreams of colonial adventures!

The start of a new pile!

The Art of Warfare on Land.

Continuing my quest for wargaming books that influenced my early ideas of wargaming and military history, I recently bought a copy of the late David Chandler’s massive “The Art of Warfare on Land”.  Chandler doesn’t need an introduction to anyone with an interest in military history and his book on land warfare is still one of the best general introductions to the subject, despite being originally published in 1974. If you want to know what a double envelopment is or analyse and learn about the other manoeuvres used by great generals throughout history, then this is the book to read.

“The Art of Warfare on Land” by David Chandler.

However my motivation for buying this book was its impact on my formative years. As a youngster I repeatedly borrowed it from the local library and read it to learn how the great generals of the past from Hannibal to Zhukov out manoeuvred their opponents. The other attraction was all the copious colour and black and white pictures.

Among the featured illustrations, there are three sets of photos that particularly inspired my young mind. The images, including double page spreads, illustrated the battles of Daras, Waterloo and Gettysburg, played out as wargames with commentary. The photos that most captured my imagination were of Byzantines, commanded by Belisarius, fighting the Sassanid Persians at Daras in 530 AD

The battle of Daras.

The consolation of books and a garden.

Cicero said “If you have a library and a garden, you have everything you need”.  While I am not that certain a library and a garden will provide you with everything you need, they are certainly a source of some consolation when dark times arise. I, however, cannot claim to own a library but certainly do have more than a few books and a reasonably sized garden.

In the past few years I have engaged less with toy soldiers and battle games as I realised that I wasn’t getting the enjoyment I used to and found the modern requirements for a “good” miniatures wargame too onerous. Consequently, I have channelled most of my available resources and efforts into gardening, which I have found, for the time being, to be more worthwhile. My lovely wife has also taken up gardening as we have discovered it gives us something to focus on and to gain a measure of solace after so much death.  Indeed, as my wife has pointed out to me, gardening uses many of the skills required of wargaming, strategy and tactics.

I haven’t completely abandoned the world of miniature warfare but my efforts are mostly, though not entirely, confined to reading blogs and books about it. I am admittedly more interested in the earlier years of the hobby and the books and miniatures that have meaning to me than I am in chasing after the latest and greatest new releases. Consequently over the past months I have added a number of old hobby related books to my collection.

PSL Guide

The “PSL Guide to Wargaming”, compiled and edited by Bruce Quarrie (as it says on the cover) is one of those books that captured my imagination long ago. It was a book I didn’t own but borrowed regularly from the public library and I have fond memories of reading it on the backseat of my father’s car while on family country drives. It does provide a good outline of the various periods from ancients to WW2 and presents rules to game each era with.

Ancient Wargaming

Battle Jan 1977     Battle Nov 1977

The AIRFIX magazine guide No.9 “Ancient Wargaming” by Phil Barker was a book I didn’t have access to but was aware of during my formative years. So it gave me great pleasure to acquire my own copy for little outlay. The book is often referred to as the “purple primer” and it can certainly still fill the role as an introduction to ancient wargaming. At about the same time I purchased “Ancient Wargaming”, I was able to buy “Battle” magazine for January and November 1977 (The finger, in the photo, performing the war gamer’s point belongs to my gorgeous wife). Both magazines were delightful reads.

Discovering Wargames     Wargaming 18th Century

I received “Discovering Wargames” by John Tunstill and Stuart Asquith’s “Wargaming 18th Century Battles” as gifts. “Discovering Wargames” is fascinating little book that develops a “scientific” approach to wargaming and also provides a general introduction. “Wargaming 18th Century Battles” does as the name suggests and outlines a number of battles of the period and how they can be gamed. The rules for marlburian warfare are a very useful inclusion.

Nash Wargames

The Hamlyn all-colour paperback “Wargames” by David Nash is a beautifully illustrated book that discusses the history of wargaming, and basic and advanced wargames. It then further discusses the Napoleonic and American Civil Wars and WW2 in reasonable detail considering the small size of the book.


“Wellington The years of the Sword” by Elizabeth Longford was a discovery at a local Op-shop and cost me the princely sum of three dollars. It is a detailed biography of Sir Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, and his military career to the end of the Hundred Days Campaign and Waterloo. It is a mighty tome that will take me a while to get through at the glacial speed I read these days. There is, apparently a second volume that presumably covers his political career but I am not likely to go out of my way to get it.

Arms and Armour

The “How and Why Wonder Book of Arms and Armour” was another op-shop find. I had this book as a child and read it constantly until it fell apart, so seeing it again brought back a wave of childhood memories. I really bought it only for the wonderful illustrations. Two particular images from this book stayed in my memory all through the years. The first was of a Byzantine cavalryman from the time of Belisarius and the Emperor Justinian. The second was of fanciful Arthurian British.

Byzantine Cavalry     Arthurian Cavalry

So plenty of reading material, some of which I have read in full and others that I am still working through. Of course there are even more books on the way, as I still don’t yet have a library full!


Plaster Panzers and Plasticine Hills

While I am still not in a painting and gaming mood, I am continuing to read about playing with toy soldiers and military history. Indeed my last book was one that proved seminal to the rise of modern wargaming. A little while ago I was fortunate to secure on EBay a 1972 edition copy, in good condition, of Donald Featherstone’s 1962 book “War Games Battles and Manoeuvres with Toy Soldiers”. Reading it proved to be a fascinating journey into the past and the start of wargaming as a popular hobby.

War Games

After a foreword by the esteemed Brigadier Peter Young, the book explains what wargames are and how you go about setting them up. Campaigns are broadly described and solo games are also briefly covered. Having elucidated wargaming to the reader, Donald Featherstone provides a collection of five rules for gaming periods from the ancient world to World War 2 (or Modern as it is referred to in the book). The rules are supported with exciting battle reports and photographs showing how the conflicts play out.

The first rules, by the revered Tony Bath, cover ancient warfare. These are demonstrated by the fantasy battle of “Trimsos” between the Hyperboreans and the Hyrkanians using zinnfiguren. The second set of rules address horse and musket warfare. These are illustrated by an American Civil War battle called “Action in the Plattville Valley” where blue and grey shiny toy soldiers fight over hills made of plasticine. The venerable Lionel Tarr’s highly detailed modern (i.e. WWII) rules are the next to be explained, followed by a simplified set for less rigorous games. The simple modern rules are then exhibited through a WWII “Tank and Infantry Action on the St James Road” between British Grenadier Guards, with supporting miniature tanks, and the Herman Goering Panzer Grenadiers, with homemade panzers of plaster. The last set of rules, “Close Wars”, appear in the appendices and are designed for skirmish actions in the French and Indian War of the 18th Century.  The appendices also contain instructions for making Lionel Tarr’s wargaming periscope.

While “War Games Battles and Manoeuvres with Toy Soldiers” may not be as relevant to wargamers as it was when it was first published some 55 years ago it still inspires. It certainly gives some insight into the thinking of past wargaming worthies on rules and playing wargames. The rules supplied within the book are quite playable and the thrilling battle reports are still a pleasure to read. The book also demonstrates quite brilliantly that good fun games can be played without all the frippery and paraphernalia of modern wargaming. In short, the book is a word to the wise and a tonic for the jaded.

Solo Nostalgia!

After a long search I managed to acquire a book that had considerable impact on how I have viewed wargaming since my teenage years. I found “Solo-Wargaming” by Donald Featherstone during a late night trawl of EBay a month or so ago and at a ridiculously low price compared to the few copies I had seen on sale previously. Upon its arrival in the mail, I voraciously read “Solo-Wargaming” from cover to cover. Every page proved so familiar to me and inspiring despite the years that have passed.

Solo Wargaming

I believe “Solo-Wargaming” was one of the first books on wargaming that I read. I can’t be entirely certain (My memory is a bit fuzzy these days). It was an old book by the time I found it on the library bookshelf and I had long been aware of wargaming as a hobby through reading wargaming articles in “Military Modelling” and watching episodes of the television spy series “Callan”. I had even managed to play games using basic rules of my own devising and then with rules obtained from a shop in distant Launceston.

However, reading “Solo Wargaming” back then proved an absolute inspiration and provided me with an understanding of how greater depth and enjoyment could be had out of games using a wider variety of devices than I had previously been aware of. Re-reading it so many years later I was struck by the elegance of those mechanisms and that even now they can provide real depth in both solo games and those against opponents. Indeed, many of those ideas are still being used in wargaming today. After some forty-four years since it was published “Solo-Wargaming” by Donald Featherstone still inspires and is still relevant to every gamer.

Reading Roundup

Summer is now long past but I haven’t as yet resumed painting toy soldiers and I don’t have much inclination to do so at the moment. However, I have acquired some new books over the past few months. The first of these was “Great Military Disasters from Bannockburn to Stalingrad” by Julian Spilsbury. It proved to be an accessible read that gives some interesting perspectives on how great military disasters arise. While the causes prove to be many, good old human incompetence tops the list. Of course the book equally demonstrates how great victories were achieved by the opposing forces, and it certainly proves what a perilous undertaking it is committing your forces to battle.

Great Military Disasters

Next on my list of new books is “Wargaming an Introduction” by Neil Thomas. As the name suggests it provides an introduction to wargaming the major periods from Ancients to WW2. It also provides some excellent rules for gaming each of those. I read this book some nine years ago when I borrowed it from the local library. I enjoyed reading the book then and appreciated the elegance of the rules. The book still stands up as an enjoyable read and rules are still well-designed even all these years later.

I was prompted to buy “Wargaming an Introduction” after reading some online reviews of the WW2 rules it contained. I had been looking for a set of WW2 rules that weren’t too tortuous to play. I have played the WW2 rules contained in “One Hour Wargames” by Neil Thomas and enjoyed them immensely but I wanted to try something that could handle larger and more varied forces. I haven’t as yet used the “Wargaming an Introduction” WW2 rules but I look forward to doing so.

Wargaming an Introduction

“The Battles of Tolkien” by David Day I picked up in a local bookshop. It is a beautiful book to behold with its many gorgeous illustrations and faux tooled leather cover. The book came plastered with the warning “This work is unofficial and is not authorized by the Tolkien Estate or HarperCollins Publishers”. However, it proved an interesting read that more addressed what inspired Tolkien’s depictions of warfare in Middle Earth than an analysis of the weapons and structure of the forces involved. More care should have been taken in the preparation and production of the text in “The Battles of Tolkien” as there are some issues with its clarity and typography. The battle maps could also have been clearer. Despite that, the book is a handy reference and would bejewel any bookshelf.

Battles of Tolkien

My most recent acquisition is “The Soldier” by Chris McNab and was procured from ABE Books for a tiny sum. I bought this book after reading a very comprehensive review of it on the Man of Tin blog. The edition I have was only published last year and is very up to date. The book endeavours to describe the personal experiences of soldiers from the Seven Years War to present conflicts. It is a really well put together book filled with useful information and excellent illustrations and detailed colour plates of uniformed soldiers. It is best described as an “Eyewitness Guide” style book for adults.

The Soldier

A Bevy of Books.

It has been a while since I have been able to update this blog, so I thought I would write a quick post about my book purchases over the past few months. I have read a couple in full already and will gradually read all of them as time and inclination allows.

First up: “World Uniforms and battles 1815 – 50” by Philip Haythornethwaite and Michael Chappell. It is a book with which to while away time looking at fabulous uniforms of the post-Napoleonic period until the middle of the Nineteenth Century, before uniforms started down the path to practicality. The many colour plates and descriptions provide plenty of inspiration for toy soldiers. This second-hand book was published back in 1976 as part of the excellent Blandford Colour Series on military uniforms. This series provides my favourite “go to” books on military uniforms.


Another second-hand purchase was “An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Military Uniforms of the 19th Century” by Kevin F. Kiley and Digby Smith.  As the name suggests, this book covers in reasonable detail the uniforms of the combatants in the various wars of the Nineteenth Century. It is beautifully and lavishly illustrated and is sure to provide further inspiration for toy soldiers.


I found “Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies and Three Battles” by Bernard Cornwell at a local bookshop and bought it on a whim. I am very familiar with Bernard Cornwell’s “Sharpe” series and was quite intrigued how his first foray into factual history would go. I found it a very enjoyable but informative read. It is an accessible and refreshing look at a battle that has probably had more books written about it than any other.


“Napoleonic Infantry” and “Napoleonic Cavalry” by Philip Haythornethwaite from the Napoleonic Weapons and Warfare series, published by Cassell, were a serendipitous find in a local second-hand bookshop. While I have not read these as yet, the books endeavour to provide an overview of the weapons and tactics of the mounted and foot arms of Napoleonic armies.



I picked up “Generals: Ten British Commanders Who Shaped the World” by Mark Urban on the sale table of a local bookshop.  I have only just started reading this but it seems a quite interesting history of a selection of generals from Monck to Montgomery.


From the same sale table came “How History’s Greatest Pirates Pillaged, Plundered, and Got Away with It: The Stories, Techniques, and Tactics of the Most Feared Sea Rovers from 1500-1800” by Benerson  Little. The title says it all. I have read a few chapters of this entertaining book, despite the over the top title.


I hope after this little literary interlude to have some more toy soldiers to show,  it is simply a matter of me getting motivated enough to apply the final finishing touches to them. In the mean while I am greatly looking forward to attending a concert by the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards next month.