Friday, 15 July 2016

Northampton Battlefield Conference

Regular readers will know that I'm an active campaigner to preserve the Wars of the Roses battlefield in Northampton. As part of the campaign to look after our heritage the Northampton Battlefields Society is staging its first annual conference on the weekend of 24th/25th September.

We've put together a programme covering a wide range of subjects on the Saturday, and for those of you who can stay or return the following day there's a bonus battlefield tour from the Society Chairman, Mike Ingram, author of THE book on the battlefield. We've done it to this way to enable us to fit in as many speakers as we can on the first day, and to give us flexibility if the weather is unkind to us.

The conference fee includes lunch and refreshments throughout the day. If you want to stay over then there are rooms at the conference venue at a discounted rate if you apply before the 27th August.

Places are limited, so for those of you interested in the Wars of the Roses and our military heritage, I've put a link to the application form up amongst the Downloads, top right.

It promises to be an excellent day, and all in support of a good cause. I look forwards to seeing you there.







Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Conference of Wargamers 2016 - Saturday Evening to Sunday

After a fine dinner, as ever, it was time for some after dinner fun & games.

My camera seems to have gone missing part way through the evening so I've only got one game with pictures.

John Armatys is working on a card based version of his Roman Republic Careers game.


It's called Cursus Honorum - The Card Game. Snappy title, John. This covers the ground that the WD Dispaly Team North's game of the same name, also designed by John, only using cards. The thing with the cards as John explained is that you can put together the sort of text you see on Roman tombstones.


I did pretty well, and managed the full course, as did one other player. The game is still in development and we had a good discussion afterwards, contributing quite a lot of ideas.

After that I sat and chewed the fat with some COW veterans on several subjects before fitting in another game of VIII Corps, and something else I can't remember, I think (no photos, no memory)

Sunday morning dawned brighter and drier and I headed off to the Practical Room for a presentation of the new "Airfix Battles" game, designed by WD member Allan Paul.


Allan gave a quick demo then let us lose on one of the two sets he'd brought along

Russell unwraps a new game - bliss!!

I got the US forces and faced off against Russell King with the Nazis. The game is basically a skirmish/company level game akin to RFCM's PBI. Everything you need is in the box, and you can replace the good quality cardboard components with your own Airfix armies over time.

The game uses squares and has a clever card based activation and order system. It plays really nicely and at £25 won't break the bank. It's a sort of entry level game that builds up complexity as you add more bits in and play the later scenarios in the booklet.

Me looking smug having crushed Russell.
I filled the rest of my Sunday sessions with a talk /game design session on the need to control the narrative in modern conflict (which even raised a reference to an old game of mine called "Hack!" which was a game about war reporting I designed in 1992) and a lecture on the English Barbary pirates from David Bradbury.

All too soon it was time for the WD AGM and the fond farewells and "See you next year"s to old and new friends.

And off to work on Monday.


Monday, 11 July 2016

Conference of Wargamers 2016 - Saturday Morning & Afternoon

After a few hours sleep I awoke to that COW rarity, - heavy rain. I was up promptly as I needed to add the figures to the terrain I'd set up the night before for "It's Getting a Bit Chile".

I had a rough scenario in my head but it depended on the number of players I was going to get. I'd got four signed up the night before, and as I was getting the toys out the number rose to 5, so I planned for 6. I went for an encounter battle, with the Chileans defending some river crossings against the Alliance. I set it up as three mini-games side by side effectively, each with a division facing off against something similar. That meant the players could get on with it once the knew the rules.

The calm before the storm
 The Chileans are too the right, the Peruvians & Bolivians to the left.

Newbie Andrew Rolph employs the full hand point
 As you can see I got six players, and even acquired a spectator too. After a couple of turns I told everyone to use the QRS for the combat phase and just get on with it. Apart from a chronic shortage of D8s (left half mine at home) it seemed to go well.


I won't give a blow-by-blow account, but in the centre an epic struggle around the hacienda ensued, finally resulting in the Peruvians seizing the building. Good shot of one of the new Disorder markers, which is supposed to go under a figure base, not on top of the roof. Players, huh? What can you do with them?


Other highlights included the inaugural charge of the Bolivian Presidential guard. Alas they didn't come out of it well, although I'm sure they would claim to have tempted an opposing cavalry unit off the battlefield.


On the far flank the struggle for the bridge was hard fought, with the Chileans eventually being driven back.

I was very pleased with how it all went. The players umpired most of it themselves, and it kept one or two spectators occupied as well for a lot of the 3 1/2 hour session. All the players came back after the coffee break too, this year. All the spare sets of the rules were taken away and my extra one too was specifically asked for. Yes. One of my better sessions of recent years.

Following lunch I took some time out to do a trip round the other sessions after having a go at a couple of commercial games Nigel D had brought along. One was the much talked about "Waterloo 1815" from last year. The other was "VIII Corps" a game about VIII Corps on the Somme, available from Wargamers' Vault.


This is a very ingenious card game, representing the VIII Corps attack. The terrain is represented by 9 cards laid out in a 3 x 3 grid, which you can see in the middle of the table. The players each have a card deck. For the British the cards divide into the Tactical, that you store up for when you go "Over the Top", and the Strategic, which are mostly artillery bombardments. The German deck has a similar split and includes defensive fire as well as Wire, MGs, bunkers and so on.

The British have to capture two third-line cards. Captured terrain is represented by turning the cards sideways. You'll note in the photo that this has been achieved. Yes. I won as the British. Don't want to brag, but I WON WITH THE BRITISH. This is supposedly not possible, or at least very, very difficult.

Apparently there's a X Corps version too, with others to follow. If they do III Corps I might be tempted. It is a very well designed game with a lot of educational content.

BTW The win was a fluke as I played it again later on against MNG regular Chris A, again as the British, and got stuffed.

I also took the time at this point to play Clockwork Slim River.


About which probably the least said, the better.

Post afternoon tea I headed off for the Battle of Lissa, the famous ironclad encounter between the Austrians and the Italians.

The Austrian Admirals enjoy afternoon scones
There was a lot of historical research in this game and a lot of background. The Austrians were short of guns and had to try and ram. The Italians were useless and the Admiral went missing at the beginning of the battle. I got his ship.


The Italian Admiral's ship had two chuffing great turrets and the turning circle of a dead rhino. So I sailed round blazing away


Everyone else just seemed to sail into one another in utter confusion, which is what happened historically. So, result for the designer then.

The rule system was phased hex movement, hull point damage based on range and number of guns rounded off with card driven critical hits. Worked really well.

I also found out some one makes most of the ships from the 1879 Pacific War in the range used here, so this looks like something I really will be following up on.

Then it was time for Dinner.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Conference of Wargamers 2016 - Friday Evening

Come July, come WD's COW at Knuston Hall in glorious Northamptonshire, Rose of the Shires. Consistent with the wretched summer we're having so far even Knuston couldn't break the mould but who needs sun when so much fun is in prospect?

After much meeting of old friends and an excellent dinner (the catering at Knuston has improved enormously in the 36 years we're been going there and for some may even be the highlight of the weekend) it is time for the Plenary Game.

The design of the Plenary Game is always a challenge, Something quick to learn that will involve 40 players, promote interaction but won't take all evening. This year we had "Holy Relics", designed by WD Display Team North, from an original idea by Sue Laflin-Barker.

The teams all represented ecclesiastical establishments from medieval times, intending to cash in on the Pilgrim trade by having the best set of relics. We were Durham Cathedral, home of the body of St Cuthbert.

Spelling "Liver". Not a great Relic

You had to spell out the relic in Scrabble tiles, which you traded with other teams. I think. We were a bit slow on the uptake to be honest.

Classic body-part Relic

We probably should have read the back ground papers as well, as they gave you hints as to what sort of relics would make for a good Pilgrim Experience. We, on the other hand, just went for amusing body parts.

The hub-bub round the Cardinals
Once you had a new relic you took it up to the panel of Cardinals for judgement. Here's the queue for the Cardinals. Cardinal Barker is having a quiet doze in the corner. Pope Laflin is obscured by the crowd.

Eventually we got round to being a bit more sensible and submitted St Cuthbert's quill that he wrote his book with, his Lamp he wrote it by and of course his Holy Banner. That picked our points up a bit, but we still came in last. Still, it isn't all about winning, is it?

After that it was down to the Practical Room for another of Tom Mouat's one-shot role play games. He's immensely proud of his new components and rule mechanisms which are all beautifully produced. What we want to know is what world-ending evil will we be up against this time?

Everything is explained
 For the first time in a Footfall game we were in outer space, and we were a freelance crew, not working for some Shadowy Government Agency (or SGA for short). I ended up as Captain by default, - not paying attention when every one else was grabbing character roles.

The Away Team dock with an abandoned mining ship
Describing role playing games is always a bit dull for the people not there, so not a lot to say. This one was a cross between Firefly, Alien, and a few classic sf novels. The crew had a few new players in it and I made a poor choice or two when allocating jobs, such as who was to go on the away team. Not their fault. Poor captaincy.

Oh look. This one's got missiles on it. Where's the crew?

Eventually we found where we were going and faced down The Alien Menace semi-succesfully (inadvertently killing all the base survivors when trying to open a door with a plasma cannon. Ho-hum).

I'm pleased to say that we got away without leaving anyone behind. Okay I had to put one crew member in a stasis pod under guard because it looked like she was incubating The Alien Menace, and she was kidnapped by an SGA from the hospital on Homeworld, but I didn't leave her behind.

Alas tensions in the crew ran high during the mission, so we had to sell the ship off and split the proceeds.

From there it's off to the bar until the Lounge clears so I can set my game up. "It's Getting A Bit Chile" is the opening game at 9am, so I need to get the terrain board out at the very least before bed. I'm done by about 2am, so time for some shut eye before we get stuck in on Saturday.

(NB This posting should have gone out late Friday, but I couldn't make the wi fi work. My fault for using a Windows XP netbook I suppose)

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Going to War - September 1914

As requested, here is my Grandfather's account of joining up in September 1914.


"ONE IN ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND"
World War 1 Reminiscences by Walter James Evans no l4602 “Wally”

WHO WERE WE? Certainly not a group of men eager for war, and we did not join His Majesty's Forces because we had nothing better to do, or because we were unemployed (At the time he was employed by McMillans the Publishers, St Martins Street, London, doing clerical work and "Memorising the stock of books on the shelves". Salary was "10/- a week with annual rises"). The vast majority of us knew little or nothing of the armed forces, except that we were nurtured in the belief that the Royal Navy rules the waves and was invincible; that the Regular Army although small (all volunteers) was the finest professional Army in the world, highly skilled in the use of the rifle. It was therefore shock news when the papers told of the successive defeats suffered by the Army in the very early days of hostilities. Day after day these tragic events were reported and there was nationwide distress. They followed so swiftly after each other. The papers also told the moving story of the "Angels of Mons". Retreating fast many men said they saw in the sky angels, giving them encouragement, comfort and support. But the odds against them were much too great. Vastly outnumbered in men and disastrously out weaponed, the flower of the British Army suffered enormous casualties, and as a fighting force within itself virtually destroyed. Lord Kitchener then issued his appeal for 100,000 volunteers. So we answered by coming from mines, foundries, factories, offices, the land, elementary schools, public schools and universities.

There was an overwhelming response to the appeal. We had a common purpose, to help our country in its hour of need, and from sheer patriotism, sacrificing much in coming.

On 7th September 1914, I enlisted in the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, and on the 9th Sept 1914 with some 200 others I entrained at a London railway terminus to join the Regimental Depot at Pontefract. On the train there was no hilarity or cheering. There was quiet conversation, mainly about what we had left behind. Wives, sweethearts, parents, friends and companions, and speculation as to what lay ahead for us. Many confidently expected to be back home for Christmas! We arrived at Wakefield late evening, with an hour to spare for a connection to Pontefract.

A few of us walked out of the station, and following the scent of "fish and chips", walked along a cobbled stone street, found the shop, and enjoyed a very welcome meal. We had not eaten since leaving London.

I had not been so far North before, and it was a strange new world for me. All around there were reflections in the sky from blast furnaces, foundries, mines etc. There was a heavy mist falling, just like a drizzle of rain, and dressed as I was in a summer lounge suit, and straw hat, I was cold, wet and miserable.

Arriving at Pontefract very late at night, we found absolute chaos! The streets were choked with men, who had been instructed to join the depot. They were very angry, saying they were refused entry into the barracks, and we had no chance of being admitted. Those of us who had come up together from London made our way to the Depot, and were turned away. What a beginning! We were told that the Depot was full to overflowing. Men at the gate produced A.F.B. 21("Recruiting Pass for Recruits"), which was the Official Pass instructing the holder "the proceed by railway to Pontefract to join the Regimental Depot". The answer to this was "The Depot have not been informed you were coming". There was nothing to do but to walk back to Pontefract. Some said they would sleep in the fields and try to find a haystack; shop doorway, many said they would be off home in the morning.

I had left good regular employment, and a comfortable home to enlist, and was extremely shocked and bewildered to find myself in this position, nowhere to go, but I did not think of returning home, - that would seem cowardly. There was however one bright spot. Although very late at night many good people of Pontefract, hearing of the chaos, and what was going on came into the streets, offering accommodation for the night. I was taken into the home of a miner, given a comfortable bed, and a good breakfast in the morning. It was my first experience of Yorkshire hospitality. I made my own way to the Depot and gained admission, was given two blankets, directed to a huge marquee and told "Find a place in there". We slept on the ground, packed side by side like a tin of sardines. There were squabbles, gambling, and fighting during the night. All around there was chaos-chaos-chaos. No administration could cope with such a situation. The Depot was swamped with men.

Arrangements for food were crude. Queues were formed and you had to walk past a hatchway. From this a long arm shot out offering a doorstep sandwich and alternatively one of luncheon sausage. You never saw a face! Being in civilian clothes exit from the Depot was easy, so in the early days I walked into Pontefract, bought tea in a shop or the YMCA. Who was to blame for all this? Had Kitchener called too early for so many? There was no suitable accommodation, no uniforms, and no equipment. Most of us felt we would have been put into uniforms and armed. Alas we were to wear our civilian clothes for a long time yet, and a much longer time for rifles.

The Depot was still chock a block full of men strolling around doing nothing. As yet there was no order of any kind. After some days, numbers in the Depot were being daily reduced by asking men to volunteer for other units. We were all lined up, the number required counted off, the rest, back to idleness. A call was made for men to join a Royal Naval Division. I thought if this is the army then I'll have a go at the Navy, but they got enough volunteers without me. But what a change of fortune it would have been had I been successful. Had they wanted four more I should have been in! I understood that those who were successful were taken by train to London, (Crystal Palace) given Short Lee Enfield rifles, and shipped off to Antwerp. Back at Pontefract we learned that on landing, they were cut off by the Germans, did no fighting, pushed into Holland, where they were interned till the end of the war! We could have done with at least a look at those rifles.


At last there was movement at the Depot. A large number of us were mustered on the parade ground, inspected by some officers in very smart uniforms, about a thousand counted off, and told "You are now the 8th Service Battalion King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry". Senior NCOs, and a few Sergeants were chosen from ex-regulars many of whom wore South African war medal ribbons.

The officers then walked down the lines and here and there told men to step forward. Their names were taken and they were informed "You are now Sergeants". The same procedure for Corporals and L/Corporals. I didn't look so bad in my brown lounge suit, so I don't know why they missed me! Perhaps my straw hat looked a little battered.

What a way to choose NCOs, but what else could they have done? Later, some could not stand the strain, and gave up their ranks. I suppose because we were a Northern regiment, the authorities decided to send us SOUTH, so that men would not be near their homes. We found ourselves put under canvas at Frensham Common, Surrey, on the opposite side of the road to the Ponds. Bell tents, about 12 to a tent, feet to the pole. We were excellently catered for by J. Lyons and Co. Food was very good, and plenty of it. Long route marches, skirmishing over heather clad Frensham Common increased our fitness and strength. Only 1005 fit men were recruited in the First Hundred Thousand Volunteers. No rifles, as yet, most of the time was spent in physical drill and other exercises. We practised "passing messages along the line", and one such message was always good for a laugh. It started "Send reinforcements we are going to advance", and finished "Send three and fourpence we are going to a dance"!!. At Frensham we were fitted out with Kitchener's blue uniform, and a few very old rifles. I think they were called Martini-Henry rifles.

My most pleasant memory was the hospitality and generosity of the people of nearby Hindhead. Every Sunday small group were entertained to high tea, and a most welcome hot bath. With three others I enjoyed both at the home of Mr and Mrs Leuchars (?), whose residence was known as Whitmore Vale Lodge.

On 29th November 1914 a violent storm wrecked marquees and mess tents and we were moved to Albuhera' Barracks, Stanhope Lines, North Camp, Aldershot.

Now everything could be seen more clearly. A battalion of about 1000 other ranks and 25 officers divided into four companies, A, B, C, D. The composition was interesting. A and B mostly Yorkshire lads, C, a large number of Welshmen, D mostly Londoners, with a few from the south and Yorkshire. In all it was an excellent blend. We were all good companions and in battle fought well together.

Our first commanding officer was Colonel H. Manley, a retired regular Army Officer who had fought in one of those long forgotten wars. He had no knowledge of the modern methods of war. On the parade ground he had the battalion continuously "TURNING RIGHT - LEFT" and "ABOUT". Sitting (on) his horse his favourite command was "BATTALION - FORM RALLYING SQUARES - ON THE CENTRE CLOSE". We were formed into the traditional square used in wars of long, long ago and wondered if we were being prepared to fight "Fuzzy-Wuzzys" armed with spears and assegais or Germans with machine guns. The move into Aldershot was very much welcomed. It meant clean, dry, barrack rooms, blankets and mattresses, on the boards, a combustion stove in the middle of the room for warmth and drying out things. It ensured a good night's rest. Accommodation for cooking was good, and our cooks all of whom had served in the South African War made excellent use of these facilities. They were very competent. Aldershot shops were much appreciated. The Kitchener blue uniform was very much disliked, so men purchased second hand khaki uniforms to go home on leave. Army life was becoming more stable, and men began to fully realise what they had enlisted for. To serve 24 Hours, - 7 days a week, - for a period of 3 years or duration of the war whichever the longer for 1/- a day. But, if you were a married man, making an allotment to your wife it was 6D a day.

Just before Christmas there was talk of a married mans strike!! A factory foreman who had enlisted with some of his workmen called a meeting to discuss this. Fortunately he was taken aside by a very sensible officer who told him this was "mutiny", and the penalty for this was severe. That was the end, and all returned to their barrack rooms. This man, E.T. Kipps became my very good companion and close friend until his death in 1969.

Early in 1915, we started a Great Trek from Aldershot to Hythe. Placed into civilian billets once again the luxury of clean sheets and a comfortable bed. I stayed with Mr and Mrs Ben Cloake a prominent local Salvationist, being treated very well. From Hythe we moved onto Maidstone to help dig trenches for what we were told was the "third line of defence of London". Here our miner friends were very helpful, teaching Londoners the correct way to use a shovel and spade. At Maidstone, very good civilian billets. A further move to Bordon Camp. Here we were fitted out with khaki uniforms, Short Lee-Enfield rifles and modern equipment. Fired a musketry course and threw bombs. Ammunition and bombs were in short supply and all I can remember firing on the open ranges at Bordon was "Fifteen Rounds rapid", - ten rounds with bayonet fixed to rifle,- and ten rounds ordinary at (a) target. According to where you hit the target, "bulls-eye" - inner, -outer rings or off the target altogether men were classified as Marksmen, first, second or third class shots. Later in France "Marksmen" were chosen as snipers.

(There was) talk of another move, and we knew that this time it could only mean FRANCE.


Friday, 1 July 2016

1st July 1916 - One Hundred Years On

Every family in the United Kingdom probably has a family story about the Somme. This is ours.

My Grandfather, Walter J. Evans,  was a Private in the 8th KOYLIs and took part in the attack on the 1st July, 1916. He was one of Kitchener's 100,000 who signed up in the early days of the war.

In his own words this is his story.

THE SOMME

Before entering the front line trenches late at La Boiselle for the attack on 1st July, we bivouacked in Henencourt Wood. Conscious of what the morrow could bring forth, there was little sleep among Officers and men. I was restless and apprehensive, so decided to walk around and see what my comrades were doing.

By the faint flickering light of short pieces of candle most of them were writing to their folks at home (tragically in so many, many cases the last letter they ever wrote). Some were gambling; some drinking, finishing the bottles of wine they had carried with them from the estaminets; a few were in meditation and prayer. Among the men there was a strong feeling of comradeship, in the knowledge that we were shortly to face a common danger, perhaps death. I thought there were three chances, death, wounded, survival, so the odds two to one on living.

Officers were similarly unrestful, but more noisy. They had an old portable gramophone. They played an old record of two songs, over and over again, - "I love a girl on a magazine cover" and "We've been married just one year". They sang lustily, and it became very boring. Among the men there was a growing fear, that the forthcoming attack could go wrong, with disastrous consequences. Previously we had spent some time in a village, rehearsing the attack which was to be made on the German trenches. Tapes were laid down, showing the position of their trenches, and of the redoubts, and villages behind which in some cases were to be our objectives, eg Bapaume and Pozieres. We rehearsed these attacks over and over again, and we were always successful. The German trenches were always captured and our positions consolidated! It was going to be so easy. Little or no opposition!

No allowance was made for nor plans made for the possibility that the attack would fail. The Generals never gave this a thought. They were so sure their plans would be successful. But what if they were wrong, and the confidence and hopes they gave to us of victory proved false? Further fears were added to our already doubting and troubled minds when it was learned that the attack was to be made at 7:30am in broad daylight, because we knew that attacks were always made just before dawn. Every front line Officer and other rank from private to Company Sergeant Major knew full well that to attack at such an hour was "ordered" suicide. We would be shot down like the clay pipes in one of those shooting booths at a country fair. We asked who was the lunatic at large, responsible for giving such an order? It was a ghastly mistake, costing so many lives. Whoever he was, after the war I would have had him confined to the Tower of London, and tried by a Jury of private soldiers who had survived. Rumours had begun to circulate and men became extremely bitter and resentful when it was learned that the three Senior Officers of the battalion would not be taking part in the attack. We felt we had been left in the lurch, and badly let down in our hour of need. It fell to the lot of a Captain, H E Poyser, to lead the attack. We were the only battalion to attack on the 1st July without a senior officer leading! There were also many familiar faces missing of comrades we had trained with for nearly two years. Where were they? Ten percent of our fighting force had been withdrawn! How did they chose who was to go into action, and who was to stay behind and fight. All in all those of us who were going into action were very, very unhappy, and morale was low.

Zero Hour 7:30am 1" July 1916

A perfect morning, brilliant sunshine from a clear blue sky. It was going to be hot. It was a day for me which has never died. Each succeeding 1st of July since 1916 has been a day of thanksgiving - sadness - and deep sorrow. Thanks, and gratitude to the two unknown stretcher bearers who found me at first light on Monday, 3rd July in No Man's Land severely wounded, carried me down long winding tortuous communication trenches to a waiting ambulance at Crucifix Corner.

Since this day I have lived with sadness, sorrow and everlasting quiet remembrance for so many of my comrades and good companions, whose lives were sacrificed on this day. Such a grievous loss of fine men who never stood a chance of survival, due in a large measure to the arrogance and stupidity of Generals and very incompetent Staff Officers.

Just before 7:30am there was an enormous explosion, the ground shook and trembled and we wondered what had happened. At La Boiselle, where we were, mines had been blown by us. Huge craters appeared, but much too big to shelter in. Whether any Germans were killed as a result, we never knew. Cold fat bacon for breakfast. No tea, -nothing hot. Whilst waiting for 7:30am precisely, I took the opportunity of making my will in my Army Pay Book. No witnesses were necessary. I recalled those three chances. KILLED - WOUNDED - SURVIVAL. But the heart thumped a bit, and the stomach felt a little sick. I wasn't feeling very brave.

Seconds before 7:30am we were surprised and amazed when bombardment of the German frontline trenches suddenly lifted! It had been going on continuously day and night for a week. There was an uncanny silence, doing nothing for morale. It increased the strain, and nervous tension, and it required a large measure of self-discipline and control. Later it was learned that this manoeuvre was designed in the hope that it would induce the Germans to stay in their dugouts for a few minutes, instead of manning the trenches when we attacked. Another stupid blunder and tactical mistake by the Generals.

Now my thoughts were all of Home, and the loved ones I had left behind, - Edie - my parents - her parents and so many others. Time was running out.

During the waiting there was plenty of rum available. Not for me in such circumstances. I wanted a clear head and my wits about me. I was not going over the top in a fuzzy state, half drunk.

There was a full jar passed along the front line, to which an Officer had tied a note which said, "Don't forget the chap at the other end. Good Luck." That jar reached the chap at the other end still half full!!

Then it all began to happen, - 7:30am.

Whistles began to blow their shrill notes. Loud shouts of "Over the top you go". First up the scaling ladder was our platoon officer, (Lt Morris) and platoon sergeant (Dean), closely followed by the rest of us. We passed through our own barbed wire, into No Man's Land (without difficulty). Bayonets fixed, and rifles held across the chest we spread out to five paces apart, and commenced a slow advance towards the German trenches.

LOOK RIGHT - LOOK LEFT, as far as the eye could see, - one long line of men in khaki, advancing at a slow walking pace forward. "No rushing - no shouting - no cheering" was the order given. Only a few yards from our own trenches we were met with withering, murderous machine gun fire from the German trenches. A veritable hail storm of lead. Few could live in this. We were surprised - shocked - and bewildered, because we had been told that when we attacked there would not be any Germans left in their trenches! My battalion, the 8th Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry had been told "When you go over the top, you can slope arms, light up your pipes and cigarettes and march all the way to Pozieres, before meeting any Germans".

The Germans were not all dead, but very much alive. During the lull in the bombardment which had been given to them they had manned their machine guns in selected spots and were creating terrible havoc in our ranks. Five paces to my left was platoon Sergeant Dean: five paces to his left was platoon officer Lt Morris. Both were killed within a few yards of our trenches. There was now no one to lead us, but we still moved forward towards the German trenches. The concentrated German machine gun fire was so accurate and devastating that those five paces apart now became 10, 20, 30, men were going down like ninepins, looking right and left again there now seemed to be hardly anyone standing. Imagine a thunderstorm, thunder and lightning, in every raindrop a bullet, how could anyone escape. Then how could the German machine gunners miss us? It was broad daylight and we were moving forward at walking pace, as some idiotic general had ordered. It was ordered suicide.

On my small sector the hail of bullets made it impossible to advance even as far as the German wire. I was still on my feet when I felt a sharp crack and felt pain in my right buttock. I had been hit with an explosive bullet. I fell to the ground and placed my hand to where the pain was, it was covered in blood, and a patch of my trousers had been blown away, where the bullet had hit me.

Knowing that the wounded were not going to receive any attention, I threw away my rifle, tin hat, ammunition and Mills bombs, as far away from me as possible, but kept my water bottle by my side. From the inside pocket of my tunic I took out my Field Dressing, just a bandage and safety pins, and tried to apply the dressing to where the wound was. It was useless, as the explosive bullet had made such a large messy wound that the bandage seemed to fall in a hole. Later I found that the bullet had splashed, and travelled a bit, and I had wounds at the base of my spine and a superficial wound in the left buttock.

I had done the best I could with the dressing, and had to leave it at that. I guessed I had been hit between 8am and 8:30am, but had no means of verifying this. I tried to stand up, but could not do so. I must have been lying in a depression in the ground, as I cannot remember being sniped at. Maybe the German riflemen had easier targets nearer to them. Time passed, the Sun began to get hot, and I felt very thirsty, and badly wanted a drink of water. I reached for my water bottle, but decided against moving. It was still brilliant sunshine, and any movement, however slight, could have invited a sniper's bullet. My one great fear was that I would be taken prisoner. I made a great effort and managed to crawl nearer to our own trenches, where I found a longer depression. I managed to turn my body round, and point my head towards our trenches, thinking that if I can manage to crawl at all, that is the way I must go, straight ahead! The Sun began to set, and I guessed the time to be about 9pm. I had been in No Man's Land about twelve hours. All around things seemed strangely quiet. The crash of shells - the monotonous rat-a-tat-tat of the machine guns, the hiss and whine of bullets had died away. Only a sniper's bullet was occasionally heard. The noise of battle was over. No Man's Land was completely deserted of fighting men, only the dead and wounded remained.

At that moment I knew our attack had been a complete failure, and my battalion had suffered severe losses.

I made many unsuccessful efforts to move nearer to our trenches, and thought my chances of survival NIL.

I thought of my sweetheart, Edie (later my wife) - my parents - relatives - Edie's parents and relatives and all my friends and companions!

It seemed a pathetic and awful way to die, alone, severely wounded and unattended. I managed to turn myself partly on my side (I had been lying on my back) and resigned myself to accept whatever fate awaited me. I could do no more to help myself, except to be patient, and self-disciplined. I had lost a lot of blood, so perhaps it was as well I could not move. I must have lapsed into periods of sleep and unconsciousness, for as night fell I can remember little more thereafter until I felt myself being touched and handled and the sound of voices - BRITISH! - What a relief! "There's a KOYLI here" said one. "Can't be," said another, "they went out on Saturday night." "Well, he's got a KOYLI cap badge alright" I said "What day is it then?" "Monday morning" was the reply. I said, "I have been here since 8:30 Saturday morning. They said "We know", and put me on a stretcher.

I had been found at first light (before dawn) by two regimental stretcher bearers from another unit. Who they were I never knew. They carried me on a stretcher, along tortuous winding, zig-zagging communication trenches, sometimes shoulder high, to a waiting Ambulance at a spot known as Crucifix Corner. I received no treatment at Battalion Aid Post, nor at the Field Ambulance Dressing Station, - I was a chalky, muddy, bloody mess.

Lifted into the ambulance, and knowing the spot, all inside were surprised how near the ambulance had come to the front line. Well within German shelling distance. Our destination was Corbie Casualty Clearing Station.

I must tell this story. The ambulance was full of men suffering from loss of and badly shattered limbs - severe body and facial wounds. At the start of the journey the ambulance driver had to pass along a road which contained many ruts and shell holes in it. Each time the ambulance passed over one of these we were shaken up and it was unpleasant, and when this occurred there was much swearing. When well on the journey the driver stopped and said, "I am a Quaker and all this swearing disturbs me. I don't like it; Will you please stop it."

I don't know what passed through our minds (I had done my share of cursing), we moved on and there was no more swearing. Perhaps we admired his courage in bringing his ambulance so near the firing line.

We reached Corbie Casualty Clearing Station, and found it choked with wounded. RAMC Officers and their men were attending feverishly to those cases needing urgent medical attention, and there were many extreme cases, and operations and amputations were being performed on trestle tables. What I saw turned my stomach. My own stay was short. I was examined, left on the stretcher, and given an anti-tetanus injection, and put on another ambulance.

On the 5th or 6th July I was admitted to No 14 Stationary Hospital, Boulogne. It was entering a "Heaven on Earth". Lights to see with - everything so spotlessly clean. I was taken down the ward where standing by a bed there was a real Angel, - a Nursing Sister. Looking at the beautiful white sheets, I said to the Sister, "You cannot put me in there, look at the mess I am in." I was still in my muddy and bloody uniform, and dirty boots and puttees. She just smiled and said "We'll see".

I was undressed, thoroughly cleaned up and put to bed. I shall never forget the thrill and joy of resting once again between clean white sheets, and the lovely face of that Sister.

I do not know how long I remained in this Hospital. All Hospitals were under extreme pressure, and so many wounded were still coming down from the firing line. Leaving No 14 Stationary Hospital, Boulogne, I was taken on to a Belgian Hospital Ship, named the "Jan Bruedel", and disembarked at Dover. Taken into the Railway Station where we were laid side by side on the platform. Once again I looked RIGHT, - looked LEFT, as far as the eye could see. One long line of stretcher cases, not even one pace between them!

Lifted on to an ambulance train, I arrived at the 2nd Eastern General Hospital, Dyke Road, Brighton, one of the first convoy of wounded to arrive at this hospital from the FIRST DAY OF THE SOMME Battle, on 1st July 1916. Sister Farnon (?) told me the wound was as "large as a tea saucer", but there were other wounds to the left buttock (small) and to the piece of gristle at the bottom of the spine (medical report "Sacro-Coccygeal region”).

There was a stroke of good fortune for me. An aunt and family lived nearby at Worthing, and was quickly over to see me. Also Brighton was only a short railway journey from London, where Edie and my relatives and friends lived. So I had plenty of visitors. I understood that whilst on Dover Railway Station men who appeared to belong to Northern Regiments were sent South, and vice-versa!

The next 18 months or so was spent in various hospitals and convalescent camps as far north as Alnwick, Northumberland. During the period I was receiving treatment for my wounds I was sent to Worthing for a few months. The Hospital had been loaned by the Nuns for this purpose, and a regular visitor to the Hospital was Mrs Day, the famous Music Hall Artist, Kitty Colyer. Her chauffeur came every week, picked up six patients and drove us to her bungalow in Lancing, the rear of which ran across the beach, down to the sea. An excellent tea, cigarettes for those who smoked, chocolates for the others, then a drive back to the Hospital. Only those who were wounded were taken, - I never missed an opportunity. Another memory of 1916 was visiting the Kersall to hear Mark Hambourg the famous pianist.

Near the end of 1917 I was sent to London for my discharge. On arrival home in Chelsea there was a message asking me to report to the War Office. I was interviewed by Staff Major Arbuthnot who I recall quite well and a Staff Captain whose name was I think Chandler. The question was would I be prepared to do some clerical work to relieve a fit man to be sent to a theatre of war? I was in clover, hours were 9 to 5, I went home to Chelsea each evening and received ration and fuel allowance. In times of stress I was always prepared to do Sunday duty. I was finally discharged on the 17th February 1919. I was instructed to report to Wellington Barracks where there were about 200 of us on the Parade ground. We were formed into columns of four and marched to Victoria station where we boarded a train for Crystal Palace which was a dispersal unit. Passing through all the formalities I think I was given a civilian suit in exchange for my Khaki, - it fitted where it touched - but what did that matter. One last incident I remember was a Redcap, noticing my CSM Badge, reprimanding me for drinking in the wrong bar.

I did not return to my previous employers, McMillans, but entered a Civil Service examination which I was fortunate enough to pass.

The First of July 1916 was a day for me which has never died, and never will. In the space of a few hours 518 of my comrades were killed or wounded. Every anniversary of that day is a day of deep sorrow remembering my comrades who gave their lives for their country, and a day of thanksgiving for my survival

After the War men of my battalion did not want to lose the comradeship and goodwill we had enjoyed during hostilities, forged in common sacrifices and suffering. Annual re-unions were organised which were very successful in maintaining contact with each other. The 8th (Ser) Battalion had (its first) reunion in 1932, 5 members attended, but by 1939 numbers had increased to 139. After the Second World War re-unions of the 8th Bn continued until 1966 when unfortunately numbers dwindled. The re-unions were held in London, Leeds and Doncaster.


Post Script:
My Grandfather lived to a good age, and died peacefully in his sleep. He was a lovely man, and a joy to be with. The time he spent in the trenches, however, remained with him all his life and he would often speak of it. However he had had enough of war and refused to join the Home Guard during WW2. 

Saturday, 25 June 2016

W-Ourcq in Progress

In order to take my mind off how depressed I am at the collective act of insanity committed by the English & Welsh yesterday I had a go at refighting some of the Great War for Civilization. A bit in which the British took no part, using my new Baccus 6mm 1914 French and Germans

Working from Ian Senior's "Home Before the Leaves Fall" (aka "Invasion 1914") this game is an approximation of the first day of the Battle of the Ourcq in September 1914. The Germans are holding a line of plateaus just in front of the Ourcq River; the French are trying to drive them off that position and back across the river.

For this game of Op14 I had a whole load of freshly painted hill tiles which I needed to try out. And a new bridge from Baggage Train that Phil had given me.


The French, commanded by Phil, are on the left. They have a couple of Reserve Corps, which consist of 6 brigades each, plus a standalone Moroccan Brigade on the right and a Regular Division of two brigades on the left.

The Germans have a couple of Corps, one of which has one Division entering centre right, and a Cavalry Division protecting its right flank.


Over on my right I started by using my cavalry to cause the French Regular Division to deploy, thus slowing down their advance. For those not familiar with Op14 units are activated by playing cards (tiles in my case) . The suits of cards sometimes mean units can and can't do certain things.


On my left Phil sent the Moroccans out on a wide sweep to flank the defensive line.


In the centre my Reserve Division was rushing forward to plug the gap on my right centre.


On the right my Uhlans had a brief skirmish with a French Infantry brigade.


The French are now pressing forwards all along the line, but my reserves are winning the race to get to the crest line.


Over on my left the Moroccans turned the line, forcing my flank unit to pull back to stop being overrun.


On the right my Uhlans had crossed the river (all villages/buildings are crossing points) and again triggered the French deployment, allowing me enough time to get my infantry onto the ridge line.


On my left the Moroccans drove back my flank brigade


All along the front I'm holding on fairly strongly, except for the left. The French Soixante Quinzes are delivering repeated rounds of ferocious bombardment and causing a lot of damage.


Up to this point we'd been playing the playing card tiles face up, as is normal in the game using cards. A brief discussion between us over the consequences of this ensued. As I said above certain suits mean units can't do things. One of these is that French Reserve units don't move if they're dealt a spade. This means that the Germans know where it is safe to advance/fall back and so on. A stroke of genius was for us to draw the tiles and stand them on their edge, revealing them as we count up from the Ace of Hearts to the King of Spades.


My left wing is starting to crumble despite me deploying my MGs.


On the positive side my centre had been completely unthreatened all day


On my right the Soixante Quinzes thundered out. Hits on units in buildings are not applied immediately, but are stored up until the unit moves or is assaulted. Instead of putting playing cards on the unit as suggested I have made some shell holes to remind me how many cards need drawing when the assault happens.


My right wing is a real mess, following the bombardment. One brigade has been blown away and the other is at half strength. The Uhlans have moved up in order to dismount and protect the wing. At this point we are about a move or two from nightfall. Can I hang on?


The game closes with everything on the right, both French and German, looking a bit ragged.


On the left I've held on, but I have no where to go, with my back to the river.

Then night fell. As we were about to work through the End of Day sequence we realised we had forgotten the unit exhaustion rules. This meant we had probably fought on much longer than we should have and I probably would have caved in on the right.

In summary we had an interesting game that gave us a believable result. It was a useful refresher of the rules and sets us up for more of this campaign over the next few months.

I also need to make a lot more rivers and roads. And trees.