Thursday 26 September 2013

Hougoumont model leads to big project

My friend Kevin East has big ideas, and the artistic talent to match, but modestly doesn't shout about his achievements much. Little did I realise when he came back into my life last year that I would be sucked into a wargaming project that brings me right back to the start of my wargaming life nearly 50 years ago.
Something to aspire to - a beautiful model of
The Chateau of Hougoumont
1965 was the 150th anniversary of Waterloo and to mark the occasion the recently departed great Don Featherstone put on a public display in London using the 20mm troops and sculpted terrain of Peter Gilder. Other notables of the day such as Neville Dickenson and Tony Bath refought the famous battle with, I suppose, about 2000 model soldiers on what was for those days a huge table.  I went with my friend Chris Beaumont and we 13 year olds were quite overcome by the occasion. I put that event down as the time I became a proper wargamer because we saw the real chaps in action and realised how a wargame was fought in practice rather than trying to puzzle it out from Don's book.
Tony Bath as Napoleon in 1965
Close up of the 1965 style Waterloo terrain in 1970
 I bought my first bags of Spencer Smith 30mm plastic Napoleonic figures....and the rest is history.

I later converted to doing Napoleonics in 20mm, and about 6 or 7 years after that, when they were "state of the art", collected 15mm armies.  About 15 years or so after that, inpired by a lecture by sculptor Anthony Barton, I made a passable collection of my own design of 15mm French and Spanish Peninsular figures. Many other periods and scales have been and gone and I eventually off loaded my 15mm Napoleonic armies about 3 years ago but have never lost my "love" and awe for the Napoleonic period for wargaming.

In 2010 at a 28mm Napoloeonic game he'd put on for our group my friend Paul casually said "You know, I've never refought the Battle of Waterloo", and I replied, "Well. despite all my involvement in the period, neither have I ". Paul added, "I'd really like to do it in 2015, for the 200th anniversary". There were murmurs of approval round the table but misgivings that we didn't have a venue big enough to do it justice. My response was "anyway, I'd love to do the terrain", and we left it at that........

....Until 2013.....

At this stage if you haven't seen them already have a digression to look at the three Kevin East Guest Pages in my right hand side bar.   Kevin has been building up specific Waterloo units in 28mm at a scale of 1 figure = 20 men and they are staggeringly beautifully done, but he says he is primarily a collector, with wargaming a secondary interest, and had no pre-conceived ideas about what games he would  do with them. Thus he'd quietly painted for about 5 years until coming back in contact with the Cheltenham Greatfield Group via me.

Now Paul has been the mainstay of our Napoleonic grand-tactical-scale gaming for more years than I care to remember, first in 6mm, then 15mm, and latterly in 28mm as his eyesight succombed to the inevitable ageing process. He has developed a very workable set of Napoleonic rules for multi-corps battles at one figure = 100 men. So the whole of Waterloo would need about 2000 figures.

Action hots up in Paul's recent refight of the second day of the
Battle of Eckmuhl 1809 (yes I know we are not very tidy!)
So it seemed sensible to put Paul and Kevin together to pool resources for Waterloo and we had our first meeting to discuss this project in August, knowing that we'd still need a long time to get it right.

By late Spring 2014 I expect to move into my own wargames room-cum-art studio because the builders start work on our new house in about a month or so. By 2015 we should have knocked this into shape for regular gaming and I hope to have enough room for a specially designed Waterloo set up 13 feet long by 6 feet wide, and with another 12 square feet added on to give extra depth. So that's the first madness - I've volunteered to make 90 square feet of customised terrain at a scale of 1 inch = 50 yard!  Kevin and Paul seem confident they can provide all the troops for this at 1:100.

But it gets madder....and that brings me to Hougoumont.

Kevin had acquired the neally nice Chateau and also La Haye Sainte models made by Hovels in a scale for 25/28mm figures, but as I've said, had no real idea of gaming with them until Paul and I saw them and exclaimed how could we resist not using them!  But a model as big as Hougoumont needs a skirmish level wargaming scale, and after a lot of thinking we settled on one figure = 3 real men and 1 inch = 3 metres on a 12 foot x 6 foot table with a couple of add-on pieces.   And before I knew it I was into a second mad decision - to make two more base boards for the Hougoumont and La Haye Sainte (LHS) scenarios, and rules to match.

But more madness was to follow..........

I hadn't thought this through properly.  In the excitement of the meeting I volunteered to organise and umpire the LHS scenario, thinking the other guys would take care of the figures within their already scoped games. It was only in the cold light of dawn, after my euphoria-addled head came up for air out of Mark Adkin's "Waterloo Companion", that I realised the LHS area was fought over by several battalions of green-clad King's German Legion Light Infantry and Hanoverians, and we had very few of those!  So, if I didn't do them we'd have no game. Just for added fun we'd have to recreate the various escapades up onto Mont St. Jean of French Cuirassiers and Dragoons, the 2nd Life Guards, the RHA Rocket Troop and the KGL Light Dragoons across this area of the famous field and through various times of the day. Also we'd need the French 13th Legere trying to take LHS itself. Each battalion will be between 140 and 200 figures.

And so it was that I found I'd volunteered to paint nearly 1000 28mm figures in the next 21 months! That's nearly 50 a month, or 1.5 a day. Sounds easy when  you put it like that but I do have a life, and work, and a family, and a house to renovate, and the terrain to make, and other wargame periods I had hoped to pursue (did you read my Stalingrad posts?).

It look like we will be scheduling  four weekends during our "Waterloo Summer 2015". Two different variations of the whole battle, a weekend of LHS scenarios, and a weekend of Hougoumont scenarios. Although many of the figures will be re-used I think we will be getting through about 4000 figures in those weekends, so it is no small undertaking for a tiny group like ours (yes we do have a couple more volunteers so far - thanks - you know who you are).

But, the good thing is that I've just received medical advice that I'm over the worst hurdle on my recovery from cancer.......I can expect to stay well enough to see this through. But if I'd had a "bucket list" who could imagine a Napoleonic wargamer not having Waterloo at the top? And if I do die in the attempt, what a glorious way to go......

I'm sure you will hear more about this, but for now I hand over to Kevin East. Please see the new Kevin East Hougoumont Guest page in the right hand side bar where he explains all about his lovely model and how he painted it, and there is an example of a 216 figure battalion too, of which we expect to have six or seven in play on each of our 1:3 scale weekends!