Saturday 3 February 2024

Graham Cummings - a Giant among classic wargamers

 I'm genuinely overwhelmed by the news I read on Facebook tonight that Graham has died. I did not know him well but well enough to consider him a good friend. Others who knew him better will no doubt give their own eulogies but I can only tell like it felt for me.

Graham cracks a light hearted quip with Dillon as they battle outside the Jacobite camp on the Isle of Vestisle - Oakridge, Gloucestershire, Summer 2019

I joined John Ray's new Forum "A Military Gentleman" in 2014. I began to join in posting stuff - particularly from my blog where I was reporting games and making models and we were preparing for Waterloo at 1:3 scale here in the Cotswolds - 300 miles from Middlesbrough/Redcar where Graham lived. Whenever I posted, one wargamer was constantly supportive and offering praise and advice, and that was Graham. I found out he was the founder of Crann Tara Miniatures and specialising in the 1745 Rebellion and the War of the Austrian Succession period...the figures were lovely and I began to buy more for my own Imagi-nations collection.  Members of AMG got a discount and personal service and advice from Graham.  In those days I used to scratch build models to sell  and I specialised in Windmills, which was a gap in the market back then. Graham showed interest and I made some for him to chose  such as this one , and he had two!

Time went on and there were many more supportive comments from Graham. I began to realise he was well known over many years to this group of "classic" or "old school", mainly 18th Century wargamers, which I had stumbled into. Graham organised a gathering and two wargames of the AMG group at Partizan in 2015, but I wasn't able to attend (though "my" windmill did!).  Not long after that he asked me to do some artwork for him to use for his Crann Tara company.  This was to be an iconic line of Highlanders charging the viewer. We collaborated frequently over what was required and he got me into watching "Outlander" for inspiration of authentic Highland Jacobite costume. (Jane and I got hooked - now into Series 7!). I paid one of the young lads doing gardening work for us at the time to model for me as he had the rugged looks I needed for warrior clansmen.  I discussed the rough ideas for the drawing with Graham at our first meeting in June 2016 - at the AMG gathering at Kenilworth in the English Midlands.  Graham is in the first photo of this part of my report on Kenilworth 2016

I need to digress a bit here to point out what a stalwart of our hobby Graham was - he organised this first "convention" of 18th Century wargamers which was a great success and is still an annual event for many. Besides Graham I met a lot of well-known names on the "classic" scene and many of them you'll have seen on my blog over the years, some coming to Oakridge to suffer my wargaming hospitality!  This was a life changing event for me - so much of what is good about wargaming for me over the last 8 years was because of Graham's entrepreneurial skill and sharing spirit within our hobby, bringing us together.

He approved my ideas and I did the drawing he wanted which then became the banner for the website of Crann Tara Miniatures. I also designed the broadsword logo.  I thought it would make a good oil painting and he agreed. That set me on a road to do more research under Graham's advice and figuring out how to make those varied early tartans look like 3D in oil paint. Some of you might be familiar with this painting if you saw the banner behind Graham's stand at wargames shows or got it as header in update emails from CT Miniatures a few years ago.

I was very pleased with the result and it was the kind of collaboration with a knowledgeable client that I love to do.

Graham also organised Kenilworth 2017, and in that year "AMG" switched over to become the "Wild Geese Wargamers" for reasons I need not go into here. I got to meet Jim Purky for the first time then who of course, gave us Fife and Drum Miniatures and acquired the Minden range which, working with Graham's Crann Tara, ensured we 18th Century nuts were well served with top quality figures. Highlights were playing alongside Jim in Colin Ashton's Leuthen 1757, and participating in Graham's own version of Falkirk 1745, using his "Teddy Bear Fur" terrain and CT armies of Jacobites and British.

You can see Graham umpiring Falkirk in the first couple of photos here

The next landmark event was in 2018 when I was able to take a  holiday in North Yorkshire and Jane and I went to see Graham at his home in Redcar. We had a nice long chat about his wargaming experiences, running a model soldier company, participating in blogs and forums, etc and getting to see some of Graham's latest master figures in pre-production mode. He gave me a copy of Neil Cogswell's "Zweibrucken in Command" about the Austrians and the Reichsarmee's exploits in 1758; I learned that  Graham had been instrumental in helping this series of super books to be published in the 1990s (now in new editions by Helion).  We also found at that meeting a kindred interest in trying to produce cost effective armies of Seven Years War Austrians and Prussians in 1:76 scale - true 20mm. Though it was discussed for a couple of years by email, and Graham produced sample castings for me to comment on, this did not get off the ground before Graham sold Crann Tara to Caliver Books. By then he had got very interested in designing figures by computer modelling and producing masters as 3D prints - ground breaking even those few short years ago, but now a mainstream activity.

Graham added to his fame in my eyes around this time by participating in some historic refights with Charles S Grant, and for whom he was making figures which featured in, among others, "Refighting History - Volume 7 The Seven Years, War Western Theatre". 

The real highlight of our relationship came in the Summer of 2019 when I managed to entice Graham down to the South of England for a weekend participating in our alternative history mini-campaign "Raid on Vestisle". He took the Jacobites (of course) and saw off some very tough Hanoverian opposition. He brought a touch of class to our proceedings (I'm sure Ken and Guy will agree) and we all enjoyed a good natured evening over a meal at the local pub and bottles of red while we pursued the campaign admin between two big day-long games. Here are the reports with Graham much in action on the French/Jacobite side, and playing a blinder on Day Two as well!

Battle of Bellune Hill

Battle of Abrantes

Graham operates the French left flank in the fictitious Battle of Abrantes, 1756

There was so much more to the man than I can ever know, all I can do is record my interactions here and pay tribute to someone who brought me so much pleasure and support, and I'm so sorry I knew him for so short a time.