Monday, December 10, 2012

Opening Shots

My name is Peter, and I’m already far too old to be playing with toy soldiers. In my defence, though, it’s probably much too late to stop now.

Military history has been a personal passion for a very long time. At the age of six in the summer of 1994, a family holiday to the Normandy countryside coincided – completely inadvertently as far as my parents were concerned – with the fiftieth anniversary of the D-Day landings.

A stern little chap (plus sister) on the bluff above Omaha - June 1994.


That trip produced powerful early memories for me. Every small Norman village and town we visited seemed festooned with Allied flags and bunting. Names like Omaha, Pegasus and Sainte-Mère-Église entered my young vocabulary for the first time.

All little boys like to play at soldiers, I suppose, but if I had to pick a single moment that marked the beginning of a more profound interest in all things military, that was it. I’ve reminded my endlessly patient parents many times since that they arguably only have themselves to blame for their choice of holiday destination and its lasting influence.

In the years since, that interest has remained a central part of my life. It was the deciding influence in my decision to pursue a degree in History after leaving school, and it meant that completing a MA degree in Military History following that was a natural choice. Now, at the grand old age of 24, I’m still uncertain about where life will take me, but I’m quite sure that a routine of dog-eared military history books and dragging unwitting loved ones to museums and battlefield sites will remain a constant.

So, where do the little metal and plastic men come in?
I’m almost loathe to mention Games Workshop, because I know that to many in the modelling and wargaming fraternity the company represents a sort of hobby Starbucks: an evil empire of identikit high street outlets and over-priced products. But, like it or not, my very first taste of pushing paint about on miniature figures came during primary school, courtesy of GW.

Aliens and goblins have never really been my thing, however, and through our faltering dial-up home Internet connection I eventually discovered a much more intriguing hobby landscape. I realised that such things as historical miniatures existed. Suddenly, pocket money had a new and exciting purpose.
Aside from some early ham-fisted attempts at Dragon 1:35 scale figure sets, the first ‘proper’ miniatures I can remember purchasing were a couple of packs of SHQ 20mm US Airborne. It was around 2001/02, I was captivated by Band of Brothers on television, and anything to do with the 101st Airborne Division during the Second World War was in definite personal vogue.
Those pint-sized paratroopers have long since passed on to the miniature Valhalla that is the attic or the back of a wardrobe, but I can still lay hands on some of their brethren from that period.


On top (sadly in execrable phone camera quality, until I invest in a proper camera), a 20mm Britannia Miniatures Viet Cong fighter – still lurking in jungle ambush from an early interest in the Vietnam War. Below, a stand of determined looking Connaught Rangers from Elite Miniatures; the company that provided me with my first introduction to the big battalions of 25/28mm Napoleonics.
Since then, my enthusiasm for recreating military history in miniature has remained steady, but has embraced any number of different forms, from collecting 1:6 action figures to pre-painted 54mm miniatures from the likes of King & Country and W. Britains.

In the last two or three years, things have come full circle and I find myself with a renewed interest in collecting and painting wargaming scale miniatures. And that’s where this blog comes in.
As its title suggests, my principal historical periods of interest are the Napoleonic Wars and the First and Second World Wars. Over the months ahead, I hope to climb back into the miniature saddle by starting to collect and model three wargaming forces: a British Napoleonic army in 28mm based on the Waterloo campaign of 1815; another 28mm British force focused on the Mons and Le Cateau campaign of 1914; and a British force from the Normandy campaign of 1944, in either 15mm or 20mm.

I hope that recording my efforts here for posterity will help on two important levels. Firstly, by providing me with a source of motivation. I’ve always spent far too much time merely thinking about the hobby, and agonising over my lack of modelling and painting skill, instead of just getting on with it and putting brush to figure. Hopefully this new blog will discourage me from being quite so precious about things and will spur me to get to work properly.
I’m also looking forward to having an outlet to actually discuss this hobby, as well as the wider field of military history. We may as well be frank here: I have some very niche interests, and if you’ve actually read this far down, it’s safe to assume you do, too. I have a lot of fantastic friends in ‘real life’, but comparatively few that I’m likely to share any future conversations with about French uniforms in June 1815, or the evolution of German AFVs from 1939 to 1945. Even if it’s only a form of virtual shouting into the wind, blogging will at least provide me with a chance to bore at length about some of the things closest to my heart.
Despite the core periods mentioned above, don’t be at all surprised if the future also sees me bashing the keyboard about anything from the legions of Rome to the USMC in Fallujah. I can often be a sort of military history dilettante, with it taking only an interesting book, documentary or miniature range to catch my eye and foster an interest in something completely new.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is the pitch. Now let’s see how it goes…