Sunday, 19 July 2015
The unabridged Interview with a Wargamer.
A while ago Paul Stevenson published an article in the Miniature Wargames, which contained a version of an interview that I conducted with the great Chales Wesencraft. I know a lot of wargamers dont actually buy the wargaming press, so I thought this deserved to be on the internet.
The full version was never used, so leading on from my talk with Tony Runkee, I thought it would be nice to have Charlies interview recorded in full on my blog. So here's the original Interview with a Wargamer.
Sometimes in life one is lucky enough to meet and associate with a person who you find to be fascinating, funny, intelligent, modest and basically an all round good guy.
Wargaming has been very lucky in that several of the people who can be attributed with bringing the hobby to the masses were just such people. The late great Donald Featherstone, Tony Bath, Charles Grant and the irrepressible Brigadier Peter Young were just such persons. Each one in their individual way laid the foundation for the present wargaming scene. Through their individual writing a new wargamer could feel the enthusiasm each was trying to convey. More importantly in my view, the way these authors wrote, made the hobby seem not only the right thing to do, but also a good place to want to be.
One name is missing from the list, of what really should be a British wargaming hall of fame, and that is Charles Wesencraft. Charles was the author of two wargaming books that certainly in my case made a big difference to how I set out on the wargaming path.
Practical Wargaming published 1974 and With Pike and Musket published 1975 are in my opinion wargaming classics. Both books are again available through the good works of John Curry, and both still have a relevance in this day and age.
Most importantly and certainly from Charles view is the fact that he is still very much alive, and still wargaming.
Anyway without further ado, I would like to take our reader to an 'Interview with a Wargamer '.
RR, Charlie, you were born in 1928 in South Shields which was then in County Durham. You went to Hexham Grammar School and from there to Newcastle University.
CW, I never actually finished my university education though. I was taking a degree in architecture, but I realised that I just wasn't good enough. I did however learn to make scale models which obviously has helped me later in life.
RR, So what did you do after university.
CW, Well in 1947 I was conscripted into the army to do my national service.
I was originally with the Fighting Fifth Infantry regiment in Newcastle. Eventually ending up at the Mons Barracks and then onto Deepcut barracks where I received my commission.
I was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the artillery and trained on the reliable 25 pounder.
Typically after fourteen months I was sent to the 99 Heavy Anti Aircraft regiment to defend Wales.
For whatever reason I became the administrator for the regiment, organising social events, sports events and such.
RR, What was it like.
CW, I loved the army, and if I hadn't met my wife to be I would probably have stayed in the forces.
It would have been very unfair if I had stayed, as the life would have entailed travelling around the world, and my wife had trained as a teacher. So at the end of my service I left.
RR, So what was National Service like for a young officer?
CW, I can remember clearly, meeting my Commanding Officer in Wales in my new role as administrator for the regiment..
The incident went something like this.
Wesencraft, I understand you used to be a boy scout?
So you will know all about tents then.
Well we have 20,000 soldiers arriving very soon, so I expect you to have a plan drawn up to house these arrivals.
So by the next morning I had created a beautiful plan of the tented village needed for these troops. The plan was accepted and I was ordered to erect the tented village. However I was only able to obtain three soldiers to help erect the tents. Unfortunately the tents were all bell tents, which I knew absolutely nothing about. We erected two in a day, but these blew away during the night. Luckily my C.O. kindly lent me the entire regiment after that, to build the village, it was an impressive sight.
RR, You clearly enjoyed yourself.
CW, It was a great life, so after I left the army I joined the TA for three years.
I am currently chairman of the 101 Artillery regiment here in Newcastle.
I can truly say Valhalla exists, should you ever attend one of our functions. The number of bald or grey haired chaps is a wonder to behold.
RR, What started you on your journey into wargaming?
CW, I think it all started when I was three.
CW, We were on holiday in Derbyshire, and my father was clearly sick of pushing me around in the push chair. So he said, Charlie if you walk up this hill, you may find a castle at the top.
Even then I was fascinated by castles. Sure enough my father was right. At the top of the hill was a wonderful castle.
So when Christmas came, my parents gave me a model castle and soldiers.
My father devised a game with them, with me defending the castle and my father attacking the walls. We used pencils for ammunition. My love of toy soldiers and history grew from that.
I had a eclectic mix of Britain's though. I remember I had a Zulu set, and a fire-fighter set, really quite a bohemian collection. The mistake I made was giving them to my nephew. Unfortunately he melted down all the collection in order to make catapult ammunition.
RR, What can you tell me about your early years of wargaming.
CW, I was lucky enough to meet a neighbour in the pub one night, where we somehow began talking about soldiers, and Airfix. The neighbour, Duncan Brack inexplicably invited me around to his home the next night, where I played my first wargame.
Duncan and I fought an American Civil War battle using the rules written by Jack Scruby. We tried to understand the rules and finished playing at 03.00 in the morning. We had managed a total of six moves. Duncan and I were desperate to understand how to play a wargame, so we kept taking notes during the moves. I never slept that night, it was a wonderful experience.
We started with Airfix figures, but I wasn't very good at converting them.
Strangely enough I met Duncan completely by accident a few months ago at a function in Newcastle, it was wonderful to see him again.
Charlie at my re fight of the Battle of Blenheim.
RR, I know you were also a close friend of John Braithwaite, of Garrison fame, how did that friendship come about.
CW, I was attending the first convention that Donald Featherstone had organised for wargamers.
So I drove down from Newcastle to Southampton in company with Duncan Brack. We had to pick a bloke up whose name I can't remember, who was living in Reading, a place I'd never been to.
I remember telling the chap that I would meet him outside of the Woolworths in Reading town centre at 11.00am . I thought that everywhere had to have a Woolworths, so it shouldn't be too hard to find him. Sure enough the chap was there. Amazing really.
Anyway, we attended the convention. There was a dinner organised for the night, and Donald Featherstone got up and made a speech. No one responded.
Duncan said to me, "Charlie someone has to get up and thank him for the speech and the convention". So I got up, and duly thanked Donald. After the dinner Donald came over and invited me back to his house that night, it must have been about 11.00pm. It was there I saw his wargames room with his wonderful table. I remember he had built what could best be described as a trough around the edge, in which he put his troops, and causalities. It was really ingenious. But I am digressing.
At the convention, was a chap from the North East, John Braithwaite. John had made some metal figures, and painted them. When I say some, it was quite a few actually. Well as I said I was using Airfix figures, and these made by John were wonderful. John kindly sold me the figures. I remember paying three old pence each for them, and they were painted. He was a generous person.
I also remember meeting Neville Dickenson at the convention, it really was quite a do.
RR, Tell me about Donald Featherstone?
CW, I met Donald many times. I thought his magazine, Wargamers Newsletter was a tremendous magazine. Whenever I received my copy I would be up all night reading it.
Donald was a real personality, and invited me down to help him with a wargame presentation at Hastings to commemorate the battle. That was in 1966.
The idea was that Don would provide the commentary using a microphone somewhere up in the gods, whilst I and five other people would move the troops about for him.
Anyway it came to the penultimate moment, and Don said,'' and arrows fell around Harold, striking him''.
So I naturally picked up Harold, showing the audience, before dramatically dropping the figure on the floor.
A voice then boomed, '' Harold then got up again''.
Don was having a bit fun, so I was left scrabbling around the floor looking for the damned figure.
Donald Featherstone was a great friend and an excellent author.
RR, They were exciting times to be a wargamer.
CW, It was through Don that I met David Chandler. I remember one year, that David Chandler had organised a wargame of the Battle of Borodino. Don was commander of the French, with me as one of his marshals. David had organised the battle at a scale of 1:500.
For some reason I remember writing an account for the Newsletter and putting in the phrase, '' 500 Russian generals fell with one shot'' which Don found hilarious. He always would remind of that faux pas.
My abiding memory of that battle of Borodino, was David getting an onion and sticking it on top of a model of a church to make it look more Russian. As far as we were concerned it was definitely a Russian church.
RR, You speak fondly of David Chandler, what was he like.
CW, David Chandler, was a very nice, gentle person, incredibly knowledgeable.
David was running a series of lectures at a place called Higham Hall in the Lake District.
The idea was to deliver a series of five, one and a half hour historical lectures. Followed on the Saturday afternoon by a wargame in which everyone naturally had to join in.
The rules were simple and easily understood, bearing in mind that none of the students had wargamed before. I remember one particular female student, she was German, who was a very good general, lucky with the dice as well.
Poor David, after one series of lectures,I had set up Borodino for the students. Prior to the wargame, David had told the students of the French mistake of placing their artillery too far away from the Russian positions. Of course when it came to wargame the battle, David did exactly the same thing. We did rib him about that.
It was David that arranged for me to create a model of the Battle of Blenheim for Blenheim Palace.
RR, Tell me about that.
CW, David rang me up and said he was going to see the Duke of Malborough and wanted me to help him run a series of wargames at Blenheim palace to commemorate the battle.
That was in 2004.
I told David, the Duke won't want that, he will want a model of the battle instead.
Anyway David rang back a few days later and said, you were right, the Duke would like a model, but he doesn't have very much money to get it built.
So David very kindly offered the Duke my services, he knew I had done models before and he must have thought I was cheap.
Anyway I set too building the battlefield using my skills from my university days. The model was to be 10 feet by 4 feet. I made it in 2 foot sections of plywood, and filled it with 6mm Baccus figures.
The Duke sent a van up to collect the model, and I trekked down to set it up and fill in all the gaps between each section. David was very upset and apologetic that the Duke didn't open the exhibition of the Battle. It was left to David to do the honours, it was still a great day.
Pete Berry came down for the opening, good chap Pete, very enthusiastic.
RR, Anyway back to the modelling. I know you have made other items.
CW, I created a model of the battle of Stirling Bridge which I think featured in a Practical Wargamer.
I believe that they are reopening the visitor centre so perhaps they still have the model. I was asked to create a model of Cullodon field, but I'm not certain if it is still on show. Anyone would think I was Scottish. I also was asked to build a model of Arbeia Roman fort, Prudhoe Castle, Fulwell Windmill and Aydon castle in Corbridge. I also did a number of smaller commissions.
RR, I know that you are also a local historian,and active in several groups.
CW, I am President of my local history society. It sounds very grand, I still do the odd lecture. Anyway how it all happened was that I was invited to present a history of the Battle of Flodden to some pupils at Barnard Castle Public School.
I took Duncan Brack and John Braithwaite with me to present the battle using my figures.
The whole school turned out, all the masters in full regalia and all their pupils. It was a very impressive affair. I used a sword as a pointer whilst Duncan and John moved the figures.
After that baptism I realised that I could make a decent fist of it. So I used to travel around the region presenting various battles, Nevilles Cross, Otterburn Flodden Newburn.
It was a bit like a musical Hall act really, I think I got a reputation, hopefully good, for presenting the battles.
In part two of the interview, Charlie explains how his wargaming books came about, and also how he became involved in television and the famous Battleground series.