War Games

Having time off with my 10 year old daughter over the holidays, I found that she was keen to play some board games with me. Once we exhausted the ones in the house, I happened to mention some of my favourite board games when I was a child, one of which included a game called Stratego. Days later, she returned home from her grandparents (my parents) one day with the said box of Stratego in hand. It had been hiding in their loft all these years.

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Stratego: “full of surprises”. It seems the gent on the box cover is surprised as me to find the sapper’s dragoon-style helmet has mysteriously lost its plume!

How little my interests have changed since childhood. Stratego is a battle game which has a distinct 19th century military flavour to it. The aim is to capture the enemy flag by beating the opponents pieces by outranking them in 1-to-1 encounters. One must avoid attacking the bombs which can only be safely defused by sappers. The difficulty lies in the ranks of the enemy’s pieces being unseen and only revealed when nominated to be ‘attacked’.

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The army ranks are delightfully depicted in cameos, each featuring a unique style of 19th century European military headdress. These consist of:

  • Scout: Hussar busby
  • Sapper: Dragoon helmet, (Albert pattern without plume?)
  • Sergeant: Field service cap
  • Lieutenant: Shako
  • Captain: Shako
  • Major: Shako
  • Colonel: Dragoon helmet with woollen crest and plume
  • General: Bicorne hat with plume
  • Marshal: Bicorne hat with feathers
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The army ranks are helpfully depicted on the edge of the ‘battlefield’.

Based upon the French game of L’Attaque, the game is a nice combination of chance and strategy, just like in a real battle. The game’s predecessor, L’Attaque initially came with cardboard illustrations on contemporary European soldiers. The V&A museum in London has this 1925 version, below:

Being created by a French lady, Mademoiselle Hermance Edan, the illustrations featured types of the French and British armies with ranks written in the appropriate language. I notice that the British army’s flag is not represented by the union flag but instead by the ‘red ensign’, the flag used by the merchant navy. Sacré bleu!

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Back to our game: to add some martial atmosphere to our own Stratego engagement, I had my copy of ‘Regimental Marches of the British Army – Volume 2″ playing over speakers in the background.

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The battle begins…

Full credit to Eleanor, my daughter, she soon grasped the different ranks and the rules of the game. Unfortunately for her, luck was against her and furthermore she was up against a ‘competitive dad’ who shamefully wasn’t about to lose a battle…

I noticed that there were some pleasing Napoleonic-era illustrations of cavalry on the side of the battlefield board, three hussars and another cavalryman wearing a cuirass engaged in combat.

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It was enjoyable to play Stratego again after all these years and it may even become a regular feature. But wait! There was one more military strategy board game that Eleanor had brought home; Campaign – “a compelling game of military and political strategy in the age of Napoleon”.

Game on!!!

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Warring in Worcestershire (Suburban Militarism Day Trip #7 – Part 2)

…Continuing my previous post on my visit to the Worcestershire Regiment and the Worcestershire Yeomanry Cavalry museum, I thought I might showcase some of the many examples of headdress on display.

To begin at the very start, one of the very oldest exhibits in the museum was this Tarleton helmet of the early Worcestershire Yeomanry. The Tarleton was a light dragoon helmet popular with the British army at the turn of the 18th/19th century. It’s certainly a grand design with its thick bearskin crest, polished black leather, and leopard-skin turban held in place by brass chains (the pattern has faded in the photo). The same helmet was worn by other yeomanry regiments with small differences in design and colour of turbans.

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Tarleton Helmet of the Worcestershire Yeomanry

Following on from the bell shako in the 1830s (see previous post), the Worcestershire Yeomanry later adopted a Heavy Dragoon-style helmet with a white and red plume. The crest incorporates gaps on the side for ventilation, essential on a hot day.

A change to the uniform of hussars brought with it the busby headdress with a red bag and, for the officers, this dramatic, tall red plume.

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Yeomanry’s busby

As the Worcestershire Yeomanry prepared to send its sons off to the Anglo-Boer War, they were each presented by Lady Dudley with a replica Pear Blossom to wear in their khaki slouch hats. One of these touching presentations was on display with its brief dedication still attached (“…to wear on entering Pretoria”). This tradition continued when they served in First World War Palestine, the yeomanry wore a stitched version of the pear blossom became their badge in their Wolesley pith helmet (see below).

Finally, moving beyond the period of history usually covered by Suburban Militarism, there was also the helmet below worn by the yeomanry in their final days as a horse mounted regiment. This thick cork hat was known as the Topee and was employed in hot or tropical climates and I was delighted to find one on display.

I mentioned the wonderful Worcestershire Rifle Volunteers uniform and headdress in the previous post, but there was also two other helmets on display in the same case. On the left is the rifle volunteers undress cap with a bugle-horn badge (a symbol universally used by light infantry troops); and on the right is a French-style shako with a green ball plume.

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Contrast with this version of the shako worn by the militia, an 1861 pattern;

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A few remaining items of headdress that took my interest. The hat on the top left is an unusual cap called a Broderick. It was based on a German design (possibly Landwehr?) and used for a brief period between 1904-1908.  Next to it is the khaki service pith helmet used by the Worcestershire Regiment during the Boer War, is much more familiar. It’s dull and dusty colouring was essential to avoid being a victim of Boer sniper fire out on the veldt. It contrasts nicely with the more formal version with spike in the bottom photo.

And finally, there was a significant display on the action of the Warwickshire and Worcestershire Yeomanry at Huj in Palestine. Having just announced that my figures are now on display at the Warwickshire Yeomanry museum, it’s perhaps appropriate to finish on this topic. Aside from fascinating artefacts such as the Wolseley helmet already depicted, there was a moving story of a yeomanry officer who later became a vicar. On Remembrance Day 1946, Jack Parsons (who won a Military Cross as a Lieutenant in the charge at Huj) performed a sermon in his new calling as a vicar. In he service, he used the bible as his inspiration in pledging to take his old yeomanry sword and a Turkish one and together remake them as a ploughshare. The new ploughshare was used to sow and grow wheat for communion. Now, that’s what I call ‘up-cycling’. The remade plough was on display together with the remaining two sword hilts; a nice coda to the Huj story, I thought.

Well, that’s enough history and museum talk. Back to the modelling soon…