Time Machine: Fathers of Modern Wargaming

Michael O. Varhola

The following editorial by gaming giant Donald Featherstone appeared in the June 1974 edition of "Wargamers Newsletter," a scrappy looking but content-packed publication from the United Kingdom. I thought the reference to Communism was interesting, especially as, in the twilight of this nearly-defunct ethos, that it is something many Americans are once again in a lather about. And have Featherstone's contentions about the place of H.G. Wells' Little Wars and the state of gaming been overturned or confirmed over the past four decades? Discussion is welcome! 

Just as Communists refer to Karl Marx and Lenin as the guiding spirits of their creed, so must we pay homage to H.G. Wells, whose book Little Wars is still the most exciting wargames literature in existence. Of course, the hobby has advanced out of all recognition (as has everything else) since those nostalgic days at the turn of the 20th century. One only has to glance through the pages of this magazine and others such as "Military Modeling" [and] "Airfix Magazine" to get some idea of the vast availability of model figures and other wargaming accessories. The style of wargaming has also altered in the sense that inevitably there has arisen the more serious devotee who seeks to accurately recreate in miniature all the vast complexities of warfare from the beginnings of Time until today. On the other side of the fence are the "fun" wargamers, those of us who see it as a game played for relaxation with the acceptance that it is not possible to recreate anything on a table-top battlefield that bears more than a passing resemblance to what actually goes on in real warfare. 

It is well known that I personally favor the "parochial" style of wargaming where a bunch of close friends meet regularly to fight their battles without undue competitiveness and subsequent acrimony. Being a gregarious as the rest of us and wishing to share this "good thing," in 1967 I formed the Wessex Military Society here in Southampton. It is still flourishing today with a regular monthly attendance of between 40 and 50. By no means claiming to be a model of what wargaming clubs should be, the Wessex Military Society caters for all ages and meets one Saturday each month when the first half of the afternoon is taken up by an authoritative speaker on a military subject (recently we have had Wilf Emberton on the Siege of Basing House; David Chandler on Marlborough as a soldier and a man; John Gaylor on military badges; and numerous others). The meeting is enlivened by members bringing along the latest books, magazines, models, figures, etc.; there are frequent Bring-and-Buy or Auction Sales and films. Inter-club visits are arranged with groups such as the South Hants Military Modellers and the Ford (Southampton) Historic Treasure Hunting Club among others. After tea and biscuits, the room is cleared and wargame tables set up for battles that proceed from 1600 to 2200 hours -- as many as six or eight separate games in all periods (including boardgames and Individual Skirmishing) regularly take place. Visitors are welcome and any wargamer in the area is invited to contact me for details of future meetings. 

Arising from the activities of the Wessex Military Society, a group of a dozen of the more mature members have formed the Wessex Military Diners Club which, through the good offices of one of our members who is a Lieutenant in the R.N.R., meet for dinner on one evening each month in the Officer's Wardroom of H.M.S. Wessex in Southampton Docks. Without any attempt to imitate the atmosphere of an Officers' Mess, this is a most civilized military gathering at which members each contribute some small item to the evening's entertainment. It might be in the form of a taped rendering of a military march, the soundtrack of a film such as the Agincourt scene from Henry V, military poetry such as "Charge of the Light Brigade" is read, and we have even had Stanley Holloway doing "Sam, Sam, Pick Up Your Musket!" Each month we have an "honoured guest" -- some person with a military background whose presence and views adds to the proceedings. Needless to say, the effects of good food and wine make each meeting one to remember!