Sunday, 16 October 2011

Rewriting history

Red chips indicate the four infantry brigades in rout

The current battle in our PBEM campaign has reached a critical stage. Plus the battle itself could well decide the whole campaign. So it is not too surprising that the corps commanders have been following the battle report pretty closely.

I have taken some pains to make the battle reports comprehensive and easy to follow, for those players who want to do so. First I take a photo at the start of each move. Then I make notes of what has happened during each corps turn, and take another photo at the end showing the position of the corps. After the game I transfer the photos to the computer and type up the battle report of the move.

Each day I post one move of the battle report on the campaign diary blog. The idea is to keep the players interested in the progress of the game, and allow Jan and I time to fit in the playing time. It is usually one or two days after the move that it is published on the campaign diary blog.

Late last night I checked my emails before I went to bed, and found one containing two questions about the latest diary entry. One was about the wargames table in relation to the campaign map, and the second was about morale throws for one of the corps involved.

I keep copies of all the battle reports until the campaign has finished, so it was easy to check the table and map query. To set up the wargames table I make a rough diagram of the squares on the map to be transferred to the wargames table. Each map is one scenic square on the table, and each is numbered. So it is quite easy to set up the table. Unfortunately I had placed the scenic square upside down on the table, and a hill which should have been north of the main road ended up south of the road! The question was whether it would have made any difference. The answer was yes it would, but we had already spent ten days fighting the game, and published ten moves of the battle report. I had to admit my error and put it down to poor staff work. Fortunately the area had not been chosen for the geographical features, it was chosen for the strategic importance of the town.

Worse was to come. I had made a complete hash of describing the incidents which had taken place during move 10 for one of the six corps involved. I had listed seven morale checks when there had only been four.

It was only two days since we had fought that particular move, and we had done two more moves since then. I could not remember the sequence of the morale tests, and the table had changed considerably so I could not just check on the table.

The notes I had made were still in the waste paper bin, so I was able to recover and check them. They were the same as the battle report, so not much help. Comparing the first photo of moves 9, 10 and 11 I was able to work out what had happened to each of the four brigades during each of those three moves. So I was able to amend the battle report. But it did take me more than an hour, and it was well past midnight before I got to bed.

But the most important part of the whole sorry story is that it made me consider just how accurate are eye witness accounts of battles, particularly if they are written down many months or years after the event. If I had so much trouble remembering a fairly simple sequence of events after just two days, how reliable are those accounts on which historians place so much importance.

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