Saturday, 23 April 2016

Wargames Nostalgia – Don Featherstone

I have mentioned before the appendix at the end of “Charge, or how to play wargames”, which contained information on how to find out more about wargaming.  Of particular interest was the name Don Featherstone and an address in Southampton.   He was described as a writer of wargame books and editor of Wargamers Newsletter.

Wargamers Newsletter
I sent a letter and cheque for a one year subscription to Wargamers Newsletter.  Within the week I had received my first copy.   It was very much “cottage industry” in look and feel.   It seemed to be hand typed and probably hand printed.   The pages were printed on both sides of the paper and stapled together.   As shown in the illustration above the staples rusted after a couple of months.

If I remember correctly it was published each month, and contained all the latest information (of which there was very little) plus articles mostly written by Don himself.  A lot of the articles was not of too much interest to me, but I still read it cover to cover.  And each month there was always something of interest.  I remember one very well which was called “At the colonel’s table” by Don Houghton.  It was printed in the July 1969 issue, which must have been one of the first I received.   Strange that after all this time I can still remember the details of the article and how much I enjoyed reading it.
From the newsletter I discovered that Don had written a book called “Wargames”, which he had written in 1962.   I ordered a copy, which was the first hard backed book I ever bought, “Charge” was borrowed from the garrison library.   To be honest I was a little disappointed when I received it.  It was not a particularly easy book to read, and covered too wide a range of subjects and periods for me.   And, of course, “Charge” was a very difficult book to follow.
Advanced Wargames
Despite my reaction to the first book I then ordered “Advanced Wargames”, another hard read.   I don’t really remember any of the contents, but I think they were a collection of different and unrelated ideas.   Unlike “Charge” there was no story running throughout the books.  They seemed more like a series of reference type articles.  

Wargames Campaigns
I ordered this book as soon as it became available in 1970, and found it to be the most interesting of the three books I bought.   It introduced me to wargame campaigns, and I really liked the idea of wargaming within a campaign.   It would be some years before I ran my first campaign, which would play such a large part in my wargaming.

I would buy more of Don’s books in the coming years and kept them on my shelves for many years.   I don’t think I ever read them cover to cover and I think I only bought them out of a sense of loyalty.   I finally sold them off along with most of my book collection when we moved to Spain in 2006.  I was quite sad to part with them but they had gathered dust on my bookcase for 30 odd years.
Campaigning with the Duke of Wellington & Featherstone

I did collect quite a few of Don’s books over the years, but none had any great influence on me.  Then in 2008 I heard about this one, which was published in 1993.   My wife bought it for me for a birthday present and it was the only book of his which I did read cover to cover.  It covered his visits to Spain and Portugal to walk Wellington’s battlefields.  I had done the same myself in the 1990s and enjoyed comparing my memories with his recorded visits.  By far the best book he has written, in my opinion anyway.

The real influence for me was the monthly Wargamers Newsletter.  I can remember the excitement of the brown envelope with the hand written name and address.   I subscribed for about five years and kept them all for reference.   The many articles on converting Airfix figures prompted me to attempt some of the easier conversions.

Don Featherstone was “the man” back in those early days of modern wargaming, at least in the UK.   Although I always found his books difficult to read, he was a great influence on me personally.  I met him in the mid 1980s when I moved to Salisbury, and visited his monthly meetings of the Wessex Military Society in Southampton. 

In the 1990s I began to visit Napoleonic battlefields.   I as inspired by a couple of articles by Don about his own visits to Spain and Portugal.  I contacted him and he offered some useful advice and encouragement.   This was the last time I spoke to him, though I would read occasional items about his visits to the USA as a sort of symbol of early wargaming.   Like many veteran wargamers I was sad to hear of his death in December 2013 at the fine age of 95.

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