Sunday, 19 June 2016

Wargames Nostalgia - Peter Guilder

 Issue 1 of Miniature Wargames

After Don Featherstone the person who had most influence on my personal wargaming would be Peter Guilder.   I remember reading an article of his in Miniature Warfare in 1970 called “In the Grand Manner”.   It was about planning an earlier wargame of Waterloo and it was illustrated with black and white photographs of Hougoumont and a couple of Hinton Hunt figures.     I was interested in his views about large wargames and even more so in his impressive model of Hougoumont.

But it would be another ten or twelve years before he really inspired me to take up his ideas.   I can clearly remember buying the first issue of Miniature Wargames, and being blown away with the full colour photographs of his terrain and model soldiers.   Memory is a strange thing, and I cannot remember the year.   But it was early 1980s, this was long before the internet and endless photographs of impressive large collections of model soldiers on model railway standard terrain.   Previous wargame magazines had a couple of black and white photographs, but I had never seen anything like this.   I never subscribed to the magazine, but I bought a copy whenever there was anything of Napoleonic interest.   That usually meant photographs of Guilders work.  I particularly remember a well illustrated article about Leipzig.

Peter Guilder and Frank at WHC 1983

I also remember that there was an article about his Wargame Centre in Scarborough.   As soon as I read the article I determined to visit.  Jan did not want to come with me, so I asked around at the Devizes Wargames Club.   Frank, the only other serious Napoleonic player, agreed to spend a week there with me.

You could book for a full week or a weekend.   We opted for a full week.  Each week had a theme, and we booked for Waterloo.   I believe there was also Leipzig plus an ACW and WW2

My first sight of the Wargames Centre is also very clear in my memory.   It was much bigger than I had anticipated.   It was a large barn like building with three tables. Each 6 foot wide and about 48 foot long.   The terrain was handmade scenic blocks each 3 foot square.   When we arrived he was repairing some minor damage to a newer model of Hougoumont.   Around the walls were shelves with what appeared to be thousands of model soldiers.   I was fascinated to see the same figures which I had pored over in the magazine.   I was a little disappointed to note that the paint work was not as impressive hand held as it had been in the magazine.  I believe he painted his figures to be seen on the table, and his paintwork reflected this.   I was also disappointed to discover that most of his collection were a mixture of poor quality figures and even poor quality paint work.   At that time he bought in large quantities of second hand Napoleonic model soldiers just to make up the numbers.  And on the table it was not really obvious.   But up close they looked what they were.   During this visit Peter asked Frank and I if we would paint figures for him.  He would provide the figures and pay for the painting by adding twice as many figures again.   So for each ten figures you painted he would give you twenty.   I was too busy with my own painting projects.  But Frank accepted and continued to do so for some time.   Gradually the old Hinton Hunt and Miniature Figurines were replaced by Peters own figures all painted to a good wargame standard.
 Frank at WHC 1983

There were only four of us at the Wargames Centre that week.   Given the size of the games and the area of table this was a real problem.   I alone had half of the French army to control, and also about 24x6 foot of table, and the same behind me for my reserves!   After an hour or so I was boggled by the size of the undertaking.   It was a lot of physical effort just to walk and move my thousands of figures.   But I also had to try to control the whole thing.  Although I had played the rules, I had not really absorbed them.  My opponent seemed to have only a vague grasp of them.   Peter was present, but was not controlling or directing the game.  He would answer rule questions, but apart from that we were left to run the game.   The end result was a shambles.

Two days later we spent a day playing his Sudan game, complete with gun boat.  All four of us commanded the British army, the huge Arab army were controlled by dice.   Peter did umpire this game, and it was great fun.   At the roll of a dice a hundred or so Arab fanatics would suddenly appear.   Eventually our British regulars ran short of ammunition and we were all wiped out.   Despite that a most enjoyable game.

TV Crew at WHC 1983

At the start of the week Peter warned us that a TV company would be there on one day.   He hoped that we did not mind, though there was not a lot we could have done about it if we did.   At the time I did not object, but in retrospect it was a bit cheeky as we were paying customers and one of our day’s wargaming would be seriously disrupted.  It took all morning, and all of us were asked questions to camera.   By chance I saw the finished product on Breakfast TV some months later. On screen it lasted about five minutes and only Peter and I had speaking roles.  

We would return to the Wargames Centre about a year later for a weekend game with the Devizes club.   This time we fought Leipzig.    There were sufficient numbers, we all knew each other and we had a good understanding of the rules by then.   Once more Peter did not actually run the game, once more it was a bit of a shambles.

This time Jan was with us.   She was particularly interested in how Peter made his scenery, and he was kind enough to give her an hour or so explaining at the end of the weekend.   We were sad to discover that he was a little disappointed in how the Wargames Centre was progressing.   Apparently a lot of younger wargamers were dumped there by their parents, who then went off to enjoy their own holiday.   Some of these younger players damaged, or even stole, a lot of his favourite figures.   Peter was the only person I met who had achieved his aim of making a living running a Wargames Centre.  It was a shame that he seemed to end up pretty disillusioned with the whole venture.

 Despite our disappointing experience of the actual games the two holidays were great fun and a real learning experience.   They would also have a direct and dramatic influence on our future wargaming experience.


Carlo said...

A fascinating insight into the WHC from a very different perspective. I had never thought of the possibility of theft etc. of favourite figures but I am sure that would always be a possibility. Do you have any photographs at all of your Sudan games as I would be most interested to see some?

Robbie Rodiss said...

Loved the post.
I have been putting together a blog site, 'Peter Gilder a life in wargaming', and would really like for you to contribute the post to the blog. Could you contact me at just to discuss this.
Thanks Robbie.

thistlebarrow said...

Hi Carlo

I am glad that you enjoyed the blog. I am sorry that I do not have any photographs of the Sudan game. Back then was long before the age of digital photography and I tended to only take only a few photos rather than the hundreds I would now take. I suspect that I took a full roll of perhaps 20 photos whilst at WHC, but only these four remain in my photo albumn.

However I have jut checked Robbie Rodiss (above) new blog "Peter Gilder a life in wargaming" and there is a good photo of a Sudan game on there. This is the link

thistlebarrow said...

Hi Robbie

Glad that you enjoyed the blog. Having typed the post I then read it for errors, and considered whether I should post it or not. I was concerned that it might appear to be critical of both Peter and the WRC. It is not at all intended to be so, it is simply my memory of the two visits I made there. As you will see in my later posts about his influence on my wargaming. My enjoyment of the actual games played there was reduced by our lack of knowledge of the rules, our inexperience playing very large multi player games and the lack of direction of the overall games. It would result in my tendency to umpire all such games that I would put on after my visit to WRC.

I have read your blog and found it most interesting, particularly some of the photos. I will contact you by email as you suggest