Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas

My favourite Christmas music

I've been off the radar of late as this is a very busy time of year.

This is our first Christmas in our new home and it's wonderful. Mrs Kinch has worked very very hard to make it as good as it can possibly be and I can't tell you how happy I was to arrive home to her, bearing our first Christmas tree over my shoulder. The cats have been enjoying a feast of low hanging baubles.

Another treat was being finally able to open a wedding present from my Mother in Law*, a beautiful hand painted Nativity from Germany, a country which celebrates Christmas very well. It's on the pianola in the hall and I'm eyeing it with definite plans for expansion. I forsee a sort of triptych arrangement for next year, with three painted backdrops. That said, thus far it is one of only three cribs in the house. Plans for expansion indeed.

It's been a very surprising year and I can't begin to list the things we have to be thankful for. I've weathered another year professionally, without being found out as the fraud I sometimes feel myself to be. Mrs Kinch (mainly her and her father to be honest) and I have managed to turn what was a real fixer upper into a home. Admittedly, a home that has some way to go - but a home nonetheless. There are a hundred and one other things, but I won't go into them now.

I'll be working over Christmas, but I'm due some time off afterwards, so you'll hear more from me after.

Firstly, Christmas is a wonderful time, but not for everyone. If like me, you're bad with money, I recommend thinking of a small discrete unit of money. For me it is the price of a gin and tonic, it could be the cost of a cup of coffee or a packet of chewing gum. Try and think of something that you buy everyday. There are twelve days of Christmas, try to give that much every day of Christmas. I won't advise you where to give it, there are plenty of homeless shelters, charities and other organisations that could find a good use for those few coins. There are some sacrifices so small, that it is shameful not to make them. Pick something different everyday. It's a good feeling.

I guarantee you'll get greedy for it by the end.

Secondly, for those you who like to drink at Christmas, I raise my glass to you. However, I would beg you to please stay off the roads. Delivering bad news at Christmas is never easy, it can certainly spoil the day of the deliverer. Receiving it is far far worse and can blight lives for years, if not longer.

I missed the Messiah in St. Patricks this year as I was working.
But this is still good.

Lastly, Mrs Kinch, Sisi, Sir Harry Flashman VC and I all wish you a very, very Merry Christmas, be it sacred or profane, and hope you all enjoy a peaceful and prosperous New Year.

*She and my wife are very much of the opinion that setting up the tree and the cribs are "boy jobs".

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Muskets at the Movies #1: Glory

Some scenes from Glory

Given that movies and wargaming were a topic of discussion recently, here is the first of what I hope to be a series of posts about "great wargaming movies".

Glory is a 1989 film set during the American Civil War. The film follows the exploits of the 54th Massachussets, a regiment raised from mostly from free blacks in the North. The film follows the regiment from its founding to the assault on Fort Wagner. It is a strong ensemble piece, the cast are superb, Denzel Washington crackles and Mathew Broderick gives a wonderfully understated performance as Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, a white abolitionist, who is offered command of the regiment. I think one of the tricks that were missed in this otherwise magnificent film was that Gould-Shaw turned the job down, only to sleep on it and reconsider.

Glory is full of good things, not least James Horners haunting score sung by the Harlem Boys Choir. I challenge anyone to hear that beautiful, soaring music and remain unmoved.

From the point of view of battles there are a couple, but they are not what shines about the film. The fight in the forest is well shot, but as any student of horse and musket warfare will tell you that bayonet charges rarely crossed blades. At the same time, if the mechanics are wrong - the emotional pitch is right. The mixture of terror and savagery is breathtaking.

The assault on Fort Wagner is a fine piece of cinematic story telling. It vividly illustrates the dangers of escalade and the tendency of troops to bunch under pressure until driven on by a "Big Man". The ditch at Fort Wagner could be the ditch at any siege, full of confused, struggling men waiting for direction.

So, looking back at my three criteria for a good movie, how does Glory measure up?

1. Does it work as a story, does it entertain?

Glory offers a gripping narrative. There are fine performances throughout. The struggles of the 54th with army bureaucracy are dramatised well. Mrs Kinch, not a fan of war movies, watched the whole thing and pronounced it excellent if terribly upsetting.

2. Sense of time and place.

This is more of a mixed bag - Ed Zwick tries very hard, but there are a couple of clangers in there. The whipping of Private Tripp is one that I found very hard to understand as I have never come across any other description of flogging in the American armies of the time. There's the usual issue with well fed reenactors, but on the whole it's OK.

3. Wargaming

There's a good portrayal of an escalade and a short nasty action in the woods. The battle of Antietam is evoked in an attack that fails, but as I said earlier the real meat of the movie is in the pre and post battle scenes. There is a chilling scene set in a field hospital where Mathew Broderick is being treated, the only scene of its type I have ever seen on film.

Glory is a film that is worth watching and will certainly fill you with enthusiasm for the period. It remains one of top five favourite films. I heartily recommend it.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Newline Royal Horse Artillery

An Officer type

I've been using Revell Foot Artillery figures with an ADC figure as a substitute for Horse Artillery for quite some time. However, sooner or later I was going to have to get the right chaps on the board and finally, he they are.

This fellow is a Newline British Light Dragoon, who has had sword-ectomy and is now serving as the officer in charge of this particular gun.

Gunners, they wore fancier hats back then

These are Newline chaps again, I only actually needed two per gun, but it would be a silly waste of figures not to have a full (ish) crew for each piece. They are nice little figures and they don't look too out of scale with the rest of my collection.

The ensemble

I only needed two units of Royal Horse Artillery, no doubt once my ambitions become fixed on another big game I'll hanker for some more, but in the mean time these will do.

With the addition of these guns, all that remains to complete my British collection (at least until I decide I need something more exotic) is some Lifeguards. I think I hear the Revell set calling.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Military Dress of the Peninsular War by Martin Windrow & Gerry Embleton

A very well chosen gift from an old friend

This is a very handsome book and representative of a type that seems to have been relatively common in the 1970s, a glossy, well researched military hardback. Lawford's "The Cavalry" or "Last Campaigns of Napoleon" would be good examples of the breed. The above was published in 1974 by Martin Windrow & Gerry Embleton, men with distinguished pedigrees in the field.

I've been meaning to blog again for a while, but simply haven't had a chance in the Christmas rush.

There is something of a story behind this book as I had intended to buy it some months ago when an old friend and I traveled to Hay on Wye for a book buying trip. I had admired it, but thought better of it, thinking that I had much the same information spread across Ospreys and a dozen other books. I had seconds thoughts after leaving and when that same old friend found himself in Hay again, I commissioned him to pick it up for me. He claimed that he couldn't find it and I believe him, but whatever happened - I was handed this book on Monday and I've been dipping into it ever since.

The book itself is broken up into eight chapters, which comprise a potted history of the Peninsular War, but the real meat of the work is taken up with the one hundred illustrated figures and the selection of period illustrations. The figures are wonderful and are drawn with verve. I have a large collection of Osprey's, but these are a cut above.

The period illustrations are a mixture of old reliables and some that I have never seen before, particularly the work of the Dighton brothers. They were cartoonists who I hadn't heard of before, but their portraits and sketches are full of character.

Gary Embleton's work is the main draw of course and I shall look at some of those figures in a little more detail.

No. 35 - Trooper, Spanish Line Cavalry, "Del Rey" 1809

I love this picture, there's something wonderfully composed about it. The Spanish cavalry did not often cover themselves in glory, but this chap has a nonchalance that I find charming. He's probably incompetant, but I'd imagine he's good company.

For an explanation as to the unusual head gear, I think I shall turn to the text.

"The bicorne with the usual red bow shaped cockade was normal dress, but the mitre shaped forage cap illustrated here is taken from a contemporary print.. So, indeed is the unusual manner of wearing it! The head is pushed into the soft crown of the cap, so that the rear of the front flap becomes a long peak shading the eyes; the normal opening is at the back."

I think modelling that particular 19th century baseball cap in 1/72 is beyond my skills.

No 34. - Capitaine, French 5ieme Dragons 1809

What a shocking set of bags. This French dragoon is a far cry from the modestly accoutred fellows available in plastic. Dragoons made up the majority of the French cavalry in Spain.

Apparently saroual trousers (a sort of a wide baggy trouser of North African extraction) were popular. I think mucking about with a spot of green stuff may be in order.

No 77. - Dragoon, French 17ieme Dragons, 1812

I actually have only one unit of dragoons in my French army and I couldn't tell you what regiment they represent, mainly because I painted them following the instructions on the back of the Italeri box and not considering that more research might be required.

One of the baffling things about Italeri's French dragoons is that there are a number of troopers who wear fringed epaulettes. I have come across reference to certain elite companies wearing epaulettes, but they were usually worn with a bearskin or colpak. This left me with several dozen troopers that I didn't know what to do with, but Windrow swept in to the rescue.

"The only controversial point about this uniform is the illustration of white fringed epaulettes. Most dragoons wore plain green bastion shaped shoulder straps piped in the regimental distinctive, but in 1807/08 some regiments adopted the epaulettes shown here and various sources maintain that the 17ieme was one of these."

So there!

A very interesting book that has rekindled my interest, ground down by work, household chores and all the other mundanities of life.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Wargames Illustrated: The Death of Nelson

Nelson decides to have a lie-down

I will be back up and about in four and a half hours, but Mr Sleep is not at home to Mr Kinch at present, so I decided to do some work on my current modelling projects. Next on my list is a gift for Mrs Kinchs grandfather, a man who is fond of all things Royal Navy. The piece is one from Wargames Illustrated's Moments in History collection, specifically the Death of Nelson. I've seen a variety of pictures of this scene, which was a popular one. This piece specifically reminds me of an etching, I think after a painting, that my mother had in a school book. I'm sure a glance at google would give me a name, but I think I'd rather look for the book.

Due to a review of Royal Navy manning policy,
the position of "kissing Hardy" will be filled at a later date

There are few if any problems with flash. The piece itself was delivered in a blister pack and shipped very quickly from New Zealand. It is cast in 28mm and while I rarely, if ever, have anything to do with "the Devil's scale" - it is a very nice piece for all that. I've test fitted all the pieces and they fit with only minor trimming and fitting. My plan is to paint the pieces seperately. I'll mask the holes with blu-tack, now that I've set up Nelson, and spray the piece white. Once I've painted the great man himself, I'll add the other elements. I have learned some things since assembling that diorama of Gordon of Kartoum.

Those damned chevrons

Work continues apace on our friend the drummer, damn his fiddly, fiddly eyes. For those of you having difficulty noticing the differance between this picture and the last I posted, I have added the red piping to his chevrons and his waistcoat. This was a very awkward job as it required a steady hand. Trying it while still keyed up after work was probably foolish, but I can probably fix the mistakes later.

Painting white over red presents no difficulties. None what so ever.

Thinking about film

The Redcoats advance in Barry Lyndon
A scene that launched a thousand 18th century wargames

I watch historical films rather differantly than I do other films. They must scratch different itches to please me. The first criteria is whether the film itself is any good or not, whether it works as a piece of storytelling or entertainment. I have enjoyed books or films that are light on story*, but they are damned few and far between.

The second criteria is that subtle that almost indefinable sense of time and place. I recall listening to Peter Weir talk about the casting of "Master & Commander" when he described hiring extras from Eastern Europe, because he felt that they had 19th century faces. Would it have made a difference if he had cast Americans in those roles. I don't know, but if that's what Peter Weir needs to do, then so be it. There is the candle lit world of "Barry Lyndon". These are films that evoke in me a genuine feeling of time travel, of having looked back into a past that is at once alien and familiar. Certainly the art direction has a great deal to do with it as does the choice of music, casting also plays a part, but I can't say exactly why some films have "it" and other films do not.

It is not necessary that a film must score highly in both criteria to be good, I thoroughly enjoyed "The Brothers Grimm" and "The 13th Warrior", both of which are hokum, but remain entertaining pieces of storytelling. However, I've found that my favourite films tend to be those with offer an immersion in a time not my own, rarely a pretty one, but compelling nonetheless; an antidote to this lousy modern world.

Then of course, there is there is the wargaming itch to scratch. I love films with battles, ideally big ones and yet one of the finest films ever made, "The Duellists", contains only a few skirmishes. I can usually count on Sergei Bondarchuck to leave me thinking, "Oh, so that's what it must have looked like." But he is dead now and others must feed that appetite. Some day someone will make a film depicting a black powder battle from an infantryman's perspective - it will be full of gun smoke and the protagonist will be ridden over by every bloody fool with a horse.

So, the perfect film must have enormous battles, be wonderfully cast, well acted, beautifully written and rigorously historically accurate (ideally down to the actors snaggly teeth); does such a paragon exist?

We shall see.

What films scratch your wargaming itch? And no unnecessary rudeness in the comments about the "The Patriot" please.

*The Plague, Ulysses and possibly some of Beckett are the only things leaping to mind at present. I'm a man of the "great storytellers", the 19th century English popular authors.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Drummer update

Drummer on the right

(click to embiggen)

Progress on my drummer continues slowly, but steadily. Mainly slowly. The effects of multiple washes of white are slow to materialise, but I think I'm beginning to see some improvement. I'm doing the red, and there is a lot of red, with thinned down Scab Red from the GW stable. Thanks due to Mr E on that one.

My other two short term projects arrived from Wargames Illustrated today. They're both kits from their Moments in History series for Mrs Kinch's great uncle and grandfather.

French Horse Artillery

Newline Designs French Horse Artillery

I've been extemporising Horse artillery for the last while, using an ADC figure and two chaps from the foot batteries. As a stop gap, it sufficed and there was little doubt as to which were the horse batteries and which the foot. But it rankled, so I have just mustered two new gun crews into the French service. These are Newline Designs figures and are a touch small, but they do well in units on their own. I had toyed with HATs offering, but wasn't convinced by the sculpting. I also wanted each horse battery to have at least one mounted gunner so that the difference between horse and foot batteries would be clear.

Up close for a whiff of grapeshot

My readers are all no doubt familiar with horse artillery, but in case Tim Gow has had a sudden rush of blood to the head and momentarily forgotten anything that doesn't have a jet engine on it.

Horse artillery are simply put, batteries of artillery where the gun crews ride rather than walk. The idea behind them was that they would provide fast mobile firepower where it was needed. Foot batteries, which typically carried a greater weight of metal, were more powerful, but couldn't be relied upon to get to the key point quickly. Horse artillery, sometimes called "flying batteries", though I've only heard this used when referring to the American arm, were most numerous in French service. They were expensive to train and raise as they required more horses then a foot battery and men who could ride as well as shoot. The first batteries were raised in 1792 under General Mathieu Dumas.

Sadly, this is not Alexandra Dumas father, who was the rather more imposing Thomas Alexandre Dumas. But the French artillery and horse artillery especially certainly shared his aggression. Paddy Griffith covers the "artillery charge" in passing in his Osprey on French Napoleonic Infantry tactics, but essentially it boiled down to getting in close and shooting fast, delivering murderous close range fire to rupture the enemy line.

We will never see a horse artillery battery in action in earnest, but to give you some impression of the speed, precision and dash of these men, have a look at this footage from the Royal Tournament in 1985.


While Command & Colours Napoleonics gun crews (at least as I organise them) come with only three crewmen and a gun, that seemed a rather scanty number of gunners. The Newline Design packs came with more figures than I needed, so should I ever need more crewmen (I won't say a full crew), these fellows are waiting in the wings.

I suppose that these pictures are part of a larger project to document my collection of figures, for my own satisfaction and so that I can insure them. I posted (as I usually do) a link to my blog entry on the subject to The Miniatures Page recently and received some interesting and not so interesting responses.

The discussion spiralled out of the bounds of reason and decency shortly there after and considerable time and energy that could have been more profitably spent calculating how many angels may dance on the head of the pin or perhaps ironing the undersides of cats was expended on the subject of whether it is right or proper to murder someone who is burgling your home. For a variety of reasons, I shall not go into my position on the subject here. I can only steal another man's eloquence.

"It is a big step to take another human life. It is never to be done lightly. I know of men who have taken life needlessly in other conflicts. I can assure you they live with the Mark of Cain upon them."