Monday, 30 April 2012

The Battle of Shobdon Instructional Centre

Huts at an Instructional Centre
“Rise at six; roll blanket, sweep up tent, wash, breakfast at eight o'clock, then line up for roll call, get your tools out and off to the forest till five p.m.”

Shobdon Instructional Centre, like other such facilities across the UK (including Gilling, N. Yorks: pictured above), was set up in the interwar years as a work camp designed to toughen up the ‘soft’ long-term unemployed through discipline and strenuous manual labour such as woodland clearing and ditch digging. Those that failed to carry out their allotted term within the camp would see their unemployment benefits cut.

Once Herefordshire was largely under Royalist control, Shobdon Instructional Centre, closed in 1937, was reopened as a ‘reconditioning centre’ - effectively a political prison camp. Relatively isolated, dozens of undesirables, mainly left-wing agitators and POWs, were interned at the centre. Under BUF guard and the watchful eye of local militias, the inmates were forced to continue the back-breaking work of the former occupants, while their overseers extolled the virtues of the corporate state.

However this was all about to change. The siege of Ledbury drew many royalist troops from the area, leaving Shobdon and Mortimer Country in general, perilously under-guarded. The socialists in the Black Country saw their chance to free their imprisoned brethren and thus, while the bulk of their forces travelled south to assist their Anglican League allies at Ledbury, a small force split off and headed west through north Herefordshire.

Their plan is twofold – liberate the inmates of Shobdon Instructional Centre and provide them with arms, thus establishing a cadre of socialist fighters in this thinly-settled area. Hearing word of this socialist raid, militias have been mobilised by the local landowners in order to stop the incursion.

If the socialists are successful, then the downtrodden rural workers will naturally rise up and join the embryonic force thus formed. Failure will see off red menace and stop it from spreading its tentacles into Herefordshire.

The battlefield with the camp in the centre, flanked by hills and woodland.
Giles and I played this scenario with the ‘Went the Day Well?’ platoon level rules. Random elements were added by my event cards (designed for Brigadier ’38, but with a little tweaking useable for WTDW). The table was largely open countryside (with some hedges, walls and a road), with the camp in the centre, flanked by some woodland on one side and lightly wooded rocky hills and some swampy ground on the other.

We decided to spread the prisoners between the two camp buildings and the woodland (a logging party). To liberate them, the socialists had to occupy each building (or halfway through the wood) for a turn, which would yield 1d6 miniatures. They would also have to capture the camp lorry in order to spirit them away. Each side consisted roughly of 30 infantry, with command, support and vehicles. After a couple of turns we diced for reinforcements at the end of each turn.

As the BUF defender I deployed first, placing the bulk of my forces (one unit of BUF, the command group, HMG, armoured car and motor-combination recon group) in the camp. I placed the veteran ‘Monmouthshire English’ unit into the woods on my right, while a green unit of lightly-armed village militia patrolled the countryside to my left. Giles’ socialists appeared on both flanks – an infantry unit and improvised armoured car opposite the woods, and the bulk of his force behind the hills to my left.  

BUF in the camp
Left flank
Right flank
With Giles repeatedly winning the initiative, a unit of socialists advanced around the hill to engage my centre, so I moved my motorised units out of the camp and along the road to meet this threat, whilst bringing the BUF infantry up to the barbed wire fence. Meanwhile the village militia slowly trudged through the swamp in an effort to reach the nearest hill before the socialists’ flanking move got there first with a veteran unit. In this they failed, but managed to get a couple of shots off before the reds replied with superior firepower.

The Red Horde!
On my right, the reds advanced into the wood, supported by the armoured car, while their HMG units on the hill (kept in both ammunition and crew thanks to a couple of lucky chance cards) covered the centre attack, quickly knocking out most of the recce unit, whose own fire had been largely ineffective. On my left the depleted villagers broke, being callously shot in the back by the godless Bolsheviks – a dastardly act that would not be forgotten!

Depleted motor pool                         Broken villagers

In the centre the armoured car and remaining combination withdrew back to the camp, partly to avoid a duo of tank busters who were lurking amongst the general socialist advance on my left flank and centre. To my right the combined fire from the red infantry and armoured car broke my veterans as socialist reinforcements arrived to support the drive to the woods. Things were looking bleak – the units on both flanks were wavering in the face of red firepower and my motor pool, with their MGs, was severely depleted. Had Giles not sportingly neglected to roll for more reinforcements for a turn or two, I would have thrown in the towel soon.

             Socialist HMG                        The reds push into the woods 

Things however began to take a turn for the better. As my armoured car duelled with the HMGs, with neither side doing much damage, the combination joined the HMG to assist in defending the camp, turning their sights on the improvised armoured car on my right and knocking out it’s MG, leaving it with only shotguns. The BUF infantry in the camp’s defensive fire began to tell on the reds and their centre advance began to stall as they in turn took up positions along the fences and hedges. The socialist tank busters (one of whom was busy having a crafty fag) also succumbed to BUF bullets.

                                     HMG vs Armoured car                              Reds advance

By moving my command unit further to the right I was able to rally the retreating veterans in the wood, who quickly turned and blasted away at the pursuing reds. To my left, desperately needed reinforcements arrived in the form of the Weasley Whateley family, who (thanks to a random event card) had been drinking cider for most of the day and as a result were fired up and looking for a fight!

                                   Pressure on the flank                             The Whateleys arrive

These dodgy characters immediately moved to protect the left flank, lining the hedges and walls before blasting away at the socialist veterans who had dug into the rocks on the hill. This fire fight lasted for the remainder of the game as neither the well-trained socialists or the drunken rogues would break, despite the loss of numbers on both sides.

Defensive positions
In the woodland, and despite the arrival of more socialist reinforcements, the veteran BUF, supported with fire from the HMG, motorbike combination and pistol fire from the command group, drove off two waves of red assaults – shouting ‘remember the villagers!’ as they blasted into the backs of the running reds. Ignoring the now largely weaponless improvised armoured car, the BUF armoured car also came up in support, breaking off its fruitless duels with the red HMGs, which had been rendered largely useless due to the socialist horde that now blocked their line of sight. Although the BUF MHG eventually succumbed to the red’s return fire, the right flank held, keeping the red tide at bay.

                 BUF armoured car sees off reinforcements        BUF veterans clear the woods

In the centre the socialist advance had well and truly petered out, although with their field of fire now clear (until their improvised armoured car interposed itself between the BUF and the reds) the depleted but steady BUF still had the red HMGs to contend with. On the left flank the timely arrival of some Blackshorts was able to prop up the Whateleys as the light began to fade and, thanks to another chance card, a dispiriting drizzle began to fall, dampening everyone’s ardour.

                                     The reds withdraw                   Camp commandant gives his victory speech 

And so we called it a day. It was a very close run thing, with the advantage seesawing between both sides and with reinforcements, random event cards and successful morale rolls being deciding factors. The exhausted BUF held the camp and could claim a victory of sorts, but while the socialists failed to liberate any prisoners they had given their enemy a very bloody nose and remained in the vicinity in large numbers.

The red menace was here to stay…

A report of the battle from Giles' perspective can be found here, while more photos can be found my my Photobucket, here.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Hereford’s King of England

More Mutton Chop Miniatures love now – having bought the excellent Colonel Porter pack, I couldn’t for the life of me think how to fit the figures into my little world of VBCW Herefordshire. I thought they deserved to be more than being just part of another militia group, but wasn’t sure how to build a faction around them.

Then I remembered the story, already briefly touched upon in this blog, of Anthony Hall, Hereford’s own pretender to the throne. I was suddenly struck how this quixotic character could be merged with the pugnacious and somewhat seedy screen persona of Will Hay, the comedy actor who inspired the Colonel Porter figure...

Anthony Hall: pretender to the throne

William Hall at Birmingham's Bull Ring in 1931
Anthony William Hall, a former Shropshire policeman, believed himself to be descended from an illegitimate son of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. He also maintained that that the real James I of England had been murdered as an infant and his remains lay in a coffin in Edinburgh Castle. His place was taken by an "impostor and changeling", James Erskine, whom he dubbed "goggle-eyed Jim". In light of this, Hall maintained that his family should have inherited the Crown when Elizabeth I died in 1603.

Born in London in 1898, Hall grew up in the Herefordshire village of Little Dewchurch. After serving in WWI as an ambulance driver, where he was gassed at Ypres, Hall served in the Shropshire Police from 1919 to 1927 before leaving for Canada in disgrace. At one time or another he was also an export trader and author of a vehicle law manual, and inherited a fortune after the death of his father, enabling him to pursue his claims.

Thus asserting that the current monarchy was a sham and that he was a direct descendant of the ‘real’ monarchical line, in 1931 Hall asserted his claim to the throne in an open letter to King George V. “The whole world has been hoodwinked for 328 years,” he wrote. “You have no connection with the British Royal Family. You are an outsider. Therefore leave the country. I claim the Crown.”

Under the banner ‘a New King, a New Country’ he then began to tour the Midlands, making nightly speeches at Birmingham’s Bull Ring where he lambasted the ‘German’ occupants of Buckingham Palace. His speeches ranged from calling for George V to be dethroned via the law courts to challenging the King to a duel - at one time telling a large crowd of sympathetic Depression-era Midlanders that he would be the first policeman to execute a monarch! Police reports at the time noted: “In referring to the King of England, Hall states that he would have no hesitation in shooting him as he would a dog. The King was a German; a pure bred German and had not right to rule this country.”

His activities eventually became a cause of concern for the authorities, with King George's private secretary, Sir Clive Wigram, asking the Home Office for Hall to be sectioned. ‘King Anthony’ was remanded in custody, but the two doctors who examined him refused to certify him insane. "It is true that he is eccentric and wrong-headed, but he is not so obviously demented or insane that he could be dealt with without recourse to court proceedings” lamented Sir Clive.

With the Palace pressing for Hall to be dealt with (providing that the King’s involvement was kept secret) he was eventually arrested and tried for using ‘quarrelsome and scandalous language’. He was fined £10 and bound over to keep the peace with a surety of £25 or the alternative of two months' imprisonment with hard labour. Following this he held a final rally at the Bull Ring, before ceasing his activities for good.

He later went on to work at the Royal Ordnance Factory in Rotherwas and died, leaving no male heirs, in 1947 aged 49. He is buried St David's churchyard at Little Dewchurch.

Anthony William Hayle, the VBCW equivalent

Anthony ‘Will’ Hayle, a disreputable character who at one time or another worked, or posed, as a headmaster, policeman, teacher, fireman, ship’s captain, solicitor, stationmaster, and prison governor, briefly came to prominence during the early 1930’s after aggressively and colourfully asserting his claim to the throne of King George V in a series of lecture tours throughout the Midlands.

Claiming to be the direct descendant of Sir Richard Hayle, an illegitimate son of Henry VIII, Will was forced to cease his antics after his latest venture, the selling of ‘royal’ titles and honours, collapsed when a ‘Marquis of Shepton Mallet’ attempted entry into the House of Lords. Following this, Hayle retired to Herefordshire to breed sheep.

However the outbreak of civil war and the resultant calling into question of Edward VIII’s suitability to rule, prompted Hayle to renew his claims - especially after the Bishop of Hereford set a precedent with his failed attempt to depose the King in favour of the pretender ‘King John’. Once again reasserting his right to the throne, ‘King Anthony I’, his equerry ‘Duke’ Harbottle and Albert, Lord of the Privy (“you’ll get the ‘Seal’ bit when I’m king!”) narrowly avoided arrest by the Royalist authorities now controlling the county and, with a small band of eccentric, oddball or generally roguish followers, fled to the Anglican League enclave at Ross.

Here the ‘true and rightful King of England’ continues to press for recognition as the rightful heir to the throne, touring Anglican-held areas and espousing his claims (whilst gratefully accepting any and all donations). Hayle and his band of armed retainers are something of an embarrassment to the Anglican League, but in these desperate times any ally, however eccentric, is a valuable reinforcement.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Anglican League tank hunters

Who ya gonna call? Oh, we've done that already...
After all my recent BUF and royalist stuff, it's time to swing the pendulum a little towards the Anglican League with these tanks hunters...

Three-quarters of the team are from Musketeer's VBCW range, while the other guy (throwing the Molotov cocktail) is a Bolt Action partisan.

Meg roars again!

What better represents the homemade eccentricity of the VBCW genre than dusting off a 17th century artillery piece, giving it a lick of paint and then pressing it into service! Herefordshire is proud to possess such a piece – Roaring Meg.

Model and figures (with a little Milliput) from Warlord Game's ECW range, except the officer with binoculars, which is from Great War Miniatures
Roaring Meg was born in 1646, right in the midst of the English Civil War. During the siege of Royalist-held Goodrich Castle (whence Sir Henry Lingen and the Royalist forces had fled after being ousted from Hereford), Parliamentarian Colonel John Birch ordered the casting of a mortar in the nearby Forest of Dean. With a 15.5 inch barrel diameter and firing a 2 hundredweight hollow ball filled with gunpowder, Roaring Meg was the largest mortar of the war.

Roaring Meg in Hereford

She was put to good use during the siege, with Colonel Birch personally firing the last 19 balls. “By reason of a great mortorpiece you made there (the biggest in England) the enimy was terrified, much of the inner part of the castle ffalen downe, and the roofs spoyled,” wrote Birch’s secretary.

After the Royalist garrison in Goodrich Castle surrendered, Birch arranged for Roaring Meg to be taken to Hereford. Here she spent many ignominious years standing upside-down as a corner-post at the corner of Gwynne Street and Bridge Street, outside the inn to which it gave its name (renamed in 1861 to the St. Catherine Wheel inn).

She was rescued from this indignity in 1839, when it was given pride of place on the Castle Green, a pleasant recreation spot on the site of the old castle near the Cathedral and the River Wye. Here she stood, flanked by two cannon until 1965, when she was moved to the newly opened Churchill Gardens (in honour of Sir Winston Churchill after his death in that year) on Aylestone Hill (also the site of a museum and gallery dedicated to the works of local artist Brian Hatton. Once a private home, this building is now somewhat neglected).

Roaring Meg at Goodrich Castle
Roaring Meg returned to Goodrich Castle, on loan from Herefordshire Council, in 2004 and there she remains at the time of writing, restored and standing proudly on display.

Roaring Meg in the VBCW

During the formation of the Hereford Municipal LDV, it became apparent that some kind of artillery would be needed. However all available guns, few that there were, had already been appropriated either by the fascist paramilitaries, the TA or had been lost/smuggled to the Anglican League.

The powers that be contacted one Major Barneby – a retired Royal Artillery Officer who farmed a few miles outside the city. Known to be a military history enthusiast and something of an expert on antique firearms, Barneby was tasked with surveying the many old cannons scattered around the accessible parts of the county in private collections and public ornamentation.

Barneby discounted most of the pieces he uncovered, deeming them unsuitable due to their age, condition and the relatively short range at which they would be effective. However the mortar ‘Roaring Meg’ did have potential – if the old girl could be coaxed back into life, the longer range of such a siege weapon might take its crew out of rifle range and at least make a bang big enough to deter any adversary. Roaring Meg was thus removed to Barneby’s workshop, where she was restored into something like a working condition and remounted. Barneby also cast a number of hollow balls, filled with homemade gunpowder and trained a handpicked crew of brave and/or foolish farmworkers to assist him in the operation of this venerable mortar.

Roaring Meg now takes its place in the armoury of the Hereford Municipal LDV, ready to defend the city against all aggressors – although Lord knows what will happen when she is fired again for the first time in nigh-on 300 years!

The Weasley Whateleys

Deep in the sparsely populated countryside of north Herefordshire, a particularly dark and dingy ravine hides a scruffy and neglected hamlet known as Little Dunwich - home of the Whateley clan.

The Whateley clan - all figures by Mutton Chop Miniatures
Described over the centuries as an inbred bunch of rum coves, wrong ‘uns and queer sorts, the Whateleys have produced generations of vagabonds, wastrels and petty criminals, kept under some sort of order by the local authorities but never quite brought to justice for their wrongdoings, earning them the nickname of the ‘Weasley Whateleys’.

Remove any semblance of order and the Whateleys thrive.

The civil war has brought plenty of opportunities for criminality, skulduggery and general mischief for this extended family of reprobates, led by patriarch ‘General’ Wilberforce Whateley. Theft, extortion and blackmail had been their trade in recent months, until the opportunity came along for a bit of gun-running.

Ever the opportunists, the Whateleys had discovered a significant arms cache, left behind by retreating Anglican League forces after the Severn Valley campaign. ‘General’ Whateley let it be known that these weapons would be available for purchase by the highest bidder – who unfortunately for them turned out to be a BUF agent working for de Braose, the interim governor of the Marches.

Rather than arrest these would-be arms dealers, de Braose saw a solution to a problem, for the local battalion of the Three Counties BUF desperately needed new recruits. Knowing a slippery character when he saw one (indeed someone was heard to remark that it takes one to know one), de Braose acted quickly: locking up several female members of the Whateley clan before the menfolk could act. He then issued an ultimatum – the women would be kept safe if the men agreed to fight for the BUF with the weapons they had found.

‘General’ Whateley had no choice but to agree, and thus the Little Dunwich Militia was formed, fighting alongside the BUF for King and country – at least until the Whateleys can weasel out of their predicament and turn the tables on de Braose, for as a local saying goes, it never pays to cross a Whateley…

Monday, 16 April 2012

Vehicular Pimpage

It was high time that I expanded my rather small motor pool and so followed a quick trawl of eBay…

L-R: Lledo 1931 Rolls Royce Phantom II Brewster, Matchbox 1938 Hispano-Suiza, Matchbox Rolls Royce armoured car

The Rolls Royce Phantom and the Hispano-Suiza were given a wash of Quickshade, followed by some matt varnish, while the armoured car was sprayed black and then varnished.

The Hispano-Suiza will act as de Braose’s staff car (hence the top of the Hereford city coat of arms clumsily stuck to the doors, which I might repaint yet), the armoured car will be used to beef up the BUF, while the Phantom will act as a transpot or supply vehicle to whoever needs it!