Thursday, 29 August 2013

...and thus I gain one extra point!

You know the drill by now- someone has a competition on their blog, and by linking to it on your own blog you get an extra piece of paper put into the hat.

Happily this particular competition also gives me another chance to highlight a cracking blog that is rapidly gaining in popularity as the word spreads: namely Thoughts of a Depressive Diplomatist.

Edwin, creator of said blog, is celebrating its first anniversary with a competition. He is giving away some interesting books and postcards, and the competition ends on the 8th September (not far from my birthday - just sayin'...)


Wednesday, 28 August 2013

"They sent me to a place called Shobdon..." Herefordshire's Labour Camp

When I learned of the existence of 'Instructional Centres' for the unemployed during the 1930s and the fact that one was built in Shobdon, Herefordshire, I was determined to discover its location.

Originally I assumed that it was on the site of what is now Shobdon Airfield, but it turns out I was wrong. Having discovered it's exact location, I planned to make a visit and then write this blog entry, but alas time ran ahead of me. So instead I will write this now, several months late, but coinciding with the imminent publication of 'Working Men's Bodies', by Britain's foremost authority on the subject, Professor John Field of Stirling University's Department of Lifelong Learning.

Online research on the subject led me to a number of very interesting websites and academic articles, and put me in touch with John, who very kindly emailed me copies of his work and some extra tidbits of information. I was pleased to be able to return the favour by locating the location of the site of the camp at Shobdon.


Instructional Centres - a general history

Huts at Gilling, N. Yorks

In true lazy-bones style, I do not intend to paraphrase the work of others, especially John, and will instead present a general history of Britain's Instructional Centres in the form of links.

First off is a very nice article on the BBC News Scotland website from 2009 in which the man himself gives a general introduction on the subject of work camps for the unemployed.

Another great website is The Workhouse, dedicated to that institution and containing a useful page on the history of work camps, from labour colonies to instructional centres.

A search through The Hansard also brings up a few mentions of Instructional Centres, and provides an insight into the parliamentary business behind their creation.

Able Bodies: Work camps and the training of the unemployed in Britain before 1939 is a paper by John Field which is available to read in full and is thoroughly recommended.

Also by John are An Anti-Urban Education? Work Camps and Ideals of the Land in Interwar Britain and ‘To Recondition Human Material…’: an Account of a British Labour Camp in the 1930s: An Interview with William Heard - both require registration and/or subscription to the relevant websites but are well worth a read; especially Mr. Heard's account of the tough and monotonous life within Shobdon camp.

Considering that the 'trainees' ensconced in the camps were required to undertake forestry work, it is also worth familiarising oneself on Britain's reforestation policy following the Great War - The Logic of British Forest Policy, 1919-1970 is recommended.

Finally, sit back and watch some great footage of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth touring the north east of England, visiting, among other attractions, and Instructional Centre, on the Pathe News website.

Dining hut, Coed Y Brenin Forest

In the printed medium (and in addition to the aforementioned new publication), I recommend Labour Camps: The British Experience. Written (perhaps inevitably) from a left-wing perspective, this book is an affordable primer on the subject of Instructional Centres and also includes excerpts from both attendees and camp staff.

Another book is In The Name of Liberalism: Illiberal Social Policy in the USA and Britain, which also makes mention of Instructional Centres in the wider context of 'liberal' governance.


Shobdon Instructional Centre

Many thanks to Prof. John Field for the following information.

Shobdon was opened in 1928 on Forestry Commission land by the Ministry of Labour and the Oversea Settlement Committee, who ran short courses to 'harden' young unemployed men before they emigrated; it closed in May 1929, as a result of declining demand from the Dominions governments.

Under the Labour Government, it was reopened by the Ministry of Labour in 1930, as a Transfer Instructional Centre. It ran three month courses for unemployed young men, designed to 'harden' them before they migrated from the distressed areas to find jobs in other parts of the UK. It catered for 200 at any one time, mainly from South Wales but also from North Wales and the Midlands.

A summer camp at Wigmore Forest and Presteigne also existed, attached to the camp at Shobdon.

Shobdon TIC was renamed an 'Instructional Centre' in 1932, and continued until 1937. One trainee said that his first week included 'PT , arithmetic, spelling and English geography; the second week was spent digging, the third washing up in the canteen, the fourth ‘ash walloping’, and the fifth ‘lopping branches off trees’. The men were mainly preparing land for afforestation, and once the Forestry Commission took over the land the Centre was closed.

The camp layout was similar to other instructional centres - they were well supplied with support services, including a piped water supply, sick bay, dining, school and ablution huts. Camps were open, with no barbed wire fences or anything else much to stop people ambling in and out (the threat of losing benefits was probably enough to stop inmates going AWOL!)

Their hard work done, the last trainees left the camp, which closed in 1937. The Nissen huts were probably bought by local farmers and the land was duly occupied by the Forestry Commission. A Forestry Commission research station sits near the site of the camp today and is open to visitors.


Shobdon Instructional Centre today

And so the time has come to reveal the exact location of Shobdon Instructional Centre, and for this I am indebted to Nick Fielding of the Forestry Commission.

As mentioned above, the centre was near to where a Forestry Commission research station now stands. This is Shobdon Field Station on the flank of Shobdon Hill Wood, near Uphampton; just a short distance north of Shobdon village.

Nick very kindly dug out a water piping plan of the centre, complete with labelled buildings. He also sent me a plan of the centre, overlayed on a map of the site today.

I have taken some screenshots of the area from Google Maps (approximate location of the camp in red) and an Ordinance Survey from Bing Maps (current research station labelled Furnishers Plantation). Via Google Street View I have also clumsily stitched together a panoramic view of the entrance to the Research Station, looking towards the general direction of where the Instructional Centre used to be (entrance to the left).

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As you can see, nothing exists of the camp now, but it is possible to tread the same ground as the unemployed men who were obliged to stay at the camp eighty-odd years ago. I still intend to pay a visit one day!

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Thursday, 22 August 2013

Blackshort Artillery Crew

I wanted a crew of Blackshorts, for when it was their turn to borrow my 'rent-a-gun', but I couldn't find a suitable pack of miniatures anywhere.

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Enquiries on the Very British Civil Forum and the Lead-Adventure Forum gave a general consensus that the best way to go was to use figures from the new plastic 8th Army box set from Perry Miniatures.

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I wasn't prepared to fork out on a full box, just for the sake of a few crew members, but luckily fellow VBCF chum MickA was prepared to part with a sprue for a modest reimbursement.

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The sprue came with the kneeling figures, which fitted the bill nicely - the tricky part was to find suitable arms, hence the slightly eccentric posing of these guys! I added some small snippets of plastic inner cable insulation for shells (rounded off with some Milliput) - I'm not entirely happy with how they came out, but they'll do.

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I can use the rest of the sprue for extra figures and/or spare bits, so long as the size difference isn't too great (these minis are rather slight compared to, say, Artizan) and have already got a couple of them in the painting queue for my BUF, so watch this space!

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Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Another Clipping

This weeks Hereford Journal delivered yet another nice interwar military photo, this time of the Royal Gloucester Hussars on a visit to Ross-on-Wye.

Can anyone identify the armoured cars?


Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Brink of Battle Times Three

I'm off work this week, recovering from a minor operation (hint: no more kids for me!) - so it would be remiss of me to get at least one days' gaming in.

Seeing as I can't drive at the moment, invited Giles over to have another crack at the Brink of Battle skirmish rules. We'd made a couple of mistakes with the rules in our previous Game of 'Brink', which turned into something of a slugfest - this time, with the correct application of the rules, things would be very different!

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We decided to go for a 500 point foce each (plus 25 for having a fully painted force with namedncharacters and background) Giles brought a seven man team of his Malvern Hills Conservators, including an SMG toting commander, veteran sergeant and troops with the 'ranger' trait, allowing them to move normally in difficult terrain.

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I decided that my Blackshorts needed some air - an eight man team lead by the fearsome 'Trouncer' Trudd, armed with his trusty cricket bat (classed as a great bludgeon) and the 'burly' trait, meaning that he would be formidable in close combat. I also had two veterans, one with an SMG and the other with a sniper rifle (both with the 'huntsman' trait and the sniper with the 'marksman' trait, making them good shots on the move) and some riflemen with the 'stubborn' trait, meaning that they would automatically recover from panic should things go awry (which they did!)

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And so once again the fascists decided to push into the Malverns, earning the ire of the MHC. A random scatter of scenery to represent the Malvern Hill countryside later and the two forces faced off. The MHC, keen to capitalise on their ranger skills, headed for the woods, while my Blackshorts split in two.

One group, with sniper and SMG veteran, headed for the nearest hill, hoping to gain a vantage point from which they could fire on their foe. The second bunch, led by the fearsome Trudd, made their way down the road.

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First blood went to the MHC, who managed to down my HMG veteran, causing his two chums to run off in panic - there goes my plans for the sniper! The Blackshorts along the road also took hits, which luckily did less damage.

Return fire from the Blackshorts and a lucky shot, which managed to down the MHC commander, severely reducing the Conservators' ability to stay together as a force. Another casualty and the MHC was down to less than 25% of their number.

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This forced a rout check at the beginning of the next round, which, bereft of their commander and his command modifier, resulted in a failure. The MHC gave up the ghost and conceded defeat, leaving the Blackshort patrol to press on into the Malverns.

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The next round was a surprisingly short, yet bloody affair. Amid another random scattering of countryside the MHC once again sought shelter in the woods and hills, while the Blacshorts advanced in a line towards a stone wall, along which they hoped to dig in and fire on their opponents.

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However the the aim of Spode's finest (and my dice rolling) was somewhat off, giving the MHC the lions share of successful shots. Soon the Blackshorts were whittled down to Mr. Trudd, keeping his head down in a coppice, impotently gripping his cricket bat. Round two to the MHC.

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Time then for one more game, with both sides warily facing each other through a wooded rise. Once again the MHC quickly occupied this feature, while the Blackshorts once again split in two, one half heading for the shelter of a coppice, the other along a road (again!)

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The two foes blasted away at each other, both taking casualties but neither willing to break cover and inflict the killing blow. Eventually we decided to call it a draw, and both sides withdrew with honours even.

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Three short, but fun games, made better by a proper reading of the rules and, this time, both players remembering to use the traits! Sadly Trudd never got to swing his cricket bat, but could at least lick his wounds in the knowledge that the MHC had been given a thick ear, even if a few knees had been scraped in the process.

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Check out Giles' version of events here and here, while his thoughts on the Brink of Battle rules are here!


Friday, 9 August 2013

Newspaper clippings

I came across a couple of interesting photos in my local rag, the Hereford Journal, so I thought I'd scan and share them with you.

There is also a great article online in the Hereford Times, regarding Herefordian recipients of the VC during WW1.

I hope you find them interesting!


Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Yet another 'blogging for freebies' post

Mike, over at 'Trouble At T'Mill' is celebrating his 50th birthday by giving away lots of Too Fat Lardies goodness.

To quote Mike:-


The prize is a £25 gift voucher with Too Fat Lardies, which will get you the basic Chain of Command rules-only bundle plus (most of) postage, or the tablet/PDF edition and some bits bundle, or you can add to it to get one of the other bundles.


Now I've always promised myself to try out some of the Lardies rules, but I've never got around to buying any and, as I'm a big cheapskate, am a sucker for giveaways, so I'm pimping away like a white, balding, middle aged Huggy Bear! (Who like to paint little lead men.)


Oh, and this blog is also an excuse to try my hand at blogging via my iPad - something which isn't as easy as blogging via a PC without the help of a particularly useful app called Blogsy, which seems to do the trick!


Monday, 5 August 2013

Tea Galore!

BREAKING NEWS! A supply of the King’s tea has gone missing in the Malverns! Newly arrived BUF bigwig Baron Hoy has determined to rescue this precious cargo for His Majesty, but the Malvern Hills Conservators have also pledged to procure the Kings tipple!

Having organised a short-notice game at Giles’ on Saturday (due to SWMBO’s bosses and their inability to plan their staffing levels on a long term basis). My erstwhile host quickly knocked up a rather fun scenario thus:-

A steam lorry carrying the finest tea to Madresfield for the King's consumption has been ambushed by ne'er do wells and forced off the road shedding its load all over the place.
In these straitened times of austerity, forces loyal to the King attempt to rescue this precious cargo.

The board is split into two by a road.
d6+3 tea crates are scattered along the road, within 8 inches of a crashed steam lorry that is placed in the middle of the board.
Along with 4 sugar crates

No unit/model may be placed within 18" of a tea crate at the beginning of the game.
Each tea crate requires 2 models to take it off the board. Ditto sugar crates

Victory conditions:

10 points for each tea crate in your possession
5 points for each sugar crate
1 point for each enemy model killed
5 points for each enemy commander or standard bearer killed
3 points for each enemy vehicle destroyed.
3 points for each quarter of the board occupied.

Using our rough platoon generator I knocked up a force of four infantry sections, HQ, HMG team, artillery and an armoured car. I then rolled for training (1-2 irregular, 3-5 trained, 6 veteran), which saw most of my force as trained with the exception of an irregular artillery. The MHC had three infantry sections, HQ, HMG, mortar, armoured car and two 'Croydon Crushers'.

Let battle commence!

The battlefield consisted of a roughly H-shaped road layout, flanked by fences and hedges, surrounded by fields and trees. Diagonally opposite each other at the crossroads was a pub and a L-shaped building. The lorry had crashed next to this abode, scattering it's contents along the road in the centre of the table.

The pub
I split my platoon into three groups, beginning with a larger central force comprising a section of BUF infantry, command and HMG team alongside their Weasley Whateley auxiliaries. Flanking them on the left was a section of police, supported by the BUF armoured car and to the right, a section of BUF, led by the platoon NCO, protecting a BUF 18pdr gun.
The centre
I began with a general advance, with the Whateleys making straight for the crashed lorry and the tea and sugar crates scattered around the crossroads. Alongside them the BUF also moved forward, slowed somewhat by the hedges.

The left
On the left the police and armoured car moved warily towards the pub, which was being occupied by an elite section of MHC, while on the right the BUF moved to occupy the wood and stone walls to provide cover for the artillery, which was slowly being towed off-road towards the extreme right flank, where it would have a better line of sight of the MHC positions down the road.

The right
The MHC quickly positioned themselves opposite my force, anchoring their line in the pub on their right, supported by their mortar, HMG, armoured car and ‘Croydon Crushers’.

Whateleys on the rob
As the Whateleys did what came naturally and started to steal away the crates, the MHC opened fire, severely depleting these rascals. The central BUF also took heavy casualties as they took up firing positions along the road. Combined rifle, MG and mortar fire was playing havoc with my central section, but at least I was fulfilling my objective and getting the precious cargo away.

Central section decimated
On my right the BUF gave as good as they got, carving large holes out of the MHC section sent to oppose them, while my artillery scored a direct hit on the MHC HMG team, wiping them out. Soon this BUF section had wiped out one section of MHC and turned their fire onto the Croydon Crushers, who were becoming occupied with ferrying crates back towards the MHC lines.

Shifting crates
The police and armoured car reached the pub, but MG fire from the car made little impact on ensconced MHC, whose fire was raking my centre BUF. At about this time a chance card had the all the combatants stopping for a brew, which gave my BUF a respite from the galling fire of the MHC and bought me a little time to get some crates away.

BUF support the artillery
With my centre withering under heavy fire and seemingly unable to reply effectively, I decided that I had no option but to send the police into the pub where they would hopefully distract the MHC veterans for a few rounds, enabling me to batter the rest of the MHC force with artillery fire. However things quickly went awry!

Police enter the pub
My poorly trained artillery proved that their first direct hit was something of a one-off by scattering shells practically everywhere except the MHC positions. Eventually they got somewhere near, landing a barrage on top of the pub, and, thanks to some woeful dice rolling, causing more damage to the police than the MHC!

More crates for the taking
The survivors of this carnage dusted themselves off only to be charged by their enemy. In the confines of the pub the MHC were unable to bring their superior numbers to bear, but again my dice rolls failed me and the police came off worse, losing the melee and being overcome by the veterans.

Pub brawl
With the BUF in the centre whittled down to nothing, my CO cut down by mortar fire and the remainder of the Whateleys still carrying crates back to behind my lines I was on a losing streak. By now the MHC were making a concerted effort to grab their share of the spoils – at one point using their medic as a pack mule!

Couldn't hit a bull's arse with a shovel
Having seen off the MHC opposite them, the BUF on my right moved along to occupy the building at the crossroads and finished off the Croydon Crushers. The artillery finally managed to get another accurate shot, landing a round on the pesky MHC mortar that had been blasting away my centre and had now turned their accurate fire on the newly occupied building to deadly effect.

Right flank moves up
With this threat dealt with (catching the MHC CO in the process) I had evened the score a little, but for the BUF the game was effectively up. As my armoured car trundled back with one last crate (no thanks to some chance cards that had reduced petrol supplies for both sides), my force had been reduced to the ineffective artillery crew and a small handful of survivors.

Event card
The MHC had also been heavily mauled, but still had a viable force holed up in and around the shattered pub. Their last ditch effort to nab the remaining crates also added to their victory.

BUF makes off with one last crate
When we came to work out the victory points it was a closer run thing than I thought. In retrospect my failing was rolling a 1 for the artillery during my pre-game training rolls – more accurate artillery fire would have played havoc with the MHC centre, possibly knocking out their mortar sooner and reducing the effectiveness of the veterans in the pub.

Final tally
I also had doubts about sending the police into the pub, although I didn’t expect their numbers to be halved by my own artillery fire! In my defence, leaving them outside would have only exposed them to the same heavy fire that eventually wiped out my centre.
Surviving MHC drink to victory
Nevertheless we had a great game as usual (I’m never too bothered if the BUF lose!) Please check out Giles' view of the day in his blog at