Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The Herefordshire Light Infantry Museum

The second half of my museum day saw me at the Herefordshire Light Infantry Museum – an appointment only venue at Hereford's TA centre.

This is a great little museum, and I am indebted to David of Sunset Militaria for showing me around and imparting some of his expert knowledge. The Museum contains artefacts relevant to the Hereford Rifle Volunteer Corps (HRVC) (1860-1908), Herefordshire Regiment (1908-47) and Herefordshire Light Infantry (1947-68).

Highlights include pennants from the car of Grand Admiral Doenitz, the 2nd Fuehrer of the 3rd Reich – rescued from the officer’s mess and now given pride of place in the museum!

On display are numerous regimental standards, uniforms, cap badges at the like from the regiment’s long and distinguished history, alongside many bits and bobs ranging from photographs and drums to helmets and regimental crockery! There are also plenty of medal sets, including some rare groupings, for collectors to drool over and having such a knowledgeable guide, like David and the other trustees, adds a whole new dimension to the visit.

The Herefordshire Light Infantry Museum deserves all the support it can get and I heartily recommended making an appointment (a simple email does the trick). It is the trustees’ aim to build a larger museum dedicated to Herefordshire’s oft-overlooked military history, from its Napoleonic Volunteer militias to the SAS, and I for one fully endorse this!

A brief history of the Herefordshire Light Infantry

While Herefordshire’s connection with the regular army ended in 1881, when the 36th (Herefordshire) regiment became the 2nd Battalion, The Worcestershire Regiment, the county has a venerable association with volunteer regiments. Companies of militia and yeomanry have been raised in Herefordshire since before the Napoleonic wars and the Herefordshire Light Infantry TA proudly carried on that heritage.

The militia barracks building at Harold Street is dated 1856 and more buildings were acquired in 1890. There was a drill hall in Widemarsh Street up until the 1880’s, which was presumably superseded by a drill hall at Friars Street, which remained in use for some time. During the period other drill halls could be found scattered among the towns and villages of Herefordshire. The Harold Street barracks later became home to the county records office, with the new Suvla TA Barracks opposite.

The 1st Administrative Battalion, Herefordshire and Radnorshire Rifle Volunteers was formed in 1861, comprising  the 1st to 8th Herefordshire Rifle Volunteer Corps and the 1st to 3rd Radnorshire Rifle Volunteer Corps. In 1880 it was re-designated 1st Herefordshire (Hereford and Radnor) Rifle Volunteers and became the volunteer battalion of The King's (Shropshire Light Infantry) the next year, beginning its long association with the KSLI.

The regiment's first taste of active service came in 1900, when two Volunteer Service Companies were formed from the three Volunteer Battalions of the KSLI, of which the Herefordshire Rifle Volunteer Corps was one, to reinforce 2nd Battalion KSLI in South Africa during the Boer War. In 1908, the regiment was transferred to the Territorial Force and the title of the Regiment was changed to 'The Herefordshire Regiment TF' (although it retained two companies in Radnorshire).

In World War I the regiment was expanded to three battalions. The 1st Battalion was mobilised as part of 158 Brigade in 53rd (Welsh) Division and fought at Gallipoli, Egypt, Palestine and the Western Front. The 2nd and 3rd battalions did not see active service and were eventually absorbed into 4h (Reserve) Battalion KSLI.

The 1st battalion fought with distinction in the Great War, for example being mentioned in dispatches following the landing at Suvla Bay:-

"Some of the units which took part in this engagement acquitted themselves very bravely. The Divisional Commander speaks with appreciation of one freshly landed battalion of 53d Division, a Herefordshire battalion, which attacked with impetuosity and courage."

The battalion went on to fight in the battles of Rumani, Gaza, Beersheba, Khuweilfek, and Tel Asur, before being transferred to the western Front as part of 102 Brigade in 30 Division. Here they participated in the battles of the Marne and 3rd Ypres, earning another special mention following action near Menin:-

"Congratulations to you and all ranks of your splendid Battalion for the excellent work done during the three days fighting."

Following the armistice and a stint of garrison duty in Germany, they returned to Hereford and were demobilised in 1919. In 1920 the Reserve army was reorganised into the Territorial Army and the regiment became the Herefordshire Regiment TA, losing its Radnor companies and thus severing the long-held ties with that area. The regiment re-joined the 53rd (Welsh) Division as part of the 159 (Welsh Border) Brigade, alongside the 4th Battalion KSLI and 3rd Battalion the Monmouthshire Regiment (this after an unsuccessful attempt to turn the Herefords into a heavy artillery regiment).

The interwar years saw the regiment settling down to normal peacetime duties, including attending camp and participating in various sporting competitions, but by the late 1930's it began to modernise in preparation for another world war.

In 1939 the regiment doubled in strength, splitting up into two battalions. While the 2nd battalion was involved in anti-invasion duties and never saw action, the 1st battalion, following postings to Tenby and Northern Ireland, was reorganised with the rest of 159 Brigade into a Lorried Infantry Brigade, joining 29 Armoured Brigade in 11th Armoured Division.

Originally intended for service in North Africa, the Division eventually saw action during the Normandy landings and in Operations 'Epsom', 'Goodwood' and 'Bluecoat' and the battles around the Falaise pocket. They then participated in the thrust into Holland and fought through NW Europe, eventually reaching the Germany's Baltic Coast. Their last action was during 'Operation Blackout', where members of the Herefordshire Battalion saw the surrender of Grand Admiral Doenitz, the 2nd (and last) Fuehrer of the 3rd Reich.

Post-war reorganisations saw the Battalion reformed in 1947 to the Herefordshire Light Infantry (TA), reflecting its long association with the KSLI. The battalion continued to thrive but sadly ceased to exist after a reorganisation of the TA in 1967. Its battle honours have since been incorporated into the Light Infantry TA, a platoon of which is still stationed in Hereford.

For more information, see here and here, and this frankly fantastic forum thread here.

The VBCW perspective

Like all Territorials, the men of the Herefordshire Regiment would have had their loyalties torn at the outbreak of civil war: duty bound as soldiers to serve the King but also obliged to defend their land and loved ones against oppression.

For a loyal regiment with such a distinguished martial tradition, it might be difficult to see how they would have rebelled against the government but when the Bishop of Hereford declared for the Anglican League, members of the Herefordshire TA fought for him in some of the early battles.

In the end it must go down to the political and/or moral stance of each man and his officers. Some would have felt strongly enough to join the Anglican League, others would have marched to the nearest royalist unit, while I suspect a great many would have simply headed for home, taking their weapons and equipment with them.

This state of affairs would be a sad and ignominious end for the Regiment, and as such I invented the ‘Hereford Bulls Veterans Association’ in my first piece on VBCW Herefordshire to bring back some of their spirit and reputation. After visiting the museum I concluded that this is not enough and so, sooner or later, you will see the Herefordshire Regiment, properly represented in miniature form in this blog, ready to do battle!

Monday, 30 January 2012

Command groups

So I had a few miniatures knocking around that I planned to use in various command groups – here they are painted up!

BUF command

These three go with the BUF standard bearer I knocked up for the Evesham game and will eventually form part of the Herefordian arm of the Three Counties Legion.
L – R: Gary Mitchell Miniatures’ ‘Mrs. Plumber’ as propaganda officer, Gary Mitchell Miniatures’ ‘Richard III’ for C.O. and Musketeer’s BUF commander (which I'll probably use for a company C.O.)

Municipal command

Three chaps who will lead the Hereford City Municipal LDV battalion.
L – R: Hasslefree’s ‘Prof. Beattie’ as a medic, Wargames Foundry’s Victoriana mayor as C.O. and a converted Artizan Maquis fighter as standard bearer.

Anglican League command

Fresh from Ross-on-Wye, this lot will march at the head of my AL battalion.
Front row L – R: Ironclad servant (with extra tin hat) as ‘batman’, Bolt Action vampire hunter as C.O. and Wargames Foundry Victoriana priest as chaplain.
Back row L-R: Wargames Foundry WW1 trench raider (with added tin hat and sniper rifle) as sniper (duh!) and converted Wargames Foundry Victoriana parson as signaller.

I’ve still got a few more minis to flesh them out, but it’s a start!

The Hereford Waterworks Museum

Last week I had a rare day to myself – and what does a footloose and fancy free guy do when he’s at liberty? Well he visits a couple of local museums of course!

First stop was Hereford’s Waterworks Museum, situated at the site of the old pumping station. The museum showcases engines and pumps from the start of the industrial revolution onwards – many in full working order. There are some amazing pieces of machinery here, all lovingly restored by a team of enthusiastic volunteers who are happy to explain the workings of their pride and joy(s).

A brief history

Herefordshire lacks any large lakes, the right geography for reservoirs or significant underground aquifers, so the River Wye was seen as the only effective water source. Hereford, like many towns and cities, suffered from epidemics of water-borne diseases. In response to this, the Hereford Improvement Act of 1854 enabled the City Fathers to provide paved streets, gas lighting and a piped supply of drinking water.

To facilitate the latter a site was chosen at Broomy Hill – a location higher than the city centre and adjacent to the River Wye. Upon the completion of a pumping station, water could be pumped from the river, filtered and then fed by gravity to the city.

As Hereford grew and nearby hills were urbanised, a water tower was built, acting as a giant ‘header tank’, thus providing mains water pressure to these new areas. The pumping station was also enlarged throughout the period (the last annexe being built in 1906), reflecting the transition from steam to diesel, and thence electric engines to power the pumps.

In due course Herefordshire’s other towns had pumping stations built; for example the people of Leominster suffered particularly from water-borne diseases and the authorities were directed by the government to do something about it.  The pumping station was built in the 1860’s, taking water from a local aquifer, which quickly ran dry, necessitating a more distant source.

The advent of World War II saw the expansion of the Royal Ordinance factory at Rotherwas, which also needed pumping equipment as part of the necessary fire-fighting requirements. A reservoir was dug and a pumping house, guarded by a pillbox, was constructed.

Meanwhile more rural areas continued to rely on age-old wells, boreholes, streams etc. and the countryside was dotted with local reservoirs, hydraulic rams, water wheels, wind-powered pumps and the like until the introduction of a county-wide mains water distribution scheme in the 1960’s.

The Museum

The Waterworks Museum tells this story much better than I can, with equipment from all stages of Herefordshire’s quest for safe drinking water on site.

Not only is the evolution of the Hereford’s main pumping house demonstrated, but Leominster’s pumping station has also been rebuilt, showcasing the infrastructure of the satellite towns. Following the chance discovery of the Rotherwas engine, an exhibition detailing Hereford’s WWII heritage has also been constructed, with the original fire-fighting equipment lovingly restored to full working order.

The museum is definitely worth a visit, especially if you’re into old machines or interested in Herefordshire’s civic history. The museum shop sells a nice selection of books which give more information on the subject and guided tours for schoolchildren are available.

Highly recommended!

The VBCW perspective

Any faction wishing to maintain their grip on Herefordshire’s towns must surely hold the pumping stations – not only that of Hereford but also Leominster, Ross, Ledbury, Bromyard and Kington. Control of the towns’ water supplies would be of paramount importance (provided one could also control the gas and electricity supplies).

Hereford’s water tower, still I believe the tallest structure in the city, would offer unparalleled views of the area – most useful when keeping a lookout for enemy factions.

However in the 1930’s, rural areas still depended on local sources and would be largely independent of water suppies from the towns.  As is so often the case in these situations, holding the cities and towns is one thing, controlling the countryside is another…

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Hop picking in Herefordshire

One of the fondest memories I have of my Nan is her impression of the Black Country accents she would hear during hop picking season, when people from nearby industrial areas in the Midlands and South Wales would descend into Herefordshire to earn an extra few bob.

I was also once told how my great granddad, gamekeeper Sam Jones, would occasionally be called upon by the local policeman during hop picking time to help sort out the fights that invariably broke out in the local pub when the Gypsies, who also arrived to earn some hopping money, had had a little too much to drink.

This, coupled with my dad’s memories of how surprised he was at how neat and well turned out the travelling folk were when they turned up looking for work, has always piqued my interest about how these disparate communities joined with the locals in September to meet the increased need for labour come hopping time.
My nan stands in the centre of this photo, with my dad and my uncle to her left
A search through the internet reveals a wealth of information on hop picking, and its pickers, from all corners of the UK. Rather than simply paraphrasing what has already been written, below is a collection of pertinent links, which I hope readers of this blog will enjoy perusing.

Hops and hop picking

“‘Going hopping’  for children meant sleeping on straw pallets, rabbit stews, avoiding wasps, picking hops into an old umbrella while their mothers worked at the cribs to fill the greensacks. It was a hard ‘working holiday’ but in the evening there was singing around the fires, and places to explore.”

A great source of information on the whole business of hops can be found in the website of the Bromyard Hop Festival – an organisation that celebrates everything hop-related in an annual festival. It’s fantastic that the town of Bromyard is taking the trouble to do this, and I heartily recommend that you support these guys and keep an eye out for details of the 2012 event!

The excellent Herefordshire Through Time website contains lots of fascinating articles on the world of hops, from a history of the plant to the processes involved from harvesting to drying – take a look!

The Gypsies

“One night someone rang the police to say that murder was being committed down at the Gypsies' wagons.  On arrival the police bundled the troublemakers into their vans, but as fast as they were put in at the front, they got out at the back and carried on fighting!”

I can heartily recommend the fantastic Romany Road website, which, among many other great articles, memories and photos, has a page on hop picking in Herefordshire. This includes a calendar of the hop grower’s year and a most useful article – both by Mary Horner.

Romany Road is a non-political, non-profit-making society, our aim being to share and enjoy memories and reminiscences of Romany Life, and produce a quarterly journal full of Romany stories and photographs celebrating their culture – available for a modest annual membership fee.

The Black Country

“The pickers took with them cooking utensils of every size and shape. The most important was the ‘hoppen box’. This was a tin trunk which held all the clothes.”

Check out Cradley Links, a website devoted to the history of the local and family history of the village of Cradley in the Black Country.

The page devoted to hop picking presents a fascinating collection of reminiscences of the hop picking ‘holiday’ from Cradley residents and a rather catchy song on the subject. There is also an account of when the local history group Cradley Then and Now set off in 2004 to Claston Farm in Dormington to experience hop picking for themselves.

Linking to the Bromyard hop festival mentioned above, an article in the Birmingham Post from march 2011 also harks back to the days when Midlanders would flock to the countryside to pick hops.


“Oh, it was wonderful, it was great. I used to love hop picking.”

The Jones History Website of the UK contains a great transcript of a tape recording of the reminiscences of Mr Dai Harmon, who grew up in Penyard, Merthyr Tydfil. While a fascinating insight into how life was in interwar Merthyr, it also contains a lovely snippet about the annual hop picking holiday in Herefordshire.

Further afield

Wikipedia is, as always, a useful source of information, and contains an article on ‘hopper huts’. Photos on this page led me to the website of Kent Life – Kent of course being another great hop growing area of the UK. Kent Life have recreated a collection of brick and tin hopper huts and looks well worth a visit!
Hop picking in the VBCW

The picture I have painted of Herefordshire in the Very British Civil War is of a largely isolated county where the royalist authorities struggle to contain various other factions; not least local ‘marcher lordships’, fascist organisations and rebel Anglican Leaguers.

However the hop picking season adds a whole new dimension to this, with what are essentially migrant workers pouring into the county from the Black Country, Wales and the Romany community. The commercial need to get the hops picked would undoubtedly override any security considerations that the authorities might have, and so wartime travelling restrictions would either be waived or quietly ignored by farmers and landowners.

This would open up what is essentially a local conflict – left-wing agitators from industrial and mining areas would use the hopping season as cover to infiltrate what one would assume to be traditionally poor recruiting grounds. Spreading dissent among the diaspora of hop pickers would be their goal, hopefully expanding this to the larger local population. Weapons, ammunition and equipment could also be smuggled inside sympathetic pickers’ ‘hoppen boxes’, while militant fighters themselves could masquerade as pickers.

Welsh Nationalists could also use this as a method of getting men and material into the county, albeit at the risk of clashing with left-wingers from the Welsh mining towns. This ‘fifth column’ could be used to assist their allies in the local Anglican League, or even further their wider aims of pushing out the welsh border. The tradition of churchmen preaching among the hop pickers could also serve as a useful recruitment tool for the Anglican League.

The Romany community largely kept themselves to themselves, and might be less susceptible to such agitation. However at a time when life was no doubt more difficult, arms were plentiful and suspicion was rife, the sadly still current mistrust of travelling folk could escalate into something more deadly, leading Gypsy families to take the necessary steps to protect themselves, especially in areas where far-right groups have the upper hand.

What was once seen as a family holiday and a chance to earn some extra cash could well develop into a deadly battle among the hop yards, hopper huts and drying kilns.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Carve-up in Colwall – times two!

Myself, Giles and his mate Gavin decided to do a dry-run of an urban game in readiness for the biggish game in February. Not only would this give us a feel for the right balance of buildings and other terrain, but also try out Giles’ ammunition supply rules and the random event cards that I had written.

The Village of Colwall

In an effort to tie the dry-run into our current campaign narrative, it was decided to base the action in the village of Colwall – site of the Malvern Spring Water factory and more importantly the Colwall railway tunnel. Whoever controlled Colwall thus controlled a vital rail link between Herefordshire and Worcestershire. The BUF flying column sent to rescue the BUF that have been cut off in SE Herefordshire and that face a hostile LDV in Ledburyhas to fight its way through Colwall on the western slopes of the Malverns - the first fighting that village had seen.

The factory
Giles’ supply rules were as follows:- before each turn, each unit drew a playing card and consulted a table. Most cards meant that the unit had enough ammunition for that turn, others meant that ammo had run out. One of my random event cards would be drawn if a player rolled a 1 or a 6 when dicing for initiative.

The warehouse
Within the village, two buildings acted as supply dumps – the factory on the defenders’ right flank, and a warehouse on the defenders’ left-centre. Whoever occupied these buildings did not have to draw a supply card. The factory would start off under the defenders’ control, while the warehouse was unoccupied.

Starting positions (MHC on the right, Blackshorts on the left)
Gavin took control of the defending MHC, while I fielded my Blackshorts, newly re-enforced with the ‘Blackskirt’ Sidcup Highlanders. My plan was to race the veteran highlanders to the warehouse on the left, while the green Metropolitan Blackshorts, tank bombers, command unit and support weapons occupied buildings in the centre, where they could fire at the defenders with the help of two armoured vans. Finally the trained Marches Blackshorts would advance at the far left and, supported by fire from the centre, make an attempt on the factory.

That was the plan anyway…

The Sidcup Highlanders beat the MHC to the warehouse
The highlanders duly reached and occupied the warehouse, narrowly pipping an MHC company to the post. The rest of the Blackshorts fared less well however. While the command unit duly occupied a building, the Metropolitans failed to get into a large coaching house due to the lack of doors and windows on their side of the building – something I’d failed to consider!

The Marches Blackshorts wonder where their bullets are
The Marches company was also stymied, as repeatedly poor supply cards meant that they spent a lot of the time without any ammunition! They were reduced to skulking behind a house while they waited for some decent supplies to be forthcoming.

The Blackshort centre hangs around the coach house
On my right, the highlanders quickly shot up the advancing MHC unit, almost destroying them utterly. The command unit also gave the defenders a hard time, with the sniper taking out one of the MHC tank bombers. However the rest of the centre was forced to take pot shots through the exposed archway and flanks of the coach house, while the vans typically made a lot of noise but hit very little – one of them being more useful as a shield for the HMG as it went around the coach house.

Set ramming speed to, er, zero...
While the highlanders fortified the warehouse, the rest of the force was now coming under considerable fire from the defensive positions. The armoured van supporting the command unit soon lost its armaments and in revenge attempted to ram the MHC anti-tank rifle responsible (which, having claimed its first prize, was heading out to take on the second van). This was foiled by the remaining tank bomber, who managed to immobilise the vehicle.

Withdrawl from the centre
I was now regretting placing my command unit in the front line, as the building they were holed up in was getting, well, holed! The Metropolitans were also receiving casualties, while fire from the HMG and armoured van had little effect on the forces defending the factory – now being re-enforced by MHC vehicles from their centre.

Discretion is the better part of valour
After a handful of casualties the green Metropolitans broke, as did the command until after being reduced to just the commander. While the highlanders redressed this balance by wiping out the MHC command unit with MG fire from the warehouse, at the other end of the table the Marches company, having being –finally- supplied with ammunition, advanced on the MHC’s flank. However, unsupported by the centre, they were quickly shot up by the factory defenders. It was time to concede.

Massacre on the flank
We decided that the supply rules were perhaps a bit too severe, while the event cards didn’t get much of an airing to be of any use. However on the plus side we did have time for another game! We decided that supply cards should be drawn only after a unit had fired – giving them at least one chance to do something! If a picture card was drawn, then an event card would also be drawn, rather than drawing them in the initiative phase. Control of the factory and/or warehouse increased the value of the card drawn.

And so on to game 2…

Starting positions
This time Gavin took control of the Blackshorts, while I had a chance to field some of my Anglican League figures, who had taken over defensive duties from the MHC. Once again the factory was in the defenders’ hands, while the warehouse was unoccupied but under nominal Anglican control.

The Anglican command eagerly awaits victory
I once again decided to race to the warehouse with my veteran LDV unit, while at the other flank, knowing from bitter experience that the coach house could not be entered from behind; I defended the factory with the green Archenfield Amateur Athletics Association, with an HMG at the far end to counter any flanking move. The trained LDV lined the fences at the centre, with an armoured van, Croydon Crusher, anti-tank rifle and anti-tank bombers for support.

Oh dear...
Gavin shrewdly anticipated my attempt to reach the warehouse, and had most of the Blackshort forces in that area under primary fire orders: firing at the most opportune moment (crossing the road to reach the building). A lucky shot from an armoured van nearly halved the LDV unit as they left the safety of their defences, while the fascist infantry finished off the rest as they scrambled into the warehouse.

The HMG moves up
Combined rifle and vehicle fire from the Blackshorts quickly knocked out the Croydon Crusher and rendered the van useless, while return fire had very little effect due in part to my usually woeful dice rolls. Fire through the archway between the factory defenders and the Blackshorts behind the coach house was desultory, so as it was clear that there would be no flank attack on my right, I rashly decided to move my (well, Giles’ actually) HMG into the archway to get a crack at the fascists behind.

More bad news for the AL
This move was soon met by a hail of bullets and the HMG was no more, while at my left the Blackshorts duly occupied the warehouse and then advanced to roll up my depleted left flank. At this stage I remembered I had some anti-tank bombers, but it was too late to do anything with them.

Get stuck in lads!
The fascists bombers on the other hand had advanced into a building in the centre (probably still strewn with the corpses of the Blackshort command group from the previous game). In order to actually do something positive, rather than through any tactical need, I charged the centre LDV into the building, turfing out the bombers. However despite this minor victory, and with time ticking on, it was clear that I had to throw in the towel.

Warehouse taken, the Blackskirts roll up the flank
Another great game was had, and the supply rules worked out a lot better. The event cards also saw more play, although in this case had little effect on the game (the Blackshort anti-tank rifle unit only discovering a barrel of cider after they had done their work). Much food for thought was had regarding the number and placement of buildings (regarding positioning of doors and windows etc.) and rule amendments for storming said buildings were also tried out.

More piccies can be found here and here.

Onwards then, to February and the biggish game. The fascists have secured the Hereford/Worcester rail link and the Anglican League have negated the MHC's hard won gains. But what effect will all this have on the siege of Ledbury?