Other people’s Portable Wargame battle reports: More Zulu War action

A few days ago Ross Macfarlane staged a Zulu War battle using 54mm-scale figures and my PORTABLE WARGAME rules.

This battle looked like it was great fun to fight, and a fuller battle report can be found on Ross’s blog.

Please note that the photographs featured above are © Ross Macfarlane.

Other people’s Portable Wargame battle reports: The Battle of Isandlwana

Recently Mike Lewis and Anthony Morton staged a re-fight of the Battle of Isandlwana using 54mm-scale figures and my PORTABLE WARGAME rules.

To my no doubt biased eyes the results look spectacular, and a full battle report can be found on Mike’s blog.

Please note that the photographs featured above are © Mike Lewis.

Mimi, Toutou, and Kingani

I am about to start writing what I think will be the last chapter of my book about gridded naval wargames, and it will feature an explanatory battle report about the fight between the British gunboats Mimi and Toutou and their German opponent, Kingani.

The models I am using are approximately 1:600th-scale and were built from various bits and pieces I had in my spares box; in other words, some spare ships’ boats and light guns from Airfix warship kits. For ease of handling they were stuck on pieces of Plasticard and labelled. They are not the most beautiful models I have every built, but they serve me well enough in several tabletop battles.




The story of how Mimi and Toutou got to a lake in the centre of Africa is an epic tale that inspired C S Forester to write THE AFRICAN QUEEN and would make a wonderful film.

Soldiers of the Queen (SOTQ): Issue 170

The latest copy of SOTQ (Soldiers of the Queen, the quarterly journal of the Victorian Military Society) arrived in the post on Monday, and I have been reading it over the past couple of days.

The articles included in this issue are:

  • ‘With a master eye he saw what was needed and did it’: Kitchener’s Indian Army reforms 1902-1909 by David Snape
  • In Defence of a Forgotten General: Lieutenant-General Sir Edwin Alfred Hervey Alderson (1859-1927) by Dr Andrew Windrow
  • Letter to the Editor
  • Captain Willingham Franklin Richardson RE (1843-1875): From Hampshire to the Himalayas by Richard Voss
  • Book Reviews by Dr Roger T Stearn
  • Officers of the Victorian Military Society

This was yet another issue full of interesting articles. I particularly enjoyed David Snape’s ‘With a master eye he saw what was needed and did it’ as it explained why the reforms were necessary and how they laid the foundations of the British Indian Army that took part in the First and Second World Wars.

Soldiers of the Queen (SOTQ): Issue 169

The latest copy of SOTQ (Soldiers of the Queen, the quarterly journal of the Victorian Military Society) was delivered whilst on Saturday, and I finished reading it last night.

The articles included in this issue are:

  • Burnaby’s Deadly Weapon: A recent addition to the Household Cavalry Museum’s collection by Christopher Joll
  • Guards Mounted Infantry in South Africa, 1901-02 by Dr Andrew Windrow
  • VMS Seminar: Invasions Scares and the ‘Battle of Dorking’
  • Diehards commemorate Zulu War Hero
  • Alexis Soyer visits the British Military Cemetery at Haidar Pasha by Dr Mike Hinton
  • British Army General and Generalship, 1837-1902: A review of recent literature by Dr Harold E Raugh, Jr.
  • Book Reviews
  • About the VMS

Yet another issue that was full of interesting articles. As Frederick Burnaby is a particular hero of mine, the first article in this issue was of great interest to me, and the advertisement for the forthcoming seminar reminded me that I really ought to consider booking a place.

The death of General Gordon.

One hundred and thirty two years ago today, the Mahdist forces entered Khartoum. During the defence of his headquarters, General Charles ‘Chinese’ Gordon was killed.

Charles George Gordon was born in Woolwich on 28th January, 1833. (The family home faced westwards toward Woolwich Common, and was demolished as part of an urban regeneration scheme.)

His father was Major General Henry William Gordon, and after attending school in Taunton, Somerset, Charles attended the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, to train as an officer in the Royal Engineers.

He graduated as a Second Lieutenant in June 1852, and was promoted to be a full Lieutenant in January 1854.

He served in the Crimea before commanding the Ever Victorious Army during the Taiping Rebellion in China. After a spell in Gravesend, Kent, where he was in charge of the improvements to London’s defences, he went to the Sudan for the first time. During his time there he did much to suppress the slave trade and to improve conditions for the population.

When the situation in the Sudan worsened after the Mahdist uprising, Gordon was asked to return there to ensure the safe extraction of Egyptian troops and civilians. He chose to disobey his orders, and decided to defend the capital of the Sudan, Khartoum. After a siege that lasted many months, the Mahdists finally broke through the city’s defences, and General Gordon was killed during the fighting.

Soldiers of the Queen (SOTQ): Issue 168

The latest copy of SOTQ (Soldiers of the Queen, the quarterly journal of the Victorian Military Society) was delivered whilst I was on my most recent cruise, and I have only just had a chance to read it.

The articles included in this issue are:

  • Avenging the Martyr: Markham’s Raid on Nukapu by Frank Jastrzembski
  • Tirah Campaign Veterans: Post-Discharge Experiences by John Sly
  • ‘A very disastrous engagement’: The Battle of iSandlwana re-enactment 2017 by Tim Rose
  • Private Patrick Walsh, 45th Regiment, and his badge by Brett Hendey
  • ‘Florence Nightingale before the Royal Commission’: Some observations on the essay by David Snape by Mike Hinton
  • Book Reviews
  • About the VMS

Yet another issue that was full of interesting and somewhat different articles. I found the article about the lives of the Torah Campaign Veterans particularly interesting because I have some idea about the amount of genealogical research such an article must have taken.

Inside the journal was a flyer advertising the VMS Seminar that will be held in May 2018. It is entitled ‘Invasions Scares and the ‘Battle of Dorking’ and I must admit that I am sorely tempted to go if it is at all possible.

Mr Kipling … writes exceedingly good poetry

On 28th November I delivered a lecture to the Hertfordshire Masters Lodge (No.4090). The title of the lecture was MASONIC REFERENCES IN THE WORKS OF KIPLING, and I was assisted by a fellow wargamer who is also a member of the Lodge.

Amongst the poetry that I referenced was one that happens to be amongst my favourite poems, THE WIDOW AT WINDSOR. Not only does it sum up the part played by Britain’s armed forces during Queen Victoria’s reign, it also gave us the name of what is probably the most well-known set of Colonial wargame rules.


‘Ave you ‘eard o’ the Widow at Windsor
With a hairy gold crown on ‘er ‘ead?
She ‘as ships on the foam – she ‘as millions at ‘ome,
An’ she pays us poor beggars in red.
(Ow, poor beggars in red!)

There’s ‘er nick on the cavalry ‘orses,
There’s ‘er mark on the medical stores –
An’ ‘er troopers you’ll find with a fair wind be’ind
That takes us to various wars.
(Poor beggars! – barbarous wars!)

Then ‘ere’s to the Widow at Windsor,
An’ ‘ere’s to the stores an’ the guns,
The men an’ the ‘orses what makes up the forces
O’ Missis Victorier’s sons.
(Poor beggars! Victorier’s sons!)

Walk wide o’ the Widow at Windsor,
For ‘alf o’ Creation she owns:
We ‘ave bought ‘er the same with the sword an’ the flame,
An’ we’ve salted it down with our bones.
(Poor beggars! – it’s blue with our bones!)

Hands off o’ the sons o’ the Widow,
Hands off o’ the goods in ‘er shop,
For the Kings must come down an’ the Emperors frown
When the Widow at Windsor says “Stop”!
(Poor beggars! – we’re sent to say “Stop”!)

Then ‘ere’s to the Lodge o’ the Widow,
From the Pole to the Tropics it runs –
To the Lodge that we tile with the rank an’ the file,
An’ open in form with the guns.
(Poor beggars! – it’s always they guns!)

We ‘ave ‘eard o’ the Widow at Windsor,
It’s safest to let ‘er alone:
For ‘er sentries we stand by the sea an’ the land
Wherever the bugles are blown.
(Poor beggars! – an’ don’t we get blown!)

Take ‘old o’ the Wings o’ the Mornin’,
An’ flop round the earth till you’re dead;
But you won’t get away from the tune that they play
To the bloomin’ old rag over’ead.
(Poor beggars! – it’s ‘ot over’ead!)

Then ‘ere’s to the sons o’ the Widow,
Wherever, ‘owever they roam.
‘Ere’s all they desire, an’ if they require
A speedy return to their ‘ome.
(Poor beggars! – they’ll never see ‘ome!)

The last verse has a particular significance to Freemasons, and those of you who are in The Craft will have noticed it. To those of you who aren’t … well it’s still a great poem, isn’t it?

Border trouble: Into the Shin Valley!

As Sir Hector Boleyn-Green led the Shin Hills Field Force out into the flat land of the Shin Valley, the reason for the apparent precipitant withdrawal of the Shinwazis who had been defending the defile was clear … it had been done to entice the Britannic troops into a trap!

Arrayed across the valley floor and centred on a stone-built tower atop of which could be seen the leader of the Shinwazis – Emir Abdul Ifran – praying for divine assistance and encouraging his troops to destroy the farangi.

In response, Sir Hector formed the Shin Hills Field Force into a line, with his Artillery Battery and Machine Gun Detachment in the centre. On his right he placed the two Companies of the South Yorkshire Regiment and one Company of the Frontier Rifles, and on his left he had the two Companies of the Macfarlane Highlanders and other Company of the Frontier Rifles.

Sir Hector decided that he would wear down the Shinwazis with artillery fire before attempting any sort of advance, and ordered his Artillery Battery to concentrate on destroying the opposing Shinwazi Artillery.

The experienced Britannic gunners knew their stuff, and their first shells hit one of the Shinwazi Artillery batteries and caused casualties.

The return fire from the Shinwazi Artillery Batteries was ineffective, but it was the signal for the tribesmen the charge!

The Britannic response was devastating. The sound of rifles being fired in volleys, mixed with the rattle of the Gatling Gun, could be heard across the Shin Valley. The Shinwazis suffered terrible casualties before their charge had reached the Britannic line, and several bands had been forced to withdraw.

The opposing Artillery Batteries continued to exchange fire, and the Britannic gunner managed to score more hits on the already depleted Shinwazi Artillery Battery, knocking it out of the fight.

The Shinwazis were also more successful than they had been, and caused casualties amongst the Machine Gun Detachment.

Although some of the impetus of their charge had gone, several of the bands of Shinwazis reached the Britannic line and considerable fierce hand-to-hand fighting took place.

With both sides still refusing to give ground side, the casualties continued to mount.

Despite suffering casualties, the Machine Gun Detachment continued its deadly work, and one of the bands of Shinwazi tribesmen was obliterated.

At this point Sir Hector turned to the commander of the Artillery Battery and said ‘It’s time to end this slaughter! Can you hit that tower and put an end to that jackanapes who’s atop it?’.

The young Captain replied ‘With you here sir, I think that we can

Then do it!‘ replied his superior officer.

The Britannic Artillery battery fired … and hit the tower … but the Emir was untouched. The remaining Shinwazi Artillery Battery fired back … but the gunners were poorly trained and their rounds landed nowhere near their target.

Meanwhile the hand-to-hand fighting continued along the whole of the Britannic line.

Neither side would give ground, and the casualties began to mount.

Sir Hector again spoke to the young Artillery Captain. ‘Things are getting desperate and I don’t know how much longer the men will be able to hold the line. I’m relying on you to end this … and to end it now!’

The young officer – whose name was Crook – gulped and stammered out an answer. ‘Yes, sir! Right away!’ He personally selected the next round from the nearby caisson, loaded the cannon, and aimed it himself.


The Bombardier in charge of the gun pulled the firing lanyard … and after what seemed like an age (but which was a matter on milliseconds), the gun fired.

The shell flew towards it target … and hit the very top of the tower!

All of a sudden the Emir’s voice could no longer be heard echoing around the battlefield.

Well done, young man!’ said Sir Hector to Captain Crook. ‘I wouldn’t be surprised if you have something important to tell your dear mama in your next letter home … Major Crook!’ The young officer looked away, embarrassed by the fact that he was intensely proud of what he had done.

All along the line the Shinwazis were falling back. The loss of their beloved Emir seemed to have taken all the fight out of them, and they now seemed more concerned with their own personal preservation than fighting the accursed and ungodly farangi.

The Major in charge of the Macfarlane Highlanders sent a message to Sir Hector to ask if his men should advance after the retreating tribesman, but Sir Hector’s reply was in the negative.

See to your wounded, Major. The men have been fighting hard these last few days and have won a close-run battle today. They need to have some rest and a hot meal. We’ll camp here tonight, and tomorrow we will begin punishing the Shinwazis.’

And punish them they did. All the new rifles that the Shinwazis had bought were collected in and taken away. (The maker’s markings had all been filed off, but the design was one used by the Rusland Army so there was little doubt of their place of origin.) A levy of five thousand Maria Theresa thalers (a currency that was widely used amongst the frontier tribes) was imposed on the Shinwazis, and a new, more friendly Emir was appointed to lead them in the future. He also agreed that a representative of the Britannic government would be welcome to stay in the Shin Valley for the foreseeable future.

As for Captain (acting Major) Crook … well his promotion to the rank of Major was confirmed and he was awarded a Military Medal for his actions during the Shin Valley Campaign.

Border trouble: The fort in the defile

Having secured the entrance to the defile that led into the Shin Valley, Sir Hector Boleyn-Green chose to push his force forward as quickly as possible. The defile proved to be narrow, with tall precipitous hills on either side. A small fort could just be seen guarding the far end of the defile, and Sir Hector was in no doubt that this would be defended by the Shinwazis.

Using his two Companies of Frontier Rifles as his flank guards, Sir Hector moved his troops forward, with his Artillery Battery to the fore.

Whilst the Artillery fired at the fort and its defenders the Frontier Rifles began to slowly advance …

… along the tops of the hills.

As they moved closer and closer to the fort …

… they expected to be attacked at any moment.

They were right to be apprehensive.

Just as the Artillery inflicted its first casualty on the fort’s defenders, two bands of Shinwazis emerged from concealment.

Whilst on one flank this resulted in an exchange of ineffective rifle fire …

… on the other flank some fierce hand-to-hand combat took place …

… which resulted in a Company of the Frontier Rifles having to withdraw.

Whilst the remaining Britannic Infantry Companies began to move slowly forward and the Artillery battery continued to fire at the fort, …

… one of the Frontier Rifle Companies continued its firefight with a band of Shinwazi tribesmen …

… whilst the other sought a way to gain the upper hand over its opponents

One of the bands of Shinwazi riflemen moved forward and fired at the leading Company of the Sheffield Regiment, …

… inflicting a casualty.

This gave the Company of Frontier Rifles the opportunity they had hoped for, and climbing above the Shinwazis they were able to engage then from the flank, …

… causing them to fall back toward the fort.

The Artillery Battery had continued to pound the fort, and caused a further casualty amongst its defenders.

Under covering fire from the Artillery Battery, the Infantry Companies of the Macfarlane Highlanders and the South Yorkshire Regiment cautiously advanced up the defile.

The reaction of the Shinwazis was – to say the least – unexpected. The bands of tribesmen on the hills began to withdraw, and the fort’s defenders could be seen streaming towards the Shin Valley.

Sir Hector had expected them to put up much more of a fight … so why hadn’t they?