The Murder in the Mast House

I’m lucky enough to have worked at The Historic Dockyard Chatham for nearly 8 years now. Time flies when you’re having fun (and even when you’re not as long as you’re busy). Most of the stories we’re surrounded by here are positive, but today is the 140th anniversary of a very dark day in the Dockyard’s history.

On the 16th April 1875 James Catt, a dockyard worker, was murdered by a friend and colleague, George Blampied.

The murder took place in The Mast House (where you can follow the Hearts of Oak tour today) where two men, both of them shipwrights, were working on shaping the upper masts for the recently launched ironclad HMS Alexandra.

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HMS Alexandra

James Catt  was a long serving dockyard man and was well liked by his colleagues, but was struck a fatal blow with an adze by George Blampied. The adze split his skull from his crown to his right ear, penetrating four inches into his head. Although horrific, the wound did not immediately kill Catt and workers nearby in the building heard him shout as he fell. When they investigated the noises they found George walking calmly away from James as he explained to them “Jemmy’s killed himself with my adze”. Blampied even assisted the stretcher bearers as they moved James’ unconscious body to the Surgery where he died ten minutes after his arrival never having regained consciousness.

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As you can see, an adze isn’t something you’d want to be hit over the head with.

Blampied was taken into custody by the Dockyard Police as soon as it was established that the wound could not have been self inflicted and he was later tried for the murder of his friend. George had previously been an asylum inmate (at Barming if memory serves) and during his two year employment at the Dockyard had been moved into the Mast House as the noise of the construction of HMS Alexandra had “affected his head”. The move into the quieter wood work of The Mast House was hoped to prevent the problem. Despite these issues he was not assessed as being a danger to himself or others.

Below is a report of his trial during which the judge asked the jury to consider that George Blampied obviously knew he had done wrong as he denied committing the act himself. The Jury’s response is evident in the last line of the report…

The Spectator July 31 1875

After being found criminally insane George spent the rest of his life in Broadmoor Hospital. You do have to wonder whether (at the time) capital punishment would have been the more humane option.

I’ve never had any creepy experiences in The Mast House, but having said that, I know that some of our staff and visitors have.

Shall We Play A Game?

Now that’s an innocent enough question… I hope most people who read this will get the reference (and don’t get it confused with the Saw franchise), but if you don’t, it’s from the 1983 film Wargames. A film that still ranks up there as an interesting premise, well made, well acted and it’s imbued with that Cold War paranoia – although the BIG fear was “global thermonuclear war”, the smaller fear wasn’t the Russians, it was AI. AI that needed to be shown that there could be no winners before it would stop trying to play the game.

Ironic when you think about the context here…

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Hot off the back of Cape St Vincent in February 2015 and The Battle of Jutland in August 2014 we’re now looking at hosting our first Open Day (of sorts) at The Historic Dockyard Chatham. The Dockyard has the V&A War Games exhibition starting on the 27th June and running until the 20th September, so we thought it would be appropriate to hold some sort of event linking to the exhibition.

The War Games exhibit is touring the country and explores the relationship between war and conflict and children’s toys and play.  It includes a wide range of toys and games from the past and uses them to reveal the links between play and warfare.

Here’s the official blurb…


“War Games explores the fascinating relationship between conflict and children’s play, providing an insight into the ways toys have been influenced by warfare from 1800 to the present day.

With toys and games including Risk, GI Joe and classic Britain’s toy soldiers, as well as photographs and archive documents, War Games represents differing sides of conflicts from around the world. This thought-provoking exhibition reveals the sometimes surprising links between play and wider attitudes towards warfare, and delves into the secret history of toys as tools of propaganda and espionage.

The exhibition examines war play in four themed sections:

Playing at War

War play is an enduring aspect of children’s imaginative play. It can be physical, or children can use strategy to beat an opponent.

War play is controversial. It is actively discouraged by many parents and teachers, as it is thought to encourage aggression. But aggressive play, a type of active play, is not the same as real aggression, in which a child intends to harm.

Research questioning whether war play and aggression are linked is inconclusive. Fears that they are may come from personal beliefs and assumptions influenced by the pacifist and feminist movements of the last fifty years. War play can also bring benefits. It can help children to distinguish good from bad and right from wrong. And it can help them to explore their feelings and understanding of an often violent adult world.

Like real wars, many see war play as being highly gendered, and revealing differences between boys and girls. But to what extent is this true? And what is the role of biology and the influence of society in this?

On the Battlefield

Toys have mirrored the developments of weapons technology, the geographies of new war zones and the creation of new armies for emerging nations.

Changing attitudes to warfare have mirrored a varying appetite for war toys. In more militaristic periods, like the lead up to the First World War, war toys were viewed positively as a part of a child’s broader education. But during conflicts such as Vietnam, widespread anti-war sentiment led to a decline in realistic war toys.

During the 19th century, toy manufacturers used printed images from illustrated news reports to quickly and accurately portray contemporary battles with tin and paper soldiers. 20th century manufacturers such as Corgi dealt directly with the military to produce accurately scaled toy military vehicles.

But war toys carry stronger messages beyond that of accuracy, and can communicate changes in social and political beliefs. Ideas of militarism, nationalism, imperialism and patriotism have all been instilled through toys, games, books and comics.

From Reality to Fantasy

Ideas of futuristic weapons and machinery date back to the 19th century with writers such as HG Wells and Jules Verne. But it was from 1945, in a new atomic age, that science fiction reached a new height in popularity within the material culture of childhood.

Despite growing opposition to the use of nuclear weapons, toy makers and comic publishers harnessed the public’s fascination and fear of the atomic age and the space race. Superheroes, aliens and monsters replaced human soldiers to fight in fantastical battles of good against evil. These were produced for a largely Western market and often strongly alluded to the Cold War.

Protests against the brutal war in Vietnam also saw toy companies shift their attentions away from representing current conflicts. Instead they looked back in time for inspiration to historic wars and battles that were seen as more palatable.

In this period, many toys were made that glorified events as recent as the Second World War, or as far back as those fought by medieval knights on horseback.

Secret Weapons

Although toys are often thought of as innocent playthings for children, this is not necessarily the case. Toys have been used in warfare in secret, shocking and surprising ways – to train and to influence, to comfort, to heal and even to aid escape.”


So this time around we’re not planning any single large scale demonstration or participation game. What we’re proposing is a room full of all sorts of games that people can drop in and join. Whether it’s chess, Risk, Battleship, Warhammer 40,000, Victory at Sea, Flames of War… It will involve card games, board games, tabletop wargames, sci-fi, fantasy, historical, mass produced and niche games. We’ll set several tables up, get a few like minded people involved and just play games for the weekend.

The dates have been set for the 15th and 16th of August and I’ll post more details and confirm the sorts of stuff that people will be able to take part in shortly. If you want to find out more about the War Games exhibition, there’s a really good Telegraph review here. In the meantime, if you want to actively take part or have any ideas for games that should be included (and please remember the idea is that members of the public should be able to step in and out easily) then drop me a line at scottbelcher015@gmail.com

Flames of War

Well we’ve had the kindling, we’ve had the embers, we’ve had background history and army selection posts. Last night I reckon we made it to full on Flames of War. An English Wargamer and I managed to run two games of just over 1100 points each. I had my Soviet tank company, thirteen T34s, mostly the up gunned 85s, but with four of the smaller gunned 76s and some priority air support in the form of Il2 Sturmovics. Graham ran (from memory) ten Shermans, four M10s, an infantry platoon with transports and a couple of Fireflies.

We played the “Surrounded” scenario both ways, once as attacker and defender each. The first game I played as the defender and deployed in the centre of the table with the attacking British forces on either side of me. The attacking player gets the first move in this scenario, so I had to weather the first turn of fire, particularly from the M10s. The Soviets have numbers on their side though. Graham was more than able to knock out two or three T34s a turn, but once the M10s and particularly the 1ic and 2ic units were removed from play the Shermans didn’t last long.

The first game was much more of an “advance towards the enemy” game – my commander got so close his barrel was practically touching the side of an M10’s turret, but then missed the point blank shot. Fortunately because both of the British Army’s commanders were removed early on it became clear that as soon as the British were at half strength, they couldn’t rally and carry on the fight. The air support in the first game was of limited use, mainly because they can’t attack enemy units within 16” of friendlies (and deploying in the middle of the table and then advancing towards the enemy meant that there was practically nothing outside of 16”…). Although that did mean that their only viable target in one turn was the British infantry platoon, mounted in their trucks which was completely wiped out in a single turn.

The second game I deployed on either side of the table. And stayed there. Rather than moving around and getting in close, I thought I’d try to sit still (which increases the rate of fire from 1 shot per turn to 2) and just pick away at distance. This also meant that the air support was much more able to pick its targets, so it worked its way through the 1ic and the M10s whilst the T34s chipped away at the Shermans (I ignored the infantry who in the end decided to withdraw rather than fight on against 9 T34s by themselves). Even the British 2ic who positioned himself inside a building after driving through the side wall wasn’t safe.

We learned a few things. T34s, particularly the T34 85, is very good at cracking armour, but the 76s aren’t exactly bad either. I learned that priority air support can be a useful asset if that 16” distance is maintained and more than anything we both learned the value of not losing your army commanders. As I only have one of those rather than a 1 and 2ic that’s something I will probably have to think about in future games.

I think the next game we’ll have I’ll trot out the Poles again. I’ve managed to get a few more of them painted and it’ll give me a bit more of a varied army list with infantry, armoured cars, tanks and artillery. I’ll try to take a few more photos during that game, but for now here’s some photos that one of the other club members, Neal, managed to take last night.

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The Warsaw Uprising

Let me start this off by saying I’m no military historian. I might know a fair amount of “surface history”, particularly in certain areas, but the wider picture is often lost on me. I say that now so that what follows is read in context – I’m not claiming to know the subject in any huge amount of detail.

One totally legitimate reason for wanting to get involved in historical wargaming (for me) is the opportunity to research history, re-enact it in a way that doesn’t require me to stand in a muddy field being rained on, and play out some “what if” scenarios. Games can be used strategically to test out reality, but I think in this instance we (and by “we” I mean the members of our club, I can’t speak for everyone else) try to use it to mirror or explain reality. I have certainly learned a lot that I wouldn’t have necessarily had the chance to do so any other way.

Although I have started a late war Soviet tank company for use with Flames of War. An initial shortage of appropriate miniatures at my local shop meant I looked for something else to occupy me in the meantime. I settled on building a smaller Polish Home Army force. It meant I could use a mixture of German, Soviet and Allied miniatures and equipment and the background looked really interesting.

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Captured Sd.Kfz 251 with Polish Flag being flown

I suppose somewhere in the dim recesses at the back of my mind I was aware of the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, but it wasn’t something I had looked at properly until recently.

The uprising was triggered by the Soviet approach into the eastern outskirts of the city accompanied by radio transmissions encouraging the Home Army and the rounding up of people within the city itself by the Germans. Despite encouraging the uprising, the Soviets halted their advance and offered little support – even refusing the use of their airfields to the British and Americans in order to make supply drops to the beleaguered Poles easier. In the end the RAF ran two hundred low level supply drops over the city without Soviet clearance and the USAF carried out one massed high level drop. It would appear, to my uneducated eyes, that the Poles were used by the Soviets to soften up the German opposition and the failure to support them also meant that Poland was then easier for the Russians to take and maintain control of after the war.

It is undoubtedly one of the largest military efforts by any resistance group of the Second World War. In a coordinated attack on the 1st August 1944 the Home Army managed to seize most of central Warsaw, pushing German forces out of the city to regroup and be reinforced. Operation Tempest provided the Poles with huge gains in the first four days, both in terms of the areas they controlled and the hardware they were able to capture. Before the uprising they had managed to assemble an arsenal of small arms, mortars and even built their own armoured car, the Kubus; but in those four days they captured Panthers, a Hetzer, Sonderkraftfahrzeug 251 halftracks and a host of other armoured fighting vehicles, artillery pieces and small arms. Even a Tiger (although it was lost on the same day it was captured).

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The Hetzer was used in a barricade (above) and the two Panthers couldn’t really be used in open combat for fear of losing them immediately

By the end of the 63 day fight for Warsaw 16,000 Home Army fighters had been killed and another 6000 badly wounded with a further 8,000 Germans killed and 9,000 wounded. Although those statistics are shocking enough in their own right, they’re military casualties. The civilian deaths during the uprising have been estimated at between 150,000 and 200,000. 25% of the city was demolished during the fight, another 35% was levelled by the Germans before they withdrew in January 1945. In total 85% of Warsaw’s buildings were destroyed during the German occupation.

Learning about Operation Tempest has been an unexpected benefit of this foray into Flames of War (the entry in the Red Bear sourcebook is rather short). It’s, for me at least, a forgotten part of the history of the Second World War. I suppose we tend to concentrate on the western front in this country and then with Poland being placed very much behind the iron curtain after the war it fell even further down the curriculum than it otherwise might have.

I think I’ve actually inadvertently made life hard for myself in that any gaming table that’s going to do these men and women justice is going to be incredibly difficult (but equally rewarding) to put together. I haven’t started it yet, but as well as the miniatures themselves I’m sure you’ll start to see some output in the form of ruined streets, barricades and architecture where Flames of War seems to be predominantly set against the backdrop of European countryside.

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Home Army fighters on one of the captured Panthers nicknamed Pudel and Magda (note the red and white armband on the soldier on the right – something I’ve tried to add to the miniatures I’ve been painting)

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Another photo of Home Army soldiers showing the range of equipment and uniform that was pressed into service during the uprising

Stuff. Lots and lots of stuff

It’s been a few days since I posted anything. I’ve just had two days off work, but I don’t necessarily feel like it.

Regardless, in amongst driving to Swansea and back, jet washing the patio and trying to tidy the house, I have managed to do some stuff that I wanted to (as opposed to stuff I needed to).

I’ve painted some more of the Flames of War Poles. I’ve played some Warthunder (as ground forces for the first time) and I’ve started making a Claptrap costume for my little boy – we’re all off to Comicon in May and this was his choice.

So, starting at the beginning – the Poles.

I’ve added another layer of weathering to the captured Panther. It didn’t look battered enough, especially considering that they were captured primarily with the use of Molotov cocktails… And I’ve cracked on with painting infantry units. I based another 5 of them, got them primed and basecoated and managed to properly paint one of them last night. They’re starting to look pretty good as a group. I’ve tried to make sure that they ‘make sense’ on the bases, so that it looks like the three or four men are interacting. There’s a hodgepodge of uniforms, rifles and the odd red and white armband thrown in for good measure.

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Warthunder was one of the free to play games I downloaded immediately upon getting a PS4 on the day of release way back in November 2013. Although tanks were added as a playable feature a few months later I tried the tutorial, hated them and then forgot about them.

After paying so much attention to tanks as part of this Flames of War push at the moment, I thought I’d have another look.

You can currently either play US, Soviet or German vehicles and there’s a fair mix of light / medium / heavy tanks and anti-tank guns. The controls are a lot simpler than the tutorial would have you believe and the same sort of tier system for unlocks and research is used as for the aircraft. The combat is far less biased towards PC players than the aerial combat though and it feels like a much more level playing field. It can get a bit “grindy” if you’re not prepared to pay your way to all of the tier 5 goodies, but you do get there in the end…

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And finally!

Claptrap_01

Claptrap. The fast talking robot from the Borderlands franchise… This is really in its early stages, so no photos yet. I’m making the body out of 6mm foamboard and then I’ll work out what the hell I’m going to do to finish it all off.

Watch this space.

And in other news, (which I’d totally forgotten up until now…) I finished off that teeny tiny Fury to use as a Flames of War objective marker. As I’ve already explained in a previous post, it’s not the right variant, or the right gun, it’s not the right stowage, but it looks ok to me. So there.

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Poles Apart

A couple of weeks ago I had my first demo game of Flames of War and last week had my first actual, proper army list (albeit small – 700 points) game and as a result I’m left with a few things to do…In both games the tanks got killed off relatively quickly and it was the infantry that really won or lost the game (although the two MG armed armoured cars proved well worth their 50 points in the last game). That means I have to start collecting some infantry… And collecting means painting as well. Lots and lots of painting. 

I’ve managed to amass a game legal force of Polish Home Army. Built around two rifle companies and an HQ unit which includes the optional extra snipers (which proved to either be really useful or no use at all from one turn to the next). I do have two Panther tanks (which yes, the Poles really did manage to capture) and the two armoured cars, but to be perfectly honest, those are actually relatively quick and easy to paint.

As the infantry I bought weren’t pukka Flames of War miniatures, but the easier to get hold of (in that they were sat on the shelf as opposed to waiting for an order to come in) Forged in Battle miniatures they didn’t come with appropriate bases. That wasn’t a particular hardship as I knew what size they should be, had some plastic sitting to one side and it was an evening of cutting and filing to get them all to the right size and shape. I’ve managed to stick some offcuts of plasticard, metal and leftovers from some 1:100 tank kits to the surfaces to try and build them up a bit to meet the bases on the miniatures and to add a bit of ruined building detailing. Then I’ve put some coarse sand on, followed by finer stuff on top of that. They’re hopefully gonna look like city fight bases when they’re done (as they will end up representing the Polish resistance uprising in Warsaw). Once all of that’s stuck down it’s a quick coat of black primer and then an even quicker coat of grey basecoat (from above only).

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After a bit more work they’ve ended up looking like this…

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(the one in the middle at the back is the unit in the “before” photo above)

I’m trying to paint one medium base and one small base as a pair, that way I hope I’ll get through the bulk of them soon enough. I’ve also managed to get hold of some 105mm artillery, so I’m dangling those as a tempting treat to finish off the riflemen first. The uniforms are a mix of colours, the rifles are a mix of types, and some of them have had extra details like the red and white armbands and I figured the flag was a nice little touch I could get away with. 

I realised playing that last game how important it’s going to be to have some objective markers, so in between waiting for bits to dry I’ve also been making a Plastic Soldier Sherman to use as an objective marker – the idea being to make it look like ‘Fury’. It’s not quite the right variant, but I’ll put the stowage in the right places and it shouldn’t look a million miles away once it’s painted.

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Since this it’s been primed, basecoated and painted up. It needs setting on some sort of scenic base… Should I blow the starboard track, angle the gun downward and place a burning German on the hull front…? That might be a step too far.

If you haven’t seen the film that last comment might contain spoilers…

Tanks or Horses

Tanks or Horses… It isn’t as silly a question as it sounds. Bear with me, I’m going to be doing some thinking out loud here.

Day 1

I managed to get a copy of Red Bear, the Flames of War sourcebook for Allied Forces on the Eastern Front January 1944 – February 1945 today. So that, combined with a bit of a leaf through the main rule book is going to be the basis for whatever I’m going to collect (specifically I mean – I know that it’s going to be Soviet).

I’ve already got the beginnings of a Tank Company in the six T34s I got a little while ago. I’d need a minimum of 11 for a game legal force though, so I’m still a way away from that. The Tank Company is still a good place to start. It’s pretty mixed, I could add lots of infantry, light tanks (T70s or Valentines), Anti-Tank artillery and Aircraft. There’s one thing missing though…

Actual Cavalry.

I don’t know why, but I really like the idea of fielding some proper Cavalry. Namely a Guard’s Cossack Regiment. I can’t really explain why, but I really like the idea of masses of horses sweeping across the battlefield. They can still be supported by a Tank Company of T34s so there’s no wasted money there. It would also allow me to field a Katyusha Rocket Battalion – and let’s face it, rockets, umm, rock.

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I’ll sit down and work out a force over the next 24 hours – one for each option (although I’d also like to have the option for a Polish Home Army Battalion as that would allow me to field captured German equipment and add a bit of story to the games…).

I’ll leave this post here for tonight, but will add more tomorrow.

Day 2

I’ve slept on it and decided to do two things. A Guard’s Cossack Regiment and a Polish Home Army force. The Cossacks I’ve already discussed, so won’t go into any more detail except to say that I’m working on some more T34s tonight – a mixture of Zvezda hulls and Flames of War turrets. My local independent store is going to order me the bits and bobs as I work out what I need, but I think I’m going to continue mixing parts from different suppliers as it means I can tailor the look of whatever I collect a bit more than just limiting myself to one make. The Zvezda hulls are about 1mm shorter, but you really can’t tell the difference unless you sit them side by side. Your bank balance on the other hand will notice the £5.25 per model (if you buy a box of 5 – a whopping £7.50 if you buy them individually) from Flames of War compared to the £2.99 per model from Zvezda. It’s a no brainer…

Anyway, the Polish Home Army force will require a mixture of infantry types, captured German equipment (at the moment I have two Panthers, but they also captured a Tiger, a Hetzer and a load of other stuff. It will allow me to paint in more than just the same tones of camo and it’s an army that has got an interesting story behind it.

Day 3

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I’ve finished painting the T34s (that I have) so I’ve started on the Poles. The compulsory part of the force is two Rifle Companies and a Command Unit. I managed to get just over half of that based last night using a mixture of German and Polish infantry (as previously explained, the Polish Home Army was using a mixture of equipment including home made, but captured a lot from the Germans.

As a reward for getting that lot done, I painted up the first of the two Panthers to support them. 

The polish check on the front was tricky (and went on after the weathering to show it’s a newer feature on the hull). I didn’t want it to look too neat as it would have been added quickly once the tank was captured. The only problem with painting something to look a bit scruffy is that it can end up looking, well, a bit scruffy… I’ll try and paint the rest of it tonight – it’s mainly down to the details now and a bit of tidying up here and there.

I’ve got another one of these to do, and along with the two Rifle Companies and the HQ I’ll have 650 points of Polish Home Army troops ready for my first game of Flames of War using my own minatures.

I’d best get cracking…