Thursday, 18 June 2015

Waterloo (1970) the souvenir programme

Everyone else on the wargaming blogosphere seems to be celebrating the 200th anniversary of Waterloo today with quite a few posts featuring the poster for the 1970 film directed by Sergei Bondurchuk.  I wonder how many people will be watching it tonight?

I went to see it with my father, who was responsible for my interest in Napoleonic warfare, when it first came out, in Ashford cinema.

In those days, big films would have a souvenir programme you could buy at the cinema and my father bought me the one for Waterloo which, forty five years later, I still have.  

The brochure told the story of the battle illustrated with some wonderful stills from the film, together with a few pages of behind the scenes information.

I loved this booklet when I was younger and it encouraged me to collect Airfix Waterloo figures, even though I never painted any.  Actually, that wasn't quite true I did paint some in 1995 at about the time my daughter was born.  Her arrival left no time for painting soldiers and I didn't touch a paintbrush for five years.

Although there must be many people, like me, who kept this programme, there must be some younger fans of the film who haven't seen it, so I decided to scan it in its entirety today as my Waterloo commemoration.

I particularly appreciated the map of the battlefield, at a time when I didn't have any other books on Waterloo at all and I used this to lay out my 20mm recreation on the 7' by 7' board which I used to put on the dining table.  This had to be carefully covered with blankets to protect the surface of what was an expensive piece of furniture.  I had to remove the dining room chairs from the room completely, as they actually dated from before the battle itself!

There is much to find fault with in the film today: Such as all the troops wearing dress uniforms, the lack of any of Britain's allies in the arrayed forces, the very mountainous version of Belgium, some terrible dubbing of the multi-national cast and a miscast Rod Steiger's very mannered performance.  

There are other issues which I am acutely aware of too, such as the fact that the venue for the Duchess of Richmond's ball was far from the splendid building shown in the film and was more akin to a barn.  

However, the recreation of the buildings on the battlefield, Christopher Plummer's Wellington and the sheer number of extras make it a favourite.  In these days of CGI we will never see its like again.  

These days the battle scenes would be rendered in the now fashionable monochrome (see The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies) losing the effect of the uniforms, which for a young Legatus was the main appeal of the film.

Looking at shots like this makes you realise how futile it is to try to recreate the feel of Napoleonic battles with units of a couple of dozen figures.  At least my Charles Grant sized battalions of 48 in my Airfix days looked a bit better!

Waterloo really is a battle for small scale figures, much as I dislike their gnome -like proportions!  Maybe something for 15mm?  One day!

I had this shot as a poster on my wall for many years and even then noted the fact that all the troops were armed with bolt action rifles not muskets.  Tragic.

The first metal figures I was given by my father were some Hinchcliffe Imperial Guard but I remember being disappointed that they were in campaign dress.  This is what the Imperical Guard should look like!

For some reason I always got upset at this shot of the burning La Haye Sainte, probably because I spent so much time building and painting my Airfix model!

Even at the age of ten I was very struck by Virginia McKenna, as the Duchess of Richmond, and a couple of years ago I met her at a charity concert at the Yehudi Menuhin School, which is about two miles from where I live.  She was still a very elegant lady.

The only others of these souvenir brochures I had were the ones for Oliver and A Christmas Carol but I didn't bother to keep those, of course!

Anyway, this brochure is still something of a treasured possession and is carefully kept in one of my filing drawers.

Of course, the choice of what music to listen to when writing this post was easy.  One of the other positive things about the film was Nino Rota's evocative music.  Even on one hearing at the cinema I could remember the tune of what I later found out to be the French march La victoire est à nous.  It wasn't until the nineteen nineties that I came across the soundtrack CD in a record shop in Milan.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Not quite Quatre Bras at the Shed

Today, of course, is the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Quatre Bras and yesterday at the Shed we fought a celebratory re-enactment (sort of) using Black Powder and 10mm troops.  There were six of us, seven at one point, and we played for three hours.  I will let Eric describe the battle on his blog in due course.

My British command yesterday: light cavalry, artillery, 95th Rifles, two units of line infantry and some Highlanders

This was the first Napoleonic wargame I have played since 1974 and confirms my view that this is the period for big battle wargaming.  I have now come to realise that I will never be able to paint figures in 28mm for this period, sadly, as they just take too long.  My sole completed unit, the Dutch 27th Jaegers, took seven years to complete!  I don't usually like smaller scale figures but these 10mm ones looked splendid.  Sadly, some subsequent research has shown that no-one does a comprehensive range of Napoleonics in this scale.  There is always 18mm, of course, but I paint these the same way I paint 28mm figures so, apart from using less paint, the time constraints would be the same.  

The Quatre Bras crossroads.  I send my infantry forward to take possession of it right at the start

Quatre Bras is my favourite Napoleonic battle and I always thought it would be easier to replicate on the table top than Waterloo, so my acquisition of the Perry Dutch was supposed to be the first step towards this.  Eric's version was modified geographically somewhat and he had no Dutch (or Brunswickers) but the aim of the game was for either side to capture and hold the crossroads.  

My British infantry deploy at the crossroads while my light cavalry try to catch up

The Old Bat has no concept of history whatsoever and I was trying to explain the importance of the Battle of Waterloo to her today, but it was fairly hopeless.  "Why were the British fighting in Denmark anyway?" she asked, confused.  Her grasp of European geography is loose, to say the least. 

My immediate opposition emerges form the wood: The Imperial Guard!

This was the first time I had played Black Powder (we converted all the movement distances and firing ranges from inches to centimetres) and. as Eric noted, was akin to Warmaster, not surprisingly given its progenitor.  Personally, I found it odd having no casualty removal and I still can't get my head around stands but despite some oddities (allowing for some huge moves by cavalry, for example) it did actually work very well.

My old games in the seventies were played using the Charles Grant rules and Airfix plastics.  None of these were painted, so both sides were basically cream coloured, except the British light cavalry (reddish brown) and the British horse artillery (grey).  I also didn't base them, so if you bumped into the board they all fell over!  I never owned the French Imperial Guard which didn't come out until 1975 and by then my friends and I were only doing World War 2. We used the American War of Independence  British Grenadiers as a substitute. I had the Airfix Waterloo farm house and my friend Bean Kid had made a splendid Hougoumont from plans in Military Modelling, which I bought off him for £5.  

The thin red line prepares to see off Kellerman's heavy cavalry

For the game I, in the centre, had to hold the crossroads while Mark (on the right) and Alastair (on the left) had to stop the French reinforcements arriving.  The wings both saw quite a bit of manouevre while my infantry force basically stayed put in the centre.  My light cavalry milled around ineffectually until one regiment decided to charge the battery of guns which was pounding my infantry.  They were completely destroyed as a result but did take out one gun which, I think, relieved some pressure on my foot.

I still hold the crossroads at the end of the game

Despite being harried by heavy cavalry, which necessitated forming square and assaulted by French infantry and artillery forces from the left, centre and right, my stubborn British held on to hold the crossroads.  So, thanks again to Giles and a shed full of shedizens for another brilliant game.