Tuesday, 17 July 2018

The Massacre of Mankind - Book Review

I've just finished this book, which seems to have s lipped onto the local library shelves fairly quietly. From the pen of Stephen Baxter, an author I know as collaborator with Terry Pratchett on his 'Long Earth' series, but I see from the list of his works is a prolific Science fiction writer; the book is, as it states on the cover, a sequel to H.G.Wells' original 'War of the worlds', and is starts in 1920 (the original set in 1907) in a world where history is not quite the same as reality.

For example, the authorities have been working on the leftover Martian technology and have developed new metals, one of which enabled the great liner Titanic to survive collision with an iceberg on her maiden voyage. The military have been trying to get the Martian heat ray guns to work without much success (we find out the reason during the story), and Britain is still suffering from the destructive affects of the earlier invasion.

Other little changes are often throwaway comments. Lord Baden-Powell runs a quasi-military group called the Junior Pioneers. The suffragette movement is now illegal and women do not have the vote.

One of the main, understated changes, is that WW1 has not happened as it did. Germany certainly started a war, with a lightning strike through Belgium putting France out of action before turning her full might onto Russia (an Eastern Front which is still fighting). The United Kingdom had previously made a non-aggression pact with Germany and abandoned her ostensible allies at the crucial time. This 'Schlieffen War' uses tactics and technology developed from alien artifacts.

The story starts with a new invasion of England by more cylinders than the 1907 landings, with sightings of more to follow. It turns out that the Martians learned from their earlier failure, as their methods have changed and mankind is still unprepared and helpless against the machines.  A number of characters from the original book appear again, and it is refreshing to find that the central character is not the gung-ho hero as usual, but a fairly normal though resourceful lady journalist.

I won't go into detail of the plot, but the book does end on a sort of will they, won't they come again question, and a plan by Winston Churchill to take the action to Mars.

An interesting read, probably worth rereading the original first, for background, and could give those of you who have gamed the Tripods some new ideas and themes.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Another one bites the dust.

I've just received the BMSS interim newsletter via my computer and see that another old supplier has gone.

Pat Campbell, owner and producer of Replica Models has passed away. A name that may not be familiar to some of you, Pat had a large range of recasts from the early days of Britains and Johilco, all priced very cheaply. I had a lot of his figures for round about £1.50 each in an unpainted state, and once painted up they were practically indistinguishable from the originals, apart from the weight that is.

 Pat had a photocopied catalogue illustrated with line drawings, and was very helpful if you wanted something special. I enquired at one time about Victorian rifle regiment figures with plumes rather than ball on the shakos, and he sent me a sample he'd rigged up from a standard running soldier at the trail and a head from (I think) a Belgian figure.

Sad to hear of his passing.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

There But Not There - The Ten-inch Tommy

Another month gone with little happening, a general apathy seems to have struck me, probably because of the weather and time of year. Still, I can write about something that may not have come to your attention.

There is a new charity on the block. It is called "Remembered" and is a forces charity taking advantage of the centenary of the 1918 Armistice and end of the First World War, a date now used to commemorate the fallen of all subsequent wars as well. The aims are to help keep the memory of those lost to duty in the minds of new generations, who may not have the immediate family connection to those who served in WW1 and WW2 that some of us have. My grandfathers and father served in these conflicts, and I know the names of various relatives who died in them, but my grandchildren do not have this link. The charity also helps current sufferers of forces related disabilities.

One way they are commemorating 1918 is by using 'ghost' soldiers. One such installation is at Penshurst, (photo above, taken from the Rochester Arts Mission website). Here they have taken each name from the village war memorial and placed a Perspex silhouette on a church seat. It is a reminder that that person is not just a name on a plaque, but lived in the village, worked there, went to church there, etc. , and makes the viewer think more deeply of the 51 people (in Penshurst) who went off to war and never came back. Further installations are in planning.

Another way of bringing the anniversary to the attention is similar to the 'poppy' field at the Tower of London in 1914. This time there will be life-size silhouettes of a Tommy situated at strategic places throughout the country.

Similar to the poppies, it will be possible to buy your own Tommy. Not the full size figure but a small 10 inch version. It is also possible to get a plaque with it bearing a name that you may wish the figure to represent. These cost £29.99 plus postage, and can be found on the website at- Remembered. There but not there, under the heading of Buy Your Tommy.

A project worth supporting.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Charley's War

Having nothing interesting to report, I thought I'd keep the entries going by bringing this to your attention. Because I once purchased a few Dr Who miniatures from them Forbidden Planet send me regular weekly updates on new merchandise. Among this weeks collection of Marvel Superhero comic books and others I noticed this book.

For those of less mature years, and possibly non UK viewers, I should tell you that this is a comic strip that originally appeared in the weekly comic 'Battle'' starting in 1979 with young Charley Bourne lying about his age to enlist in the army, and works it way fairly chronologically to the British intervention in Russia after the armistice.

I have the original book versions, all ten volumes, and re-read them fairly regularly, even though they are not necessarily easy reading. The strips are sometimes heavy going, as the stories do not glorify the war in any way. They seem to show the mud, blood and ferocity of the Western Front in all its horror. They also show the stupidity and arrogance of officers, the pressures of war, with soldiers suffering mentally and physically. There are even nods to real figures. In one strip there is a recognisable figure in the foreground while in the background are a couple of officers saying "...private Adolf Hitler is the best runner in the unit...". During one of the stories we digress to following one of Charley's brothers in a naval battle.

The series ends in 1933, when Charley is unemployed, like many others at the time. He is walking down the street having just met his old sergeant ruminating on the futility of the War and that politicians must have learned their lesson, while on the corner a newsvendor is shouting that Hitler has just been elected German Chancellor.

Ah well, now back to the model railway track laying.

Monday, 30 October 2017

A New Museum

I come from Boston, the original one in Lincolnshire, not the Colonial copy this comment usually brings to mind, and although I've not lived there for some 40 years I still consider it 'home' and visit two or three times a year to stock up on Lincolnshire sausages (those supermarket imitations are no patch on the original), haslet and stuffed chine.  There recently I discovered a new WW2 museum recently opened, just outside of town.

This is the We'll Meet Again WW2 Museum, on Shore Road, Freiston. A little way out of town right on the shore line of the Wash and next to an RSPB site, the museum is small, just a couple of large farm type sheds really, along with a café, but well worth a side trip. Though be careful, it's currently only open at weekends except for school trips.

Originally the collection belonged to the owner and his wife, and mainly covers the home front. The main room has displays showing home life, foodstuffs, toys, artifacts, weapons, and other details of wartime life in the County. The second large room is set out as a theatre, where the school trips get talks, and is the venue for the 'Blitz Experience' where a night of bombing is condensed into some 10 minutes, using sound effects and visuals all based on interviews with survivors of such events.

There is a chance, on your own risk, to walk a short way to what was the shoreline (now inland due to post war reclamation) and potter around some original defence posts. The café has a good selection of cakes and beverages to finish off.

The outfit is run by enthusiastic volunteers and very reasonably priced. If you are in the area, and although Lincolnshire doesn't get the attention other counties do it has a long history from medieval times to the Bomber County designation of WW2 it deserves a visit.

The museum has a facebook page, and the above pictures are reproduced with their permission.
Plummers Hotel, Freiston Shore, next door to the museum. Originally the coastline was just behind it.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Victorian Era Navies

For those who want to get bogged down in detail for their Victorian Era naval wargames, I've just bought (don't tell MrsJ, she thinks I have too many books already) a book reprinted from the period.

The title is self-explanatory, and the author was in the United States Navy from 1844 and served in practically all the early steamers. Eventually becoming chief engineer of the New York Navy Yard and later of the North Atlantic Fleet. He saw action in the Mexican War and the Civil War.

As the blurb states, the book "...contains a complete and concise description of the construction, motive power, and armaments of the modern warships of all the navies of the world; naval artillery, marine engines, boilers, torpedoes and torpedo-boats.

In order it covers the French, (5 chapters), British (14 chapters), Italian , German, Russian, Turkish and Austrian, Holland and Spain, Denmark ,Sweden, Norway, Portugal, Greece, Egypt, Brazil, Chili (sic), Peru, the Argentine Republic, Japan and China. Mostly in single chapters but sometimes combined. I find it odd that the United States Navy only warrants a single chapter. Perhaps he was security conscious about his own national force?.

As well as going into depth about the various ships, many described in minute detail, he also covers personnel and dockyards with their operations. There are five chapters on the naval ordnance of the various nations, comparing the differences between them.

Al in all a very long book (613 pages) and not one to be read in one go, but ideal for checking facts on rate of fire (one Royal Navy example being given as a shot every eleven minutes) speeds, tactics, etc. Worth hunting out through your local library.

Note, the pale stripe down the left of the cover is due to sun-bleaching of the jacket while on someones bookshelf.

I've a new book on warships coming soon, a coffee-table book so probably only good for appearances. I'll put up a description when I get it.


Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Cold War Museum

Can it really be nearly six months since my last entry? I seem to have been really busy over those months, but obviously with nothing to say.
MrsJ and I have just returned from a few days in Lithuania, where we attended our son's wedding to a lovely young lady who will do him the power of good. We were rather busy over the few days (weddings there are quite different from here, lasting up to three days. We even saw one being done at the ebtrance to an inn where the reception would be!), but we were able to get a couple of days out and about. I was amazed at the lack of road traffic, and had been warned by Stuart about the state of roads off the main drag, often poorly maintained or even just gravel surfaces.

One of our jaunts was to the Zemaitija National Park where we visited the Cold War Museum, one of the old missile silo complexes now decommissioned.

In the middle of the woods, along a bumpy track, the site is quite small and holds four silos, plus ancilliaries. There is entry to the bunkers and a marked route round showing various aspects of the Cold War and possible nuclear confrontation of those times from a Soviet point of view. It was chilling to read of exactly how close they thought we came to a nuclear exchange at the time of the Cuban missile crisis. We passed through the various rooms and narrow corridors (being told they would have been even narrower when in use because of all the conduits and fuel pipes running along them) past old machinery and fuel rooms, offices and one of the silos. At the end is a thought provoking film/computer generated showing of a city under attack and the results.
Definitely an interesting and thought provoking experience, slightly enlivened by the occasional strange translation of texts into English. (eg. "you will see the rigorous colonel which is authorized by his country to "keep a finger" on the "nuclear button"...) 
According to a map, there were another four of these establishments in the area, all with four medium range SS-4 missiles armed with 2 megaton thermonuclear warheads aimed at the cities of Western Europe.