Saturday 24 November 2018

Fray Bentos

After Crisis Sam, James and I headed south to Ypres.

We've been discussing for a while the story of Fray Bentos, a WW1 tank that held out for nearly 3 days in no-mans land under German fire. The tank was commanded by Captain Richardson - a Nottingham grocer (we do like a local connection to games) who was the local agent for Fray Bentos tinned meat before the war, hence the name of the tank.

We wanted to have a look at the battlefield where the tank was stranded and also visit Ponds Farm Museum, very close to he site which contains many finds from the Passchendaele battlefields that surround his farm.

First, however we made our way to the Menin Gate to hear the Last Post.

There was quite a crowd and it made for a very moving and solemn moment. In addition to the buglers there was also a very good choir who hymned the fallen men beautifully.

The following morning we were up and out and off to Pond farm where Stijn the owner greeted us.
The farm was all but obliterated in the fighting and could only be located after the war by the presence of a single tree that had miraculously survived (and continues to thrive).

It's a small personal museum - really just a collection of finds rather than a carefully curated experience - but it's a testament to Stijn's passion for the period and commitment to telling the story of the horrors of 3rd Ypres.

This bunker stands on the outskirts of the farm. Many of these were blown up by the Belgian government (and Stijn's grandfather) after the war but this one survives. Stijn intends to drain it (it's flooded and excavate it next year).

On the way in to the farm itself Stijn showed us something he's just uncovered - a WW1 tank unditching beam. Tanks at this stage of the war carried these for use if they got stuck and Braedy (from Fray Bentos' crew) was killed trying to unfasten the one on the tank.
Given where this was found (near the nearby Somme Farm) it's entirely possible this came from Fray Bentos itself (although the splendidly named Fritz Phlattener also ditched in the vicinity in the same battle).

Outside the farm a reminder of the huge number of shells fired in the battle. These are all unexploded ones turned up in recent months on the farm.
Every few months the Belgian Army comes by and removes and disposes of them.
They're kept in a cage as that allows the lightning to be conducted away and avoid any chance of them detonating, apparently!

Some pictures from inside the Museum itself

This is part of a tank - probably not Fray Bentos, more likely a G tank that ditched a few weeks later that was found recently on Stijn's farm.

Some model soldiers, inevitably.

More pieces of shell.

The museum is small and we were only in there for 30 minutes or so =- and if you're not interested in Fray Bentos story, you may not even spend that long, but for us it was great. - Stijn showed us round himself and shared some wonderful extra information.
If you are ever in the vicinity it's definitely worth a short trip out from Ypres.

Stijn then pointed us off in the general direction of Hill 35 which is where Fray Bentos ditched, a few hundred metres from Gallipoli Farm.

From Pond Farm the "hill" doesn't look very imposing - this part of Belgium is rather like East Anglia - mostly very flat. However once you're on it you can see why the British wanted to take it - it gives relatively commanding views over the surrounding countryside.

The farm here is on roughly the site of Gallipoli - which is where Fray Bentos was heading toward when she ditched.

On the left is Somme farm - Fray Bentos and Fritz Phlattener subdued this before heading toward Gallipoli. Further off in the centre is Pond Farm.
Fray Bentos likely ditched somewhere toward the right of this picture.

James always likes to add authenticity to his games by including some dirt or sand from the actual battlefield on the terrain or bases.
So here he is with a bag - lifting some actual Flanders Mud.

Friday 23 November 2018

Crete at Crisis

Several weeks ago now I was invited by James to accompany him and Sam to the Crisis show in Antwerp.
I went with James and Nick a few years ago when we showed off James' Verdun game and then researched the Oppy Wood battle and game.
This time we were to take the big Crete game I helped James and Sam out with at Partizan earlier in the year.

James and Sam shared the driving (thanks guys) and we spent the trip planning future games and discussing the differences between Crisis and the UK shows. If you want to hear the nonsense Sam has a Podcast that you can download and listen to if you're young and hip to such things.

We arrived early evening and set up the table then went out to sample the delights of Antwerp.

We dined with WSS editor Guy and his partner at a splendid Arabian restaurant we chanced upon. Then James, Sam and I discovered Antwerp's gayest bar which was a splendidly convivial spot for several strong Belgian beers.

Fortified the following morning by a large breakfast (including waffles) we returned to the hall and added all the toys.

On this occasion we were going to use the I Ain't Been Shot rules. Previous run-outs had seen both Chain of Command and Bolt Action given a go. However neither really took advantage of the epic sweep of the table and tended to result in a game played in about a 6x6 square with the rest of the models as set dressing.
James and I had used IABSM before in the Keren game at Salute and we'd discussed it before Partizan, however James felt at the time (quite rightly) that Sam and Mike had only just come over to CoC from BA and adding yet another set of mechanics into the mix might be too much to handle.

However this time we were hoping IABSM (modified to use "Big Inches") would mean we could make far more use of the whole table and many more of the soldiers.

There now follows excessive quantities of eye candy. None of it (apart from some goats) supplied by me - all the work of James, Sam and Mike)

 Only I knew where the camera was

 Dead para - note entirely innocent Cretans shuffling off in the background

 Sam made the flower bed things, based on what he'd seen on holiday in Crete earlier in the year

 Gliders are 1/48 plastic kits. A pig to assemble apparently

 The Vickers team on the hill did little damage to the Germans but proved a Stuka magnet.

 Evidently this was very important at the time.

 More Cretan partizans lurking innocently among the olives.

 Matildas to the rescue!

 The Sttuka goes about its deadly business

We had a thoroughly splendid day. Everyone was very complimentary about the game.
IABSM worked really well and kept the game flowing nice and simply but did allow many more troops across more of the board to take part.

In a slightly unhistorical outcome one of the Matildas made it to the river bed and machine-gunned down the assaulting paras - turning the tide in favour of the New Zealanders!

Crisis was a great show. It's hard work having just three people on such a big game. I felt the show was a  bit more anglicised than I remember it - most of the big traders from the UK were in attendance and so the unusual things I saw on my first visit seemed less prevalent. But that's a minor (and personal) gripe - it's still by far one of the best shows around and being on the continent adds to the allure.

After the show was over we quickly packed up, jumped in the car and headed towards Ypres - which I'll cover in a subsequent post.

Wednesday 7 November 2018

OGAM Celts

After a dip and a varnish followed by a little basing I have eight finished Celts for games of Of Gods and Mortals.

Definitely quick and dirty, especially when viewed up close. Not even any highlights.
But the Wargames Factory models in particular don't merit any further attention.
The Warlord ones may be rather caricatured, but I like them. The WF ones look less like ferocious warriors and more like someone from the accounts team.
Someone seriously deformed from the accounts team.

 Alan of the Nine Spreadsheets

Anyway they'll do for my purposes and they were quick.
The next batch may need some stripes and checks.

Friday 2 November 2018

Scots Greys (3)

Three more Scots Greys finished.

All of which means...


There's a command to do to give me a unit of eight for Sharpe Practice or our reduced size Black Powder games.