After eleven and a half years before the mast I handed in my ID Card and walked through the main gate of HMS Cochrane and realised if I wanted to go back in I would have to explain myself and have someone vouch for me then be quizzed about why I wanted to go into the base before I could walk through, a minute ago all it would have took was a flash of ID card. No handshakes, no flags, no bands, no enthusiastic crowds, and no thanks, I went in with nothing and I left with nothing, OK a superior attitude to everyone else on the planet, but basically off you go mate, go on, move along you can’t stand there, bloody civvy.
I was lucky to start almost straight away offshore in the North Sea as a Radio Operator. Now that the fear of providing for my growing family had left me I returned to the more important thing in life, wargaming. It was my mother who came to the rescue, she pointed out that there was an ad in the local paper where some bunch of guys ‘played with wee sojers’ just like me and were asking for like minded people. I immediately phoned the number and to my great joy found that they played a lot of WRG Ancients and met every Saturday in the local Community Centre, I was even offered a game. This was my moment to shine, although I had Scots and English armies they were not as complete as my French, so I would take them, I poured over the rules until the last minute and came up with several different compositions before arriving at the Centre on the Saturday, my first real game.
The club members were fairly young, at 27 I was almost the ‘old man’ of the bunch, everyone had an army of some kind, all 25mm of course, but they did lean towards medieval which of course suited me. I found I had been drawn against a Seleucid army commanded by a certain Jimmy Douglas, a big imposing kind of guy with a hearty laugh and a kind of wild highland look about him, he was the only one older than me. He said he knew me which was a surprise to me, later my mother on hearing his name informed me that he used to watch me in the bath! Before you gather up a lynch mob and leap to defend me it was not in a Jimmy Saville way, Jimmy was a neighbour and we played about as kids seemingly and he was always at our house and the bath of course was a tin bath in front of the fire. Anyway I spent some time deploying my army in a fairly usual way, cavalry on the flanks and infantry in the centre, and then off we went, within a short time I had been taught some very valuable lessons and my army humiliated without Jimmy breaking a sweat. His army contained ‘skirmishers’ and he handled these guys so well I was taking javelins from all sides without seemingly being able to do anything about it, his pike phalanx seemed to be recruited from ballerinas, tough ballerinas of course, as they seemed to be able to swing the big poles and form up on a sixpence every time I thought I had flanked them. And then there were a gamut of other specialist troop types against which I was also at a loss. I obviously had some catching up to do.
I turned up every Saturday I could after that and I fought the others and continued to learn, I don’t know why but maybe it was just the time but we almost exclusively fought WRG Ancients going through several editions, more medieval armies turned up and we always had at least four tables set up. Jimmy remained the man to beat, he didn’t appear every Saturday and eventually drifted away but no one except me ever beat him, he gave me a bit of a rep for arguing but in truth I was the only one who ever questioned anything while playing him and it was only on rule interpretations which, if you ever played WRG seriously, you knew would come up at least once or twice in every battle.
I did get my revenge after weeks or months of wondering how to win, when I deployed my French with the infantry on the wings and my cavalry all in the centre, a huge line of nobles chomping at the bit and looking pretty frail to a Seleucid phalanx. On came the pikes while my infantry at last managed to sort out the skirmishers and others on the flanks being in much larger units than those opposite them, still the cavalry had not moved, still Jimmy did not see the trap. “Dismount” or whatever the equivalent is in French rang out as the phalanx was approaching charge distance, my vulnerable mounted knights now became dismounted robo-warriors and went forward in fanatical charges all along the line led by their king and his officers, the phalanx never knew what hit them and were soon fleeing for the rear, take that Jimmy Douglas! I was carried aloft by my victorious troops, no I wasn’t but in my head I was, Jimmy remained the best man and one of the finest gamers I ever fought but I felt the years of waiting had now all been worthwhile.
I even felt confident enough to try the tournament circuit and put my name down for the WRG 6th Medieval tourney or something like that one year. The first army I fought was an early Spanish force, I was using Scots and I have to be honest how this mish mash of a force was going to take on the amount of spearmen I had was beyond me, I duly walked home to victory, my opponent was a decent guy and the visit to another club was fine. My second fight involved a guy who had went out on a limb and brought an Albanian Highland Sheep Herders army, and I can’t remember whether it was the early, mid or late Sheep Herders but I did know that even if they could handle sheep they couldn’t handle my Scots in a month of Sundays, again however a nice outing and my opponent wasn’t too surprised he lost. Then came my third combat, the semi-finals, this involved a young whippersnapper with attitude, I could tell right away as the atmosphere was as frosty as the white bases of his Viking super army. He had a plan from the outset and it involved hitting me with fanatical wedges of berserkers, in they came and knocked back my schiltroms, my boys fought like Trojans and I saw the surprise in his face as they halted the enemy. What I didn’t see and the absent umpire spot, was that because I had held his men I should have lost a -2 combat penalty and gone back to normal and massacred them, my poor boys eventually lost out having given their all. Another piece of wargaming baggage to carry around for all time. I don’t think I even got a handshake at the end, the lad just trundled off and left me to pack up my bravehearts, no more competitions for me.
I had also taken to writing for money to help with my growing collection of soldiers, books and paraphernalia, I turned out articles on many battles and periods I became interested in, at least two or three a year, not a huge amount by any means but they seemed to be well received and I am vane enough to enjoy seeing my name on the byline.
While at the club over the years I sold and renewed my Scots, sold my French, something which also haunts me to this day, built Normans and then quickly sold them as they did not like me and I didn’t like them, I still hate Normans, I also built Swiss and Late German, one to get a pike army and the other to get an Emperor. And out of them all my favourite, once the French had gone, became my Edward I English, a great army as ferocious for me as they were in their day. After almost ten years at Carluke Wargames Club WRG fell by the wayside and it became harder and harder to get someone to play a game of the latest edition, I was stuck in a rut, I had had years of battles and looked on myself as a competent player but it was time to move on to something else and maybe even somewhere else or I might find myself back in that wilderness again.