By Carole Flint
There are some hobbies where women generally fear to tread. Angling used to be one of them, but that has changed a lot in the last decade or so, and contact sports like Rugby is another, but that has also changed. Wargaming is, however, still an area where women are very much the minority. Why should that be? Well, I can only speak for myself, but I’ve been playing with toy soldiers since I was small. I have loved swashbuckling and adventure stories for even longer.
Let’s take a step back to the dim past, or the 1960s as some of us call it. I was always a solitary child with few friends. I was shy and I found it hard to open up to others. Consequently I took refuge in reading. Luckily, I was a good reader from an early age and I read voraciously. When I was in my first year at primary school, the teacher read us “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe”, which I loved, and I went on to read the other books in the series. I liked that the female characters were given prominent roles, although I much preferred Jill Pole and Polly Plummer to the Pevensie children. However, I discovered the “Swallows and Amazons” books shortly after, thus engendering my first literary crush, the formidable Nancy Blackett, someone who I really wished I could be. I also sought out various stories mentioned in the books, such as the “Ingoldsby Legends”, which seemed to spark the romantic swashbuckling instincts of Titty Walker a lot. However, I found the language of that book tough going.
Anyway, I read widely and preferred exciting stories to anything else, apart from History. I absolutely loved History.
Wargaming arrived when I was around 11. My father brought home Don Featherstone’s “War Games” from the library one week. After reading it, he went out and bought a box each of Airfix Desert Rats and Afrika Korps and a couple of tanks models, which were pretty random, being a Tiger and a T-34. The British got the T-34. As an aside, just think how different the war might have been if the British had actualy had T-34s in 1942. Anyway, it wasn’t too long before the dining table was turned into the North African desert and I was roped in to play games of soldiers. I enjoyed this hugely, having sat through the usual Sunday afternoon TV fare of black and white war films for years.
My father also brought home Charles Grant’s “The War Game”, a book that impressed me much more, because the pictures looked so good with all those massed ranks of soldiers. We never got to play any of those games, though, not having access to any 18th century figures.
Time marched on, though, and in my teens other things took prominence, underground music and being a hippy, mostly, but I never lost my love of history and adventure stories. The next big thing for me was one of the most important literary influences on my wargaming life; Tolkien’s “Lord Of The Rings”. This gave me my second great literary crush, the Elven Lady Galadriel. She was POWERFUL. People loved and feared her. She wielded Elven magic. She ticked all the boxes for me.
Of course, I was reading lots of other fantasy stuff too, and inevitably this led on to Dungeons and Dragons, a game I embraced as a student. Of course, life took over, including getting a job, growing up and having a family. Games went to the back of the queue. However, when my son was growing up, he developed an interest in games, initially via the MB Games Heroquest, which we bought him for Christmas one year, and then Warhammer Fantasy and later on 40K. I painted up endless Elves, Goblins, Space Marines etc and helped him build scenery and played in his games too. Then, as these things often seem to do, he moved on to teenage rugby and playing bass in a band, and the Warhammer stuff ended up getting sold.
So, what got me back into gaming? The simple answer is Boredom. My life was all about work. I was a manager in a large IT Services company and I was drained by work and I needed to get away from reality. Pretty much out of nowhere, I started looking online at wargaming stuff, just to see what the hobby was like in the present day. I was amazed at the abundance of rules, figures, vehicles etc, and also at the breadth of games one could play. When I took voluntary redundancy from work-related stress, I became very bored indeed and one day, on a whim, I went shopping online. Before long, I was painting up PSC British and German infantry and tanks with the aim of playing solo games, but I needed rules. I was drawn to the idiosyncratically-titled “I Ain’t Been Shot, Mum” and bought the rules. I suddenly had structure. I put armies together, I played a few games, but I wanted more. I went shopping mad. I bought the Field of Glory: Renaissance rules, because I’ve always liked the Pike and Shot period, and I bought and painted Louis XIV and William of Orange armies from Lurkio. Unhappily, I didn’t like the rules, so I moved on to other things, specifically another TFL set of rules, Sharp Practice, which I was able to play at Crusade in Penarth with Richard Clarke himself running the game. I was hooked. Before long, I had the rules and two Peter Pig 15mm Union and Confederate armies. I played solo, but I also roped my partner in for a few games, but I had the bug now and I was widening my purchases. I discovered Ground Zero Games and bought loads of 15mm Sci Fi troops. Why? I just liked them. That was reason enough. I started exploring the imaginary nations concept, remembering my love of Charles Grant’s book. I started a blog, basically so I could write about my chosen imagi-nations, based on Syldavia and Borduria in the Tintin graphic novels of Hergé. I’d been an avid viewer of the TV cartoons in the 60s and we had had the books in French at school. Obviously, I needed armies for this too. Using Sharp Practice as my ruleset, I put together armies for both countries using Essex 15mm Seven Years’ War Austrian, French and Prussian figures.
Of course, eventually I had to start playing games against real (and willing) opponents, so I joined a local wargaming club, after visiting their annual show for a couple of years running, and now I get to play all kinds of games against real friendly opponents. It was at one of these shows that I met someone who is a real pioneer in women’s wargaming, Annie Norman of Bad Squiddo. Needless to say, I think of her as a real friend now and I have lots and lots of her excellent figures.