“I can trace my Wargaming origins, as I suspect many of my generation can, back to the days of plastic toy soldiers and cannons that could fire matchsticks being sprawled out in full battle array across the living room floor. The days when Confederates and Germans (both being grey) took to the field against anything in green!”
So begins Brian Carrick in his article on “Big Wars: Nostalgic Wargaming”. He then went on to summarise H. G. Wells’ Little Wars rules, useful at a time when reprints were hard to come by and then outline the current erratic state of figure availability.
I was intrigued by photos of Brian Carrick’s village of Airfix Jungle Houses, Britain’s Deetail British Infantry Attack Boats and a scratch built gunboat with Britain’s Lifeboat sailors.
I found this article in the Battle for Wargamers Military Modelling Extra Wargames Manual really inspiring at the time it came out (1983) as I had not come across any serious adult gamers who used 54mm figures or the garden.
Gunboat envy and ‘whole village of Airfix jungle houses’ envy ensued.
Donald Featherstone’s Skirmish Wargaming, borrowed from the local branch library, was too much of a mathematical rules puzzle of charts to me but I loved the illustrations, scenarios and photographs. They featured Airfix and other plastic figures that I had. I could one day sort of be like these giant gamers and gaming authors.
Little did I realise at the time that one day 35 years later that I would be chatting on blog comment sections about garden games with the article author Brian Carrick through his fabulous Collecting Plastic Soldiers blog and the 54mm forum Little Wars Revisited.
Brian’s blog Collecting Toy Soldiers is at http://toysoldiercollecting.blogspot.co.uk
Blog? Websites? Internet? Surprisingly this 1983 Wargames Manual did mention the word “Computer” on the cover and listed “machine gaming” amongst the articles.
For me then, (war) gaming in many books and magazines was unattainable, glossy, expensive and for grownup wallets, a far cry from playing with the bashed-up Airfix at my disposal. A lot like the eye-candy front cover of this interesting manual / magazine extra.
Today there are a good range of 54mm plastic figures in many historical periods and still affordable buckets of Green Army Men. Despite the disappearing number of toy shops, there are in pound stores or online lots of ‘pirate’ or pound store figures (soldiers, cowboys, Indians, knights etc) at entry level cost for youngsters.
An impressive author’s list for this 1983 special edition edited by Stuart Asquith:
At least there was a free Cut out Saxon Army – too precious to cut out at the time – and one lacking any opposition without buying more card warriors from Standard Games (a range now vanished?) One day I will scan and make these Saxons. Paper soldiers have returned recently with Peter Dennis and Andy Callan’s attractive colourful card soldier series for Helion books.
Inside were tempting adverts, the lure of grown up metal. I had already made my first forays into Peter Laing 15mm figures, a few English Civil War figures with my pocket money each month. I went for a historical range that Airfix sadly did not do. Peter Laing kindly did not mind such small orders but I later bundled up several months pocket money worth of orders to save postage.
Unattainable in price at the time were the home cast Prince August Moulds – “send £3.95 … for an 8 days trial …” These had to wait another 30 plus years until I stumbled over them again in a craft shop. Their range of “mould your own 54mm traditional toy soldiers” that I eventually fell for was not yet mentioned here.
A fan of the Fighting Fantasy books from the library (“to take the left hand door to uncertain death, turn to page 37”), there was also the lure of Dungeons and Dragons. I was bought a D and D boxed set which I never understood. Interesting to see the introduction to Fantasy Wargaming article by a young John Treadaway, now Editor of Miniature Wargames.
This is a lifelong hobby, or one that you can return to throughout life. Although I have still to obtain the desirable games room and hex table shown here:
Here to conclude is the whole article by Brian Carrick, reprinted with his permission:
Brian’s comments on erratic or faltering plastic 54mm figure availability were sadly true for many years until quite recently. “The decline of Airfix … the demise of Timpo … Britain’s once famous range of guns now badly depleted.”
As Brian Carrick concludes his article, Big Wars:
“… I should point out that there will be as many differing views as to the value of such games and how they should be played as there are 54mm gamers. I imagine this is largely because there is no representational body that I know of to develop this section of the hobby by the exchange of participants’ views.
I hope that this article will have provided the spark to kindle some interest in potential recruits to the ranks of 54mm Wargamers and perhaps provoke some comment from existing enthusiasts who, in the past, have had little voice in the hobby media.”
Big Wars PostScript:
When I contacted Brian to ask if he was happy for me to reprint his photos and article, he replied: “Gosh is it really 35 years since I wrote that! the pics weren’t very good I’m afraid …” but they made a big difference to a young gamer like me. They stopped me throwing out many of my childhood 54mm figures and chasing proper small scale shiny fashionable metal as I got older, even when I stopped gaming for a few years (college, first jobs etc – usual story).
Thanks Brian for all you have done for 54mm gaming for many years past and for many years to come.
Blogposted with gratitude and reprinted with permission by Mark, Man of TIN, June 30 2017
17 thoughts on “Brian Carrick’s Big Wars”
What an enjoyable article- yours and the original by Brian. More nostalgia .Thanks for bringing this to us.
I never really thought 54mm figures were up to much until I read this article many years ago by Brian Carrick. Mark, Man of TIN blog
Playing wargames with anything smaller than 54mm has been mainly the exception for me. I have certainly played a great number of 54mm games on lawns (both as a child and an adult). Brian’s comment about Confederates and WW2 Germans forming a common front reminds me of my childhood too, Timpo pot helmeted Germans had hemets removed to become Confederates. James O’Connell
I think Brian sums up many of our memories well of unlikely groupings of our few troops into two sides by colour, whatever their nationality or historic periods. Freer times and lots of imagination. Still today the pound store Army Men usually come in two colours in the pack … whatever their origin.
Hi Mark, I have just realised this is the first time I’ve reread the article since it was published! I wasn’t very happy with it at the time because I had been very dilatory in submitting copy and Stuart, the editor, had to chase me to get it in before the publication deadline (even then I think it was late) so I always felt I had rushed it a bit, it seems to read okay now though.
Reading it also reminded me that after publication I received a letter, via Stuart, from F E Perry who wrote the 1st and 2nd books of Wargaming inviting me over for a game in his garden. We struck up a friendly correspondence but sadly he passed away before we ever met. Fortunately the contact was picked up by his son, Ross, who renewed the invite and became a good friend, it was through Ross that I became involved with helping set up Plastic Warrior magazine, and that has been a whole other toy soldier journey!
Best wishes and thanks for rekindling some lost memories, Brian
Brian, I think the Big Wars article does read well, even if it was a scramble to complete by the deadline.
F E Perry – now there’s somebody I would have liked to have met, even though I only had his Second Book of Wargaming as a young teenager. It didn’t make much sense without the First but just had wonderful inspiring and very strange figure / game photographs. I have only recently acquired his First Book of Wargaming. How sad not to have met him, or gamed in his garden but how good that with his son Ross you have created Plastic Warrior magazine.
Thanks for letting me reprint this article. Mark, Man of TIN.
Brian, if you have a copy of Frank’s third wargaming manuscript is there any chance of getting a copy or of you publishing it somewhere? I bought his two wargaming books in the 80s. I love looking at the photos of toy soldiers, a mixture of old hollowcast and 60s and 70s plastics doing what they were meant to do and not just sitting on a shelf or in a box.
You might want to contact Brian Carrick directly through his excellent Collecting Toy Soldiers blog as, although he is a regular reader and commenter on my Man of TIN / Pound Store Plastic Warrior 54mm related blog posts, he might not see this comment on an older post.
It may be something he has already discussed with the (very busy!) John Curry at the History of Wargames Project who has republished lots of other gaming classics, a great affordable service to many gamers.
Love your site.
Have you cone across the Combat Force Jumbo Army Pack? I found it in a toy shop in the Channel Islands. It has a really good mix of troops and equipment.
I’ve included pix on my blog, starting with the post: 50mm and all that!
Hello Tim Spanton (my computer insists first whilst looking for your blog that you are a chess champion, a journalist as well as a blogger?) Thanks for sharing – I checked your blog pictures and I have the non tank pack of these.
I thoroughly agree that the traditional toy shop and its child entry toy soldiers are becoming harder to find, luckily the pound store or seaside shops still have lovely plastic tat. Cowboys & Indians, knights, all becoming scarcer in pound stores and toy shops.
I am currently painting up red and blue sets of the cloned or pirated running Airfix German infantry man, these more 42mm than 50mm or 54mm shortly to be posted in the next week or so. This Combat Force set is not so bad either if you want clones of those Airfix hard to find hard plastic tanks either. I shall keep an eye on your blog to see if you find any more such lovely things.
You seem to have inadvertently photographed the books on my bookshelf as well! Best wishes, Mark Man of TIN
Yes, that’s me.
I’m wearing my toy-soldier hat today, and have just come across a knightly set in the Czech Republic. It comes complete with a working bombard and catapult!
“Czech Out These Knights”
Great Czech blog headline – all that journalism training and chess strategy have obviously equipped you steadily throughout life towards the important task of games blogging about toy soldiers!
I have seen these plastic knights (I think I featured a few of them in a post as a budget Hastings 950 on the pound store cheap last year) and have seen the horse and cart elsewhere but not with a bombard or catapult. Perfect for H G Wells Little Wars medieval style … great fun! Mark Man of TIN
Has anybody out there still got a copy of the Wargames Special by any chance?
I have a complete copy (my childhood copy so not for sale) in reasonable condition still with the free Standard Saxons paper figures uncut. Why do you ask? I can happily photocopy or scan articles for you.
Mark, Man of TIN
P.S. Stowed away for Christmas this year as my present this year, I have your Peter Laing Roman and Pict armies that you painted, recently bought online. Very much looking forward to these!
Hello Mark, Sorry to be so long in responding. I’m pleased to hear you have my old (very old!) Peter Laing ancients, they are indeed veterans and should fight well for their new commander. I had forgotten all about my/the Wargames Special until I saw it recently on the blog. I’d just like to see it, purely for the nostalgia, that’s all really. Thank you for your offer to photocopy the odd piece, but asking for the entire Special is a bit too much I feel.
Best Regards, Stuart Asquith
No problem Stuart, it is a small debt to repay for all you have done for my hobby. I have access to a photocopier / scanner so can sort this out for you in a week or two. Send me a postal address via my email – manoftinblog [at] gmail [dot] com
Happy to help. Mark Man of TIN blog
Mark, that is extremely kind of you to offer and greatly appreciated. Address sent to your e-mail as requested. Thank you again, but there really is no rush. Cheers Stuart.