Monday, 30 June 2014

Auctions and Giveaways

First, an important announcement has been made at Bloggers for Charity -

Despite the effort put in by all our volunteers so far, the final push of the BfC 2014 Campaign - the auction - has made little impact.  After some discussion - and with the generous support of current bidders - it has therefore been decided that in order that the original intent of BfC (to raise money through our joint effort for some pretty damn fine charities) be met we should re-boot the auction, which is hereby extended to 22:00 British Summer Time on 31 July 2014.

There are still some great lots to be picked up!
As many of you know, BC is hoping to raise money for some fine charities.  Despite the excellent figures and artwork on offer, quite a few lots have had no bids placed.  Even if you don't want to or can't bid, I ask that you do what you can to publicise this auction.


There are a couple of giveaways  to announce -

Gary over at Happy Valley is giving away a prize to the follow who can answer his cryptic questions.

And today is the last chance to enter Ubique's draw to have a mounted knight painted in your personal livery.

Best of luck everyone!

On the Efficacy of Facebook

I've been unexpectedly away from home for a few days and am likely to be for a few days more.  I hope you will therefore excuse the lack of posts recently.

This being the case I've had to contact some people and let get info from them at short notice.  I've discovered a Top Tip: people are happy to ignore e-mails and Google+, but they feel almost obliged to respond to a message on Facebook by return.  At one point yesterday evening I was juggling four open message windows (just call me Joe Communications!).

Facebook has a poor reputation - I recently saw it compared to a 'restaurant' where one points at pictures on the menu and says "Ugh, me like!".  There is that.  It's handy for gently insulting people and sharing pictures of cats - being sillier than you can get away with even in a blog.  But I've also found it a useful place.

I first came to Facebook at the insistence of my geographically-spread family, who used it to keep up-to-date when one of us was in hospital and things were touch-and-go.  And it's worked - we're much more connected these days (and it even translates into visit each other).  My Mother would be surprised - she spent a portion of her final months worrying that the family was going to disintegrate.  Actually the opposite has happened (for example, I have tried to bash my brother's brains out in years).

So as far as I'm concerned FB is a handy tool.  Google+ is a waste of time.

Back to more interesting posts shortly...

Monday, 23 June 2014

Bienvenue Mayotte!

One interesting thing about blogging is number crunching.  Now, I know many people have problems with Blogger Stats and how it calculates hits (though we mostly all celebrate the Big Round Numbers when they come up).

An alternative to Blogger Stats is Flag Counter which manages to avoid counting the 'bots and what-have-you.

The last month according to Blogger...

...and to Flag Counter
It also breaks down into new visits and returnees, but the USP of Flag Counter is that it breaks visitors down by country and gives you a lovely flag graphic.

So why am I waffling on about this?

Well since I installed the flag gadget in Mar 2012, I've had visits from 127 countries.  This is a surprising number, but it also means that a new country doesn't come along very often these days and when they do they tend to be obscure or small (hello Vatican City!).  Well today I had two!   First up was Kazakhstan - OK, fair enough, I don't imagine Kazaks have been falling over themselves to find my blog.  The second was Mayotte.

Hang on!  Mayotte?  Where the hell is Mayotte?  Apparently, it's an overseas department of France, an archipelago between Madagascar and Mozambique.   It's educational this blogging lark...

So Bienvenue Mayotte!

But if you lived here would you waste your time reading my blog?

All I can think is that one of my regulars is on honeymoon and has nothing better to do.  Congratulations!

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Paint Table Saturday and New Things

It's a while since I participated in Paint Table Saturday (the brainchild of Sofie at Sofie's Paint Blog) because I haven't done much hobbywise for a while.  But with new meds and the approaching solstice playing merry havoc with my sleep patterns, I've dug out some long neglected projects.

So we have Zulus in the dining room...

...and terrain in the shed.

As promised yesterday, my other order of New Things arrived this morning.  It was a small order from Black Hat Miniatures (not to be confused with Black Cat Bases of accursed memory).  It was my first time buying from them and I was pleased with the experience.

There was good communication throughout (three e-mails, including one apologising for the delay).  The packaging might not have had the "Buy Me!" point-of-sale impact of yesterday's order, but it was more than adequate.
It got past the dog
More importantly, the casts are very nice and have been cleaned of flash and other gunk (Black Hat cast to order).

The figures themselves are a nice Foreign Legion command group and a 'special' from their extensive Chinese range (do go and have a look), which I'm not going to show until it's had Loki's magic touch.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Shinies and a Give-Away

The first of the two orders I made last weekend has arrived.

I won't say anything more about it just yet, as most of the figures are headed for Loki's painting table and I'd like to do an unveil once they're finished.  Many among you will discern who the manufacturer is from the packaging.  All I'll say is that I'm surprised they didn't spend more time cleaning the casts off.

I had an email to say that the other order has been despatched, so perhaps tomorrow...

Here's something I bought the other week at The Works.  I'd been looking for a 1:48 plane kit: I think this will do nicely, given a suitably pulpy paint-job!

And I must plug Sean's giveaway.  He's having a draw on 30 June to decide who gets some 15mm ratmen and a Two Hour Wargame scenario.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Bloggers for Charity Auction Reminder

Just a reminder to everyone that there is only until the end of the month to bid on the excellent Bloggers for Charity figures.

Details of how to bid can be seen here and the figures themselves here.

Go on, there's some excellent lots and it's all for a good cause!

Monday, 16 June 2014

Why the Long Paws?

I'm sorry for not posting for a while. I've had one of those difficult weeks where everything is blank and I've been unable to find anything worth writing about.  I've been having problems ranging from trivial to more serious - from my favorite bariste working at the other shop for a month to me falling off the wagon, with all the attendant worries and problems that brings.

But anyway, I'm not dead, and hope to be back posting regularly soon.

In miniatures news, after a lot of humming and hawing I've finally ordered the figures I'm going to send to Loki to be painted as my prize in his competition.  They are literally not the ones I would have chosen (I promised The Wife she could) so I've ordered some more to compensate for that fact!  The orders went in over the weekend, so I'm going to be taking up position with  the dog behind the front door.

Elsewhere, I've been doing some research into the awards of the Ralston-Purina Hero Medal.  It's an interesting award, instituted in 1915 by the founder of the animal feed company to reward heroism by children and young adults.  It's for an article, so I won't post more now - perhaps once it's published I'll go into details.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

More on Dad's War - Gooseberries!

First I want to thank all of you who responded so positively, both here and on Facebook, to my post on Dad's D-Day.

A few more things have come to light and, rather than add to the first post (I did put a postscript to it yesterday), I though they deserved a follow-up post.

The Black Watch

First, it wasn't unusual for a lad from the outskirts of Manchester to be in the Black Watch.

The experiences of the First World War had shown the authorities the dangers of localising recruitment too much - if a Pals' Battalion met a couple of well-prepared German machine gunners, it made for a very bad day back in the home town*.  Once the Second World War got underway, it was therefore decided to make efforts to mix-up drafts (this hadn't been the case with regular soldiers and territorials - the casualty lists from the BEF and the fall of Singapore have a heavy localised element).  Dad's draft was used to fill in some of the gaps left in the Highland Brigade following the fall of France.

*This however, did make for some odd situations.  As late as the 1980s, the biggest export market for Benedictine liqueur was Burnley.

Orkney at War

WWI defences remain
Although they may seem a back-water now, during both wars, the Orkney Islands were an important part of the country's military machine.  The naval base at Lynness, using the sheltered anchorage of Scapa Flow, was established in 1904 as a base for the Grand Fleet, facing any enemy coming from the Baltic.  It's remoteness was a definite advantage and it was the major naval port during the First World War.

At the beginning of the Second World War, the base (then known as HMS Propserine) was again selected as a 'safe' anchorage - safe because it was thought to be out of range of German airfields and immune to submarine attack (there had been a couple of attempts by U-boats to penetrate the anchorage during the First World War, but they were unsuccessful).  The sinking of HMS Royal Oak by U-47 in October 1939 with the loss of over 800 lives, along with an air-raid three days later, was a major blow to British military confidence.  Immediate steps were made to boost the defences, blockships were sunk and causeways built to close off entrances to Scapa and an RAF station (RAF Grimsetter, later HMS Robin, now Kirkwall Airport) was established.

Dad was part of the military garrison.  For a rambler and bird-watcher, it was ideal.

The Reconnaissance Corps

At some stage (and I should really apply for Dad's service record) he transferred to the Reconnaissance Corps.

The Recce Corps had been established in 1941 to act as a mobile spearhead for infantry divisions (hence the design of the cap badge - not a Christmas Tree, but lightning strikes and a spear).  Squadrons consisting of troops of three Humber Light Reconnaissance Cars or Bren Carriers would push forward of the main advance.  It was intended that this should have the ethos of an 'elite' force.  At the end of the war the Recce Corps was disbanded and its duties absorbed into the Royal Armoured Corps.

There's a photo at the Bovington Tank Museum of Dad peeling potatoes (it came as quite a shock for my sister to see it there on the wall!).  Given the amour connection (and that NCOs don't do spud-bashing!), I suspect that this is from his time in the Recce Corps.

D-Day, Canadians and Gooseberries

As I said the other day, by D-Day Dad was in the Royal Engineers.  He sailed from Portsmouth and landed with the Canadians on Nan Sector of Juno Beach (Bernières-sur-Mer) - I added some pics of this to the other post last night.  Dad said the locals were quite amused by French-Canadians - they spoke in an olde-worldy, almost Victorian, way*

He was quite pleased to land without getting his feet wet - he hitched a lift on a tank.  This was probably one of the amphibious tanks from the Fort Gary Horse of the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade, but possibly an AVRE (Armoured Vehicle, Royal Engineers) from the 79th Armoured Division.  If he was with the Fort Garry Horse he was lucky - amphibious tanks on other beaches had a poor record of reaching shore safely.  I don't think Dad ever learned to swim.

The fact that he landed at Juno (which I'd kind of known beforehand) and something he said to me about landing equipment directly onto the beaches, makes me wonder I was wrong in assuming that he was involved in the construction of Mulberry B.  Thinking on it, I wonder if instead he was worked at the Gooseberry 4 Harbour on Juno.

Configuration of a Gooseberry Harbour
The Gooseberries are much less well-known than the Mulberries.  They were a lot less impressive engineering feats, and didn't have the same propaganda value.

Note the calm area to the lea of the blockships
The five Gooseberry harbours, which were on the flanking beaches, were smaller than the two Mulberries.  Basically blockships, code-named 'Corn Cobs' (there were eleven of them forming Gooseberry 4 off Juno), were scuttled off the beaches to provide a sheltered anchorage and run inshore.  With the Mulberries this was only the first stage and extra elements were added to create docks, etc.  In Gooseberry harbours, men and equipment were landed directly onto the beach from landing craft.  Interestingly, the American decision (against RN advice) to re-configure the Gooseberry at Utah greatly contributed to the loss of Mulberry A during the storm of 19-21 June.

* As an aside, when I was doing postgrad work at Bangor, I was wingman to a guy from Quebec.  This led to two approaches:-
1. ME (to fellow students): "My friend's from Quebec and I'm telling him about different accents.  You're from Middlesborough, right?", and
2. HIM (to local girls): "Hello I'm part of a linguistic minority" [UNSAID: being a monoglot Anglophone from Qubec]"
The second was quite risky - we had some very scary Welsh nationalists come back to our place!  In the end he hitched up with a girl from South London doing a PhD in Marine Biology (AKA "The Crab Doctor).

Friday, 6 June 2014

D-Day Family Memories

Hubert King (1922-2010)

As I'm sure nobody needs telling, today is the 70th anniversary of D-Day and the start of the Normandy Campaign.  My Dad was there.  A young WO with the Royal Engineers (he had previously served in the Black Watch and the Reconnaissance Corps) he landed in the second wave at about 8.00am that morning with a Canadian Division.

Mulberry B

His job was in the receiving and management of supplies from the Mulberry Harbour at Arromanches.  The Engineers built a pre-fab harbour out of 600,000 tons of concrete between 33 jetties, and had ten miles of floating roadways to land men and vehicles on the beach. This was completed in just three days, becoming operational on 9 June.  The plan was that harbour would avoid the necessity for a quick capture of one of the French ports and would be used for about three months following the landings to land men and materiel.  In the event the British harbour, Mulberry B (soon known as Port Winston), was used for much longer than that (the American Mulberry at Omaha Beach was destroyed by a storm on 19 June).  In the period D+4 to 31 October (D+147), 628,000 tons of supplies, 40,000 vehicles and 220,000 troops were put ashore - expressed in another way, that was 35% of British stores, 17% of British vehicles and 23% of British personnel.  An original report to SHAEF on the harbour can be read here.

Churchill visits Mulberry B, July 1944
The shells flying overhead as they worked during the naval bombardment of Caen made an indelible impression on Dad.

I only know a very little about Dad's time in France - he preferred his time guarding the Orkney Islands, and never lost his love of Scotland!  He did retain a fondness for Camembert (he used to swap his cigarette ration with the French farmers).  At some stage before the end of 1944 he took a strictly-against-regulations lift from a motorcycle despatch rider.  They were involved in a serious accident - Dad was flown back to England and spent most of the the rest of the war in a military hospital; he never quite lost his limp.  On the last day of the war he was hiking in Snowdonia with his brother.

Revisiting Normandy for the first time, 1994
Dad never dwelt on the war - he never wanted to be one of those men he remembered from the 1930s going on pilgrimages to Flanders and belittling the next generation.  He never applied for his medals, and he used his tartan trews for decorating trousers!  However, as the 50th anniversary of D-Day approached, he decided that he wanted to go back and, in June 1994, he and Mum had a very enjoyable holiday in Normandy, where the veterans were treated as stars by the French.

My Dad.  I miss him.
Thank you to the other bloggers who have inspired me to post this today.


A Sister Writes...

Lovely to read this and Jimmy'a comments. Arramanches was on sword beach, Dad landed on Juno at Bernieres-sur-Mer, with a Winnipeg Canadian unit.  He dug a fox hole in front of the only standing house on the front. Completed a notice board which was used for the visit from the king etc.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

More Competitions and BfC News

Flush from celebrating my prize from Loki, I'm pleased to point to a couple more competitions (and yes, I'm having a punt!).  There will be winners.
  • Matt over at Ubique is going to provide a model of a 13th century style mounted medieval knight miniature to the winner.  In an interesting twist he's going to paint it in the livery and with the heraldry of their choice.  Details here.

I also need to correct an oversight.  Last week I forgot to mention that Bloggers for Charity is reaching the climax of this year's fundraising.  The figures, donated by AW Miniatures and painted by well-wishers around the globe (some of these miniatures are well-travelled!) are now up for auction.  Details of how to bid are here and of the miniatures (and related artwork) here.

Monday, 2 June 2014

A Pleasant Quandry

After a rather grim week, the weekend was much better.  It might have been the dramatic improvement in the weather, but whatever it was that pulling me down and leaving me physically exhausted has passed on.

I got quite a few things done around the house and in the garden.  Over at Diplomatist Books I even managed to get the Exploration list on-line - a month behind schedule, but hey, it means I get to shift the box of Hakluyt Society volumes off my painting table!

Insert gratuitous plug here...
Yesterday's highlight was the news that I am one of the winners in the competition over at Loki's Great Hall. I'm sure that anyone reading this already interested in miniatures and wargaming knows that Loki is a very talented painter.  He and Kevin Howroyd have recently set up a painting service, Brigantes Studio, with a website which is showcasing their excellent work.

My prize?  This generous offer:
I will paint 10 x 25mm/28mm, 10 x 20mm or 20 x 15mm historical miniatures of your choice sent to me to my highest standard. (or a negotiated equivalent) 
So chaps, what shall I have?

This has prompted much discussion between The Wife and I.  Let's ignore "negotiated equivalents" (how many 25mm figures make one Giant Squid anyway?  And would Loki consider it "historical" anyway?).

You know, I'm quite sure Loki would paint this giant squid if asked...
OK, zombie dinosaurs are out, we'll go for ten 28mm figures.  My first thought was that should take advantage of Loki's skills and get something fiddly beyond my abilities (Samurai, tattooed Maori, people clad heat-to-foot in tartan, etc).

However, The Wife, who is a sensible soul and not prone to my shinyitis, is impatient for me to stop pootling around painting odd figures and making scenery at a glacial pace.  She wants to get on and play some damn games!  So something pulpy it will be.  She'd dreamt of the perfect miniatures last night, but can't remember them...

As I went out this morning I left her looking through the lead stash and familiarising herself with Artizan and Copplestone's stock lines.
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