Above is a pic of Lt. Colonel James Galbraith, Regimental Colour in hand, alongside Bobbie the regimental dog and some of the other "Last Eleven" survivors of the 66th (Berkshire) Regiment, making their last stand in one of the walled gardens just South of Khig village, a few miles West of the Afghan town of Maiwand.

Monday, November 4, 2013

An overdue tribute to Donald Featherstone

It was with a heavy heart that I read the news of the passing of Donald Featherstone, just over two months ago, on September 3rd, 2013.

I imagine most if not all miniature wargamers my age -- 48 -- or older, will have a special place in their hearts and minds for his immense contribution to our hobby.  I know I certainly do.

After Donald Featherstone's passing, many wargaming corners of the world wide web filled up imediately with timely and touching remembrances.  At the time I found myself focused on reading them rather than adding anything of my own.  But two months later, I feel compelled to share, so here goes...

I have some great memories of Donald Featherstone, all connected to one or another of his many wargaming books.  The one that fits best here though, comes from a book I really loved reading -- over and over again -- SOLO-WARGAMING.

The thing I loved most about Solo Wargaming was the chapter devoted to chronicling a campaign on the North-West Frontier, involving a Brigade of British, Indian, and Gurkha troops, pitted against Pathan tribes.

Interestingly enough, the specific rationale for the inclusion of the North-West Frontier gaming in the book was its peculiar appropriateness for a LONE wargamer, who would control the actions of the British side, while various non-player systems -- chance cards, stacks of matchboxes, die-rolls & probability charts, etc., controlled the native tribesmen.  Of course, this is an approach that has had many proponents through the years.  Some very popular colonial rules-sets, such as "Pony Wars" and "Science vs. Pluck, or: 'Too Much For The Mahdi'" have embraced it, though they often also revel in the use of multiple players on the British/American/European side of the table.

The chapter on solo Frontier Fighting included what were at the time -- to me at least -- AMAZING photographs of the Author's own troops laid out atop his table, "route-marching" (as Kipling might have put it) through the gates of the walled cantonment in the city of Kohat, complete with Indian mountain batteries loaded on pack-mules, supply-wagons (which in truth there were probably not many of), squadrons of Bengal Lancers, and battalions of British, and Indian infantry.

Then there were the pics of the rocky, scrub-strewn frontier terrain, criss-crossed by Gurkha riflemen, Sikhs, and the "Hampshire" Regt.

And then there were two pages of a "wargames journal", outlining in historical narrative form, the assault by a small party of Gurkhas led by a British officer on a Native fort, and a seperate attack by tribesmen on a British outpost.  The compelling articles were accopanied by some gorgeous line drawings.

I remember thumbing through the pages of that book -- and a few others like it, also written by Donald Featherstone -- over, and over, and... yes, over again.  I took some of the ideas and put them into practice with the small group I played wargames with in the basement of my family's home in Brooklyn, New York.  My dad -- one of the handiest men on earth -- despite having less than no interest in historical miniature wargaming, agreed to build for my younger brother and myself a "Game Room" at one end of our dirt-and-stone-floored basement.  This consisted of a raised plywood foor, and a single partition wall with a built-in sliding door.  Inside we put up as many shelves as we could fit, and used the old, out-of-use coal-chute built into the exterior wall at the back of the house to store large and unwieldly-shaped items of terrain.  It was cold in the Winter and hot in the Summer, but that never kept us from playing a game.  Thinking back on it now, I'm honestly not sure if there's a single photograph of us playing down there over the course of what must have been more than a decade -- from the late Seventies to the late Eighties, with most of the gaming going on from 1978-1982, before I went to college in the Fall of '82.  We still played from time to time after that, and I even helped organize and run a miniatures convention in Manhattan during the Summer after my freshman year, but the "pace of operations" slowed down considerably, and for myself personally, didn't really pick up again until years later, after my third child was old enough to not eat any figure she accidentally came across.

I don't believe that things were better then than they are now.

I don't worry about the future of wargaming.

But at certain times, like when Donald Featherstone left us -- in the physical sense -- two months back, I am hit by a twinge of bittersweet hobby nostalgia, which is probably mostly due to nothing more nor less than my ever-advancing age.

I'm going to ask around my family and some old friends and see if by some chance maybe someone does have a photo of our old game-room in the basement of 366 5th Street, and if I find one, I will post it here, but I'm not holding my breath!

It's true, as some pointed out in the immediate aftermath of Donald Featherstone's death, that I don't actually use any specific rules he wrote when I play these days, but that completely misses the point.  The point is... though he didn't first kindle it, his writing helped keep the fires of my embryonic interest in miniature wargaming ALIVE, and indeed stoked those fires higher and higher.  He wrote like he was first and foremost one of us, a fellow gamer, a fellow figure collector, figure painter, terrain builder, game designer... you name it, you got the feeling he did it all, and ENJOYED THE HELL OUT EVERY MOMENT OF IT!  That was what mattered, at least to me.  It mattered then, and it still matters now.  And though he's gone, I've still got his books on my shelf, and so do a lot of other people all around the world.  And if you ask me, that's a wonderful thing indeed.

R.I.P. and many heartfelt thanks, Donald Featherstone.


  1. Brilliant.... I still have my copy of Solo Wargaming... with inscription...... a superb book, and that chapter you mention was the driving force behind my Sudan collection 30+ years after I first read it!

  2. A nice, touching tribute. I have that very book, and it inspires in me the same feelings as you describe. The print of "Lieutenant Jeffers lighting the fuse" is one of my all-time favorite wargaming pictures. In fact the whole of that NW Frontier campaign Don describes went a LONG way toward me setting up my own colonial campaign along similar lines. RIP, Don - and thanks.

  3. Here, here.



  4. I did meet the man. A modest, thoughtful, and immensely influential person. He served through the war in the Royal Tank Regiment and went on to raise a family, overcoming the tragedy of losing his son (a police officer) in the line of duty. Donald was a sad loss, but a man who lived life to the full and gave so much before passing to the Green Fields Beyond.

  5. I have that book too. A great tribute to a great man.
    Mike Bunkermeister Creek

  6. Thank you, Steve, AJ, David, Mike, and "Anonymous", for validating my sentiments.

    Anonymous, I envy you having met the man. As you say, he lived a full life, and gave a great deal before passing away -- and no doubt looked quite dashing in his black beret.