Wednesday 17 March 2021

An Old School Tale

Veteran wargamer John Briggs has kindly sent me the following wonderfully evocative story accompanied by some really nice images from his recently completed Russo-Japanese War collection. 

'I blame my mother. It's 1962 and we have to go to the local library to change her books. There it was, on the shelf, War Games by Donald Featherstone. I took it out so many times and, for lack of funds, copied most of the rules by hand into and exercise book. Later that year my grandmother bought me my own copy for Christmas. This coincided with the arrival of boxes of figures from Airfix at 2/- each, allowing, along with some home-made buildings and Merit trees, the beginning of a lifelong hobby.

Then I noticed that DF lived in Southampton, about an hour's bus ride away. A quick search through the phone book and I have very kindly been invited to visit and see his wonderful collection of wargaming figures. I came away with my pockets full of home cast figures and visions of colonial troops and far away campaigns.

And so, it went on, with the occasional purchase of Hinton Hunt or Stadden figures when pocket money allowed. Education and other activities pushed the soldiers out of my life and it wasn't until many years later that I came across the Harrow Model Shop.

I had visited with my brother, looking for some aeromodelling supplies but, there in the corner of the shop was a glass cabinet with the loveliest models of figures and equipment from the Boer War. I was hooked.

Little did I realise that the man who served me was Jack Alexander, the creator of this wonderful range of figurers. I am grateful that I have had a chance to meet him again in more recent years.

I think most wargamers are partial to a second-hand bookshop. In one, on the Isle of Wight, I found a copy of Cassell's 3 volume history of the Russo-Japanese War. Then I remembered that I had seen some figures for this fascinating conflict. Sadly, however, the range was never completed, so I put those thoughts aside, ending up with a collection of figures for the Boer War.

The range passed from Jack to the preserving hands of Peter Johnstone and has now re-emerged in glory from Mark Lodge at I had to have a look. Could he? Would he?

Yes, he did! The missing items from the Russo-Japanese and other ranges were either in production already or on their way. So my fate was sealed. Nearly 50 years on from my first purchase of Jacklex figures, I could at last buy all I needed to complete a pair of armies for the conflict.'

Russian and Japanese troops face off across John's lovely terrain.

Massed Japanese formations ready to storm the Russian positions.

A supporting massed battery of Japanese guns with waiting limbers.

Opposing Russian guns engaging in counter-battery fire.

Russian troops with machine gun in support. 
Massed Russian cavalry (line and cossacks) in reserve.
Japanese forces storm Russian positions.

'The order was made, infantry in units of 20, cavalry in 12s with the possibility of using the 'Sword and Flame' as my set of rules, at least at first. Very soon, the little boxes arrived with the figures beautifully packed in sawdust. Not one damaged figure! An excellent Lucky Dip.

Following consultation of Osprey, internet and a variety of books I did my usual practice of writing a painting chart for each type of figure. This saves a lot of trouble when returning to the painting table after a break.

Well they're all done now. I think they look wonderful and when lockdown is eased, I look forward to many games with them. I only had to wait 40 odd years. I think it was worth it.'

John Briggs



  1. Outstanding post and wonderful story. I look forward to seeing them on your table in battle in future posts.

  2. What a fine story, we on the Wight have some spiffing second hand bookshops!

  3. Excellent looking armies and terrain , these figures have a certain style about them that has stood the test of time .

  4. Agreed John, well worth the wait. I picked up my first Featherstone book from the library after starting secondary school in 1977 and I suspect it was a similar story for a lot of us older gamers!

  5. These are fabulous well done!

  6. I like the valuable information you provide in your articles. I’ll bookmark your weblog and check again here frequently. I'm quite certain I’ll learn lots of new stuff right here! Best of luck for the next! war of 1812 service records

  7. Yes, Harrow has lost a lot of its charm since the Model Shop closed. While I never bought Jacklex from the shop I always looked at the wondeful samples they had painted up.

  8. Wonderful setup - will look forward to seeing how the games develop