Wednesday, 14 May 2014

A Napoleonic Ramble round Welshpool

As may become clear in the next post, (I was employed as a journalist once upon a time, so I know the merit of a snappy intro or even in this case A Snappy Nappy intro.) I have been pondering upon those occasions where through contact with an artefact, a battle field visit, or a work of art one brushes against the past in an almost tangible form.
I'm sorry, I'll start again.
Most of my wargaming life has been taken up with the Napoleonic Wars through reading, painting and playing games. As a result I have a strong though possibly slanted perception of that period, but I have been trying to lay that aside and consider in what ways that history impinged on me as a child living in a small Welsh market town. In effect, pre wargaming.
 Surprisingly I have three quite strong memories.  The first two concern the French Prisoners of war that were imprisoned around the area. In the local museum was the rather splendid guillotine above.
It is constructed entirely from carved mutton bones presumably retrieved from the soup or stew.  It is a working model and as soon as I grasped its purpose I was  fascinated by it. What the unknown prisoner was thinking when he spent so many hours carving it is not recorded. Possibly he was dreaming of the day when the real thing would be set up on the square outside the Royal Oak and bring Equality, Liberty and Fraternity to Mid Wales.

Much more civilised is the next, a story told to me by my Grandmother. How the French Officers were allowed to wonder about the town having given their parole, the only stipulation was that they had to swear not to pass beyond the parish boundary marker. They resolved this by walking freely where they wished but they were always preceeded by a hired local carrying the uprooted  boundary maker in a wheel barrow. I suspect this story is so good that it is told about other parts of the UK Nevertheless it was told me by Gran who was not a lady widely read in Napoleonic memoirs.
Then there was the Sergeants Row, these canal side cottages were still standing in my infancy. They were made available by public subscription as housing for NCO's who were present at the Battle of Waterloo. This was spoken matter of factly as if the Sergeants had just slipped out for a pint and would soon be back home.
Then in 1968 two things arrived, the Wargamers Newsletter articles of Fred H. Vietmeyer and his giant wargames and the wonderful vision of what a battle should be  in David Howarth's beautifully illustrated  'A Near Run Thing'.    The Napoleonic Wars had changed for ever.

So without banging on about Methodism or free trade laws or God forbid, demographics, it is surprising that these little contacts still existed 150 years later.  Which will bring me on to what I am really thinking about currently,  wargaming the Great War.


The Good Soldier Svjek said...

I remember borrowing 'A Near Run Thing' from the school library ,it was probably the first grown up history book I read !

Steve-the-Wargamer said...

I can still remember the smell of that book from when I used to borrow it from my little local library as a youngster... at the time Napoleonic (and WWII to be fair) were my staple diet.... happy days....