I know my first HO/OO figures were the Airfix (first type) Germany Infantry and US Marines, in the old window-fronted boxes. I’m not sure what year that would have been; maybe 1966. I know I had “Airfix Magazine” regularly from 1968 at the latest, and at the age of eight years old was entrusted with sharp knives and industrial solvents to construct Airfix kits. I’m fairly sure the Spitfire IX was my first kit, and the Sherman my first military kit. “Proper” wargaming, though, didn’t start until my final term in infant school, in 1971. The school I went to had my own father, Dennis Salt, as headmaster. Dad used to say that everyone had at least one book in them; and, in their final term at his school, he asked them to write it, on any subject they liked. I had difficulty thinking of a good topic, so he suggested wargaming. Proper wargaming — not just rolling marbles at soldiers, or shooting at them with Britain’s matchstick-firing 25-pounders. Dad knew all about 25-pounders, as he’d done his National Service in the Royal Artillery just after the war (and just before Korea). I never did find out where he had heard about proper wargaming, though, it wasn’t that common a sport in those days; possibly he read my copies of”Airfix Magazine” more thoroughly than I did.
Anyway, it was off to Horsham library for me, and I discovered and devoured Don Featherstone’s “Battles with Model Soldiers”. What a revelation. I think the next books I swept up from the library were H G Wells’ “Little Wars” and Young & Lawtons’s “Charge”. A pretty good threesome of books to start with, on the strength of which I wrote my book, “Against Small Odds”, including my childish attempts at marginal illustrations in the style of J R Sinclair. Then, having discovered that Horsham Library (conveniently adjacent to Model Corner) classified wargames books under Dewey 355, I read my way through pretty much all the Featherstones then in print. I got a copy of Featherstone’s “War Games” as a Christmas present, and the first wargaming book I purchased with my own money, for the princely sum of a guinea (although the new money had come in by then) was Charles Grant’s “Battle”. This was the best of the lot, as it not only showed you how to play wargames, but showed you the logic behind devising a set of rules — still something very few books cover. Also in 1971, once I had started “big school”, I received a copy of Avalon Hill’s “Afrika Korps”, a cast-off from one of my Mum’s friends, whose 14-year-old had found it too complicated. This was the first of a collection of board wargames that has grown at the latest count to 252 titles. There may be better ways of being introduced to wargaming than Featherstone, Wells, Young & Lawton, Grant, and “Afrika Korps”, but I rather doubt it.
My father could not have guessed where his introducing me to wargaming would lead. It has given me a lifelong hobby — I still wargame with some of the people I started with in 1971 — but also a doctorate in simulation modelling, and a job that includes professional wargaming, and has seen me umpiring force development games at RMA Sandhurst. Dad died five years ago today, appropriately enough for an old soldier at about eleven o’clock. I shall be raising a glass to his memory tonight.
All the best,