A weekend with John Preece, part 1

I managed to rack up something in excess of 1,200 miles last weekend, much of it in less than clement weather. The occasion? A visit to Battlegames columnist and ‘Flanderkin Serjeant‘ blogger John Preece in Tywyn on the North Wales coast, and of course The Other Partizan in Newark on Sunday.

Annie and I actually began our journey late on Thursday night. I had seen the weather forecast predicted a massive band of heavy rain, stretching the entire length of our journey to the Preeces, that was scheduled to hit on Friday morning. So, in an effort to avoid this grim onslaught for at least part of the journey, we headed off at 11.30pm, arriving at a motel on the outskirts of Telford at 2.30am on Friday, after a stint of 217 miles. The average speed was a result of lovely empty motorways!

Friday morning brought the first of the poor weather, but by lunchtime, we were greeted by John and his wife Celia, who gave us a warm welcome and the weekend of fine fellowship began.

After lunch, we took a little tour into Tywyn itself and visited the health food store, where I stocked up on healthy vittles to ensure that my sponsored diet could stay on track! Then it was back to John’s, where I produced a little surprise for him: I had taken the British and Zulus with me so that he could try out the scenario you have all been reading about on this site. There ensued a fun encounter that lasted, as I expected, about an hour and a quarter, in which John managed to achieve a creditable draw against the Zulu hordes. Here’s a photo of him in contemplative mood as Colour Sergeant Barker’s section repels a horde of novice Zulus.

John Preece assesses his chances!
John Preece assesses his chances!

John is one of the most talented painters of miniatures of the ‘non-Dallimore’ camp. His style is very much that of the watercolourist: subtle shades and tones emerge over a white undercoat using techniques based on acrylic washes (and oils for horses), reinforced by black lining where appropriate. The outcome ranges from what you might call pure ‘old school’, seen to marvellous effect on the Holger Erikkson figures he painted for our Sittangbad game, to very effectively ‘realistic’, as seen on some of the stuff he has done for, amongst others, Phil Olley, and indeed on his own Napoleonic figures that you will see featured in the report that follows.

However, it would be fair, I think, to say that this expenditure of effort on highly detailed miniatures is not matched by the terrain laid out for his games. “Minimalist” might be a good, and kind, summary. Those of you who have seen the photos of the previous game I played with him (Baylen — I played the French, and suffered the narrowest of defeats) will already be familiar with John’s approach of green baize cloth over books and bits of wood which have their edges softened with newspapers and carpet. This is, in fact, surprisingly effective. Where even the most hardened old schooler may blench, however, is at the river made from a strip of torn blue shirt! After a great deal of not-so-gentle ribbing about this, John will shortly become the proud owner of some vintage Bellona river sections heretofore owned by a famous Scottish wargaming family, and I very much look forward to their christening!

Now, it’s late, so I’m off to bed, but I’ll leave you with a little taste of what’s to come in part 2 of this piece: the opening dispositions of what we mutually christened “Fontendorf” and played from start to finish on Saturday. This game was actually based on Charles S Grant’s “Positional Defence 1” teaser from his book Scenarios for Wargames, itself a thinly-disguised version of the battle of Fontenoy. Here, however, we substituted Prussians for the Blue army and French for the Reds, approximately doubling the forces.

the initial dispositions
Fontendorf: the initial dispositions

The table measured 5’9″ (1.75m) x 13’6″ (4.11m). The northwest corner had the River Schild and beside it, the village of Anton. The centre of the Prussian position, roughly halfway across the table width, was hinged on the village of Fontendorf. Between these two places were two redoubts, and a third was located near the northeast corner, beside the Barrywald.

I had 15 battalions of 36 line infantry, 1 battalion of 36 Guard Fusiliers, 2 battalions of 36 Légère, 1 squadron of 16 Chasseurs à Cheval, 2 squadrons of 16 Polish lancers, 3 squadrons of 16 Cuirassiers, 3 squadrons of 16 Dragoons and 4 batteries of 2 guns each. (French total 648 infantry, 144 cavalry and 8 guns). John’s Prussians fielded 1 battalion of 32 Guard infantry, 8 battalions of 32 Line infantry, 2 battalions of 32 light infantry, 2 squadrons of 16 Dragoons, 2 squadrons of 16 Kürassiere and 8 guns. (Prussian total 352 infantry, 64 cavalry and 8 guns.)

The rules we used were pure, unadulterated Charge! as created by Brigadier Peter Young and Colonel James Lawford. Just wait to see the game they produced…


  1. Henry,

    I hope that you took lots (I mean LOTS) of photos . . . and that you’ll share them with us.

    And soon, sir, very very soon . . . I hope, I hope, I hope.

    — Jeff

  2. I’m sure I saw at the Colours show at the weekend a box of vacume packed terrain pieces which looked v similar to the Bellona products from the 1970’s. I had quite a large piece with a bridge in the middle and still have a couple of bridges and small houses somewhere. The terrain piece was painted with a large pot of ‘old man green’I found in my fathers garage all those years ago. It was great fun but now sadly lost.

    Can I be presumptious and suggest John has a look at the kapiti fusiliers site. They use a green cloth which covers the whole table but it is slightly painted and flocked and looks great. Without too much effort, the battlefield is transformed.


  3. Hello there Henry,

    Sounds like the weekend was a smashing success. Please don’t keep us hanging too long. The photo of your initial troop dispositions has me chomping at the bit!

    Best Regards,


  4. Looks very exciting- I await the next instalment with great interest!
    Bellona brings back happy memories of fighting with Airfix ww2 figs over a couple of their 2 foot square vacum scenery tiles- one a harbour with water and a lovely jetty ,the other a ruined town!

  5. Now that made me nostaglic – a green cloth (it didn’t have a Subbuteo football pitch on the reverse by any chance?) over books, and a big game. The prime reason I have nailed my colours to OSW is that I gradually forget to play as I spent too long thinking about terrain, foam squares, sunken rivers etc, and ran out of steam. But that photo really clicked with me, and makes me want to get some toys out again.

    I am really looking forward to seeing the rest of the post.

    And finally – Bellona river sections. Now if they ever re-appeared on the market I would be in OSW heaven (although I did like the “how to” article by a well known wargames magazine publisher…..). But they seem to have gone for good. Shame really, as that whole vac-form image seems tailor made in recreating The Wargame and Charge.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.