An early wargaming disaster

By Rob Morgan

If my mother had allowed me the use of one of her crisp, starched white bedsheets, it wouldn’t have happened, but she was convinced I’d tie-dye it or something like that. So it was ‘No!’ Anyway, I think I’ve mentioned the sound advice given long, long ago (well, that was the 1960s) in the old Cardiff Wargames Society’s newsletter: If you make a botch of the conversion of your 1/72nd Stug, Panther or T-34, slap a lot of whitewash on it and use it on the OstFront in Winter. Seemed a good idea to me, and actually reduced the need for, shall we say, competent and accurate paint jobs by 100%.

That’s what started my still erratically growing OstFront scenario, and I was usually heartened by the interested nods my afv’s gained when laid alongside the super-detailed autumn ambush Panthers, different, eh? Of course, the big problem tended to be landscape, but that eased when the Matchbox people began to issue their lovely kits, with blown-apart buildings and bits of track-worn slope, etc. I painted them grey and slapped whitewash (or, snow as the official term calls it) on them. I used the little wire Christmas trees you used to get on festive cakes for forests, thin forests, I admit, but wargamers back then had imagination.

My old mate, well he’s old now, John, suggested we photograph one of the OstFront battles and send it in to a wargame magazine. That’s where the problem started. The lovely and well camouflaged white tanks stood out on the green table cloth. Hm?

We had this idea. Salt, from a distance looks like snow. Well we thought it did. So, one Saturday, for a few shillings, we bought an industrial quantity of table salt, and poured it in little drifts and a mild covering across the table, which if my mind recollects, and there’s no guarantee of that, was about six feet by four and a half — something by something else in metres.

Looked lovely. The photography took place, and this was going on 50 years ago, so it was in black and white, and the film was going to be taken to the chemist’s to be developed later. John went home. Inevitably, my mother wanted the table back, as my Gran was coming around for supper.

No problem, the tanks and troops went back in their boxes, the buildings and trees too. Which left me with about four and a half pounds of slightly soiled salt on top of a greenish cloth. Now salt came in cardboard boxes then, and you poured the salt out through a corner of the packet, which you cut off with a pair of scissors. The instructions were accurate, lacking only in the necessary information about repackaging the product. I couldn’t. It didn’t actually like being moved around the table with a dustpan and brush either! It took ages to gather it into a pile, and then, to find some way of storing it. The 1960s were not the era of the plastic bag. In the end, it all went in a bucket, which ended up in the bottom of my wardrobe, while the dining room table retained a sort of grittiness for days afterwards.

Which leads me, brethren, to this week’s sage advice to the young wargamer: Don’t use salt as a medium for winter landscapes.

The photographs were rubbish too, and the now-vanished wargame magazine we sent them to didn’t even reply!

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