Saturday, 10 November 2018

Private James Hackney 40511


                                                                  James and Annie Hackney


I have always been fascinated with this picture above ever since I saw it as a boy, of my Great Grandfather James and his wife Annie. I knew he died in the war, but when and how was a mystery, there were so many questions unanswered. My Grandad was very young when his father died, so little was known and  passed down, only that they believed he was hit direct by an artillery shell and his body was never found. After a few years of research I have been able to piece together some of his life which I would like to share with you below.

James Hackney was born in 1888 in Longton, Stoke-on-Trent.  In 1891 he was living with his family at 5 Church Lane,  Normacot. His family worked in the pottery industry. In 1901 his mother had died and he was living with his father, Ralph and younger brother, Rupert in lodgings at 68 Normacot Road next to the Wheatsheaf Hotel. He was working as a potters jigger turner.

                               The Wheatsheaf Hotel  was demolished before the First world war.

On the 21st June 1912 he married Annie Mellor at St James Church, Longton. (the same church I married my wife, Lynn seventy seven years later).

                                                                    St James Church

 In 1912 they had twins, Annie (who sadly died in the same year) and John Thomas (my grandad).  Florence and Lily M were born in 1914, the same year as the outbreak of the first world, (Lily M died the same year). Their final child, James, was born in 1915. In 1915 James was working at a potbank called Jackson and Goslings at  Grosvenor Works, Gregory Street, Longton. At that time they were living at no 14 court 6 Warren St Longton.

                                                              Grosvenor Works

   On the 13th January 1915, James made the trip to Butterton Barracks near Leek to join the 5th North Staffords Territorials

                     New recruits from the Stoke area walking to Butterton to enlist.

James had a medical at Butterton Barracks and was approved to be enlisted the next day and he was put into bombardier service . His  medical states that he was 29 years old, 5ft 7 inches tall, chest 33inches that can expand 2 inches and it seems he was shortsighted right 6/9 and left 6/12.

                                                                    James' medical report

                                           James elected to sign up for the duration of the war

                                                  James' signature to enlist in the army.

  His older brother Ralph was already a member of the battalion enlisting before the war on the 5th August 1908. It could be that Ralph pulled a few strings because James wasn’t posted to the front until 18 months later or it might be due to his eyesight. Ralph left the army on the 19th April 1916 after serving 8 years and 10 days, he was aged 39.  

James was posted to France on  3rd Sept 1916 probably due to the enormous losses of the British soldiers during the summer at the Battle of the Somme. He was transferred to A Company of the 8th North Staffs Battalion who had been heavily involved in the battle and was reunited with his younger brother Rupert who was a corporal in the Battalion. They were holding the line at Ploegsteert, and after three weeks of uneventful line-holding they were relieved by the 1st Battalion South Staffords, 7th Division, who, curiously enough, included many of the men who had been wounded with them at La boiselle a couple of months earlier. Thus there was much hand-shaking and exchange of banter. 

                  Commonwealth Soldiers in the same trenches occupied by James in 1916 

This finished their period of trench work in the north, and on the 26th September they marched to Pradelles after having halted one night in Meteren. A very pleasant time was spent at Pradelles near Hazebrouck, for the next three weeks, during which training of all kinds went forward and reinforcements were received . During this period of "rest," the outstanding events were inspections of the 57th Brigade by General (now Lord) Plumer and by H.M. The King of the Belgians. General Plumer presented medal ribbons to a number of Officers, N.C.O's and men. King Albert made a very thorough inspection of the Brigade, and was kind enough to speak in very high terms of its appearance and bearing. 

                                    James and Rupert stayed here for three weeks

 This very pleasant period was, however, not to end without a most regretful episode. On the eve of the battalion leaving Pradelles, the Battalion Bombing Officer, 2nd Lieut. Buxice, and the Bombing N.C.O., Corporal Hughes, while instructing a class, were killed by the premature explosion of a bomb. This sad accident cast a gloom over the whole Battalion, and their death was a severe loss to them. Corporal Hughes, a finely-built' man, over six feet in height, had been known to throw a bomb 73 yards. Lieut. Bunce, young, keen "and enthusiastic, was a particularly good instructor, and a general favourite with everyone. They were buried the following day at Hazebrouck.

The 6th October found the battalion bound for the Somme area for the second time. Entrainment took place at Bailleul and detrainment at Doullens, and after one night at Thievres they marched to the Bois-de-warimunt, where accommodation was provided in huts. A fortnight was spent in this wood,

                  British troops resting on their way to the front trenches, the wood James had stayed in                                                   (Bois-de-Warimont) can be seen in the background.

    during which attack in artillery formation was practiced, and parties were sent up to Hebuterne, about seven miles away, to inspect the line in view of a possible offensive from this part of the front which, however, did not materialise. The battalion were suddenly moved on the 17th October by cross-country route to Warloy, to take part in a totally different attack scheme. Four days later they moved forward another stage, by marching, to the Brickfields near Albert, where they bivouaced for the night under wintry conditions. The 22nd October broke with a tremendous artillery bombardment by the British guns, which we afterwards learnt was the artillery preliminary to the taking of " Stuff" and " Regina" trenches, which they were to occupy that night, and; after spending 24 hours there, to continue the advance through grandecourt, a scheme which they felt fully capable of executing. The Battalion was up to full strength. A very high standard of esprit-de-corps existed, and the men seemed eager and spoiling for a fight when they marched off from the Brickfields to take over the above-named trenches, passing on their way scenes of their former fight at La Boisselle.

         British troops in October 1916 passing the huge craters made by the British digging under the  German trenches and filling them full of explosives.

 Almost immediately on the Battalion's taking over the line bad weather set in, a sharp frost, followed by heavy rain, soon had' the whole ground, which was scarred with shell holes and loose earth, churned up into a sea of clinging mud. Of all the periods hitherto spent in the line, in all the many sectors they had occupied, and of all the various experiences they had undergone, since the battalion had landed in France, it was unanimously agreed that this time they were faced with something that was far worse than anything that they could have had imagined. 

The whole country had, for the past four months, been deluged with shells from both sides, with the result that every foot of it had been blown up time and again. It was not so much a question of the shell holes touching each other, the ground was one enormous shell hole. Thiepval, the scene of some of the bitterest fighting of the Somme Battle, was within a few hundred yards of " Stuff  Redoubt," and the advance here, since 1st July, had only penetrated a few thousand yards. On this small area had been concentrated an intensity of shell fire hitherto unprecedented. The effect of bad weather on the heavy clay soil, ploughed up as it had been, can be better imagined than described. The traffic over this ground was enormous: R.E. material to consolidate their newly-won position, and to build footpaths and corduroy tracks, ammunition to feed the insatiable guns (which were everywhere), rations, water, Red Cross stores, everything had to traverse this quagmire, and many men and animals were literally engulfed in the clinging mud, some never to be extricated. The struggles of the mules and horses were bad enough ; those of the men, loaded with rifles, ammunition, equipment and sometimes rations as well, were beyond description.

 The terrible conditions James and Rupert faced    

There was one man of the Battalion, who slipped up in a fresh shell hole, in the so-called front line trench, and was buried up to his armpits for 26 hours, despite every effort made to dig or drag him out. Men were stuck in the mud and only extricated by the timely arrival of a mule, to which they were harnessed and thus dragged from the clinging, sticky, stuff. Some  men were  never rescued, the damp and intense cold of the mud in which they were caught proving too much for their tired bodies: all they could do was to crave a speedy death from the rifle of a friend. No wonder they were all dog-tired, even after one short spell in the line, and the so-called resting out of the line was little better. The billets they were given were at the best ruined houses in Aveluy village. Usually it was a case of bivouacing in dug-outs in the old German front and support lines, or shivering under improvised shelters of odd pieces of corrugated iron covered with a ground sheet.

    British soldier resting near Aveluy wood                    
Once they were actually given Nissen huts, which were being hurriedly erected; but there were only four for the whole Battalion, and so crowded' and muddy that a great number of men preferred to sleep under, rather than in the hut. Luckily, being built on a slope, there was just room to crawl underneath. It was highly desirable that the attack, which was planned to take place immediately, should take place at the earliest possible moment, but the bad weather necessitated day to day postponements. The enemy's shelling was continuous and exceptionally severe. They were relieved after two days by the 8th Gloucesters, and had a very trying time getting clear of the line. Some idea of the state of the ground may be gained from the fact that some of the men took 25 hours to traverse the distance (about three miles) from the line to billets. Accommodation was found for the Battalion in dug-outs in the old German front line, close to two of our Batteries (a 60-pounder and18-pounder), which were almost continuously firing over their heads. Casualties were severe during this tour, 78 " other ranks " in all.  James died on the  Wednesday 25th October, due to being a private, his death is not recorded in the regimental history, however it was recorded that on his final day, the battalion were attempting to cross a part of the battlefield when they came under heavy enemy artillery fire which caused casualties because of the state of the muddy ground. They could not move quickly to safety as their feet and legs were sinking into the boggy ground. If a soldier was not hit directly by a exploding shell they could be buried and suffocated by the tons of earth and mud thrown into the air by shells exploding when burying into the ground. I remember my Aunties telling me that James was killed by a direct hit from a shell and there was nothing left of him to bury. I always wondered how could the family know this when their was no official account of his death. However now we know that his brother Rupert was with him in the battalion and may have actually witnessed his death, I believe this could have happened.

                  This photo shows the type of terrain James and Rupert found themselves on that day.

James’s brother, Rupert managed to get word back to his own wife about James' death, which  was passed on to Jame's wife, Annie a couple of weeks after.  Although she wasn’t officially notified until 21st January 1917, three months later by the War ministry. At that time she was living at 95 Uttoxeter Road, Longton. On the 15th October she was living at 35 Lord St Longton when she received James Medals they were the Victory Medal and the 14/15 Star.

     The receipt for the medals sent back to the War ministry with Annie's Signature on it.

                                                        Victory Medal  Front and back 

                                                                           14/15 Star 

On the 31st July 1917 Annie received a letter telling her that she would receive a pension of 28/9 a week from the 6th August 1917 for her and their five children although only 3 were still living at this time.

James is commenerated in two physical places, at Thiepval war memorial in France and Longton war memorial.  

                                               Thiepval War memorial and cemetery, Somme , France

                                  Longton War Memorial, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire

          He is also remembered in his family's and great grandson's heart (me) and now I have been able to fill in some of the details of his life here on my blog, hopefully others will remember his ultimate sacrifice as well.

                                      Pvt James Hackney 40511 8th North Staffords 1888-1915

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Saga Tournament 2018

   After my surprising success in coming first in a Saga Crusades tournament in Alcoy with a Crusader/pilgrim army. The next local tournament for me was in November in Alicante. This was going to be from the Viking age supplement with no legends or special units allowed. I was lending my Anglo saxons and Normans to a couple of friends who were just getting into the game, so I decided to use my Mongols as Steppe tribes. My idea was to use six points of mounted hearthguards, putting them in three units of eight hearthguards. This meant they could shoot  initially with the maximum of eight dice and combat with sixteen dice. Although they would be light on Saga dice (only four including the warlord), I reasoned that in the latter turns I would still have three or four dice where as my opponents will hopefully be struggling to get one or two dice with his units losing figures.

In my intial games, they faired well enough developing my tactics of going in initially and destroying the opponents hearthguards and missile units to make them weak before they could counter attack.

The first problem was that although I had plenty of painted Mongol light horse and foot units, I only had eight hearthguard figures painted. I had a few more that were in the considerably large painting queue, but I was still five short. At the moment my lead and plastic mountain is quite large, so instead of buying more models I am trying to use and convert from the load I have already.

 I had bought or won in a tournment raffle (Its all gets a blur nowadays) some plastic fireforge mongols light horse and I still had some metal Mongol heavy foot with flails or whips etc lying about. So I cut the figures in half to create some more heavy cavalry,  the only problem was that the plastics were bigger in size but were fine if used in one unit.

Instead of the usual Clash of Warlord games, the tournament was going to have three different scenarios that followed a story line. The second game was a sort of a sacred ground scenario from Saga v1 although the areas were woods that had to be defended, not ideal for an all mounted army. Also in Saga 2 the Steppe tribes had changed from having their own unique battle board in Saga 1, to using the Hun board from the Arthur and Arteius book. I played quite a few of my practice games against my friend Kevin's Welsh, and even though I had some success, I couldnt get over the fact that the Welsh board was more suiting in using the hit and run cavalry tactics of the age. Apart from a very expensive double rare advanced ability where you could move one of your hun units in the other players turn, there was no other way your steppe tribe/hun units could dodge a charge, even from slow paced lumbering foot units. On the Welsh board there were more reaction abilities to move or charge your units in your opponents turn than you could, well, shake a dice at.  To top it off the Welsh Warlord can throw his javelins about like peanuts , whilst the Steppe Tribe warlord apparently didn't know what a bow looked like, even though it was the main weapon of his army.

Therefore after much deliberation and a quick word with the organiser at the eleventh hour. Ghengis Khan's horde from the Steppes became Bryan Khan's mounted Welsh choir from Merthyr Tydfil. Another advantage was it seemed the Welsh had adopted the ability to fight dismounted when the need (or scenario) arose unlike the Steppe Tribes who were permanently glued in their saddles. How the Welsh didn't create one of the largest known empires in the Dark ages is a complete mystery.

Lock your sheep way, Bryan Khan is leading his fellow Welshmen through the Steppes of Cheshire
      I had three practice games set up to try the welsh battleboard, three days before the tournament. Unfortunately my friend Kiefer who was coming over from England for the tournament had missed his flight and wasnt able to come until a day later.

So the day of the tournament arrived with twenty players meeting up including five players flying over from Mallorca and four English players(although three of us live here).

My first game was played against Franjo's Vikings, I won the dice off to be the attacker, and Franjo deployed his archers in stony terrain in two, six men units to gain the extra saga dice. To give myself some extra Saga Dice I split my units into one, eight unit and two, four men units with the other two points of hearthguard in reserve as stated by the scenario rules.


With Franjo deploying close to his table edge, I had to move my units from my initial position behind the hill  to my right flank. I left a dice on a reaction ability in case his eight men hearthguard unit decided to attack one of my smaller four man units. I made the classic mistake of forgetting I can use manuever moves instead of Saga Dice, which will cost me dear in the following Franjos turn.

Franjo took the bait and moved to attack but before he could reach my scouting party, I charged in with my eight man unit. Franjo chose to close ranks and this where my maneuver mistake became costly, because that extra dice could have been used on my ability that if he closed ranks I can put my armour up and his down by one. As it turned out through my disatrous dice throwing I lost a whole unit whilst Franjo managed to save a few of his.

In the next turn I was able to kill off the remains of his large unit which shook him up enough to make a tactical retreat behind the stony ground with his bersekers and Warlord. I moved my units in a central area and placed my reserve on the other flank, who were able to taunt a viking archer unit from the stony ground and destroy them in the open. In the next turn I attempted to repeat this trick on the other flank, it worked once more but unfortunately his Warlord came running out and caught my small unit who were unable to react. This meant I had lost another unit, but the good news was his Warlord was in the open with three fatigues on it. The problem was the game had to end as we had run out of time, so the game had ended in a draw with both of us having 15 slaughter points.

My next game was against Pepe and his Vikings. This was going to be a hard game because  due to my position in the league table I was deemed the attacker and had to capture both of the defenders woods (his hunting grounds). For this scenario, previously with my steppe tribe I had formed a strategy of just keeping my distance and shooting to score points and then moving into the woods on my final turn so the defender does not gain the extra victory points. However this failed from the moment of my deployment. Knowing that the Vikings have an ability that can exhaust any shooting unit. I decided to use a large dismounted Hearthguard unit to take over and capture one of the woods.

It was my turn first and Pepe had placed his archers in some open ground. I needed to destroy this unit so my horseman could get their javelins in range without getting hurt. I charged with one of my mounted units at the bowmen. I have tried to block out of my mind what happened next, but out of a possible nine hits, Pepe was able to save all but one and in turn killed two of my hearthguards. Shaken by this I retreated my unit out of range and sent the rest of my troops against the woods.

 However this tactic didn't turn out to well and soon I had lost my foot troops in the woods after some terrible dice rolling.

My other cavalry unit attempted a diversion tactic by moving to threaten the other wood, but I had lost too many valuable hearthguard and was way down on the points to recover. So Pepe managed to take all three points and win.

We then halted for dinner, which in Spain lasts for a least two hours with a never ending supply of plates of different types of food and pitchers of sangria and beer. 

My last game was against Jaques and once again bloody Vikings! This was a kill the Warlord scenario in which nothing else really matters. The only good thing about playing Vikings again was I knew what I had to do in my first turn. Which was to charge in and throw my javelins and do as much damage as possible before he could put those flaming saga dice on the ability to exhaust my shooters. The dice gods were finally with me and I got the correct dice for all my units to go in hard. All of his units suffered quite a few casualties which seem to put him on the back step.

            Both Armies square up to  each other.

      His warlord was quite exposed, and in my second turn he began to lose enough saga dice that he couldnt afford to put two of his dice on the shooting/exhaust ability.

This meant that my units were able to shoot and charge as I had hoped and soon his Warlord was in the front rank. On the last turn I was finally able to finish him off, I have learnt from experience never take fatigues off a Warlord to put his armour down. I know it is very tempting but it rarely pays off. So at least I had finished on a win and a high that catapulted my position from near the bottom to eleventh out of twenty players.

Some more action from other games, as you can see far right of the picture, it isn't over until the fat lady sings.

My friend Kiefer had come all the way over from England to play in the tournament. I had lent him some of my figures to play Norse Gaels. Having missed his first flight, he managed to book another flight for the next day to get to the tournament on time, thats dedication for you.

                                                       Looks like it may be all over for this singing fat lady!

My old amigo, Javi from Mallorca and his Umayyads versus Ethan using my old Norman Army I had lent him.

                                        Toni and his Normans playing against I believe the cowardly Irish

                      The first round of games in full swing.

The second round of games, Ethan is getting slaughtered by Rafa's Huns, who although were defending the woods, attacked the Normans in their half of the table cancelling out any threat.

                           The battle of the two Toni's, Jomsvikings against Normans on Rafa's stunning new snowy table mat.

Fantastic raffle prizes for everyone to win-

After two games  Kiether and his brother Ethan were at the bottom of the table on zero points. After telling each other their tactics on how they were going to win the last game. They realised during lunch that they were going to have to play each other. In the final turn they both managed to kill both of theirWarlords in the same melee.Which meant they both gained one point as it was deemed a draw and moving them from 19th and 20th to 17th and 18th position. Therefore the winner of the very nice wooden "spoon" was Jose Carlos from Mallorca with his Irish. 

Juan Marcos(left) with his Carolingians came third and Pedro(right) with his Vikings came second.

Well done to Antonio from Valencia who came first with his Normans

This was another enjoyable friendly tournament, the rules are so easy to understand that there is hardly any debating even when we are working between the Engish and Spanish versions. Personally I prefer to play with just the clash of warlords scenario found in the basic rule book for tournaments. Due to using some scenarios, I have found in the past can favour certain factions. Also sometimes reading and understanding the new terrain and deployment rules for a specific scenario can mean lost game time. In the popular ancients rules Arte de la Guerrre. the actual game and tournaments only has one type of scenario, with variable terrain placing similar to the clash of Warlords scenario and it still attracts a large following. However I am sure my view will be in the miniority, especially with the new book of battles being released later this month. 

Final thanks to Juan Marcos for organising the tournament, if it wasn't for these guys putting in all their hard work and precious time into these events, so we can come together to see old friends and making new friends , our hobby would be a lot less enjoyable.

Monday, 21 May 2018

Star war Death Star Trench Game

How to build a Death Star


Last summer at my school's May fair I had devised a game based on the popular eighties quiz show "Play your Cards Right" It was good and we had lots of fun doing our "Brucie" impressions, however this fell quite flat due to our School although being British, is located in Spain. After the day was over I started to think of a new game that would be more attractive and draw the "punters" in but use the same type of mechanics of using the playing cards to give the choice of higher or lower to progress along the game. 

Being a Wargamer I thought about the type of scenarios that we could use that I had seen before at conventions. There were some on the short list, Dambusters, Charge of the light Brigade for instance but then I realised I could combine my interest of the original Star Wars and the wargame rules "X Wing" by building the trench run from the Original film.

I've always thought that  "X wing" were a good set of rules, but the models were quite expensive. In the summer I was over in Montanna, U.S.A and found in a shop Hot wheel models of the X wings and tie fighters at a very cheap price around 5 dollars each. They are a little bit bigger than the Xwing models  but with a little paint job they come out really well.

I looked on the internet for some inspiration and decided on using some spare ceramic tiles I had lying around due to ordering too many to make a mosaic a few years earlier and got my milimetres and centimetres mixed up. 

I used quite a few things including unused bases, broken up coasters and the grey is a type of cheap foam material which has the advantage of being easy to cut into different shapes. This tile below was my first test tile.

After I sprayed it matt meduim grey. it came out as below which looked pretty good, however there was a problem with the foam sections because the paint just soaked in. Luckily I used a grey foam so it wasnt much of a problem.

As well as the spare tiles I also had some spare wooden beams, so I could raise the tiles up and make the trench in the middle.

Once I was happy with the first tile, I began my mass production line, making around ten tiles of the same design to spread around the table.

Once these were sprayed grey I felt that the Deathstar surface was begining to take shape and gave me the incentive to carry on. 

My next batch of tiles had spare plastic sprues glued on to act as some type of  pipe.

The next batch of tiles I glued the tops offyogurt sachet drinks that I had collected off the children in my class at snack time. 

I asked a colleague at work who had a 3D printer to see if he could make the gun turrets that were dotted around the surface of the Deathstar. The following week he stopped me at the end of the day and took out six plastic turrets out of his pocket, although some barrels were broken due to being in his trousers all day! I was going to make the base of the turret out of plywood, but I noticed my wife had bought some planter trays that were just the right shape and size. 

After getting permission to cut up her newly bought planter I fixed the turret with magnets to the base so it can easily being turned or removed. 

The turrets were then covered by the grey foam. 

I designed 6 tiles that had a large square in the middle for the  turret to fit in.

Finally all the top surface was complete, now to work on the sides.

The X wing models that were going to go down the trench were mounted on seperate bases, that meant  during the game  that they would have to be moved individually by hand each move. I wanted to try putting them on wires so it looked  like they were actually flying. However the models were too heavy and after a few days of messing around I decided to go back to the drawing board. 

After a few weeks I came up with the idea of putting the x wings on a piece of perspex on a track that is glued to the sides. Therefore the side tiles had to be fixed on permantely.

  To pull the perspex tile, I used fishing wire that was put threaded through the end of the trench to the side

 I also made another perspex tile for Darth Vader and his tie fighters,

Soon as the moving mechanism was working correctly, the sides were then glued with parts especially pipes parts (sprues) and then sprayed. Also the last tile was the infamous exhuast port, for this I drilled a hole in the tile to give it extra depth.

To give the actual surface more depth, I painted the base of the tiles a darker grey. With just a week to spare for the May fair at the school,  all the painting was finished. To finish off the outside of the board, I used some spare grey wooden floor panels. With all the cutting and drilling, this seemed to take longer to do than building the Deathstar.

 As all wargamers know there was still things that were not quite finished before the big day. The night before, I made four tea candle explosions and used some fishing wire and fluorescent plastic tubing to create laser fire on the Deathstar surface.

       During the morning before the game, we stuck the Imperial and Rebel Isgnia on each side of the table.

My original idea was to use the cards to advance the X wings up the trench, however early on in the development stage I decided to change to a large 12 sided dice rolled down a ramp. Basically to advance to the first square you need to roll 2 or more, each square you need a higher number until you reach the exhaust port when you need a 11 o 12. Each time you roll less than the aquired score then you lose a X wing. However Luke Skywalker in the last X wing may "use the force" and have one reroll.

These pictures were taken at the start of the day (didnt get chance after the first hour), the game was so popular we didnt get a break all day with a constant supply of rookie Rebel pilots (I managed to get two mouthfulls of paella for my dinner). We kept a record of everybodies dice score plus whoever actually destroyed the Deathstar got an extra 100points. During the day we had about six people who completed the mission and recieved a Certificate, but also the top three winners recieved a X Wing model.

Im looking forward to playng this with the X wing rules with my friends in the summer and also repeating this hopefully at the summer fair next year with a few small improvements. Im trying to to think of a way of incorporating the dice rolling into the actual trench. Watch this space...