Thursday, 30 June 2016

Peter Gilder and Me – Part Two.

                                       Peter Gilder and Me – Part Two,
                                                 By Paul Leniston

            The Wargames Holiday Centre, Scarborough September 1983

As soon as I heard about the wargames holidays offered by Peter Gilder in Scarborough I was determined to book one. My wife,Jan did not want to come with me, as she was put off by the idea of a full week of wargaming with complete strangers, but I did not really want to go on my own for the same reason.

I raised the subject at the next meeting of the Devizes Wargames Club, but the members  were not too keen either.  I suspect that the cost put most of them off.  Fortunately there was one member who was just as keen to go as I was, unfortunately I can only remember he was called Frank and was the only other serious Napoleonic player in the club.  
  There were two options, either a weekend or a full week.  We both agreed that it should be a full week.   Each week had a theme such as Napoleonic, Ancient or WW2.   We naturally opted for the Napoleonic week.

The holiday arrangement was for Peter to meet everyone at Scarborough railway station and take them to the hotel.  However due to delays on the London underground I missed the specified train and arrived late.   I then had to catch a taxi to the hotel.   I was quite disappointed to find that there were only two other lads for the week, plus Frank and I,however we were all very excited and spent an evening in the bar getting to know each other.

After breakfast Peter drove us to the Enchanted Cottage which was where the Wargames Holiday Centre was based at that time.  It was a large room dominated by the wargames tables and around the walls wooden shelves packed with model soldiers.   There was a very large table about 36 foot by 12 foot.   Behind there were two tables about 6 foot wide for reinforcements.   The wonderful terrain was created by using three x three foot scenic squares. The centre squares could be removed to allow players to stand in the centre of the table, as a result there was only 6 foot between the players.  

The table was already set for an introductory Napoleonic wargame.  The first day would be spent getting used to the rules written by Peter Gilder and to playing over such a large table.  This was my first experience of a large multiplayer game, and I knew I would need that day to get a feel for it. 
 Before the initial battle started we were allowed to wander around admiring the figures we had so often seen in the pages of Miniature Wargames.  I was quite surprised to find that they were less impressive when viewed closely. I believe Peter painted his figures to be seen on the wargames table, and they did not have the details most of us would normally paint at that time.  
 It was however a delight to see masses of his French and British figures which had also graced the magazine pages. I was also surprised, and quite disappointed, to find that many of his model soldiers were older Hinton Hunt or early Miniature Figurines,and many were very poorly painted.   Peter explained that to collect the large number of figures required he had to buy any and all available second hand figures.   It is true that once the mass of figures were on the table they were not so noticeable, but I had imagined that he only used his own model soldiers painted by himself. 
 Later in the week Peter would asked Frank and I if we would be prepared to paint some figures for him.  He offered figures in payment, at the rate of two castings for each one painted.  I was not interested as I had a busy painting schedule already.  However Frank was retired and happy to take on the offer.   I don’t know how long it lasted, but it must have been nice for Frank to realise that he had painted some of the new figures which in time would replace the tired old Hinton Hunt and Miniature Figurines. 
  Peter set up the table the night before and briefed us on the game.  He was also available for any questions about the rules.  But the game itself was left to us,with only four of us playing, we each had a huge area and many thousands of figures each.As one can imagine by the end of the first day I was exhausted and settled for a short visit to the bar as I was more than ready for an early night.

The second day was Quatre Bras.  We played from 10am to 6.30pm, with only a short break for a picnic lunch.  We then returned to the hotel for dinner, and then returned to the Wargames Holiday Centre for another two hours.   I love “In the Grand Manner” rules, but at that time just did not understand them fully.   My opponent only has a vague idea of how they worked.  So the wargame turned into a real shambles.  

Day three was Waterloo.   Again Peter explained the orders of battle and the sequence of the game.   As there were only four of us he removed the Prussians.   However that still left massive armies for each of us to play with.  I played Napoleon against Frank’s Wellington.   We both had a good knowledge of the rules, so the game went better than Quatre Bras.   However with so many figures over such a large table I found it impossible to maintain any real control over my part of the game.   Within an hour I had lost the plot and never really regained it.   We all agreed that we would call it a day at 6.30, and not return as we had the previous evening.

                A Television Crew at Wargames Holiday Centre, September 1983!

When we arrived for day four of our holiday,Peter  advised us that a Television crew would be spending some time with us on the Thursday.   He did ask if anyone objected, and no one did.  But I did feel that it was a little high handed not to tell us when we booked.  

We continued our Waterloo game, which was now is some confusion.  So much so that I was really quite glad when the Television crew arrived and we had to halt the game.
   In fact they spent most of the day filming, though most of that time was waiting for them to move lighting, measure distances and do take after take.  We did restart the game when they finished, but everyone had lost interest by then.  

Our last day was a really fun game using Peters famous Sudan set up.   The included a large winding river with a large gun boat.   We all commanded parts of the British force.  Peter controlled the masses of Arab fanatics by using dice.   Each move he would dice to see where the next group of Arabs would appear.   Our gallant British infantry and cavalry, plus the field gun on the boat, would cause heavy casualties.  But eventually we would run out of ammunition and be overrun.   It was a great game and so much fun to play. 
  For me it highlighted the difference between a well controlled game with an umpire, and a disorganised shambles when there was too much playing area, too many figures and not enough discipline and knowledge of the rules.

The week for me was a great experience.  It was memorable to play on his famous tables with his equally famous figures and terrain.   The games themselves were disappointing, but I learned a great deal on how not to organise large multi player games.

I am sure that many visitors, particularly those who went as a club, have enjoyed the games they played at the Enchanted Cottage.  But I just felt out of my depth and shattered trying to control it all.

I left full of enthusiasm and determined to do something similar myself.   That week would completely change my whole concept of wargaming and would convert me to playing “In The Grand Manner”.

It would be only the first of my two visits to the Wargames Holiday Centre Scarborough.

To be continued……………..


  1. Really, really interesting, Thanks for such a candid commentary on something I never experienced myself but often imagined - evidently the reality was not all it might have been.

    1. Afternoon Chris,
      I think when Peter Gilder started his Holiday Centre, his ambitions were not matched by the reality of not having enough 'decent' quality figures to play with, hence the need to buy up old collections. Over time he clearly was able to enlist amongst the best of the up and coming painters to create units for him. It is ironic that the ,Hinton Hunts' commented upon,were highly sought after by serious collectors. I must admit I would have loved to have owned some.

  2. Hi there,
    Frank was a chum of mine many years ago, his surname was Humphries, sadly he died many years ago now. Barry Hill & Mike Barnett amongst others from the Devizes Club used to make trips to play at the original WHC. Frank painted a fair amount for Peter Gilder's collection so I'm told.
    My gaming chums & I finally made the pilgrimage to the new venue, under Mark Freeth's steady hand, this this month. It was a dream come true to play on that table with so many toys I recognise from the early pictures which got me hooked all those years ago. Here is my rather more vulgar report, careful; strong language & innuendo ahead...
    Thanks for doing such a great job on this blog - keep it up.
    Best wishes,