David Bickley's Wargames Blog

The occasional ramblings of an average gamer, journeyman painter, indifferent modeller, games designer, sometime writer for Wargames Illustrated and host of games in GHQ.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

The VBCW around Wolverhampton

I've been dabbling a bit, in painting terms in the past few weeks, in the genre of the alternate history of Britain in the mid 1930's, in fact in the Very British Civil War. Phil and I have also played two games here in GHQ, one set in the VBCW itself and one in our 1940 alternate Blandings setting, both featured in earlier blog entries if you missed them ~
A scene from Operation Checkmate, a plot to capture a king!

A scene from the putative rescue of Lord Emsworth from the Nazis!

The Hilton Main Miners' Collective, a new VBCW unit!

Now the games in the VBCW setting have existed in a world confined so far to my imagination and not shared with anyone or set down in any coherent way. I thought it was about time I put the world of Wolverhampton and South Staffordshire in the VBCW into some sort of order, so here goes! I've lived on the very edge of the city, on what Wolverhampton Airfield from 1936 into the 1960's, since 1980 and for the last 13 years of my teaching career I worked 'over the hill' in Codsall, a village in South Staffordshire. I'm familiar from day to day happenings with the area's geography and so I set our first games here in the locality for convenience really and named the first units for local areas as it turns out: the Three Tunns Invincibles, named for a local pub; the Boulton Paul Workers' Cooperative, for the local aircraft factory up the hill; the Express and Star Rifles for our local right wing evening paper; and so on. I find now I want rather more flesh on the bones so as to speak and so I've been trawling the web for background which fits in with my imaginary 1936-38 setting.

In 1936/37 the Mayor of Wolverhampton was Sir Charles A Mander, of the local industrialist family of note. He had been a Major in WWI in the Staffordshire Yeomanry during the Palestine Campaign, where he had been wounded. Geoffrey Mander was the Liberal MP for Wolverhampton East; a noted radical, an anti-appeaser, and a pro-workers' rights industrialist. The brothers Miles and Alan Mander had both married Indian Princesses, the latter Princess Sudhira of Cooch Behar. These folk will form the backbone of leadership in opposition to the forces of a fascist government in raising new units for the Peoples' Struggle. Joining the units already named will be: Princess Sudhira's Rifle Company (using the Footsore Irish Constabulary as their figures and the uniformed IRA figure from the character pack as the officer}; the Wolverhampton Workers' Militia (using a mix of the same company's British and Workers' Militia packs); Manders' Horse seems an obvious choice given the Mayor's military experiences in the Yeomanry(probably using the Yeomanry figures from the same company). Though perhaps they might have armoured cars instead?

The local airfield and the Boulton-Paul factory nearby are an obvious setting for raids from both camps. I have a Defiant in black night fighter finish already, so new decals with BUF markings would seem to be the ready use of the plane. I also have a Hawker Fury to use for the Socialist side (and for the RAF of course). When we moved into our present house the airfield was all around us, with control tower, hangers and various wartime huts still standing (and photographed by me rather presciently!) I may get some bits to stand in for the airfield next year: some nissan huts and the control tower former Airfix kit perhaps.

Other forms of transport figured large in Wolverhampton's past in our area. Just down the road literally is Autherley Junction, where the Trent & Mersey canal links to the Shropshire Union canal system. Scope for canal actions are an obvious scenario in future games. I hope to have canal sections made by Andy at The Last Valley for next year and already have two narrow boats to utilize them when the appear. Wolverhampton was also served by two railway companies: the GWR with links to Oxford and Worcester and the LMS with links to London, Manchester and Liverpool. The railway has already figured in one scenario (see Operation Checkmate) and gives scope for others in the future. The Bicycle industry was a major employer here too, producing not only cycles but also motorcycles and motor cycle engines. I have some Foundry Home Guard mounted on bicycles, so they are just right for my project too.

Turning to the forces of the Government and their fascist allies I already have a base for them in the village of Tettenhall, just beyond the borders of the town in 1936. Two local notaries from the time, Swindley and Graham already feature: the former in the volunteer company known as Swindley's Own and the latter, the owners of the local paper the Express and Star, in the Express and Star Rifles. Phil has kindly provided the local BUF in the form of the Bilston Steel Legion, although I may add some Auxiliaries at some stage. To these can now be added a Battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment, as Pete Barfield has kindly worked up flags for them for me! Of course, like all true wargamers I can't let it stop there. Tettenhall College, a C of E Public School, is just crying out for a Cadet Force made up of the staff and armed schoolboys, from Woodbine Designs I think. And the Giffards of Chillington Hall will obviously as landowners of some standing be siding with the forces of repression! I envisage two units from that source: the Chillington Rifle Company and the Chillington Light Horse. For the former I envisage using Footsore British Auxiliaries from the Irish Wars range and for the latter perhaps the mounted civilians from Reiver Castings?

I don't really have any artillery as such yet, though I could always use my Great War Miniatures 18lbers I suppose. I'd rather like a battery of 4.5" Howitzers but the only source so far is from Revisco in the USA and the postage is prohibitive really! As to tanks: well, I have a Vickers Mk VI with a 2lb gun! I don't really envisage anything beyond perhaps a Matilda I as an addition. I see my VBCW games as very much feet on the ground struggles in the very local area where I live. We'll have to see how things pan out over the coming months.

I'd be interested in the thoughts of any other VBCW enthusiasts, in the local area especially. It will only ever be one of the many periods we play here in GHQ so I won't be going overboard with purchases, although I did source three Lledo vehicles on eBay last night; two for Wolverhampton Police and the other a Horse Box for rapid transport of future mounted elements! Unlike some other VBCW enthusiasts' games you won't see any of the more exotic units, like armed Morris Dancers and militant cricketers, in my games. Each to their own of course, but not for me. Now, off to paint the standard bearer for the South Staffs! Toodle Pip!


  1. Great background/local history...I love the local focus of VBCW.

    1. I agree, Gordon; it's the very local nature of the VBCW that appeals.

  2. Great background....our VBCW is local to where we live in Penrith. I have tended to stay away from anything too exotic, but I do have tanks to give us variability in games. The collection is still expanding with a view to operation Sealion type campaigns as well. Next on my list is some yeoman cavalry. If you have seen battles are on my blog.

    1. Thanks Matt! I've seen your blog too, some interesting actions there!

  3. Good wood DB, topping stuff all round, a bostin job.

  4. Excellent 'history'. Have you considered the royal connection with south Staffordshire at Himley Hall? Edward VIII spent his last weekend there before his abdication. Could make for an interesting scenario.

    1. Thanks Matt! I'd not considered extending my area of conflict that far south for now, but, never say never...

  5. It's surprising what inspiration can be found in local history and of course the Manders made their mark (in paint I imagine) on the local map. I think you've pretty much got your locals covered really well though. Great background!

    As a Wednesfield ex-pat I have to offer the Leveson family (p. 'Luson') for consideration though.

    The BUF apparently did have quite a following over Bilston and Darlaston way, and came under Birmingham as it's regional HQ (which after Manchester was the largest regional HQ and even had a youth band to lead its parades in the city centre).

    Vickers Medium Tanks were being phased out in 1938, with odd ones being passed to TA RTC units as training vehicles. Copplestone do a nice one and it's less of a historical stretch than fielding a 'brand new' Matilda I.

    'Cartwheel'18pdrs are also kosha for 1938, although the split-trail 18/25 pdr was replacing them slowly.

    The Fury was a classic British fighter of the time along with the Hawker Demon and the Gloster Gladiator - both also available as kits.

    Once again, splendid background in God's own country!

    1. Hi Jim! Thanks for the endorsement of my alternate background history. I'll bear in mind your ideas as the campaign unfolds and we'll see where it goes!