Tuesday 13 November 2018

Battle of the Poppy Field

On Sunday I joined the Rejects for a very special commemorative game. Stuart called me about this a couple of weeks ago and I immediately said I was available. Most  of the guys were able to make it for this game and Postie asked me to make the arrangements for us to participate in the silent reflection scheduled for 11am. A full write up of the game with pictures is below but as this was a commemorative game I would like to start with a couple of dedications. 

Stuart in particular dedicated this game to the memory of his Great Grandfather, Private James Till of the Royal West Kent Regiment. Private Till died at the young age of 30 somewhere on the Western Front in France in July 1917 and Stuart is very fortunate to have some family memento's that provide a very direct link to the war that ended exactly 100 years earlier. 

Embroidered silk postcards were one of the most popular ways for soldiers to send their love back home. Originally hand-embroidered by women in France and Belgium, the postcards provided not only much needed income for local civilians but also a beloved keepsake for troops and their families. Postie has several examples sent by his Great Grandfather to family back home in England, all with penciled messages written on the reverse.  

Possibly Private Till's wife or maybe his mother, the message on the reverse is unclear. 

Condolence cards like this were common at this period and Stuarts family have kept the card for Private Till in amazing condition. 
These were an amazing and very touching reminder of a young man who gave everything fighting for his country. I think we were all very humbled to have seen and handled these, particularly on the 100th anniversary of the Armistice. We spent a considerable time talking about the ceremonies taking place across the country that day and sharing stories of our own families from that time.

I'd also like to add a dedication to my Great Grandfather, Private George Henry Woodward, Royal Army Service Corp. He died 10th October 1917 at the Kalamaria Supply Depot in Greece. Georges death certificate revealed that he was not killed in action, nor did he die of wounds. Instead he fell ill with Dysentery which eventually killed him. For me this is all the more tragic and I know that his loss still effected my Nan many years later when she asked me to look up any information about him. She knew he died in Greece but the details of his death and the site of his burial were unknown. Thanks to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website we now know that George is buried in the Mikra British Cemetery south of Thessaloniki, in the municipality of Kalamaria, Greece. Not far from where he was stationed.

Now it was time to begin our commemorative game. 

The Setup
The British map - Grossly Inaccurate is the only
way I can describe this!
Stuart set our game right towards the end of the war when the fighting and the killing were still happening, despite the knowledge that the end was clearly in sight. Fighting continued right up to the 11am ceasefire and these are even tales of last minute assaults by over eager commanders determined for a last dash of glory before everything came to an end. 

Ray and I were to play the British side with Mark and Surjit on the German side. As expected this meant they were defending a hastily built trench line while we were attacking with mass tanks supported by an inadequate number of infantry. Both sides were given maps of the battlefield indicating objectives and the game started with a heavy smokescreen having been laid down by the British to cover the advance of the tanks. This meant they started the game in an advanced position (anywhere from 18 to 36 inches in the table) determined by dice roll for each vehicle. Thereafter they would crawl towards the enemy lines at an agonising 4" per turn for the Mk IV's and 6" for the Whippets... if they didn't break down or were destroyed by enemy guns. 

The Order of Battle
British (C/O Lee, 2iC Ray)
13 Male/Female MkIV Tanks
5 Whippet Medium Tanks
1 Field Gun
2 Battalions Infantry
1 Staff Car and Commander
1 Flamethrower
1 Rolls Royce Armoured Car
1 Sopwith Camel Biplane

German (C/O Mark, 2iC Surjit)
1 A7V Heavy Tank
2 Captured British Mk IV Tanks (1 Male, 1 Female)
1 Lorry with AA Gun
2 Trench Mortars
2 Field Guns
2 Battalions Infantry
1 Unit Stormtroopers
1 Brigade Commander
2 Flamethrowers
1 Fokker DR1 Triplane 

The initial moves were performed with screens down to hide the other sides dispositions. This represented the smokescreen and meant that both sides had to rely on the maps provided by Postie.

We had completed this initial stage and raised the screens just before 11 am and were now ready to start the game. 

At 11 am precisely a Bugle began playing the Last Post* and we all stopped what we were doing and prepared to pay our respects. After the Last Post, Stuart read out the Exhortation:

"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them"

We then remained head bowed for the traditional Two Minutes Silence, ended by the playing of the Reverie and Stuart reading 

"When you go home tell them of us and say - For your tomorrow we gave our today"

We may have been just a bunch of silly, aging wargamers standing in a shed but I can honestly say it was one of the most moving remembrance ceremonies I have every taken part in. I had a lump in my throat and the hairs stood up on the back of my neck as the last post began, and the two minute silence was reverently and solemnly observed by everyone present.  

(*The British Legion have a 4 minute MP3 download specifically for use at remembrance ceremonies. It times the Last Post, Exhortation, Silence and Reverie perfectly and I used it as an alarm on my phone so we were able to take part in the national commemorations precisely in line with the rest of the country).

The Game
With the remembrance ceremony concluded we were now ready to start our game. As already indicated the British side (Myself and Ray) started almost half way across the table having advanced under cover of smoke. As the smoke cleared however we were dismayed to find that the maps we had been given before the game were less then accurate.  

A wave of British Tanks trundle slowly across the open fields
before the hastily dug German trenches. Breakdowns and
lack of reliability has already thinned the armoured attack. 

The French town that was the primary focus of my assault by a mixed force of heavy and medium tanks, an armoured car and a Battalion of infantry. The town is significantly larger and more ominous looking than it was on our maps. This may prove a tough objective...especially as the Germans have a captured British Mk IV 'Male' tank! 

Although the Germans produced their own tank (the A7V) they relied heavily on captured and repaired British tanks. Repainted with the German Cross and driven by novice crews they were none the less effective, especially in a static defensive role like this where mechanical reliability would be less of an issue. 

And to prove the point the very first shot from the German hits and destroys my only 'male' tank on this side of the table. This is a disaster and not only do I now not have any artillery here, the wreck is also blocking the road. My infantry will have to advance in the open now. 

Turn two and our Sopwith Camel arrives in the sky above the battle. It's still too high to effect any ground troops but one of our victory objectives is 'Mastery of the Sky' so all we have to do is keep this plane flying. 

The German A7V is an ungainly looking vehicle and wasn't very good over rough ground but it bristles with guns and has a crew of at least 18 men. It was an early priority target for us and fortunately Ray takes it out in the second turn. 

Meanwhile my assault on the town is a disaster, My objective is to get a British unit off the table via the road down the right in this picture but I have lost three of my four vehicles before they even reach the barbed wire. To make matters worse a hidden sniper is picking away at my infantry and I can' locate his position to fire back at him. 

Our Sopwith Camel heads towards the German lines. Our pilot is a novice but the few hours training he received should be enough, shouldn't it? 

I turn my second tank group toward the less guarded side of the French town. I'm hoping to provide some much needed support to my troops attacking front on. Unfortunately the sneaky Germans have put an artillery piece inside a concrete bunker and start firing at my tanks as they move slowly (oh so slowly) across its field of fire. 

Meanwhile in the town the Germans reveal an AA truck and begin trying to shoot down our aircraft. Fortunately their aim is terrible and most of their shells are duds! 

I get an 18 pounder Artillery piece come on to support my attack on the town and immediately open fire on the captured Mk IV that has been playing havoc with my tanks. I destroy it with my first fire and I breath a deep sigh of relief. 

Now the Germans bring on an aircraft. This time a Fokker DR1 and it is piloted by an Ace. However Surjit decides he'd rather not risk the plane in a dogfight and ignores our Sopwith in favour of strafing my infantry. 

Having destroyed one captured Mk IV the Germans now bring forward another! Fortunately this one is 'just' a Female tank but its multiple machine guns could play havoc with my infantry once it gets clear of the french streets. 

The Fokker DR1 drops in altitude and strafes my infantry. As an Ace he can fire three bursts per turn but has a limited number of bursts per game. He's using up his ammo fast but is also doing a lot of damage. 

Turning towards my artillery he kills some of the crew, but
not enough to put the gun out of action. With his ammo gone
Surjit turns his plane for home and safety. 

Meanwhile our novice pilot is getting through his ammo more
slowly and we realise all we have to do is keep him in their air
to achieve one of our objectives 'Mastery of the Sky'

Elsewhere Ray's tanks have breached the German wire and one 
of his Whippet Tanks is making a dash for the back edge of the 
Table. If it can avoid being destroyed by the German Artillery 
in the nearby bunker we may achieve another of our objectives!

Victory may be in sight but our infantry have taken heavy casualties and many of our tanks have either broken down or been destroyed. The casualty clearing stations are busy today. 

Another one of Ray's tanks has reached the wire. If we can reach the trench line we will have three of our four objectives secured. All this time the German troops in the trenches have kept their heads down. We know there are a lot in the trenches, even after out Sopwith staffed them. The battle is not over yet. 

Amazingly one of my tanks has reached the wire and begins to rube through it. A burst of gunfire from the German MkIV kills the driver and brings my tank to a temporary halt. 

The German captured MkIV female is out of the town. However my now nearly all my infantry have fallen. 

Ray's Mk IV gets bogged trying to cross the German trench but its reached its objective. Infantry poor down into the German Trench and begin trading fire with the defenders. 

The Dead driver is replaced and my Mk IV moves forward again smashing through the barbed wire and rubble. 

Meanwhile another of my tanks has cross the wire to the left of the town. They don't have any infantry support but there is little left that the Germans can throw at them now. 

With British troops in the German Trenches the games comes to a close.

The British achieved three of their four objectives which was a solid British win. However with the massive loss of tanks and infantry it felt like a hollow victory, particularly as this battle was set less than two weeks from the end of the war. Sadly fighting in WWI continued right up to the eleventh hour. The Armistice documents had been signed shortly after 5am but the ceasefire was set for 11am to allow time for the news to reach front line units. This delay is estimated to have cost the lives of nearly 3,000 soldiers in the final hours of war. Some commanders saw the terms of the Armistice as soft on the Germans and still believed that they had to be severely defeated at a military level to effectively ‘teach them a lesson’. Consequently many attacks planned for the 11th went ahead, even when their commanders knew about the 11am ceasefire. One last act of madness in a war that few today can truly comprehend. 


  1. Great looking game, and one I feel well-remembered and played with respect by the Rejects.

    1. Thank you. We had a good game as always but there was something quite different and unique about playing this period on Sunday.

  2. Great looking pictures, a spectacular report with splendid vehicles!

  3. 'However with the massive loss of tanks and infantry it felt like a hollow victory.'
    Entirely logical outcome and comment. Good aar looked even better.

  4. Nothing silly at all about taking time to remember that real war kills people and to pay those people our respects.

    On a lighter note; I really liked the map aspect of the set up and using the screen to suddenly reveal deployments.

    1. Postie doesn't often use the screen but it's always interesting when he does.


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