Rod MacArthur

This page  tells you a bit about my model soldier and war gaming activities, but also mentions a little about other aspects of my life, to create a context.

I have had collections of toy soldiers, or model soldiers, for as long as I can remember. 

As a child I had quite a lot of 54mm Britains Knights, led by a dozen or so mounted ones from their King Arthur series. The only ones I still have of these are five Britains 54mm metal Courtney knights. They were of a much higher quality than any others, although one has had a sword snapped off and I have probably ruined them all by repainting them. 

For those not familiar with them, here they are (over 60 years old).

Later I had a quite large collection of Britains 54mm metal American Civil War figures, Infantry, Cavalry and Artillery.  I no longer have any of these.

More modern figures followed, a somewhat eclectic mix of WWI, WWII and post WWII figures.  Most were metal, including trucks and artillery, but by the late 1950s I was collecting Britains first plastic figures, in their 54mm Herald range, looking the same as those below.

Herald Figures - a

The original four were bought as a set, including the casualty, but I added to them in threes and fours as I passed a toy shop on my way back from school.  I ended up with perhaps 40-50 of them (no more casualties), including some in identical moulds, but in grey plastic with black helmets and black webbing, as enemy.  Interestingly, when I joined the Army a few years later our “enemy” forces often wore old black (boot-polished) webbing to distinguish them from friendly forces.  I still have all of these Herald figures, although I have given them to my 7 year old grandson, to wean him off his vast collection of monsters and spacemen.

My friends and I had no rules for our embryonic wargames.  We just lined up two sides and shot at them with our artillery (I had 25 pounders, a 4.7″ Naval gun and several others).   Most, if not all, of the Britains artillery came with springs in their barrels to fire ammunition, and if we lost the metal shells, as we invariably did, then matchsticks would do.  Without being aware of it, we were recreating the rules of H G Wells “Little Wars”.  I did have two massive guns, a 155mm Field Gun and a 18″ Howitzer, which caused many more casualties to the opposition.  Both worked on the same principle with shell cases containing springs.  You placed the cartridge upright on the circular loading device (just behind the shells), put the shell on top, pressed down and turned until the locking bar connected.  They were breech loaded, and fired through a lever on the breech block.  This turned the shell inside the barrel until the spring was released, and the lead shell then was fired with a considerable velocity.  They were potentially lethal and I am sure would be banned today, but I no longer have them.  Here is an internet picture of the 18″ Howitzer.  It was big, about 6″ (15cm long) and the 155mm gun was even longer, although it fired slimmer, but probably even more lethal, shells.

18 inch Heavy Howitzer - b

I lived in Southampton and in 1960, when I was 16, I saw an advertisement in our local newspaper announcing that there would be a model soldier exhibition in Tyrell & Green’s Department Store (now part of the John Lewis chain).  I duly went along and saw how games could be played using rules, measuring tapes and dice.  I chatted to the organisers, Don Featherstone and Tony Bath, and then became one of a group of a dozen or more who met for wargames, mainly at Don’s house but occasionally at Tony’s.

Don had a purpose built wargames room in his attic, accessed by going up stairs then down again into the room (you can see the downward stairs behind Don in the picture). 

Most of our games were with his 19th Century Colonial figures.

We used the rules which he later published in his groundbreaking book “Wargames”.  Don of course went on to write over 40 books on Military History and wargaming.

At Tony Bath’s house we played on his kitchen table, with his 30mm ancient flats.  I remember one game, of Actium, where we had two tables fighting simultaneously, one a land battle and one a sea battle.  Tony went on to found the Society of Ancients.

Airfix had just began to produce their American Civil War figures, although only infantry and artillery initially.  Don said to me that he thought 1:72 (20mm) plastics were the future of the hobby, so that is what I started collecting, and have never stopped.  I initially solved the cavalry problem by only using one pair of horses for each gun limber, then converting the spare horses and drivers into cavalry.  I later converted some Airfix mounted cowboys into American Civil cavalry, but eventually Airfix made their 7th Cavalry, and the problem was solved.

My main opponent in those early days had also got into the hobby at the same time as me, following that Tyrell & Green’s model soldier exhibition.  His name was Neville Dickinson, and he got so hooked that he gave up his day job and founded Miniature Figurines (Minifigs).

There were no Wargame shows, but there was an annual British Model Soldier Society convention in London which many of us went to.  I was an Officer Cadet in the Army by then and met Brigadier Peter Young, a distinguished WWII officer (DSO, MC and Bar) who had commanded 3 Commando Brigade, and was then an instructor in Military History at Sandhurst.  I showed him one of my American Civil War figures, a dashing one of the Brigadier commanding the Virginia Cavalry, with his feather in his hat and red lining to his cloak, to which his response was “What’s wrong with British history, that’s what you should be wargaming”.

Peter Young went on to co-author “Charge – or how to play Wargames” and founded the Sealed Knot Society, an English Civil War re-enactment group. You can see him here in that role.

At one of the shows another wargamer showed me his plastic Napoleonics, painstakingly converted one by one from Airfix American Civil War figures, but that seemed too much work for me.  There were talks at the shows, including a fascinating one by Charles Reavley on figure scales, figure ratios, ground scales, unit frontages, firing ranges, movement distances, etc, showing how they all inter-related, which most of us had not considered until then.

In July 1962, I received a Short Service Commission as a 2nd Lieutenant into the Royal Engineers.  It was a couple of weeks before my 19th birthday, so for the next three months I was the youngest officer in the British Army.  I went off to the Royal School of Military Engineering at Chatham in Kent, where I learned some Civil Engineering about how to design and build roads, bridges and airfields, some Combat Engineering of building Bailey Bridges, pontoon bridges, laying minefields, breaching through them and demolitions (ie blowing things up), plus things like building camps and providing water supply for hundreds of men.  There was not much time for wargaming, but I did make a few WWII models, which provoked the comment from one of my friends that “he clearly does not think he is going to be given command of real soldiers, so he is making his own”.

At the end of my training I was posted to 36 Engineer Regiment at Maidstone, but within a month my squadron was in Canada, building a road and a bridge, the latter by cutting trees down from the forest, towing them to the river bank and creating the bridge using techniques which Julius Caesar’s engineers would have recognised.  We called this “sticks and string engineering” but its proper title was improvised bridging, reflecting our ability to use whatever materials were available to create an engineering solution.  On return from Canada we were on Ceremonial Duties in London, lining the route for the Queen of Greece visit.  A bit later we were on exercise in Norfolk, acting as enemy to the Coldstream Guards.  Whilst there, I picked up a bug which put me in hospital for a couple of months, so I missed the Squadron’s next deployment to Christmas Island, in the South Pacific, to clear up after the nuclear bomb tests.  In retrospect I am glad I missed that, since some who were there have had health problems.

Whilst I was on sick leave, back in Southampton, the film Zulu was released, and inspired by that I created a Zulu war set-up, which I still have.  The British were converted from Airfix Guards Colour Party figures and the Zulus from a conversion of single Airfix Red Indian into a Zulu, then casting  some 300 metal ones.  I still have those figures and you can read all about them on my Zulu War page.  I played several Zulu war games against Neville Dickinson and wrote an article about the Zulu War for Don Featherstone’s new Wargamer’s Newsletter (which I even featured in as “Wargamer of the Month”).

Fully recovered, I joined a new Squadron, in command of a Troop of some 36 NCOs and soldiers.  The Regiment was spread all over Kent,  Regimental Headquarters and two Squadrons in an old barracks in Maidstone, one more Squadron just north of Rochester, and the new one I was joining which was forming up at Shorncliffe, near Folkestone.  A new barracks was being built in Maidstone, to accommodate them all, but it would not be ready for a year.

Whilst in Shorncliffe I took the opportunity to contact Charles Grant, who wrote “The War Game” and lived nearby.  I visited him at his house and he kindly showed me his Wargames room, with his classic 18th Century figures laid out ready for a formal battle.

After a few months of training we deployed to Aden.  I did take my Zulu War figures with me, and although they saw no wargaming did have the distinction of being with me in our camp in Beihan, 200 miles north of Aden, where Yemen reaches the Saudi border, and north of us was 1,000 miles of desert.  We spent 10 months in Aden, back to UK for a couple of months, then two months in Belize, building an airfield, road and bridge.  Back from Belize, I had been accepted for conversion from my Short Service Commission to a Regular (ie permanent) Commission, was promoted to Lieutenant and posted to 35 Engineer Regiment in Hameln (the Pied Piper town) in Germany, to command a Troop operating in Armoured Personnel Carriers.

I had met my  future wife on return from Aden and got engaged just before leaving for Germany.  I was due to spend 9 months in Hameln, then come back to UK for a 3 month course, so we planned to get married at the end of that.  We were saving up to get married, so in my spare time in Germany, rather than prop up the bar every night, I created an Agincourt set-up, using Airfix Sheriff of Nottingham and Robin Hood figures which I had brought from UK.  It was very difficult in those days to  get figures from anywhere else than the small hobby shops, and although Germany had some Revell figures, I do not remember seeing any Airfix ones.  I had also brought my paint from UK, but ran out of blue, so used a touch up paint from my blue car, which did not work very well.  I still have those figures and they can be seen on my Medieval page.

I also started a wargaming club, meeting in the Army Education Centre in Hameln, and using my American Civil War figures.    When I went back to UK for my course, a couple of the other guys persuaded me to leave my figures in a cupboard in the Education Centre, so that the club could continue whilst I was away.  Unfortunately, when I returned the other club members had been posted elsewhere, and no-one knew where the figures were, so I no longer have them, nor have I re-created that set-up.  I did have quite a lot of unpainted Airfix American Civil War figures,  which have been re-used in various other guises, in other periods of history.

After we got married, we returned to Hameln for a couple of years.  I had applied for helicopter pilot training, passed the selection and so we were posted to the Army Air Corps School at Middle Wallop.  Unfortunately I was not a very good pilot, so failed that course, but was promoted to Captain and posted to Osnabruck, back in Germany, in 1969, as Intelligence and Training Officer for 25 Engineer Regiment.  Whilst in Osnabruck I painted my first Napoleonics, Airfix British Highlanders which had just been released.  I painted them as 92nd Foot (Gordon Highlanders) and still have them.    More Airfix Napoleonic sets followed, so I had an expanding set-up, loosely based on Waterloo.


In 1971, I was posted as Adjutant to one of our Training Regiments, based at Farnborough in Hampshire.  I joined the thriving North Farnborough Wargames Club, and we played many Napoleonic games, with a mixture of some members metal 25mm figures and my 1:72 plastic ones.  Actually the disparity in scale was not so great since most of the early 25mm figures had not suffered from the upward “scale creep” of later years and my plastic figures were really about 23mm, not the 20mm which they are often described as.  An Army friend of mine (we had served in the same squadron in Aden), also joined the club and he created a complete replica of the Brunswick contingent at Waterloo.

Almost all of the club members used the WRG (Wargame Research Group) 1971 rules, with their slightly strange “flinch factors”, not seen in any other rule set.  We did find the 1:15 figure ratio produced very large units, so several of us modified this to 1:30, cutting unit sizes in half, but keeping the rest of the rules unchanged, which seemed to work.  I have kept to that figure ratio ever since.

I did play one game at the Farnborough Club using Empire.  We also held an exhibition and I used all my various figures, Medieval, Napoleonic, Zulu War and WWII (I no longer have the latter), in various static displays and demonstration games.

In 1973 I was posted back to Germany to a staff job in the British Army Corps Headquarters in Bielefeld.  I did not do any war gaming whilst I was there, but continued to paint my expanding Napoleonic set-up.  In the winter of 1975/76, I spent 6 months in Northern Ireland, mainly in the Belfast Brigade Operations Room, but also out on patrol all over Belfast, so that we understood the problems of the guys on the ground, and they knew that we knew.  When I did get some spare time, I painted a lot of my Airfix French Napoleonics.

I was then promoted to Acting Major, and given the command of a Bomb Disposal Squadron in UK.   In those days the Royal Engineers Bomb Disposal Regiment only had one regular Squadron (mine), one TA (Reserve) Squadron and a Squadron sized tri-service Bomb Disposal school.  It is now many times bigger, effectively an entire Brigade.  We covered the whole of UK, apart from Northern Ireland (which was covered by the RAOC, now RLC), so I was on the road a lot, visiting detachments, and had no time for wargaming.  All of our officers and sergeants were trained to defuze bombs, with our corporals and sappers providing the back up for that.  We cleared about 10 WWII German bombs per year, plus some 20,000 British mines, shells, mortar bombs and hand grenades per year (that might sound a lot, but one third of UK was used as a training area in WWII and most of this was only given a pretty cursory visual search in 1945).  We were trained to deal with terrorist bombs (IEDs) as well, and had a few call-outs to suspected devices, but none were real in my time commanding the Squadron.

In December 1977, having been promoted to substantive (permanent) Major, I was posted to Cyprus to command our only Squadron there.  I left all of my model soldiers in store in UK.  We were busy on construction tasks in Cyprus, using bulldozers, other earthmoving equipment and my soldiers trade skills (they were all combat engineers, but each also had a skill of carpenter, bricklayer, welder etc, so we could build anything).  In early 1980 I was posted to a staff job in a Divisional Headquarters in Herford in Germany.  In 1982 I was posted inside Germany, back to Hameln, as Regimental Second in Command of our Amphibious Engineer Regiment, specialising in rapid crossing of the Weser, Elbe, Rhine and smaller rivers, using our M2 rigs  (coach sized amphibious vehicles, costing £1m each, which could be linked together to form bridges, and we had 84 of them in the Regiment, including our training and reserve ones).  In 1984 I had a short course on public relations, including being taught television techniques by the journalist Kate Adie, then was posted back to Cyprus, as the Military Public Information Officer for the United Nations Force in Cyprus, briefing the world’s press on our activities.   Finally in 1986, I was posted back to UK and could get my model soldiers out of store, where they had languished for 9 years.

My new job was as Chief of Staff to our Engineer Training Brigade at Minley Manor on the Hampshire/Surrey border.  We had four regiments in the Brigade, two in a new barracks on the opposite side of the road to Minley, one more at Dover and one at Chepstow, just on the Welsh side of the Severn Bridge.   The ground floor of Minley was our Officers Mess, the first floor was our Brigade Headquarters, plus some accommodation for single officers. Our house was Arch Cottage, on the left of the picture.  The room immediately to the right of the archway belonged to us as well, and I put a wargames table (old tennis table) into it.  The Army has now vacated Minley, moving the Headquarters and Officers Mess into new buildings in the barracks opposite, and Minley has been sold to a Chinese consortium.


In 1989 I was selected for promotion to Lieutenant Colonel in the following year.  For my last few months at Minley, I had a new boss, Brigadier (now Major General) John Drewienkiewitz (John DZ).

I knew John from earlier in my career and we shared a common interest in Military History and wargaming.   John is the co-author of four books in the “Wargaming in History” series.

He also organised a Waterloo 175th anniversary refight in the Conference Room at Minley, and I came back from my new job to participate with all of my Napoleonic figures, playing the role of The Duke of Wellington.   We had a main table for Waterloo and a separate one for Wavre.  We had about 20 players and 3 umpires, with John DZ as the Chief Umpire.  The rules were a slightly modified “In the Grand Manner”.  It was a “near run thing”, but I thought that I just held on to the ridge line for long enough for the Prussians to arrive, although that was disputed at the time!  In the picture below, John is in the centre in a checked shirt, I am on the right of the picture, leaning slightly forward.


I moved to Headquarters Land Forces in Salisbury in 1990 in my new appointment as a Lieutenant Colonel responsible for major Capital Building Projects for half of UK.  We were in the process of withdrawing about one third of the 55,000 troops then in Germany, and needed barracks in UK for them, often former RAF airfields.  This required much conversion work to the barracks and construction of estates of new army housing, all to be completed in a very short timescale.  I wrote the project specifications, controlled the expenditure and had about 12 project managers working for me.  It was a very busy job, travelling all over UK, so I did not get any time for wargaming.

In 1992, I left the Army and, having qualified as a Chartered Secretary (a mixture of Accountancy and Law) got a new job as Head of Finance & Administration for a large self-governing school on the western side of Reading in Berkshire.  We were living in our own house in Salisbury, and it took a little time to sell that, so I rented an apartment near the town centre in Reading in the meantime, travelling back to Salisbury at the weekends.  To my delight I discovered that the local Newbury and Reading Wargames Club met in a hall not more than 50 yards from my apartment.  I joined that club and my Napoleonic 1:72 armies had several battles.

A few months later we sold our house in Salisbury and bought a new one on the west side of Reading.  I continued to actively wargame at the club.  The rules we mainly used for Napoleonics were “Newbury Fast Play Rules”, written by our club chairman, Trevor Hallsall.

The club organised a two day Wargames Show “Colours” each year, and for about six years I umpired the Napoleonics at those shows, using the Newbury Fast Play rules.  I tried to encourage players to sort out their disagreements by amicable agreement, but if they could not do that I tended to make decisions on historical accuracy, rather than the “gamesmanship” style of some players.   My approach did not please everyone, but I think it was right.

Trevor was working on a new set of rules, and I did some historical research to help him.  These rules eventually became “Esprit de Corps”.

In 2006 I retired and moved.  I had several wargames in a local club in various historical periods, using rules such as Black Powder, Hail Caesar, Fire & Fury, Saga and Lasalle.  I also joined another club in their some of their massive re-creations of Napoleonic battles, normally in their bicentenary years, involving some 20-30 players and umpires.  Tables were several long strips running down the hall, and troops could move across the gaps between tables.

A couple of years ago, I began a project of creating a Jacobite 1745 set-up.  I had often thought about this (probably having a Scots father and English mother helped), but plastic 1:72 figures had not been available.

Now they are (mainly Redbox and Strelets) and you can see this growing set-up on my 18th Century pages. Here is my version of the Battle of Prestonpans.

I have also been expanding my terrain collection.  A lot of this is scratch-built, but some is purchased, often then modified.  You can read more about this on my Terrain page.  A recent addition is my Vauban fort.  It is based on a 15mm Paper Terrain fort, but made completely modular so can be expanded or contracted, and I have both large and small curtain wall sections.  Another project was an entirely scratch-built modular siege works of parallels and saps.  I plan to finish off my Jacobite Rebellion rebellion set-up before moving into the War of Austrian Succession.

Vauban - 1a.JPG

For further news of my latest wargaming projects see my blog page.

I have other interests in my life and have been married for over 55 years.

I also researched British Army Authorised Establishments (ie how many men are authorised to be in each unit at full strength).  I covered the Napoleonic Wars, from 1802 to 1815, by transcribing the data from the original ledgers held in the National Archives at Kew, near London.  I was prompted to do this by an on-line conversation with George Nafziger, and American military historian and wargamer, who said that he could never understand British organisation, since there seemed to be no structure to it.  Having written establishments at various times during my Army career, I thought that there must be a structure, and there was, however battalion sizes were not all the same, but were dependent upon where the battalion was serving.  I published my results as two papers for the Journal of Army Historical Research, the first covering general principles and Infantry and the second covering Cavalry. Artillery Engineers and Logistic units.  I have a PowerPoint presentation on it as well, so by combining the dry facts, and my PowerPoint slides, I have put an article on the Military Historical Research section of this website – Authorised Establishments of the British Army 1802-1815.  I have several other articles in this Military Historical Research section and will add to them in future.

I am President of a Branch of the Aden Veterans Association and a former Chairman of the Royal Engineers Bomb Disposal Officers Club. I belong to ten other clubs, some involved in military history and others entirely civilian.  I give talks (PowerPoint presentations) on military history and have talks on all of the major battles involving the British Army during the Peninsula War and Waterloo Campaigns.  I also have one 18th Century talk (on the Jacobite Rebellion) plus three modern talks (including one on Bomb Disposal). I give all these talks to raise funds for charities.  Details of these can be seen on my other website Rod’s Military History Talks.