Donald Featherstone: an Appreciation


Cover of a a very ancient WARGAMES NEWLSETTER, dating back to the early 60s.

Cover of a a very ancient WARGAMES NEWLSETTER, dating back to the early 60s.

The word is being passed slowly from across the Atlantic that Donald Featherstone passed away yesterday. For all my non Geek friends, Don was a pioneer in the area of tabletop miniature game design (mostly of the historical flavor), or “wargames”. Don wrote dozens of books and articles on the subject– dating back to before I was born.  He published a very influential newsletter called, simply, WARGAMER’S NEWSLETTER which had its heyday back in the early 1960s.  I’ve owned and read many of Don’s books, but not all of them– there were so many on all sorts of historical subjects.  My personal favorites were his books on  Solitaire Wargaming, Naval Wargaming and Skirmish Games.   I’ve designed a lot of one-off miniatures games in the course of my adult life; virtually everything, including the silly stuff, has a soupçon of Featherstone’s influence in it somewhere.   The man to man Napoleonic game I’m working on right now, for instance, has equal dashes of Bruce Quarrie’s Napoleonic Wargaming for Fun and Don’s Skirmish Wargaming in it.  When you’re going to steal, steal from the best.

Don in an article from the early 90s.

I only met Don one time, during the mid 2000s at a HMGS convention– Cold Wars, I think. He was very frail but his mind was sharp and gleeful. I had drinks with Don and Bob Leibl and Cleo Hanlon. He was amused that people were always assuming he had already passed and used the phrase “rumors of my demise are greatly exaggerated” at least once.  We didn’t really discuss wargaming or “the hobby” all that much.  As I recall, he was more interested in discussing football (not the American version) and some American television programs.  It was an odd tete a tete.

A reissue cover of a Featherstone title

If you haven’t read a Featherstone book, you really should.  They are mostly in the process of being republished in perfect bound trade copies by John Curry’s History of Wargaming Project.  Pricey but worth it– these are almost impossible to find unless you are a really dedicated deep diver at flea markets, boot sales and used book stores.  I couldn’t have picked up Skirmish Wargaming and Naval Wargaming without the History of Wargaming Project.  Thanks, John Curry.  It’s amazing and amusing about how much of our modern miniatures hobby can be traced back to Don Featherstone in England and Jack Scruby in America.  Everything.. including your latest hipster big-shoulderpad SF games, Fantasy games, D&D, etc.. everything… owes more than   a little to these men and the hobby they created with their tireless work and creativity.    Don Featherstone, for such a diminutive, soft-spoken fellow, wielded tremendous influence over the hobby back in its founding and  growth years.

A charming man, a great hobbyist and writer… I’ll miss Donald Featherstone.  In his honor, the OFM (on the Miniatures Page) is suggesting we run games that “don’t take themselves too seriously”.  What can I say?  I’m all in on this one.

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5 responses to “Donald Featherstone: an Appreciation

  1. Pingback: Donald Featherstone (1918-2013) | Brooklyn Wargaming

  2. DONALD FEATHERSTONE

    Donald Featherstone: the father of British wargaming has passed away.The cover of War Games by Donald Featherstone

    It was Donald who got me started in wargaming. I must have been about 11 when “Wargames” came out. The vague description that I read in Airfix Magazine got me rolling dice and moving plastic figures about. I reserved a copy from Arnold library, but didn’t get hold of the book for some months: so I invented temporary crude rules of my own. As soon as I got my hands on the library copy of the book I was busy casting crude lead figures in plaster moulds just as Donald described it should be done (I was 11). I have never stopped.

    Rather over a decade later, when I corresponded with Donald (for some years I would periodically send him new fantasy models for his son) I learned that he had never actually cast lead figures but had only heard how it was done (I suspect that Tony Bath was the source of the information)!

    Without Donald’s books and Bob O Brian’s plastic chopping articles in Airfix Magazine, I would probably not be involved in this unlikely business now. In fact there would probably never have been a wargames “industry” and Dungeons & Dragons, Warhammer and all the rest would never have occurred.

    I would periodically attempt to tell Donald all this, but he would have none of it!

    Donald gave us all a huge gift in the shape of a genuinely absorbing hobby involving whatever amount of manual skill with brush and the modelling knife suited you. Whatever level of seriousness, commitment and/or fun you and your mates wanted to bring to the wargames table and the chance to do endless research into uniforms, battles and the history of nations and great men if you choose. Most importantly, he gave us all a chance to get out of the house and be among a group of like minded wargaming friends.

    I bought my son Marcus a ragged copy of “War Games” last Christmas, alongside a copy of Little Wars.

    Shortly before I departed from Games Workshop, I recall that John Stallard was involved finding Donald appropriate photos of model soldiers for a new book.

    I will hand you over to John:

    Bryan Ansell

    …………………………………………………………………………………………………………

    This is a sad day for wargamers.

    Bryan is quite correct, there is no way would we all be where we are without kindly Donald.

    My last contact with Donald was when Rick Priestley wrote the Black Powder rule book I went looking for some colour text to enhance the book as it has a “voice” of a Victorian flavour.Then I remembered that Donald Featherstone had written a splendid book entitled “Victoria’s Enemies”, so grabbing my well thumbed copy from my shelf I found just what I needed. Donald had written a page listing an A to Z of Britain’s foes stating with Ashantis and finishing with Zulus, with everyone else sandwiched in between, it was great fun and most informative.

    I phoned him up out of the blue to ask permission to use the listing and he was most generous in saying yes, adding that he didn’t think people read his books anymore…..How wrong he was…He also sent me a treasured personal, hand written letter saying how much he enjoyed our new book, praise indeed…..

    I only actually met him once three years ago at Salute in London where he spent a good while chatting to many of his fans. There was a WW2 re enactment group there, right next to him, all dressed in Waffen SS camo gear including Hitler Youth boys. Some people found it not to their taste and took offence for Mr Featherstone who had fought WW2 in Churchill tanks and had many of his mates killed. He was asked whether they upset him dressing like that and he gently replied, “Oh no, I’ve met them before”……A fabulous reply, by a true gentleman and an inspiration to wargamers world wide.

    John Stallard

    …………………………………………………………………………………………………………

    • Brian, John, thanks for your comments! You may not know it, Brian, but you are more than a little guilty of being inspirational yourself– for the resurgence of my own participation in miniature gaming as an adult. It was reading about Guernsey Foundry’s Wild West figures in MWAN and the publication of THE RULES WITH NO NAME in the mid-90s that gave me the nudge to start running events at conventions, and designing my own games. In a very real way, you paid Donald’s legacy forward. Thank you!

    • we have no idea how you got hold of our tribute so quickly!

      Donald deserves all the coverage we can give him.
      Without Donald many of us would be living completely different, far lest fulfilling lives.

      Let us know if we can contribute in any way

      Cheers

      Bryan Ansell in Darkest Nottinghamshire

  3. very touching, I will share it with his daughters in due course.