Don Featherstone – A Life in Wargames (1918-2013)

Donald Featherstone is perhaps the most influential Wargamer of 20th century Britain. Because of him, Britain came to enjoy miniature wargaming as a pastime.

Don born in 1918 got into miniature wargaming after playing with H.G. Wells’ rules Little Wars which were introduced to him by his father. In 1939 Don signed up to serve in the Royal Tank Regiment after trying unsuccessfully to find service in first the RAF and then the Navy. Don feared service in the infantry following stories from both his Father and Uncle. Don managed to “negotiate” service in the tank regiments with the recruitment officers.

Once in the 51st Battalion of the Royal Tank Regiment, Don’s skill with words and the ability to type at a reasonable rate saw him move to the HQ and was appointed as clerk in the Orderly Room. Don’s battalion was posted to the Gothic Line in Northern Italy. It was here that Don had his brush with death when an enemy shell landed inside their camp where Don and his comrades were eating a meal. Don was the possibly the only one to walk away uninjured from the attack. Eventually Don left the army in January 1946.

In the 1950’s Don came across Wargames Digest produced by American Jack Scruby. This reignited Don’s love of miniature wargaming and bought back his memories of playing Little Wars with his 54mm tin soldiers. Also around this time Don met Tony Bath, who would be (beside his brother) his first wargame opponent. Tony would later become the manager of the miniatures company Miniature Figurines.

When Jack Scruby ceased producing Wargames Digest Don and Tony decided to co-edit it for Britain, followed by Don’s own Wargamer’s Newsletter which he started producing in April 1962 and continued to do so each month for 18 years until 1980. It was unfortunately discontinued due to rising costs and a declining readership.

In 1962 however players of wargames were scarce and so finding opponents particularly difficult to do. Therefore Don set up the country’s very first wargames event inside his own home, in which virtually every Wargamer at the time attended. The following year he stepped the event up and hired a function room at the local hotel, this time there were around 20 attendees. The social features included a recreation of Wells’s famous Battle of Hooks Farm using photographs from his book Little Wars on an overhead projector, while a background narrative was read from the book. The first of the National Wargames Championships Conventions originated here, where a silver salver presented by Airfix Productions Ltd was fought for. The attendance of the events gradually increased each time.

In 1962 Don also wrote his first book War Games which went on to sell around the world.

Don’s first set of rules

This set of rules would be the first of 40+ publications by Don and launched him to become an iconic wargame writer of the 20th Century. Backed by his own military experience, his study of history and his excellent writing ability Donald Featherstone can truly be called the Father of Wargaming in Britain and the entire wargaming community owes him so much for where we find ourselves today.

Don always said that wargaming is a social hobby and that players everywhere should never forget that.

Normally I would list a few choice selections of the designer I’ve covered in the article. However, because of my deepest respect for this man I decided to list every ruleset he has written.

Don’s Rulesets

I wanted to close with some of Don’s advice on military service.

Don’s Military Advice

1) Never volunteer for anything. War is dangerous, if volunteers are asked for, the task must be really dangerous.

2) Never join the infantry, they take the casualties.

3) Never take unnecessary chances.

4) Never go into any building first, even if they enemy have retreated.

5) Never be in the first tank.

6) Never ride on the first tank.

7) Officers go first, they get the medals.

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