Donald Featherstone is dead.
If you don’t know who Donald Featherstone is, it’s hard to explain why this news is a real kicker for me. Rather than link to his Wikipedia entry or to interviews, I’m just going to say who Donald Featherstone was to me.
I never met him but he occupied a very special place in my adolescent years. My only contact with him has been through a handful of his books but I regard him as an inspiration and a role model. One of those books is probably more responsible for why I am here today doing what I am doing than any other individual, with perhaps the exception of JRR Tolkien. If the professor ignited in me an utter love for fantasy, Donald Featherstone sparked my passion for wargaming and toy soldiers.
Stevenage Library, sometime in the early eighties (probably 1984ish). A young me discovers this book on the Hobby shelves:
Some context. I created my first wargame aged around ten (that would be 1984, actually, so maybe I found this in ’85-86). This game involved crawling around on a friend’s bedroom floor with some Airfix soldiers and taking it in turns to move and shoot one man. Later we added dice – a roll of six was a hit, machine guns rolled three dice.
To discover that this was an actual thing, that a grown up had actually written a book about it blew my little eleven/twelve-year-old mind. Not only that but apparently you could do it with Roman legionnaires and Napoleonic armies, and there were skirmishers and cavalry, and… and… and…
Wow, even now it chokes me to think how damned exciting that felt. Just seeing that cover makes me want to do all of that stuff just as much as it did back then. I want to recreate Austerlitz and the Afrika Corps versus the 8th Army, and model a table of Nijmegen and maybe besiege a crusader castle on the Levant, and… and… and…
It’s fair to say that my love of history started with a love of wargaming rather than the other way around. That is down to Donald Featherstone, so I have that to be grateful for as well.
And then I came across this book a few weeks later. Not only could I do all of that cool stuff, I could link all my games together and fight the entire Peninsula campaign and recreate the conquests of Alexander, and… and… and…
And that’s my point. Donald Featherstone opened my eyes to the possibilities that wargames present. Endless permutations of scale, period and rules. I started to think about painting my models. I dreamed of one day owning my own sand table to recreate battlefields on a whim. Donald had already pried open my brain with his genuine love of scale modelling, history and wargaming, and I was ripe and ready just a year or two later for when I was exposed to the splendour of Warhammer and, a bit later, Warhammer 40,000 (and other fantasy and sci-fi miniatures, including Mithril’s range of LOTR figures).
All that toy soldier goodness combined with fantasy and sci-fi? Braingasm!
So, though I only played a few games using his rules, and I haven’t yet got around to using the matchbox campaign system to recreate the breakout from Normandy, I want to say a huge Thank You to Donald F Featherstone.