We normally publish an article each year in December looking back at our hobby year and commenting on what we are looking forward to in the year ahead. With the advent of covid-19 and the subsequent restrictions and lockdowns, which now thankfully seem to be easing here in the UK, I felt it an appropriate time to look back over the past year to reflect on my life a bit and more particularly what I’d been doing with my hobby – Martin
Back in early March 2020, the main topic of discussion for me was the impending Bagration release for FoW. Mark had floated the idea, could we put together another mega table for the then planned Battlefront Open Day? In a similar vein to the one, we had done for the D-Day releases in 2019. Preliminary discussions were ongoing but then came March 23rd and everything changed and not for the better. Life stopped, gaming stopped, events were cancelled and I was confined to my home except for a daily exercise period. Initially, I had hoped this would be over in 3 to 6 months but it soon became clear it was going to be a lot longer than that!
For many people, this has been a very difficult time, be it because of health, employment, childcare, family separation, loss of freedoms or lack of social interactions. On most of these fronts I count myself fortunate I have a nice home and garden, reasonably good physical health and steady employment with the space to work at home.
As I write this, it’s now 13 months since I last set foot in my “normal” place of work! I’ve physically seen my parents and sister who live in other parts of the UK just once. With gaming clubs and venues closed and my regular at-home gaming partner shielding I’ve played two games of FoW, normally that figure would be upwards of 50! This has all had rather a detrimental effect on my mental health at various points.
However, I am also lucky that I have a hobby that I can do at home. It has many aspects to it so despite not being able to game I have had the opportunity and time to spend on building and painting my models and reading a few books. Battlefront has tried to support both us and retailers here in the community and so I thought I would take stock of exactly what I had achieved over the past 12 months, to celebrate it and reflect a bit on just how productive a period it has been.
In March 2020 I was just finishing off an 11th Armoured Division Sherman Formation to add to my British, the weather was getting warmer and I had recently returned from a successful trip to Battlefield Hobbies participating in Corivalry where my Hero T-34’s from Fortress Europe had finished in a very respectable 7th place and I was looking forward to Bagration Soviets arriving. With the pandemic striking, Bagration Soviets was going to be delayed, along with everything else so I turned my attention to another long term project. I had been slowly accumulating models over a few years for a British D-Day force based on Percy Hobarts funnies of 79th Armoured Division. Thinking “well if I can’t play for a few months I can get these done ready for our annual D-Day game in June!”
This kept me occupied up until the end of April when I took stock of what I had modelled and painted, 3 converted de-skirted Sherman DD tanks, 3 Sherman DD tanks, 2 Sherman “Crab” flail tanks, 2 AVRE’s, an AVRE with a Facine, an AVRE Bridge layer and 3 Churchil Crocodile tanks. You can read more about them here. Normally this would take me several months to do but, as I wasn’t spending time commuting to work for a couple of hours each day, suddenly I had become a lot more productive. Alongside this Battlefront released the Boccage Terrain pack which I brought and assembled. You can read my thoughts on it in our article from April 2020 (read the article here).
On to May. The sun still shone and my garden was starting to take up more of my time; I’m not much of a gardener but the lawn still needs mowing and the decking repainting, my wife tells me. Battlefront had now started their support programme of daily deals and, like all gamers, I did my best to resist the lure of new toys but failed miserably and had added several boxes of T-60’s and Soviet M3 Stuart and Grant tanks to my cupboard. I’ve always wanted to do a unit of Grants; there is something about the wedding cake tank that has always appealed to me, besides which in Mid War they are a rather good tank! So in May, I painted 10 T60’s, 15 Grants, 70 sqm of decking, a pergola and 12 fence panels.
June here in the UK was glorious, warm and sunny. My parents 50th wedding anniversary celebrations were cancelled and our holiday from New York to San Francisco via Pearl Harbour blocked; the US government wouldn’t let us into the country thanks to covid. Having painted up the Grants I continued to take advantage of the daily deals and had acquired rather a lot of American boxed M3 Stuarts. My original intention was to paint all of them as mid-war Americans but, on realising I had a box of them more than I needed, I had also acquired a few more Sherman than originally intended, so I decided to add them to the Soviet Lend-Lease Tankovy.
This would give me a Grant HQ, two platoons of 7 Grants and a Light Tankovy platoon of 5 Stuarts, so they were promptly reassigned to the lend-lease programme and shipped out to Uncle Joe Stalin. This involved much paperwork and the complex process of moving a box from the top shelf to the next one down! June also saw me make up some urban-themed mortar units for my Soviet Naval Rifle Battalion to add to the infantry I had done over the winter.
July 4th saw restrictions in the UK ease, but still no gaming. I managed to get away for a few days to the Peak District, sadly it rained for most of July and was unseasonably cold! Hobby wise it was the delayed Waffen-SS deliveries, I really don’t game the SS so, aside from some write-ups for the blog, I didn’t do anything much that month.
For me, it was full steam ahead preparing for the, now September, scheduled Bagration Soviet release, so I painted all the playing pieces in my copy of Firestorm Bagration in anticipation of my local club possibly reopening.
Mark organised Fire Storm Gazala, our First online campaign, which I managed to play a couple of games towards.
August came and went with no real pandemic improvements but thanks to the Chancellor I got to eat out a lot and managed to see some of my wider family. I spent my hobby time mainly building more Soviets and writing for the Blog on the upcoming September release of Bagration Soviets.
September arrived and I was able to have another short UK break. My hobby time was spent on my Soviet Reconnaissance Formation, with M3 Scout Cars, assorted capture German half-tracks and lend-lease Universal Carriers to add some variety. Altogether I did paint enough vehicles for 7 platoons which is a bit much considering you can only field 3. This is what happens when I have plenty of hobby time I like to do all the options. My article Sneaking Soviet Style came out on the blog
October and things were not so good; we had a few more restrictions locally but other areas were not doing so well. Having built the Reconnaissance company in September I added a couple of more units in the form of some motorcycle riding scouts (SU400) and making use of some models I had leftover from German projects in previous times. I added a, now all pervading, Decoy Panzer, or should that be Decoy Panther platoon? I also had a final break just before we got our holiday privileges withdrawn again; a week on the Dorset coast and an opportunity to visit the D-Day training grounds.
November marked the start of what was without my biggest project of lockdown;a Soviet Engineer-Sapper Formation. My models arrived in late October and I scrounged a few extra ones from Mark, who had some leftover. Now, painting isn’t my favourite activity at all and camo is my absolute least favourite activity (it’s why I only have mid-war Germans) but, determined to do a decent job of these, I set off. Little did I realise they would take me until the next complete lockdown being announced on boxing day to get the figures painted and a further two weeks to base them all. Whilst painting I did at least get to write a couple of articles about them and I got my hands on the River terrain Mission pack as well, so I was all set for some different gaming in the New Year, if only.
I’d love to say New Year January 2021 started happily but it had been a rather limited Christmas, normally the family all visit but with Tier 4 lockdown rules introduced and one of my stepdaughters confined to Australia and the other in another area, were unable to visit anymore.
I received some worrying news about the health of other family members as well. On the brighter side, we now had a covid vaccine and there was a sense that things would get better but it was going to be a very tough few months before then. Following listening to Eddie, Lee and Duncan on the podcast talking about Fez’s wheel of focus I decided to organise my hobby pile of shame and create a plan for what I was going to do about it.
Now, what I hadn’t realised was quite how much there was sitting in the cupboards, so procurement needed to be limited; how many times do we say that! I decided that, rather than try and do it all, I would focus on four things; one for each quarter of the year. Q1 was Soviet support units mainly for my Engineer-Sappers but a few generic ones to support other units went on the list and I’ve written six articles on them as well for the Blog.
Then for Q2 it would be finishing off my mid-war Italians and making some new terrain ready for gaming again. Q3 I set aside for TYWWIII French. I’m not big into this but since I had a starter 50 point army I feel I ought to make the rest of my 100 point force up, even if I then sell it on to someone who will play with it. That left Q4, which I left blank deliberately in case something from the new Bagration Germans or Axis Allies really caught my attention (yes, I have just brought a lot of StuG’s). So, in January I started doing my new Soviet Support platoons completing BA-64’s, M17 AAA, Katyushas, IS-85 and a 76mm Battery.
On into February and things were getting better on the pandemic from with the announcement of restrictions starting to ease in March. I was now doing voluntary service for the NHS once a week helping with the local covid vaccination clinic, which gave me personally a massive mental lift. I managed to paint 100mm AT guns, 122mm howitzers, 57mm AT guns and a unit of SU-76’s completing the planned Soviet developments. I was even ahead of schedule and scratch built some tree lines to add to my GF9 Battlefield in a box ones. A silly highlight was my Waffen-SS Command Cards finally arrived from pre-order! I, like many of you, got caught in the minor print run error on these.
So on to March and things really appear to be improving, I started on my Italians for mid-war with a modest target of just four units to do. One of these was Falco bi-planes which I know from experience of aircraft modelling were going to take a while but these superb little kits went together really easily and look great all painted up.
The biggest challenge after them was a unit of captured British 25pdr artillery again the BtA crew came to my rescue with Mark G 3D printing up some marvellous early war style crews which I mixed with spare models from a pair of old metal Italian 90/53 gun kits I was also making. The Italians, alongside my DAK, are forces that I have a great love of and so I really take my time researching paint schemes and making them as good as I am able, which is why it has taken me nearly 3 years to finish them al!
So that brings me to the end of this piece and my hobby journey through the past year of lockdown and restrictions. If you have stuck with me then thank you. I’ll leave you all with this thought.
Whilst the last 12 months have been challenging they have also provided time and space to be creative, I’ve accomplished more than I realised or would have thought possible and I hope you have too. Your comments on what we write here at BtA are really appreciated and make a huge difference to all of us. I look forward to finally getting in some games in 2021 and just maybe I’ll bump into a few of you over the next year (though hopefully not literally). Stay safe, Martin