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Donald Featherstone

I was sorry to hear this week that veteran British wargamer and author Donald Featherstone passed away on 3 September 2013 after complications following a fall at home. He was 95. Don was born in London and served in WW2 with the Royal Armoured Corps, and subsequently spent much of his professional life as a physiotherapist (including a spell at Southampton Football Club). He is best known, however, as one of the founding fathers of the modern hobby of wargaming. His books War Games (1962) and Tackle Model Soldiers This Way (1963) had a huge influence on a generation of military history buffs, including myself, who read them in boyhood, and I credit Don as being one of those who first encouraged me to believe you could do something practical and imaginative with an interest in history. Moreover, at a time when here was very little material readily available on the Anglo-Zulu War, the cover of Don's book Skirmish Wargames (1975) featured the 17th Lancers at Ulundi on the cover (strange as it will seem to younger readers, there was a time before blu-rays, DVDs and even video tapes, when pretty much all you could do to express an interest in that war was re-read Donald Morris' The Washing of the Spears for the umpteenth time and wait for ZULU to come round again at the cinema)! I met Don several times over the years, and he was one of those individuals whom everybody genuinely seemed to like, perhaps because of his view that wargaming was not a science to be taken too seriously but a passtime to be enjoyed. I first met him in 1979 in South Africa during the Anglo-Zulu War Centenary and he kindly invited me to dinner in Southamton with his Military History Dining Club. At that time I was in my early 20s and very much in awe of him and the others round the table, so I don't think I contributed much to the evening! Don also wrote a number of books on military history, many of them focussing on Victorian military campaigns. These included his history of the Anglo-Sikh Wars, At Them With The Bayonet! (1968) and the book for which most Anglo-Zulu War enthusiasts will remember him, his study of the death of the Prince Imperial, Captain Carey's Blunder (1973). He did, mind you, have a somewhat miscievous approach to his 'straight' history. I remember discussing Captain Carey with him once, and commenting that I was impressed that he had been able to find out so much about Carey's death. In the book Don made much of the spooky coincidence that the Prince had died after failing to mount his grey horse when ambushed by a Zulu patrol - and that Carey was later kicked and mortally wounded by a plunging grey horse. Don looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and said 'I made that up!' In fact - as I found when I researched my own book on the subject - there is very little information on Carey's death, other than the fact he died of peritonitis, quite possibly from a burst appendix. 'But', said Don, 'the white horse makes a better story, doesn't it?'

     Indeed it does - so much so that it has passed into popular mythology and has been repeated in many a history of the Anglo-Zulu War since!