A Very British Civil War in Pembrokeshire: The Battle of Robleston Hall

Regular readers of this blog will remember that we were following the major actions of the Very British Civil War in Little England Beyond Wales 1938.  To recap, the King’s control of west Wales collapsed in 1938, with massive Welsh Nationalist and ‘Red’ insurrection across the country, with the King’s forces managing to hold out in besieged garrisons at Cardigan, Carmarthen, Llandeilo, Llandovery, Brecon and Crickhowell, as well as in Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan and in the isolated enclave of Pembrokeshire.

However, insurrection was also brewing in the still-loyal parts of Pembrokeshire and the situation exploded with the Pembroke Castle Hill Massacre and the attempt by the Bishop of St David’s to seize the county town of Haverfordwest from the King’s forces and the capture of a military train at the Battle of Crundale.  The Bishop then also attempted to intervene in the larger war at Three Cocks, but Lord Tenby’s Royalist forces took advantage of the Bishop’s absence to launch a two-pronged counter-offensive against the Bishopric of St David’s

The opening moves of Operation ‘Shadwell’ had met with mixed success at Pelcomb Cross; the experienced regulars of the 2nd KSLI had managed to capture Pelcomb House, but the militant wing of the Campaign for Real Ale had failed in their attempt to take the Pelcomb Inn.  Nevertheless, General Ivor Picton was forced to concede the field and pulled the Roch Fencibles back from their outpost line at Pelcomb, to the main defensive line on the high ground north of the Knock Brook, centred on the villages of Keeston and Simpson Cross.  This would be a very tough nut for the Loyalists to crack.

However, Lord Margam, commanding the Loyalist Army of Pembrokeshire, had yet to play his ace: with the cream of the Bishopric Army now concentrated in the Keeston Line, other areas were now more lightly defended.  One such location was the critical bridge over the Western Cleddau River at Camrose; this had been defended by a company of the regular Roch Castle Fencibles, but they were called away to reinforce the battle at Pelcomb Cross, leaving defence of the bridge to the Camrose and Treffgarne Local Defence Volunteers.

Lord Margam struck the lightly-defended bridge swift and hard, decisively routing the bewildered LDV.  As word arrived at Roch Castle of the defeat at Camrose, General Picton immediately realised the gravity of the situation; the Loyalist forces now pouring across Camrose bridge had outflanked his entire line!  They had already attacked the Cuttybridge strongpoint from the rear and were now advancing to attack Keeston itself from the rear.  Only the remnants of the Camrose LDV, desperately holding on to positions at Furzy Mount and Robleston Hall, stood between the Blackshirts and victory!  At once, General Picton ordered his last reserves to form a flying column and to mount an immediate counter-attack to relieve the LDV, to regain Camrose and to throw the Blackshirts back across the Cleddau!  The situation could not be more desperate.

The Commanding Officer of the Camrose & Treffarne LDV, the Reverend Gethin Thomas, has managed to gather together a weak platoon of survivors and plans to defend the old mediaeval manor house of Robleston Hall, to give time for the Bishopric to mount a counter-attack. However, the Blackshirts, buoyed up by their victory at Camrose, are already hard on his heels.

The brief respite of battle is shattered as a section of Blackshirts, commanded by BUF Storm-Leader 2nd Class Ronald Biggsworth-Hill, opens up on the manor with rifles and Lewis Guns. A light tank from the King’s Dragoon Guards soon joins in with its heavy machine gun.  An anti-tank rifle team prudently deploys to cover the Keeston road.

With the defenders suppressed by the massive storm of lead directed against Robleston Hall, the time is ripe for BUF Storm-Commander Fussell to order his assault sections in for the kill. On the right, a platoon of the Loyal West Carmarthenshire Greenjackets prepares to assault another group of LDV, holding a house at Furzy Mount.

The LDV holding Furzy Mount spot the Greenjackets moving in the undergrowth and open up with a fusillade of rifle fire.

Commanding the defenders is Lt Col Archibald Carruthers MC, late of the 9th Royal Deccan Horse. He thoroughly enjoyed the last battle and catching up with his old India chum Gussie, but these chaps seem to be decidedly common and not the sort to enjoy a good ruck in proper sporting fashion…

As Blackshirts move past to assault Robleston Hall, Lt Christopher Gough of the Greenjackets has his own problem to deal with and urges his men forward.

The Greenjackets open up on Furzy Mount with a withering hail of rifle and Lewis Gun fire. Nevertheless, the LDV seem undeterred and return fire.

“Sgt Stace! Where are you?!  For God’s sake man!  Shout out so I can come to you!  I’m bally well lost in the brambles!  Ow!  Bloody nettles…”

Meanwhile, Biggsworth-Hill’s Blackshirts continue to pour fire into Robleston Hall. Within the hall, militiamen lie dead and wounded.

The Blackshirt assault goes in! The doors are kicked open and grenades are swiftly lobbed inside.

Only two wounded Anglican survivors stagger out of the Hall. Knowing the BUF’s reputation for brutality, they expect to be murdered at any moment, but on this occasion they’ve caught the Blackshirts in a good mood.  A Loyalist medic patches them up and they’re sent back for interrogation.  The Blackshirts push on through the Hall, but are met by a renewed volley of fire from the outbuildings, as the Reverend Thomas makes his last stand.

“Sgt Stace!  Send a man back to beat down these nettles for me! ”

At Furzy Mount, Sgt Stace of the Greenjackets continues to direct fire against the Anglican defenders, who are starting to suffer casualties.

Greenjackets fix bayonets and ready grenades…

As the Greenjacket assault goes in on the front door, Lt Col Carruthers and his surviving men make good their escape out of the back door… How easy is it to ride a Welsh Black, one wonders…?

With their objective taken, Greenjacket patrols push forward to make contact with the enemy. As they advance, their platoon commander’s cries of nettle-induced anguish recede in the distance…

But here come the cavalry! Spearheaded by cavalry and armour, General Picton’s flying column arrives at Dudwells and pushes on to the aid of the militia.

“Come back, you silly sods! Don’t you know it’s the 20th Century?!”  A tank commander’s cries are lost, as the Pembroke Post Office Lancers, their pith helmets festooned with spare elastic-bands in the finest traditions of the Post Office (you never know when they might come in handy for parcelling up loot or prisoners), scent blood and charge off to glory, medals and a well-earned cuppa.

The Pembroke Post Office Lancers are part of the Albertine contingent sent by sea from Pembroke Dock to reinforce the Bishopric. The Albertines are unquestionably well-trained and well-equipped, but they are insufferably smug.  With skills honed to perfection on the tent-pegging field, the ‘Parcel Force’ charge through the defile at Dudwells to the green fields beyond…

… Pausing only briefly to do the day’s scheduled 2nd Collection at Dudwells Post Box…

Without any visible enemy, the Mounted Posties put on a fine display of impromptu tent-pegging.

They might be silly buggers, but they’re silly buggers with style, panache and bulging sacks.

However, nobody likes a show-off… Least of all Blackshirts with a Vickers Machine Gun… A long burst of fire scythes into the leading section of lancers, cutting two of them down.  A third is thrown from his horse and into the Camrose Brook.

Once they stop laughing, the St David’s Armoured Corps advances to take on the Blackshirt machine gun. At the rear of the column, the sound of “Ten Green Bottles” and “Stop The Bus, I Want a Wee-Wee” being sung lustily, announces the arrival of the motorised infantry.

The Anglican armour moves forward, but is soon engaged in a duel to the death with the BUF anti-tank rifle team.  As the armour provides supporting fire, the Post Office Lancers gallop for cover among the undergrowth skirting the Camrose Brook.

Meanwhile, back at Robleston Hall, the Reverend Thomas decides that he can hold out no longer and that discretion might be the better part of valour. God does help those who help themselves, after all…  He and his men break cover and run as fast as they can for the safety of Dudwells and the relief column.

Seeing the LDV fleeing from Robleston Hall, BUF Storm-Leader 2nd Class Biggsworth-Hill has a rush of blood to the head and breaks cover in an attempt to cut off the enemy retreat. However, a new enemy has the deuced bad manners to machine-gun his men in the open!  The bounders!

Other Blackshirts attempt to give covering fire, but they too are now coming under fresh enemy fire from Dudwells.

The fresh arrivals are the Bishop of St David’s Foot Guards. Formed chiefly from former members of the disbanded Welsh Guards, they are very experienced and highly-disciplined soldiers.  With covering fire being provided by the armoured lorry’s Lewis Gun, the Guards quickly dismount and begin engaging the Blackshirts.

Seeing Blackshirts in the open, the Bishop’s Foot Guards unleash months’ worth of pent-up frustration at being made to wear such ridiculous uniforms and being called ‘Chocolate Soldiers’ by children and their Albertine allies!

With the Blackshirts hard on their heels and with bullets whizzing past their ears, the Reverend Thomas’ last surviving men leg it!

The King’s Dragoon Guards’ sole tank moves to support the anti-tank rifle team and begins to engage the Anglican light tank. One of the anti-tank rifle gunners is wounded, but they continue firing.

Meanwhile, back at Furzy Mount, a particularly officious policeman causes delay to the reserve BUF unit, but they are finally moving forward again.

The KDGs’ tank is hit by 13mm heavy machine gun fire from the Anglican tank! With a track blown off, the KDGs are now immobilised.  Nevertheless, with commendable courage, they remain in their tank and continue firing at the enemy armour!

The KDGs’ belligerence pays off as they score hits on the enemy tank, damaging the running gear. The Anglican tank crew panic and bail out, taking cover behind their stricken tank.  The KDGs keep firing and succeed in causing further damage to the Anglican tank.

Suddenly there is a screech of brakes and tyres, followed by a crash and a lot of Australian-accented swearing! The Albertine Australian Light Horse have arrived… By bus…

As one section of Australians takes up position in the house, another moves forward to the hedgerow and takes the BUF under heavy fire. The second bus arrives and disgorges another section of infantry and a Vickers Machine Gun team.  The Vickers Gun also takes up position in the house.

Resplendent in their ‘Kangaroo Feathers’ dyed Albertine purple, the Australians cut quite a dash despite their lack of horses. The regiment was formed from RAAF airmen, who were waiting to receive a delivery of new Saro flying boats at RAF Pembroke Dock, but were stranded when the war broke out.  Being Australians, they formed a surfers’ colony at Freshwater West beach for a few months, but eventually grew bored and decided to join up for fights and giggles.

Despite achieving a marked fire superiority over the BUF, the Foot Guards suffer casualties as the two men manning the lorry’s Lewis Gun are cut down by enemy fire. Undaunted, the Foot Guards’ CO and standard-bearer heroically man the Lewis Gun, providing an inspiration to all who witness it.

While the Anglican tank crew cower behind their tank, their colleagues in the armoured car move forward in an attempt to finish off the Royalist tank and the pesky anti-tank rifle team.

The Blackshirts are now starting to suffer heavy casualties from the enormous weight of fire being put down by the Guards and Australians. Their only hope now is for the Greenjackets to get weaving and flank the Australians.

“View Halloo!” Meanwhile, a section of the Post Office Lancers is distracted by a fox and some belligerent sheep…

The Lancers have a grand old time, chasing sheep along the Camrose Valley…

Exasperated, the Squadron Commander orders the bugler to sound the Recall in a desperate attempt to get his men to do something useful!

Finally back in some sort of order, the Post Office Lancers sneak along the Camrose Valley in an attempt to flank the BUF anti-tank rifle team.

Bored with sheep, the wayward cavalry section spots more interesting quarry – two wounded anti-tank gunners. They charge…

…Straight into the sights of the BUF Vickers MG team… To the horror of all those watching, the 20th Century finally catches up with the Lancers, as they are mercilessly cut down in a hail of fire.  The Squadron Commander tries to encourage the rest of his men to charge the MG, but to no avail.  Finally, the Australian MG manages to find the range and exacts revenge on the BUF machine-gunners on the Lancers’ behalf.

Meanwhile, the Anglican tank crew have finally plucked up the courage to remount their tank, despite the hail of incoming fire. However, the KDGs have now found the range…

Having re-mounted their stricken tank, the Anglican tankies’ enthusiasm is short lived as their tank brews up, forcing them to bail out once again.

“Sod this for a game of soldiers!” With the Foot Guards’ jeers ringing in their ears, the Anglican tank crew make good their escape.

“I wonder if that bus is a runner…?”

The St David’s Tank Corps’ day gets even worse as the armoured car loses its duel with the anti-tank rifle team. This time nobody escapes the conflagration.

The Foot Guards, far from being alarmed by the failure of their armoured support, just shrug and keep pouring fire into the Blackshirts, who are now starting to pull back and break under the strain.

A St John’s Ambulance Cadet tends to the wounded Guardsmen in the back of the armoured lorry.

The newly-arrived Australians, seeing Reverend Thomas and his men fleeing across the field toward them, pour fire into the stable-buildings of Robleston Hall, which are now occupied by the Blackshirts. The accurate Australian fire causes considerable damage and the Blackshirts pull back, leaving half their number dead in the stables.  One Australian is wounded in the hedgerows by return fire, though the Australians in the house are now receiving the attentions of the enemy tank and are pinned down, with casualties.

With the rest of the Blackshirts dead, wounded or retreating, the reserve Section moves up to cover their withdrawal. BUF Storm-Leader 2nd Class Biggsworth-Hill, the hero of Camrose Bridge, is reported as Missing.  The KDGs, duty done, set fire to their disabled tank and make good their escape on foot.

The Reverend Thomas finally reaches safety, though only two of his men are left alive at the end of their ordeal. Lt Col Carruthers is missing along with his men, while two men are known to be prisoners of the Blackshirts, poor devils… Nevertheless, the enemy has been halted and is falling back to Camrose.  The Keeston Line is safe (for now).

Game Notes

The figures are mostly by Footsore Miniatures (formerly known as Musketeer Miniatures) and Empress Miniatures.

The Pembroke Post Office Lancers are Empress Miniatures.  The Australian Light Horse are by Battle Honours, with Lewis Gunners by Woodbine Miniatures.  Both units are painted by Al Broughton.

The livestock are by Redoubt Enterprises.

The AFVs are mostly by Warlord Games with crews by Empress Miniatures, though the Lancia Armoured Lorry is by Footsore Miniatures.  The buses are die-cast souvenir ‘Malta Buses’, bought while on holiday in Malta.

The houses are pre-coloured laser-cut models by 4Ground Models.  The farm buildings used for Robleston Hall are from EM4 Miniatures’ beautiful resin farm set.  Other terrain items were scratch-built by Al ‘Skippy’ Broughton.

Rules used are ‘Force on Force’ by Ambush Alley Games & Osprey, incorporating ‘fog of war’ cards from ‘Went The Day Well?’ by Solway Crafts & Hobbies and others picked up on the ‘Very British Civil Forum’.

The game was played at the Wargames Association of South Pembrokeshire.  We meet every Tuesday 7-11pm at 1st Pembroke Scout HQ, Pennar, Pembroke Dock.



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One Response to A Very British Civil War in Pembrokeshire: The Battle of Robleston Hall

  1. jemima_fawr says:

    It would appear that not all the photos in this article were appearing for everyone (least of all me!). Strangely, they were visible in ‘Edit’ mode, but just appeared as ‘x’ when published to the page. Bizarrely, the blog header-photo was also corrupted.

    I’ve gone through and replaced all the photos I couldn’t see with lower-res versions (I’d unintentionally used hi-res photos, which may have been causing the problem) and it all seems to be working now. Please let me know if you can’t see any of the photos.

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