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Tag Archives: Derby House Principles

GAC endorses the Derby House Principles

We are pleased to announce that Global Affairs Canada is the latest organization to endorse the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming.

For more information on strategic gaming and Canadian foreign policy, contact Madeline Johnson (GAC Strategic Gaming Specialist).

Dstl: Diversity on the virtual battlefield

Dstl has highlighted their commitment to diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming with a new video and accompanying article.

Dstl Head of the Defence Wargaming Centre (DWC) Mike said:

The first step is to recognise the issue and to commit to do something about it.

The Derby House Principles were co-created by a Dstl wargamer and Dstl – all of Dstl, not just the wargaming centre – was an early signatory.

We are committed to ensuring the Defence Wargaming Centre is an inclusive environment. We display the Derby House Principles prominently in the DWC and brief them to players at our games in order to make clear that we are an inclusive environment. We include diversity and inclusion in our training and development.

He went on to say they were looking at the barriers to diversity and inclusion in how we design our games and are seeking to address them. And we encourage our partners to value diversity and inclusion – including encouraging them to update their software to represent more diverse armed forces.

Slitherine Software adopted the Derby House Principles in September.

Slitherine/Matrix Games adopts the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming

We are very pleased to announce that Slitherine Software / Matrix Games are the latest company to embrace the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming:

We have been playing and working in wargames for over thirty years and we’ve witnessed a slow and steady shift to a more diverse audience. As players, the move to a more diverse and inclusive environment has opened the market to a wide range of opportunities, and it’s happening at an organic and consistent pace. As professionals, we also have a corporate responsibility to boost this shift with our hiring opportunities, our ability to open career possibility, and our active efforts to promote inclusion in professional wargaming. We are delighted to adhere to the Derby House Principles as a testament to efforts in the present and commitment to our plans for the future. 

Iain McNeil, CEO Slitherine Software UK Ltd

The Derby House Principles have been endorsed by more than thirty major professional organizations, defence establishments, and research institutions, as well as professional wargame designers, developers, consultancies, and companies. If your company or organization would like to join this growing list, contact us for more details.

How to be a Derby House Principles ally

Nick Pett, a senior civil servant in the UK Ministry of Defence, gave an outstanding talk recently on how to be an ally to the LGBT community.

I want you to watch it. And I want you to apply his sentiments to women and BAME/BIPOC and disabled wargamers as well.

To paraphrase his excellent example of what being an ally means:

It can’t all be about straight white non-disabled men asking marginalised people “What can I do to make your life better? And if you could just talk me through your trauma in order to educate me that would be really helpful thanks.”

It’s beholden on me to make it my work to develop my allyship so that it’s not about expecting the people experiencing discrimination to talk about it and explain it and help me—there’s stacks out there that I can look at and listen to and absorb without it adding to the load of marginalised people.

I think a lot of people talking about allyship would love to sell something that feels really cosy and overwhelmingly positive, that you’ve just got to slap a badge on and stick something in your signature block, and every year post something on social media about Pride happening or Black History Month, and never actively do anything that is any of the -isms. And I’m not selling that, because it’s rubbish. I think allyship is and should be hard work. And you have to think carefully about how much you can call yourself an ally, particularly if nobody marginalised in wargaming would agree with you. 

If you’re going to claim allyship you need to be working at it every day: I didn’t come out of the womb understanding what it’s like to be a woman or LGBT or BAME/BIPOC or disabled. I’ve spent a long time trying to learn. I’m reading books about their history and their presence and that’s the kind of thing that I commit to doing because if I’m going to try and represent people I need to understand them and their lives. You should know and understand that the vast vast majority of what is out there that you will come across casually without any effort at all is cis-gendered heterosexual white and non-disabled and is casually if not deliberately phobic and discriminatory in a variety of different ways.

If you as a marginalised wargamer are to be confident in my allyship then you ought to be able to see it everywhere I go. You should be able to see me and hear me and know my allyship wherever I am. You will know my allyship because I wear it on me somewhere all the time—and I don’t think these are empty symbols unless the behaviour that comes behind undermines them. I want people to be able to see that women, LGBT, BAME/BIPOC, and disability communities are something that I love and support and want to protect and celebrate.

Signing up to the Derby House Principles means:

Representation: striving for parity of women and minorities in your wargames and at your wargames, events, conferences, panels, socials, working groups, etc. And not just in admin and junior roles.

Opportunities: mentoring, encouraging, and opening doors for women and minority wargamers. Celebrating their achievements and actively seeking out their contributions.

Support: fighting for women and minority wargamers’ rights to equality; pushing back whenever you see women and minority wargamers not being treated with respect; not standing for words and actions that demean women and minority wargamers. The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.

Here’s your starter for ten of things you can watch to help you be a better Derby House Principles ally:

Hannah Gadsby on drawing the line between good and bad:

You should also check out Nanette:

Feminism is trans-inclusive:

Disability is not the worst thing in life:

Mercury 13:

“If we’re going to send a human being to space, we should send the one most qualified.” Mercury 13 tells the remarkable true story of the women who fought for their place in the stars.

The Happiness Lab:


Read more about the Derby House Principles for diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming here.

Connections North 2021 videos

For those of you who missed the Connections North professional (war)gaming conference back in February, we are pleased to finally present the videos from that event. All of the conference presentations are included, except three (either to the speaker’s organization declining approval, or in one case me forgetting to hit “record” in a timely fashion). The question and answer sessions are NOT included.

Canada Gaming Update

Discussion of professional wargaming and policy gaming in Canada, featuring presentations by Scott Roach (Canadian Joint Warfare Centre), Murray Dixson (Defence Research and Development Canada) , Scott Jenkinson (Australian Army), Michael Donohue (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada), Cole Petersen (Vaccine Rollout Task Force/Canadian Armed Forces). Presentation by Madeline Johnson (Global Affairs Canada) not included. Chaired by Rex Brynen (McGill University).

Designing Assassin’s Mace and ZAPAD

Keynote presentation by Col Tim Barrack (US Marine Corp Wargaming Lab).

Wargaming in small defence communities

Panel on “wargaming in smaller defence communities,” with presentations by David Redpath (Canadian Joint Warfare Centre) and Sue Collins (NATO ACT), chaired by Ben Taylor (DRDC). Presentation by Anja van der Hulst (TNO) not included.

Gaming in the humanitarian and development sector

resentations on “Gaming in the humanitarian and development sector,” COVID-19″ by Amanda Warner (consultant), Gautham Krishnaraj (Laval SimEx), and James Maltby (Save the Children UK). Presentation by Matt Stevens (Lessons Learned Simulation and Training) not included due to recording error, although slides can be found here:

Distributed gaming

Presentations on “Distributed Gaming” by Pete Pellegrino (US Naval War College), Louise Hoehl (NATO), and Emily Robinson (Defence Research and Development Canada), chaired by Tom Fisher (Imaginetic).

So long and thanks for all the fish (gaming fisheries conservation)

Presentations on “So long and thanks for all the fish” (gaming fisheries conservation) by Ben Taylor (Defence Research and Development Canada).

Gaming the Arctic

Presentations on “Gaming the Arctic” by Stephen Aguilar-Millan (European Future Observatory) and Vårin Alme (FFI), chaired by Rex Brynen (McGill University).

Using games for command decision support

Iain McNeil (CEO Slitherine Software and Matrix Games) discusses on “Using Wargames for Command Decision Support.”

Hybrid warfare in the time of COVID-19

Presentation on “Gaming hybrid warfare in the age of COVID-19” by LCol Ronnie Michel (German Army) and Shiho Rybski (European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats), chaired by Ben Taylor (DRDC).

Diversity and inclusion in professional (war)gaming

A panel discussion on diversity and inclusion in professional gaming, featuring Brianna Proceviat (Canadian Joint Warfare Centre), Lynn O’Donnell (Dstl), Paul Strong (Dstl), Yuna Wong (IDA), and Sebastian Bae (RAND/Georgetown University). Connections North is a proud supporter of the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming.

Why is it still so hard?

Update: it’s been brought to my attention that this post has been interpreted as a criticism of Connections Online. That was not my intention. I apologise for upset resulting from my lack of clarity, and would like to draw everyone’s attention to the better-than-average stats for speaker representation at Connections Online, and the wider D&I efforts made by members of the organising team. I meant only to take the subject of WATU as a jumping-off point for a broader conversation about how all of us in wargaming have a part to play in improving representation.


Another Connections event comes around…and the initial vision of the panel I’m asked to speak at is to have a bunch of straight white men explain how women won the war and the importance of diversity. 

Really ??

Absolutely enormous props to Tom Mouat for refusing the chair the manel, and replacing the proposed men—all of whom got their ‘expertise’ from regurgitating Paul Strong’s paper and my PAXsims articles—with women who have actual subject matter expertise. [Watch the Connections Online WATU panel here]

Why is it so hard? Why are wargaming leaders still reacting with surprise when someone points out the abject lack of diversity in their plans, and sitting back helplessly waiting for women and minorities and heroic allies like Tom to come and diversity! for them instead of taking personal responsibility?

I love that people are talking about WATU. I love that men are talking about what women and lesbian and refugee and Indian and Muslim and Sikh and Hindu and disabled wargamers achieved with WATU. But guys: you absolutely have to stop congratulating yourselves on how awesome WATU was in place of doing anything to address the diversity problems in wargaming today.

It’s as simple as: straight white men, you have to step back and yield the floor. 

If you support diversity and inclusion in wargaming you have to recognise that means you personally—as an over-represented straight white male—have to give up some of your time in the spotlight and make space for women and minorities to take the floor.

It’s not about someone else will take the hit so there’s diversity but I still get to speak 100% of the time I want to, it’s realising that when you personally hold forth on a subject, you personally are silencing a woman or minority wargamer by hogging the space—and you personally have to honestly consider:

Have I said enough already? Can I yield the floor to let someone else speak and not die (psychologically, professionally, literally—since we’re talking about scarcity and threat-focused mindsets.)

Does she/he/they know more about this subject than I do? Don’t be a Mansplainer, don’t presume to know more about a subject because you once held a book about it, don’t assume women and minority wargamers are less-qualified, less-experienced, or only here to do the secretarial work.

Does she/he/they have a different perspective to the same-old-same-old that straight white men have been focusing on since forever? Chances of this are extremely high. Women and minority wargamers experience so much in life that straight white men are oblivious to because it doesn’t happen to straight white men. That’s literally the unknown unknown you need to shut up and listen to, to learn something you didn’t already know.

Is she/he/they perfectly capable of making the exact same point I was going to make, thus scratching my itch that it be aired and making space for other people to contribute? Win win win. Seriously, what is wrong about this? The only reason not to like this scenario is if you’re more interested in who scores the conversational points than the actual furthering of knowledge/understanding/wargaming.

And before you cry “This is silencing men! The outrage!”

Of course that’s not what I’m advocating. 

An idealistic rule of thumb: you have two ears, one mouth. If you’re a straight white man you could try yeilding the floor to women and minority wargamers 50% of the time you would otherwise speak. Yeilding just means giving other people who don’t normally get to speak the opportunity to go first—you may find they say everything and more you wanted to hear, you may learn something new.

Bare in mind, cognitive bias is such that when women make up 30% of a group they are perceived to be in the majority, and when they speak 17% of the time they are preceived by men to be dominating the conversation—so I think it’s incredibly safe to say just stopping to think and maybe letting a woman or minority wargamer go first is not going to cause the breakdown of society. You’d have to try excessively over-the-top hard to actually make space for women and minority wargamers to dominate a conversation—ignoring the fact that women are way more conscious of taking up more than fair space in a conversation than men are, and will yield the floor out of politeness before it’s genuinely silencing men.

That feeling you have? Of tensing up slightly at the thought of being silenced, the scarcity and threat-mindset, the need to be heard? The unfairness of it? …women and minority wargamers feel that all the time when straight white men interupt us, talk over us, don’t invite us to be speakers at conferences, have all-male panels discussing obviously women/minority interest subjects, or complain that wargaming should not be about gender or sexual orientation or skin colour or disability. Newsflash for you straight white men: it already is about those things, you just don’t notice it because you’re in the favoured group and don’t experience the being sidelined, ignored, discounted, and told to shut up and act like straight white men or go somewhere else if you don’t like it. Have you ever had to deal with work e-mails responding to your research/paper/presentation that is not engaging with content at all but an attack on your personhood, intelligence, legitimacy, and right to exist in wargaming? Because I have, and other women and minority wargamers get that while straight white men get to Advance Straight To Go and only discuss the merits of their work.

Before you cry “This is woke nonsense, unfairly priviliging minorities!”

Just stop. Stop and think about the ugly ugly thought behind the knee-jerk reaction to efforts to increase women’s and minority representation: that they’re taking our opportunities and giving them to under-qualified, inexperienced people instead. Presuming that women and minority wargamers couldn’t possibly be equally—if not more—qualified and experienced than straight white men.

I have a First in rocket science. Yuna Wong has five degrees. Look at WATU: everybody loves to say WATU was Roberts’ brainchild, his genius—he never rose above Captain, WATU was the highlight of his career. Syed Ahsan, Number One at the Bombay Tactical Table, went on to head the Pakistan Navy and hold senior government positions. It’s the same dynamic as the Tuskegee Airmen: barriers to entry for minority folks select for exceptional participants. Until gender parity and proportionate representation of minority wargamers is universal, across the board, at every wargaming conference and event, and discriminatory behaviour is a thing of the past, there is literally no danger of diversity efforts privilidging underqualified minority wargamers at the expence of mediocre straight white men.

I’m down with this, what can I do?

Use inclusive language: it signals to women and minorities that the space is welcoming. Historically these spaces were not, and the omission of women and minorities are welcome in the invite was deliberate, so it’s not enough to have changed your mindset without changing the language you use too. @ManWhoHasItAll would not be such delicious satire if we didn’t all buy into gendered presumptions about so many things.

If you don’t say “anyone who identifies as a woman” then trans women will not know if you mean they are just as welcome. If you don’t even make the barest minimum effort of “Please get in touch if you have accessibility needs so we can make this work for everyone” then you’re sending a message to disabled wargamers that we’re not even interested in trying when, in fact, you have a legal (and moral) obligation to make reasonable adjustments.

Allow women and minorities the space to step up—hold back the stampeed of men, because men will apply and volunteer and show up even when you explicitly say this is an opportunity for women. Don’t allow men to fill up all the spaces before women and minorities have had the chance to beleive you really mean they’re welcome. It’s not enough to say you accepted submissions regardless of gender etc, you actually have to make an effort to ensure diversity.

Invite women and minority folks directly—don’t assume a general announcement or group e-mail will actually come across as, “Yes, you! Reading this now, I want you!” Approach them directly, personally. If you don’t know who to ask, ask other people to recommend women and minority wargamers you could ask. Six degrees of separation, people.

If you—straight white man—are invited as a speaker or audience member, ask the organisers: how many women and minority speakers do you have? Are they here as experts in their own right, or are you just using them to facilitate men? Refuse to participate in manels. Refuse to participate in all-white panels. Point them at women and minority wargamers you want to hear from instead. The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.

Make an effort to understand the experiences of women and minority wargamers. Develop your empathy muscles. It’ll make you a better wargamer, and improve wargaming culture for everyone.

Who do you want to include?

Look at your panel, and your event as a whole: who are your speakers? Are they all men, are they all white, are they all straight/cishet, are they all non-disabled? …do they all look like you, in other words.

Doesn’t seem like a thing to you, because all you see are people like you, and unconsciously that gives your brain a rush of I belong here vibes. For women and minority wargamers it’s sending a message of exclusion. If you’ve ever been the only white person in a room, or the only man in the room, or the only non-disabled person in the room, or the only straight person in the room, you’ll understand it’s not about hostile behaviour or the intention to exclude, but that it feels uncomfortable to you because you stick out like a sore thumb.

You need diversity in your organising committee to get buy-in from diverse speakers and a diverse audience.

It is an absolute delight to join Women’s Wargaming Network gatherings and see 50/50 white and non-white attendees—in large part because Yuna Wong’s visible presence as founder of the network signals to black and asian wargamers this is a place you are welcome and wanted and will be respected. That’s at least half-a-dozen not-white US wargamers you could look to instead of piling all your diversity hopes and dreams into “Yuna! Come fix us, diversity for us!” That’s a whole cohort of smart, capable, diverse wargamers you could actively raise up instead of ignoring in favour of the same old guys.

Straight white men: diversity does not happen by magic. It does not happen by good intentions alone. It happens by conscious and constant effort by you personally. You have so much power to set the tone and influence others by your behaviour—you are already doing it. The question is who do you want to include?


Read more about the Derby House Principles for diveristy and inclusion in professional wargaming here.

Connections: on the power of empathy

Raspberry the WATU Wren bear and Smuggie, mascot of Connections North, proudly sporting Derby House Principles pins
Get your own adorable Wren bear from the RN Museum online shop!

Something that came up again and again in the excellent Connections North diversity panel discussion was the importance of empathy as a skill for wargamers:

  • Yuna Wong raised it as one of the top five skills she’d look for in a wargamer, and it’s certainly been my experience that the people who are great to work with are the people who get all the work
  • Paul Strong raised it in the power of narrative (and all wargames are a form of collaborative storytelling), pointing to the advent of the novel as a means for social change by giving people new perspectives
  • Brianna Proceviat raised it in answer to a question from Cath Jones about educating people about diversity and inclusion by flipping the power dynamic

And everything I’ve done this past year in support of the Derby House Principles has been successful because of empathy.

Isn’t it beautiful that what works to improve diversity and inclusion is the exact same thing that makes people good wargamers?

What is empathy?

Teressa Wiseman defines four attributes of empathy:

  • taking another’s perspective
  • staying out of judgement
  • recognising emotion in other people
  • and communicating that understanding

Key skills for helping a friend in a difficult time—and equally in red-teaming a hostile power without falling prey to stereotypes, reading the other players, and contributing to the game analysis and insights.

Why does it work for D&I?

Some years ago, I had to fight hard to get reasonable adjustments for dyslexia. Just a screen-reader, nothing earth-shattering, but between being good at my job and the perception that real dyslexics are functionally illiterate, it was incredibly difficult to convince people of my need. Facts and figures made no impact on people who perceived me as perfectly capable. What I needed was a way to make them feel how difficult and frustrating and exhausting it was to be working so hard to keep up.

Enter stage left a serious game about dyslexia, where, through the magic of science, I make a room full of otherwise competent adults lose the ability to read, write, and speak coherently, to remember anything, to recognise familiar objects, and even tell the time. It’s hilarious and stressful and eye-opening, and it literally works because it is a lesson in empathy.

Wargame instructions in English but with the words broken in all the wrong places to make it really difficult to read
What’s wrong, you can’t read these very simple wargame instructions? Are you stupid?? ;-)

People come away from this workshop having experienced dyslexia. Having felt the glare of the spotlight on them trying to read when reading is hard, or trying to make a coherent argument when they can’t find the words they want, or having stared and stared and stared at something that makes no sense at all while everyone else just gets it.

It literally changes people’s perception of dyslexia and disability (non-ironic feedback includes: “This saved my marriage. I thought my husband was doing all these things just to annoy me.”) And it does it because it makes people feel what it’s like. I don’t tell people dyslexia is frustrating, I make them frustrated. And the lesson sticks because it gets encoded with that powerful emotion…and also because it’s an absolute blast and a compelling magic trick they want to tell everyone about.

Enter the Derby House Principles

One of the first things that came up in Derby House Principles conversations was how to help smaller wargaming organisations talk about diversity when they don’t have anyone to speak to the experience. 

The diversity card deck, inspired by Tom Mouat’s excellent Migrants card deck, is the diversity missing from the room. Players draw a card and relay the vignette to the group in the first person, as if it happened to them. That act of imaginative empathy: what if this happened to me? is followed by a group discussion of whether the same situation plays out differently for them and why. For a lot of men, it’s genuinely the first time they’ve even considered that these things happen, or what it would feel like to be on the receiving end. And it’s had such a massive impact on the culture where I work. 

We went from a place where well-intentioned men would respond, “I’m sure it’s not like that,” whenever I said this is my experience as the only woman in the room, to one where they genuinely realised there could be another perspective. And it didn’t just convert the good-eggs. People who harrumphed loudly at the idea of the card deck found their wives or girlfriends looking over their shoulder, saying, “Yes. Yep. That too. Oh my god all the time. And that one,” and the clouds parted, the heavenly choirs sang, the god rays shone down, and they realised (gasp) all women and minorities are human beings with thoughts and feelings just like their significant other—and that people they care about suffer these indignities and incivilities and injustices all the time too. It has meaning because they’ve connected it to someone they care about, not the ‘other’.

Walk a mile in our shoes

Another big inspiration for me in experiential learning is Jane Elliot’s anti-racism work. It works because she makes people feel discrimination:

And Brenda Romero’s mechanic is the message games: the Middle Passage, Trail of Tears, the Irish Game, and most famously Train.

And the same leap of imaginative empathy is at work in the RPG Dog Eat Dog by Liam Burke. (More on my project to use that to start conversations about discrimination here.) What’s stuck with me most about the games we’ve played so far is that it’s the role-playing that makes it real to straight white non-disabled men—it’s feeling that awful sense of this is wrong and I am powerless, and tying themselves in knots managing the emotions of the dominant group when they’ve never had that perspective before, and being disabused of their naive ideas that minority groups just haven’t done it right so far and here comes a white/male saviour to show them the way… it’s the role-playing that makes them open their eyes and really hear what women and minorities have been saying. It’s the act of imaginative empathy that teaches. 

Empathy is why nobody who plays this game can forget it.

How do we make more connections?

Another point made in the diversity panel was that the heavy lifting of D&I should not be left—or piled on—to the minority wargamers. That, by virtue of being the only woman, or BAME/BIPOC, or LGBT, or disabled person in the building, everyone expects them to lead on D&I and be the diversity, and do the hard work so everyone else can congratulate themselves that its being done without getting their hands dirty.

The biggest challenge of all of this has been how do I get men to talk about women’s issues, straight people to talk about LGBT issues, non-disabled people to talk about disability issues, white people to talk about race. Too often a minority person is left to do all the talking, all the leading, all the fixing. Silence is complicity. Even when I write an essay about exactly that…folks talk about it in private where nobody will disagree, not in public spaces, not to minority wargamers, not where it will make a difference.

Vulnerability isn’t weakness, it’s strength

The first time I saw the needle move was when a straight white man in a position of authority admitted on a VTC that he’d read a blog on Black Lives Matter and wanted to comment to show support but panicked because he didn’t want to say the wrong thing. That admission of vulnerability, I wanted to do better but I didn’t know how, opened the floodgates for others who’d been silent, who supported D&I but didn’t know how to show their support and were afraid to intrude on a space they didn’t think was theirs.

Men: you have so much power to set the tone and start these conversations, just by saying I don’t have all the answers but I want to learn. Worry less about saying the wrong thing. You only have to say I see you, I’m listening.

Make it easy for allies to show their support

Derby House D20 pin badge

The Derby House pins look great so people want to wear them. 

I learnt the power of ally badges presenting to the board of executives. It just so happened a good number of them were wearing LGBT Ally badges. Walking into that intimidating space and seeing those silent messages of support—completely unrelated to the topic I was presenting on—was magic. Seeing people wearing Derby House pins—or “I’m not a dickhead” badges, as they’ve come to be known—is knowing who your friends are in a room full of strangers.

Get your pin here.

The hardest work of all

It’s possible to talk someone out of bigotry. Watching some of the D&I trolls see the light—go from posting misogynist nonsense to amplifying Derby House Principles messaging—has been a delightful, heartwarming, life-affirming D&I soap opera. It’s also been hard hard work. I’ll be the first to admit I am not a good-enough person to be able to meet trolling and bigotry with the compassion and kindness and patience required. Not because I don’t agree it’s the right way to achieve change, but because I’m human and flawed and quite frankly because it’s hard to treat people with the respect and dignity and compassion that they do not show in return. Being on the receiving end of trolling and just vile comments on PAXsims does not make me all that disposed to generosity towards the marginal comments and well-intended-but-oblivious comments and idiot-but-not-actually-bigotted comments.

Jamil Zaki: It can be really exhausting to empathise with people who are different from us. Especially if they have opinions that we might fear or abhore.

Laurie Santos: Now I try really hard to be an understanding person. And I truely beleve in the importance of Jamil’s battle for kindness. But almost every day I see some view online that makes me see red. When people seem to be so hateful, it’s really really hard to see them as deserving of my compassion or my emotional energy. I was surprised that the guy who literally wrote the book on empathy got exactly what I was saying.

Jamil Zaki: Trust me, I feel that way all the time. I still remember when the New York Times had this whole very sympathetic portrayal of a family in Illinois that happened to be Nazis. And I remember a detail where they were trying to humanise this family by talking about how they cooked their pasta and I just remember thinking “I don’t want to hear about your Nazi pasta. I don’t want to humanise you.” It’s exhausting to connect. And it’s especially exhausting to connect with people who say things that are awful and that don’t really deserve a platform.

[…]

Laurie Santos: I want to make sure that all this empathic labour is a bit more evenly distributed. That the hard work of deep connection doesn’t just fall to historically marginalised groups who’ve long been on the recieving side of all the injustice; these are the folks least likely to have the emotional bandwidth to make connections.

Listen to the whole Happiness Lab episode here.

Ok, but what can I do?

Empathy is a learnable skill, an improveable skill. Do it to be a better wargamer. Do it for a better wargaming culture. Do it for better wargame outputs. Do it for whatever reason you like, but please hear Yuna and myself when we say women and minorities cannot carry the whole D&I load for all of wargaming.

Listen to the follow-up Happiness Lab episode for an excellent guide on how to be a better ally.

Read about the Derby House Principles for diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming here.

IDA endorses the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming

We are pleased to announce that the Institute for Defense Analyses is the latest organization to endorse the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming.

The Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA) is a private, nonprofit corporation headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, just outside Washington, DC. IDA’s mission is to answer the most challenging U.S. security and science policy questions with objective analysis leveraging extraordinary scientific, technical, and analytic expertise.

People

IDA empowers the best scientific and strategic minds to research and analyze the most important issues of national security. The diverse mix of professionals provides IDA with the multidisciplinary talent and expertise it needs to respond the many challenges brought to us by our sponsors. The exceptional creativity and determination that our research staff brings to their work with IDA’s sponsors and each other is the foundation of IDA’s reputation for excellence.

Sponsors

IDA works solely for U.S. Government agency sponsors on critical national security and science policy issues; we do no work for industry. Our current sponsors include the Departments of Defense, Commerce, Energy, Homeland Security; Veterans Administration; and National Security Agency. Through our Science and Technology Policy Institute, we support the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

UPDATE: You’ll find the full IDA statement on the Derby House Principles here.

If your organization would like to join those supporting the Derby House Principles, please contact us.

But we don’t treat women or minorities any different here!

Now that the dust has settled on my Wavell Room and D&I in 2020 essays, I thought I’d address a couple of the points raised in response:

Straight white men have diversity too!

Yes, so do Ford Escorts. The red ones fade a bit, a family car gets more battered than a single-owner/occupant. But real diversity is having Vauxhalls and Puegots and Volvos and Fiats and Landrovers on the road. And “but what about men! Men are diverse” is just another way to shut down diversity conversations by keeping the focus on the people already in the majority.

The point of all these D&I conversations is that diversity of thought—which we all agree is good for wargaming—comes from diversity of experience, and while straight white men do have different life experiences, there is an order-of-magnitude difference in the life experiences of BAME/BIPOC people, disabled people, LGBT people and women: because they live in different neighbourhoods, go to different schools, come from different cultures, experience different challenges day-in-day-out, and have to deal with things that straight white men barely even acknowledge exist.

But the bar isn’t higher for not being a straight white non-disabled man!

Oh realy?

Men (which, let’s face it, is 98% of you reading this): how often have you published an essay in a respected professional space and been met with a torrent of personal attacks, none of them addressing the points raised in the essay, all of them determined to prove YOU’RE WRONG to say any of it because you’re an idiot, because you’re a woman, a lesbian, the wrong class to be properly disabled, not disadvantaged enough, leftist, a victim, a commie, should be doing the dishes, know nothing about professional wargaming or war, and—apparently worst of all—can’t even make it clear you’re talking about professional wargaming not hobby gaming…by publishing in The Wavell Room: contemporary British military thinking. I’m dyslexic and even I’m left wondering which part of the website’s banner is difficult to read ?

Honestly men, how often do you receive hate for doing your wargaming job? Actual shut up and sit down hate, not polite or even heated academic debate, not I disagree so stop talking, actual nothing to say about the essay we’re just objecting that you’re speaking at all. I wasn’t even saying anything particularly controversial: that, when wargaming, we should respect the other players. Playing to win is fine; playing to win at all costs—to make the other people around you feel small—is not ok. It sucks to be on the recieving end of it, and it lessens the value of the game for all the reasons we use serious games.

Why is that even controversial? Treat each other with respect and dignity, like fellow human beings.

To which, a small and defensive minority of men lost their minds that my essay was not treating them with respect: that I used bad language, that I was offensive and confrontational. Again, I’m the dyslexic here, and it is remarkable to me how many people had trouble parsing the “arguing against D&I is” in arguing against D&I is the masturbatory indulgence of straight white men. To be clear: nothing in that sentence says all men, or all white men, or all straight men, are jerking off in wargames (except Jeffrey Toobin). But then, the people objecting loudly to the executive summary were just using “omg a woman used naughty words! I am offended!!” to justify arguing against D&I. Surprise.

And if you’re going to argue the language was the problem, not the message: 

a) none of the words I used were actually swearing. Also there was an editorial process, and the language was deemed appropriate for the site and for the message, not gratuitous, not wanton, not offensive.

b) where is your moral panic over the actual swearing and foul language and vile attacks against my personhood in the comments in the Wavell Room, on twitter, or on PAXsims?

c) when you object to a woman “swearing” by actually swearing yourself in angry comments, boy do you look childish.

d) claiming the moral highground (the language is the problem!!) while abjectly failing to take the moral highground (I object to the language but want to engage on the points being made) is laughable, by the way.

The truth is it’s all Rule One: if the language was made acceptable there would just be something else they’d find fault with because it’s not the language that’s the problem, it’s the challenge to unquestioned male domination and the idea that men can’t just behave as they like when they like without consequences.

We have to talk about how angry women and minorities feel

I want to talk about power and comfort, specifically who has it and whose we are more concerned about, as evidenced by our actions. This might not be a comfortable conversation, but let’s think about it by way of an analogy to comedy:

while the popular conversation keeps talking about the victimhood of comedy, punching up, and punching down, I don’t think those terms are what applies at all. There is a much simpler way of framing the conversation of the goals of comedy, and it was said by the brilliant W. Kumau Bell:

“Who do you want to include? Who do you not want to include?”

These two questions are at the center of pretty much everything. From the way we use signifiers, to the politics of being PC, to the vehemence of being anti-PC, to who you want to make laugh in an audience. It’s all that simple question: who do you want to include? Because that’s when you start looking at your morality and your shape of interest. For instance, who do you want your joke to make feel more comfortable: a rapist or a rape victim? Answer however you wish, but it speaks to what you’re trying to do.

Film Crit Hulk, PC Culture vs The Big Joke

Who do we want to include?

A small and defensive minority seem to think D&I is about excluding straight white men from wargaming in general and opportunities in particular. As far as I can tell there’s a deep-seated fear, particularly among hobby wargamers, that a queer woman has the power to take wargaming away from them and that my goal in life is to CONTROL HOW WARGAMERS ARE ALLOWED TO THINK…through the medium of an essay that literally—explicitly—made the point that domination in gaming is bad and not what I stand for.

Not to mention how laughable the idea is that a single woman is in any way able to exclude 98% of wargamers from wargaming. Or the part where the majority of my wargaming colleagues and friends are straight white men: men I like and respect and enjoy working with, who have mentored and supported me, and given me amazing opportunities to grow as a wargamer.

D&I is not about excluding men. It’s about not excluding women and minorities—who face considerable barriers to entry not faced by straight white non-disabled men.

A big theme in the diversity card deck is anger. Anger at not being listened to. Anger at not being treated like credible human beings or the subject matter experts that they are. Anger that it is literally not safe to be a woman in wargaming/NatSec at times. And above all, anger at a system that is more interested in the comfort of straight white men than the victims of their bad behaviour.

A system that requires women and minorities to put up and shut up or get out—change teams, roles, projects, capabilities, divisions, or sacrifice their careers, to escape.

I’ve heard from so many people who’ve said their bully wasn’t dealt with because:

  • he’ll be deploying as a reservist soon, and likely won’t return to the group or in a leadership position (haha, of course he did)
  • he’ll be taking early retirement soon (nope: still here)
  • it’s just how he is (boys will be boys)
  • he’s like that with everyone, it’s nothing against you personally
  • leadership/management didn’t hear the request for help to deal with the situation—assumed the victim was capable of dealing with it themselves, rather than thinking about why the issue had been raised in the first place.

Privilege and the comfort of straight white men

Privilege is being able to choose not to think about this, to choose when you think about this, and to put it down when you don’t like it right now.

Meanwhile, let’s think about

… the constant efforts women [and minorities] end up having to expend in managing, maintaining, and adjusting the egos of oblivious and self-important men, involving the continual work of imaginative identification, or interpretive labour. The work carries over on every level. 

Women [and minorities] everywhere are always expected to continually imagine what one situation or another would look like from a male point of view. Men are almost never expected to do the same for women [and minorities]. 

So deeply internalised is this pattern of behaviour that many men react to any suggestion that they might do otherwise as if it were itself an act of violence.

David Graeber

I think people assume I am brave and unafraid to be vocal about D&I in professional wargaming. The truth is it is frightening and stressful, and speaking out like this has been career-limiting for me in the past. I am scared. I am angry. And I know from personal experience that there’s only so much a woman can push back before being put soundly in her place. I want that to change.

Psychologists created a study in 2015 to examine what happens when women and men become angry during jury deliberations.

They created a simulation that echoed the classic film Twelve Angry Men, in which a lone juror, Henry Fonda, gives an impassioned and angry plea for the innocence of an accused man. In the simulation, one “holdout” refuses to fall in line with other jurors and does not rein in his (or her) anger. 

The “Henry Fonda” juror did well in influencing his peers. But “Henrietta Fonda” was not nearly as successful. 

When men expressed anger, the subjects found them credible and changed their own opinions. But the angry women were seen as too emotional, so their arguments did not persuade the other “jurors” to change their minds

Men can convince others that the cause of their anger is appropriate, and can persuade others to accept their arguments. An angry woman rarely gets that opportunity. 

Why women and anger too often collide

Men more often associate anger with feeling powerful, while for women anger is associated with powerlessness.

Anger is silent and isolating, destructive and even frightening.

Anger is a powerful emotion—it warns us of threat, insult, indignity and harm. But across the world, girls and women are taught that their anger is better left unvoiced.

Anger is reserved as the moral property of boys and men. It is a civic virtue in white men, criminality in black men, and distained in women. [And it’s ingratitude in disabled people.]

Women are taught to swallow their pride.

Anger is conveying what’s important to us—but people are more likely to get angry AT women for being angry than address their concerns. Men are rewarded for displaying anger, women are punished.

It is a system designed to disadvantage women when it comes to defending themselves and their own interests.

Societies that don’t respect women’s anger don’t respect women. The danger of it [to men] is that it shows how seriously we take ourselves. And that we expect other people to take us seriously as well.

Watch the rest of this TED talk here.

Women and minorities are angry at being unjustly treated.

They are right to be angry.

Men: your focus should be on working your hardest to dismantle the man-made and man-supported system that is causing the anger, not policing their emotions. 

That means stopping to think about whether the real cause of your anger is that the thing was said or done by a woman stepping outside the bounds of “acceptably feminine” by refusing to do all the emotional labour for you.

That means calling out misogynist and homophobic and transphobic and ablist and racist behaviour when you see it—in wargaming spaces, in comments, on twitter, in person.

That means amplifying the voices of women and minorities when they speak to their experiences of discrimination.

That means telling women and BAME/BIPOC and LGBT and disabled wargamers that you value their existence, their humanity, their right to take up space, and their contributions to wargaming—not just assuming folks know you’re a decent human being who thinks this stuff without ever publically expressing it.

The standard you walk past is the one you accept

I like this ballsy statement from former Chief of the Australian army, Lt Gen David Morrison:

If you become aware of any individual degrading another, then show moral courage and take a stand against it. […] The standard you walk past is the standard you accept. That goes for all of us, but especially those, who by their rank, have a leadership role.

To everyone who liked and RTd my Wavell Room essay

Thank you, I appreciate the support. 

Talking about D&I in safe spaces among people that you know won’t disagree with you is a start. It’s not enough. 

How many of you pushed back against the trolls and the misogynism and homophobia directed at me for doing my job? (Shout out to Rex Brynen and Jeremy Sepinsky for being absolute heroes in the Wavell Room troll pit.)

How many of you read my new year essay—literally about how silence from the majority who support D&I is part of the problem—and said nothing to me, or in public, or to other women and minority wargamers in support?

The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.

Make your standard the Derby House Principles for diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming.

Davis: Wargaming has a diversity problem

At The Wavell Room, PAXsims associate editor Sally Davis argues that wargaming has a diversity problem. She gets straight to her point in the opening:

Wargaming has a diversity problem: 98% white and male.

I propose there are two ways that people engage with wargames:

1. To dominate, to win, to prove their mastery, to confirm what they already know.

2. To experience a new perspective, to learn, to grow, to embrace the unknown.

Playing for domination leads to misogynist and toxic behaviour towards women and minorities.  It leads to playing for indulgence rather than learning the meaningful lessons serious games can impart—which is bad for the outcomes of wargames, bad for the culture of wargaming, and bad for diversity and inclusion.  Wargaming is literally meant to teach us to be better.

We need to stop pretending that arguing against diversity and inclusion is anything more than the masturbatory indulgence of straight white men.

If your organization would like to indicate support for diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming, there are many things you can do—including lending your support to the Derby House Principles.

The Wargamer: Diversity in wargaming

At The Wargamer, Edward Desalle asks “is 2020 the year the tide turned in the struggle for diversity in wargames?

As with virtually every other hobby and industry, 2020 has been a disruptive year in wargaming, to say the least. Conventions have been cancelled, schedules altered, games delayed, time dilated. Perhaps the most lasting of this year’s legacies, however, will be that it has brought to the surface a conversation that the community has been putting off for decades: why has the hobby struggled so much with diversity and inclusion and how to fix it? 

If 2020 has shown anything, it is that while the hobby still has a lot of ground to cover in terms of making wargaming a truly welcoming place, there have been some very hopeful, concrete steps towards diversity, inclusion, and experimentation this year.

This should be an issue of paramount importance to all wargamers. If you would like to see wargaming become a robust, successful, thriving hobby then you should be deeply invested in ensuring that the community is one that welcomes and encourages diverse voices.

Speaking of the hobby, he notes:

We can also confidently say that the vast majority of designers and creators in the wargaming and historical board gaming space fit into this narrow demographic category as well. This should not come as too much of a surprise considering there have long been undercurrents of racism, eurocentrism, and antisemitism lingering in the dark corners of the hobby. Even today, wargame-oriented message boards, Facebook groups, and other online communities often remain dens of unrepentant reactionary toxicity, homophobia, and misogyny. Many games still traffic in ahistorical tropes or various species of Lost Cause-ism, while others ham-handedly fumble with issues that require nuance. 

However, he goes on to note signs of progress, including two initiatives that PAXsims has been involved in: the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming, and the Zenobia Award:

With that said, there have been a few very promising signs of improvement this year. Things are changing and it appears as though the community is coming to terms with some of the lingering issues around diversity and inclusion. 

Encouragingly, several publishers have signed on to the Derby House Principals. Named after the headquarters of the Western Approaches Tactical Unit, a WWII-era team of naval wargamers staffed by women of the WRNS, the Derby House Principals is a statement of values that emphasize a commitment to promoting inclusion in wargaming and opposing bigotry in all forms.

While ostensibly directed at the world of professional gaming, several commercial publishers have signed on in support of the Principles, with some positive results so far. At the same time, following the events of this summer in the United States, other publishers have independently issued statements advocating for inclusion and diversity in the industry and wider community, including GMT GamesMulti-Man Publishing, and Hollandspiele

Others have chosen to stay silent and avoid the ire of complacent fans. Of course, words alone can only go so far, but such widespread acknowledgment of the problem is more progress than has seen in a decade.

Contestants can enter for the chance to receive a cash prize – $4000 for the first-place winner – from a panel of diverse judges from across the gaming community. But, more importantly, the award also offers critiques for contestants and mentorship for finalists, something that can help to break down a significant barrier for underrepresented groups trying to gain a toehold. 

With a bunch of publishing partners already signed on, this could be an excellent stepping stone to broadening the wargaming community, pushing genre boundaries, and telling new kinds of stories.

 You can read the full article at the link above.

Sadly, the reader comments on the piece suggest the hobby still has a way to go before it enters the 21st century: there are the usual suggestions that broadening the community somehow is “mandated control,” feel-good political correctness, or even “communist nonsense.” Sigh.

Women’s Wargaming Network

The Women’s Wargaming Network, launched by Yuna Wong at Connections US, now has a home at womenswargaming.org, where you can subscribe to connect with other women wargamers, and share your WWN-related news, events, and opportunities.

The Women’s Wargaming Network is open to anyone who identifies as a woman, professional and hobby wargamers alike. Our mission is to help women thrive in professional wargaming. It is not enough merely to survive as a woman in a male-dominated field: our goal is for women to bring their authentic selves, the full range of their talents and abilities, and their own vision and ambition to professional wargaming.

Our aim is to hold at least one zoom meeting a month. If you would like to present, have ideas about who you’d like to hear from, topics you’d like covered, or content you’d like to provide for the webpage, sign-up and get involved. We plan for events to be a mix of for-women and open-to-all (ie an opportunity for women to educate the wider wargaming community).

The Women's Wargaming Network logo: a black queen with two D6 dice

You can read more about the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in wargaming here.

Wrens pioneer synthetic environment training

Everybody’s favourite WW2 Naval war correspondant, AJ McWhinnie, author of many marvellous articles on the Western Approaches Tactical Unit, dropped this tantalising detail in an article for the Liverpool Herald:

AJ McWhinne on Wren-powered VR for anti-aircraft gun training. "Wren operators show the film, which darts across the domed screen.

Which tickled me immensely, seeing as how my day-job is software-dev using VR, mixed/augmented reality for analysis, training & simulation, and wargaming. It’s always nice to know that the things you do have always been done by women, even if the boys would like to make you think otherwise. Like the women who wrote and (literally) knitted the moon lander OS, and Rear Admiral Grace Hopper who among other trivial things like inventing compilers, coined the term “bug” after finding one in her computer:

Rear Admiral Grace Hopper's logbook: "first actual example of bug found" and moth selotaped in.

And then, would you beleive it, I found photographs, while hunting-up evidence of the Bombay Tactical Unit.

Just as the WRINS have fitted into the life and routine of other Naval Specialist Schools, they have also become an integral part of the Naval Gunnery Training Establishment, HMIS Himalaya.

Secretarial duties, assisting Instructors in preparing syllabae, arranging courses, and correcting confidential books and publications of modern theories of Gunnery were taken over by the WRINS when men of the RIN were urgently required for War Service afloat. 

Besides doing office work they also assisted in the actual training of officers and ratings in Gunnery tactics. Theoretical lectures on Aircraft Recognition, High Angle Firing, Ship Recognition, etc were taught with the aid of cinema strips and some of the girls worked the projectors as qualified cinema operators. This was a highly specialised job needing a background knowledge of Electricity and Sound but they soon studied and mastered the technicalities and became proficient in their duties.

Gunnery in its practical aspects was taught at the High-Angle or Anti-Aircraft School which is also a part of the Training Establishment. This is India’s most modern naval school of anti-aircraft training.

Here potential Gunners practised firing at target-towing aircraft and WRINS were employed on Radio Telephones, passing messages to aircraft from control positions and passing orders to gun crews to carry out different forms of drill.

Apart from these jobs WRINS of HMIS Himalaya carried out ordinance duties. They stripped complicated close range weapons and assembled them again after cleaning and maintenance, thus keeping the condition of the arms at the high level of efficiency which is essential for accurate firing and good results.

WRINS and How They Served

This passage in particular delighted me:

They worked the complex precision machines which calculate the speed, range, angle of sight and height of ‘enemy’ aircraft and predict their future movements. This information is transmitted down to the guns by means of electrical transmission units and pointers. When the practices were over the errors in ‘time lag’ and ‘aim-off’ were analysed by the WRIN assistants and later explained to the classes.

Because fire control computers need MEN! WRINS!

But back to the Wren-powered VR:

A RIN rating aims the gun at the dome. Next to him two WRINS operate the projection apparatus.
A WRIN assisting to work an AA training device similar to a 35mm cinema projector. This requires a sure eye and delicate touch. [WRINS and How They Served]

This was the apparatus the charming McWhinnie paragraph described, and I thought I’d go a-hunting for this RCNVR Lt. For about two-and-a-half seconds I was disappointed to find McWhinnie fallible; the Lt was not Canadian, nor had any RCN connections I could find. But frankly who cares WHEN NOW I HAVE VIDEO !!?

Let me introduce to you The Dome anti-aircraft trainer, conceived by Henry Stephens, RN in WW1 and RNVR in WW2. Forty of these devices were built, at sites including HMS Excellent, Portsmouth, HMIS Himalaya, Karachi, and RAF Langham…were the concrete dome has been restored and was the star turn of the BBC One documentary The Dome: A Secret of World War Two in 2015.

You can read the technical specification by Lt Cdr Stephens here. Modern day CAVE and VR synthetic training does not look so different.

And here’s a WAAF operating the RAF Leuchars dome anti-aircraft teacher, because at PAXsims we have both kinds of diversity: Navy and Air Force ;-)

FILM AND PHOTOGRAPHY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (CH 18567) Training films: A member of the Royal Air Force Regiment under instruction in a dome anti-aircraft teacher at RAF Leuchars where a WAAF projects the film of the targets. IWM

Read more about the Derby House Principles for diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming (training & simulation) here.

Royal Indian Naval Tactical Table

PAXsims is delighted to present some recent developments in the WATU story. If proof were ever needed that the Derby House Principles were well-named—over and above the queer Wrens, the RN officers unfit for duty at sea through illness and injury, and Wrens standing watch as Midshipmen on a Destroyer in the Med in 1943, whose diversity is what made WATU great—enter stage right, the Bombay Tactical Unit:

Bombay Tactical Unit WRINS plotting ship movements on the floor. Two are wearing saris, two are westerners in tropical rig.

A huge shout out to Valentina Vitali of the University of East London and her excellent paper, The Women’s Royal Indian Naval Service: Forging the New Woman for Independent India, which provided cultural context and pointed me towards many of the sources.

Pre-1944 RIN officers took their tactical training at Liverpool.

This is Pritam “Peter” Singh Mahindroo:

Lt PS Mahindroo in tropical rig and turban, on parade.

He joined the Merchant Navy at 16, and on the outbreak of war he tried to transfer to the Royal Indian Navy but was denied entry because, being Sikh, he refused to cut his hair. By 1940 he was in, with his turban on, and in 1942 he took the WATU course before escorting ships to the Atlantic Ocean as a Lt on INS Godvari.

A Victory parade was held in London on June 8,1946 in which representatives of the three Indian Armed Forces participated. The senior Indian Naval officer was Commander (later Rear Admiral) A. Chakravarti and the Naval Contingent was led by Lieutenant (later Rear Admiral) P.S. Mahindroo. In keeping with the inter-service seniority in which the Navy was the senior service, the parade was led by the Naval Contingent.

Rear Admiral Mahindroo, who later commanded our first aircraft carrier Vikrant, reminisces on the occasion, “Needless to say, that as a turbaned officer leading the Naval Contingent, I was most prominent and I must have given hundreds of autographs amongst thousands of spectators who probably slept on the pavement for one or two nights to witness this historic parade.

Blueprint to Bluewater
The RIN contingent marching through London in the Victory Parade
Mahindroo, 3rd from the front, centre column.

Formation of the WRINS

Fearing imminent Japanese invasion in 1942, the Women’s Auxilliary Corps (India) formed to free every available shore-man for active duty. In January 1944 the WRINS formally stood up as its naval branch, as the focus of the war turned towards Asia. 

43% of the officers and 77% of the WRINS were Indian, and among the junior officers 80% were Indian. The rest were Anglo-Indians (born in India of British descent; the white ruling class of Empire) and Brits—a combination of women stranded in the Empire by wartime travel restrictions, and women from Britain who signed up to the WRINS instead of the WRNS (applicants who didn’t quite make the cut for the RN were sometimes offered a more favourable position in the RIN, RCN, or other colonial navy…)

[Of course, Indians and Anglo-Indians were British Citizens; that’s how Empire worked. A fact conveniently forgotten by the hostile environment policy and Windrush scandal.]

The WRINS offered opportunities for “intelligent and well educated women and girls when they pass out of their schools and colleges … [for] cultured Indian girls and women … who have the interest and well-being of their country at heart.”

Chief Officer Cooper’s somewhat idyllic view of Empire certainly reflected attitudes of the time:

[Cooper’s spelling] Here Mohammedans, Hindoos, Parsees, Pathans, Anglo-Indians and British lived side by side in harmony, the only allowance made for difference in tase were the meals, two sets being provided.

For the Indian girls it was the experience of a life-time, broadening their outlook, and helping towards emancipation—so important for their future role in India.

During the three-day Mutiny in February 1946 it was significant that the WRINS in all the ports stood fast, and showed no signs of disaffection.

Cooper, Women’s Royal Indian Naval Service

Given that the chief grievance of the mutineers was poor treatment of Indian ratings by white officers, it suggests a white leadership (and of course, it was all white at the top) somewhat out of touch with the recipients of their colonial benificence.

Roshan Horabin, who was turned away from the WAC(I) because pre-1944 “they did not employ native girls,” talks about the class and race tensions at play: 

I was educated at the Cathederal. And in those days there were only 10% Indians and we paid double fees. And although [an Indian] could be a prefect, you couldn’t be a head girl.

Roshan came from the upper-crust of Indian families, and socialised with Baronettes. Even so, she was once challenged by a police officer for using the “European” latrine instead of the “Indian” one.

He said, “These are the rules of the Empire and Indians do not go into British latrines.” People are shocked to hear this, and think Appartheit was only in South Africa. And I say no, in fact it was the whole of the Empire.

In 1942 she joined the Intelligence Division.

We had English people, Germans, French, and Mrs Smith who was a Colonel’s wife, in charge of my section. I think we had four Anglo-Indian ladies but they didn’t talk to Bina [the Honourable Bina Sina] and myself, they just spoke to the European lot. But the English lot talked to Bina and me.

Later when the WRINS began accepting Indian applicants, the Intelligence Division wouldn’t let her go. You can hear the whole of her oral history interview here.

The WRINS were immensley proud of their Tactical Unit contribution. In WRINS and How They Served, a two-page spread is devoted to explaining the purpose and details of the Royal Indian Naval Tactical Unit, while the rest of the book has photographs and only brief captions at-best, glossing over the rest of the WRINS technical duties. (My particular favourite: Cypherettes at work. Because intelligence officers and backing vocalists are so very hard to tell apart…)

The Royal Indian Naval Tactical Unit in Bombay trained officers of the RIN in one of the most thrilling and vital phases of sea warfare—the “Killer Group” tactics that played so large a part in the winning of the Battle of the Atlantic. Modelled on the lines of the Royal Navy’s famous Western Approaches Tactical Unit, this well-equipped establishment had WRINS assisting in the training of future commanding officers of HMI escort vessels.

WRINS and How They Served

Founding the Bombay Tactical Unit.

This is Cdr Arthur King:

Cdr A.F. King

The Tactical Unit was established in Bombay in 1944 and was disbanded shortly after the capitulation of Japan. As I was in charge of this unit it is of some historical interest that my thoughts on it should be recorded.

At the outset I should say that I do not have any clear idea as to why I was given this job. Certainly I never asked for it. But I have, nevertheless, for as long as I can remember, had an interest in naval tactics. This started when at school I read of Nelson’s conduct of his fleet. The positioning of ships to gain maximum advantage over the enemy was only achieved by a clear understanding of what was needed and how to use the elements—sea, wind, sun and moon—to gain the upper hand. A total understanding between the ships’ Captains was essential. Nelson developed this to the full, calling his Captains his “band of brothers”, and fostered this espirit de corps to a fine degree of understanding by calling them all together at every possible moment he could create.

In 1942, standing by HMIS Jumna building on the Clyde, a notice was circulated to COs of all escort vessels that they and their executive officers should attend as convenient at the A/S Tactical School located in Derby House, Liverpool, headquarters of Admiral Sir Max Horton, C-in-C Western Approaches. 

There I met Commander Duncan

And this is the true joy of King’s account for me as a woman: to see the karma of the Williams’ biography of Captain Roberts, which mis-spelled the names of every single WATU Wren, repaid in kind by King persistently mis-remembering Roberts’ name as “Duncan”, and confusing him with his then-XO Lt Cdr Walter Higham, ex-submariner and ranking survivor of HMS Audacity:

There I met Commander DuncanRoberts, a dug out submariner who had been invalided out of the service in 1939 and recalled to set up a school to aquaint the Captains of the many escort vessels—sloops, frigates, corvettes—with the ways of the enemy they were going to face when they got out into the Atlantic, and how to deal with him. Technical schools had already instrcuted people in the mechanics of Asdic and final attack procedure, but they did not then have any experience of the tactics the enemy would use to get into the best position to get at the convoy. DuncanRoberts had made a study of such matters and had the added benefit of his Chief’s submariner’s mind.

The week-long course consisted of very few short lectures. Most of the time was spent playing games and analysing them. The “play area” was a gridded linoleum (has anyone ever seen lino of the quality provided to the Navy?) floor, with the pupils behind screens out of sight of the main plot, positioned at desks and fed with data—some relivant, some irrelivant—of contacts, signals, D/F bearings, etc, from which each had to decided his actions—signals to others, course and speed of his own ship, whether to move towards the convoy or to go to help some other ship in trouble, etc etc. All this was then transfered to the plot on the floor and success or failure resulted. Understanding of how best to achieve the objective of getting the convoy safely through was undoubtedly improved as the week went on. One was better informed of what the Germans were about and how they operated their “Wolf Pack” tactics. Confidence in how to counter-attack was gained. It was Nelson’s band of brothers again.

Then, in 1944,

I was somewhat mystified to recieve instructions to set up a Tactical Unit in Bombay on the lines of the Unit in Derby House Liverpool. The intention was that, as the war in Europe was approaching finality, Churchill and the War Cabinet directed that more effort had to be made against the enemy in the East. 

And so, in July 1944, in company with Lieutenant Ahsan, DSC, and four WRINS—2nd Officers E. Donoghue, E. Staveley, J. West and E.A. Twynham—we set off in a York to fly to Liverpool. DuncanRoberts was still there—actually he spent the whole of the war in this appointment—and for six weeks we understudied him and his team.

Hornby Road, Bombay
Hornby Road in the 1930s

In Bombay we set up shop. Our first location was above Mongini’s Restaurant in Hornby Road. This was all right for operation as it had the space and was properly fitted out, but it was hardly the place to keep confidential books. We were soon found a corner of the dockyard.

VE came and was celebrated. Then some months later Hiroshima and then Nagasaki were attacked by atomic bombs and the war was over.

In the weeks following, we in the Tactical Unit considered what we should do. There was obviously no enthusiasm for VR officers to spend time learning something they would never have to apply in practice. People all around us were just waiting for demoblilisation and getting bored. So we decided to set up demonstrations, using the facility of the large gridded linoleum floor as our stage. We read up on the confidential reports of the major Naval batles of the war and prepared our floor-show. “The Sinking of the Bismarck” and “The Battle of the River Plate” were presented by us in Bombay long before they were made into films! And we had large audiences, weighted from time to time by gold braid. Admirals Godfrey and Rattray both came along to see what we were up to, and made some complimentary remarks at the end of the shows.

Like this, I imagine, only with less YouTube and more pipe-smoking:

Was the Tactical Unit worthwhile? This is difficult to answer. Certinly if the war had developed into a long battle against the Japanese, who up to then had shown every sign of being difficult to move and fanatical in their resolve, then there would have been an enormous increase in military activity in this sphere with all important supplies coming by sea and therefore entirely dependent on Naval supremacy.

The Tactical Unit at Bombay would then have become, as was Liverpool to the Atlantic, the centre for updating intelligence of enemy tactics.

Show me the WRINS!

Oh, dear reader, I can do one better. Please be upstanding for 2nd Officer Staveley (now Puckridge), only the third first-hand account of WATU’s activities by a Wren (WRIN) in existance (Wren June Duncan’s memoire, and Lt Carol Hendry’s oral history being the other two). 

Here are the founding WRINS of the Bombay Tactical Unit: 

Four WRINS arm-in-arm, wearing tropical rig
L to R: 2nd Officers E. Donoghue, E. Staveley (Anne Puckridge), J. West and E.A. Twynham.

Pinch me. I am actually exchanging e-mails with a WATU Wren:

My father had just completed a 6-year Army posting to India when war broke out and we were unable to return to the UK because of the new travel restrictions. I enlisted in the WAC(I) in Bangalore in South India when the local women’s services commenced recruiting (had to back-date my date of birth by a year to qualify).  After a few months in a Recruiting Office, I was asked if I would transfer to the Air Defence Unit, still in Bangalore. Later (sadly I did not keep a diary, so am imprecise about dates) I was asked to move to Cochin to work on Cyphers and from there was sent on an OTC and promoted to 2nd Officer, WR(I)NS.  I was then sent to Liverpool Western Approaches Tactical Training Unit and, on completion of the course, was posted to Bombay to help with setting up a Tactical Unit there. 

On arrival in Bombay from Liverpool I seem to recall working exclusively with the small group who attended the UK course, ie the four of us in the picture, the officer named King and another IAF officer [Lt Ahsan], and a lovely girl from India whose name I can’t recall.

When this was disbanded after VJ Day, I was posted as Personal Assistant to the Chief Staff Officer to the Flag Officer, Bombay, [Capt Nott] for a short while until I was demobbed in 1945.

2nd Officer Anne Puckridge (nee Staveley)
Anne Puckridge wearing her WW2 medals.
2nd Officer Puckridge (nee Staveley), campaigning for ex-Pat pension rights.

That lovely girl from India was 2nd Officer Kalyani Sen:

It was decided that four WRIN officers should be sent to the United Kingdom for a two months’ course at the Anti-Submarine Tactical Course at Liverpool. Those officers on completion of their training were appointed to act as “movers” at the Anti-Submarine Tactical School at Bombay. The Deputy Director WRINS, Chief Officer Cooper and two administrative officers also proceeded to the United Kingdom where they were attached to Women’s Royal Naval Service establishments and training centres for a period of two months to undergo a course of instruction in WRNS methods of administration and training.

The first Indian service woman who visited the United Kingdom was second officer Kalyani Sen, of the Women’s Royal Indian Naval Service. With Chief Officer Margaret Cooper and second Officer Phyllis Cunningham she went there at the invitation of the Admiralty to make a comparative study of training and administration in the Women’s Royal Naval Service.

Royal Indian Navy 1939-1945

Here she is on a ship visit in Rosyth with Chief Officer Cooper:

INDIAN WRENS VISIT ROSYTH, 3 JUNE 1945 (A 29070) Chief Officer Margaret L Cooper, Deputy Director of the Women's Royal Indian Naval Service (WRINS), with Second Officer Kalyani Sen, WRINS at Rosyth during their two month study visit to Britain.
Chief Officer Margaret L Cooper, Deputy Director of the Women’s Royal Indian Naval Service (WRINS), with Second Officer Kalyani Sen, WRINS at Rosyth during their two month study visit to Britain. IWM.

Number One

Who’s that Ahsan chap that King mentions? This guy, in the shorts:

The Bombay Tactical Unit. Three WRINS and a RIN officer in shorts plot ship movements on the floor.
L to R: 2nd Officer Donoghue, 2nd Officer Kelyani Sen, Lt Syed Ahsan, 2nd Officer Staveley

He’s only the future Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan Navy. Oh, and his service number is PN-007. Nice.

Vice Admiral Syed Mohammad Ahsan

Diversity won the war.

There you have it. Women and minorities forging operational analysis. And casting gears for submarines, too (from Wrens in Camera by Lee Miller. Really stunning and unexpected photos of Wrens onboard ship and other non-clerical duties):

You can read more about the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming here.

Derby House diversity in gaming pins

For those of you who may have seen colleagues wearing Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming pins and wondering how to get your own, here’s your chance! We are now selling them in lots of ten for £20 (UK) or USD$30 (rest of world).

Since quantities are limited, email me for further details. Upon payment, they will be dispatched to you through our global network of PAXsims order fulfilment warehouses.

The Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional (war)gaming can be found here.

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