Join the Army? That’s Child’s Play!

Picture of the centre of the board game showing the heads of three Field Marshals - King George V, Sir John French, Earl Kitchener.

As a Trainee Curator, one of the things I enjoy most is being able to get hands-on and work with objects. The museum has an interesting range of items but we do not have the space to display everything. Through a series of blog and twitter posts I hope to share some of the ‘hidden gems’ in our collections!

This week, we are focusing on a board game that was donated to the museum by the family of Walter Smith – a man who served with the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry during the Second World War.

The board game is called ‘From the Ranks to Field Marshal’. It was released in 1914 and produced throughout the First World War period. The aim of the game is to rise through the military ranks until you reach the highest – that of Field Marshal.

Only the playing board itself was donated to us, but the original game set would have also included: 16 cut-out cards each representing a military rank, the written rules, and a box to store the game.

Playing board of 'From the Ranks to Field Marshal'
Playing Board of ‘From the Ranks to Field Marshal’ Click here to download a larger version.

Following the Rules

The game is a bit like snakes and ladders: you roll a six-sided dice and move that number of spaces, following the instructions of the title you land on.

In order to start the game every player has to roll a 3 on the dice. This allows them to leave home and enlist in the army. You can choose to enlist in one of four sections: join the Engineers as a Sapper, join the Artillery as a Gunner, join the Cavalry as a Trooper, or join the Infantry as a Private.

The starting tiles of the board game. Tiles 0 to 7 are shown; they are vertically arranged on top of each other. Tile 0 is labelled 'Home' and has a cartoon of a husband leaving his wife. Tile 3 is labelled 'Enlist' and depicts a soldier. Tile 7 is labelled 'Bought out by friends' and features a sack of gold coins.
The starting tiles
(click image to enlarge)

As we found out, enlisting in the army can be a tricky thing to do. Poor Verity got only a glimpse of army life before she was ‘bought out by friends’ (tile 7). On her return home, the dice decided that there was no reason for her to leave again, and so, she remained there for the rest of play!

Gallant Acts

There are several tiles offering a promotion, helping you achieve the goal of becoming Field Marshal. Land on tile 16 and you will gain proficiency in shooting as well as a promotion. Land on tile 48 and you will be awarded a Victoria Cross medal for “A Gallant Act” which saves a Colonel’s life.

Close up of two tiles in the board game. On the top, tile 16 depicts two rifles crossed in an X shape with the words 'Proficiency in shooting. (Promoted 1 Rank)'. Below, tile 48 depicts a Victoria Cross Medal with the words 'A Gallant Act. saves Colonel's life at very great risk. Received Victoria Cross and Promoted 1 Rank.'
Tiles that offer you a promotion.
(click image to enlarge)

Reduced to the Ranks

Other tiles throw some of the dangers of being a soldier at you. Land on tile 33 and you are hit with enteric fever (today known as typhoid). Land on tile 55 and you are taken prisoner by the enemy. Alternatively, you may have to face military sanctions and disciplinary measures. If you are absent from the barracks without leave (tile 14) you are stripped of any promotions and reduced to the starting ranks of Sapper, Gunner, Trooper or Private.

A worse fate awaits those of you who land on tile 80. You are court martialled, tried for incompetence, and, if found guilty, reduced by 4 ranks.

Four game tiles. Tile 33 depicts a four occupied cartoon hospital beds. Three nurses and a soldier stand next to the beds. The tile reads 'ENTERIC FEVER Goes into hospital to Recover. Miss 1 turn.' 
Tile 14 reads 'Absence from Barracks without leave. Divested of Stripes (if any) and reduced to the Ranks. Go back to 3. 
Tile 55 reads 'TAKE PRISONER - Remain here until a comrade occupies same square or till player shakes 6, when he is liberated and goes forward next turn.'
Tile 80 reads 'COURT MARTIAL - Tried for incompetence. If throw 6 with dice - GUILTY. Reduced 4 ranks. Any other number thrown - NOT GUILTY, and proceed next turn.'
Tiles that hinder your progress
(click image to enlarge)

Promotion to Field Marshal

You have to achieve every military rank in their hierarchical order. So, you cannot jump from Private to General if you are promoted while on the ‘General’ square. When you are promoted you move to the square of the next highest rank even if that means moving backwards! The first to climb the ranks to Field-Marshal wins. If you decide to stop the game early, then the highest-ranking soldier wins, and, in case of a draw, you let the dice decide!

Two women and a man wearing covid-19 masks, distanced around a table. On top of the table lies a board game.
After many trips to the hospital, being put on half pay, and being court-martialled, it was Charlotte who emerged victorious as our Field Marshal!

Now that we know how to play it, why do you think this game was created? And who would have played it?

I’ll be answering these questions in a follow-up post. So, keep on eye on our blog page for the second instalment of ‘Join the Army? That’s child’s play’.

Written by Isabella Hogan, Trainee Curator at Bodmin Keep

Isabella Hogan, Trainee Curator at Bodmin Keep 2021
Isabella Hogan, Trainee Curator at Bodmin Keep