Posted in Background Writing, Inspiration

Virginia Hall: Real-life Super-Spy, and ANTIC’s ‘GLAMOR’ girl

Or: The inspiration to make an incredible woman a pivotal character of Saucer War One

Greetings, everyone, and happy International Women’s Day! In honour of this celebration, I thought it would be a great idea to introduce you to one of the personalities of ANTIC, the defenders of Earth.

Virginia Hall is a name wargamers might not know as readily as Lord Dowding or his right-hand man Keith Park, but I hope that by the end of this article you will appreciate this amazing woman as much as I do. Read on, and enjoy the Girl’s Own adventure that was the real life of Virginia Hall, ‘the limping lady’.

Virginia Hall; Spy par excellence

Virginia was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1906, and schooled at the liberal, all-women Radcliffe and Barnard colleges before university and further studies in Europe. She had a ear for languages, a quality which would suit her well working as a clerk for the Consular Service, and later, for both the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) and the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in much more deadly roles.

A shooting accident while on assignment to the Consulate in Istanbul led to the amputation of Virginia’s left leg. Undaunted, she named its wooden replacement ‘Cuthbert’, and carried on her duties. Alas, her attempts to rise to the position of a diplomat were thwarted, discriminated against because of her disability, and probably also because of her sex.

When war erupted again in Europe, Virginia refused to sit on the sidelines. Infuriated by America’s reluctance to enter the fight, she headed for France, joined up, and drove an ambulance for the French Army until that nation fell to the Nazis in June, 1940. Still showing the same determination to fight, she escaped into Spain where fate intervened; Here, Virginia met George Bellows — an Intelligence Officer for the British Secret Service. Impressed by Virginia, Bellows brought her to the attention of Nicolas Bodington, an unsung hero of the war, and the man who set up the SOE. He was equally impressed, put Virginia through the SOE’s gruelling spy training programme – wooden leg not withstanding – and sent her to Vichy France, where she would spend the next 16 months causing the Gestapo to have a collective nervous break-down.

Virginia Hall built a network of informers – including a patriotic brothel madame whose girls passed on all that their German clients blabbed in bed – which kept the British up-to-date with what the Germans were doing in France. She slipped from the clutches of the Germans repeatedly, helped dozens of downed Allied airmen to escape capture, and, when she learned that the Vichy police had captured 12 agents, set in motion a plan that smuggled in all the tools the agents needed to escape (including a radio!) All succeeded in breaking out, and were smuggled to England, and safety.

A poignant self-portrait of Virginia Hall speaks of the loneliness of an agent

The Germans were understandably upset by this. The Gestapo redoubled its efforts to capture ‘the limping lady’, and came close by infiltrating a collaborator into Virginia’s circle of contacts. Warned just in time, Virginia fled for the Spanish border once again. This time, the only way across was to walk – on her wooden leg 50 miles across the Pyrenees mountains. So, she did.

When she returned to England, the SOE refused to send Virginia back to France. They feared she had been compromised, and the risk to her was too great. But by now the United States was in the war, so Virginia packed her cloak and dagger and went to work for the OSS instead.

In the lead-up to D-Day, (June 6, 1944), Virginia, convincingly disguised as an old milkmaid (she sold cheeses to German soldiers), returned to France, where she organised and armed cells of the French Resistance. She had to overcome the obstinate reluctance of many Frenchmen, who refused to take orders from a woman, even one with Virginia’s record of fighting the occupiers.

Eventually she won the French to her side, and with 1500 Resistance fighters, Virginia blew up German trains, bridges, fuel dumps, and anything else she didn’t like.

Locomotive wrecked by the Resistance in 1944

After the war, Virginia was rehired by the then-new CIA, working to undermine Russian influence in Europe. She married fellow OSS officer Paul Goillot; six inches shorter and eight years younger than his former boss, Virginia.

The CIA, however, was quickly forgetting its origins in the War, and the critical roles played by the OSS’s female operatives; It rapidly degraded into a ‘boy’s club’, and men who hadn’t served in the front lines resented Virginia’s enviable record, and her justly deserved recognition. (Virginia Hall received the U.S. Distinguished Service Cross, the British Member of the British Empire, and France’s Croix de Guerre.) Left ‘piloting a desk’ for the rest of her career, Virginia soon disappeared into obscurity.

Virginia Hall receives her DFC from General Donovan, OSS

Or at least, that’s the official story.

In the reality revealed in Saucer War One, we discover that the postwar world had even greater need for Virginia Hall. With the Earth threatened by a danger perhaps even greater than that of fascism, Virginia was put forward by Majestic 12 as a candidate for recruitment by ANTIC – the new, ultra-secret agency tasked with tackling the Venusian threat. Lord Dowding, the organisational genius who led the RAF to victory in the Battle of Britain, had been selected to command ANTIC, and he knew of Virginia’s exploits against the Nazis. To the surprise of most, he did not merely choose Virginia Hall to assist with ANTIC’s intelligence operations (PRANK), but to control them.

It was a brilliant decision. Dowding recognised that his Head of Intelligence (code-named GLAMOR), must be ruthless, cautious, insightful and unstoppable. He got just what he needed in Virginia Hall. Taking to the job with gusto, Virginia recognised the danger the Noordicans presented as easily as she had sensed when the Gestapo crept too close back in France. Using her CIA desk job as the perfect cover, Virginia recruited her PRANK agents from all walks of life, and all nationalities. Being charged with saving the world, she knew ANTIC needed eyes and ears everywhere. (Rumours persist that among her recruits were residents of the White House, Buckingham Palace, and even the Kremlin.)

When the Saucer War One timeline ‘kicks off’ in mid-1952, Virginia Hall is still racing to build her massive network of agents, informants, and contacts. To keep track of the volumes of data these people feed into PRANK, Virginia is ably assisted by the unique, self-aware Cryotronic Mega-Computer she named ‘Cuthbert’, after her faithful wooden leg. “Cuthbert’s” opinion regarding its name is a secret it keeps to itself!

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about both the real and (maybe?) fictitious Virginia Hall. When I discovered her story, it fired my imagination, and the whole idea of GLAMOR and PRANK flowed from there. From small seeds, and all that.

Next time, I hope to finally show off the first 3D prints of miniature saucers, so stay tuned for that!

See you then, and — Watch the Skies!

Posted in Background Writing, Inspiration

Humanity United against a Common Foe? I Have a Dream.

ANTIC and the real fight for Humankind

I feel the need at this time to write a little something about the philosophy of Saucer War One

I’ve no desire to pontificate, but events in the United States this June serve to remind me that as a creator, I have a responsibility to portray my fellow humans without prejudice or presumption. It is a responsibility I aim to take very seriously. 

The ‘good guys’ in Saucer War One are ANTIC: An air force that operates under a shroud of deep secrecy to defend all the Earth. This is a little insight into not how but why I created ANTIC. 

When I first conceived of Saucer War One a few years ago, I was very aware that its story and historical setting came with an ‘elephant in the room’: The racism and sexism of the era in which it is set: The 1950’s. 

It was a time when unmarried Australian women needed their father’s written permission to attend universities. When black Americans lived in fear of church burnings and lynch mobs. When Jews were still subjected to pogroms in Europe and Asia. When most of Africa was ruled by white minority or colonial governments. 

I chose to not ignore these things, but instead created ANTIC as the super-secret organisation dedicated to defending ALL Humanity, willingly recruiting anyone with the courage and skill to fight. An ANTIC recruit’s colour, gender, sexuality, or belief is irrelevant. No-one cares who they last voted for. Or if they’re socialist or capitalist. Or who they sleep with. Or whom they pray to. 

All that counts is their love of their fellow Human Beings, and their Earth.

Even though Saucer War One is just a sci-fi wargame about flying saucers zooming and zapping, it is my sincere hope that one day all Humanity might be like ANTIC: United beyond the barricades of prejudice, in the fight to make our real world a better place.

Posted in Inspiration

My Top 5 UFO Documentaries

Is The Truth Out There on Youtube?

Inspiration for game design comes in all shapes and colours. Books, sports, warfare and the monopolistic hoarding of wealth have all been the spark for a vast array of board and miniature games. When you’re writing a game about flying saucers though, most of those inspiring shapes are letterbox format, and the colours are RGB, accompanied by words formed into astonishing claims and underlaid with the spooky oscillations of a Theremin.

I’m talking about the remarkable collection of UFO documentaries that chart the wobbly course of modern Ufology. You only need to Google “UFO Documentary” to open a virtual rabbit’s warren of theories, hypotheses, conspiracies and beliefs about what flying saucers are, why they’re here, and who’s book on the subject you should rush out and buy.

Many take themselves and their subject seriously. Some take both way too seriously. Several have the good sense to maintain a healthily cocked eyebrow of skepticism as they offer their angle on the matter. Several are nothing but snide ‘debunking’ attempts which childishly flail away at 70 years of sightings with footage of twerps dressed in sad alien cosplays while wheeling out the old ‘explanations’ of weather balloons, swamp gas, and weather balloons filled with swamp gas.

Sadly, there are many that have tied themselves to the mast of the S.S. Lunatic Fringe, and are eager to smash themselves on rocky claims of Nazi Hollow Earth Reptiloids who are running NASA. (I kid you not.)

A few are utterly and firmly shackled inside the realm of the Nutty Confessor, with pseudo-spirituality and religion confabulated with alien saviours who will take us away on the tail of a comet, as long as we’re all wearing matching shoes.

So, if you do go mining the internet to perform your own visual research into the weird and wonderful galaxy of Ufology, be sure to carry a skeptical canary and the flashlight of reason; There are some very deep, dark holes you can fall into.

But enough warnings! Let me expose you to the enlightening rays of my top 5 UFO documentaries. I think you’ll be entertained, and might even find your mind prised open just a bit…

5: The Bob Lazar Story

Bob Lazar is either the most important whistle-blower in human history, or merely a pretty good fraud. Lazar claims to have been employed at the infamous Area 51 (or its adjoining Area S4, to be precise), back-engineering captured alien spacecraft. His story might be pure fantasy, and yet there are intriguing snippets of truth peppered though his story, suggesting there might be more than meets the eye. His technical descriptions of anti-gravity technology are manna to lovers of sci-fi hardware.

4: Secret Access – UFOs on the Record

A very serious, factual account of a series of UFO encounters, all of which yielded physical, measurable evidence that debunkers constantly insist does not exist. No-nonsense, compelling, and convincing. Put the beer down, because this one is not Ufology-lite.

3: UFOs The Secret History

A lighter look at Ufology, starting right back with Kenneth Arnold’s iconic sighting in 1947. This is a great documentary about the historical side of UFO investigation; of Air Force bungling, the struggle for scientific credibility, and the personalities on both sides of this titanic fight for the truth. (Actually, now I think about it, there’s another game in that!)

2: Farewell, Good Brothers

An affectionate, and somewhat whimsical exploration of the contactee phenomenon that was such a feature of the 1950’s. Contactees were the precursors of modern day ‘experiencers’ and ‘abductees’, but they happily walked aboard the flying saucers rather than being dematerialised off their beds in the night. (One has to wonder why the aliens didn’t just go right on asking nicely…) This one is a giggle, but in a nice way.

1: UFOs: It Has Begun

Picture a man on a journey beyond sight and sound… he’s entered… the UFO Zone! Yes, it’s Rod Serling in one of the true classic UFO documentaries, and my absolute favourite. Full of appearances by some true luminaries of Ufological history including Dr. J Allan Hynek, and Jacques Vallée with his fantastic hair.

So important is UFOs: It Has Begun that it has become a part of the UFO conspiracy mythos. In later years, writer Bob Emenegger claimed the show was created with the help of the U.S. Air Force who wished to use it to air footage of a saucer landing at Holloman Air Base in the 60’s. But, according the Emenegger, at the last moment the Air Force pulled the footage, and some rushed illustrations of the incident were all that were shown. Make of that what you will!

I hope you have enjoyed this, the first of my “Top 5” lists. Tune in again, because future instalments will include my top Ufology Heroes, Villains, Books, the Most Compelling UFO Cases and the Worst Hoaxes.

Until then: Watch the Skies!

Posted in Inspiration

Leonard Nimoy, this is All Your Fault

Missing Persons… Magic and Witchcraft… Myths and Legends…
… Extraterrestrials…

With the aid of a time-dilating, anti-gravity generator hidden in Area 51, let’s travel back to 2016. I am lying in bed, unable to sleep. Something is interfering with my circadian rhythms. Something sinister and harmful. Something… alien.

It calls itself cancer. And it is trying to kill me.

Thankfully, I have a battery of high-tech weapons with which to take the battle to this single-minded enemy. Chemotherapy, keyhole surgery, and particle-beam radiotherapy are all unleashed upon it. In the end, I win the war. But the wounds of the fight dig deep, in both body and mind.

Sleep is a casualty of the war. To this day, if I manage four hours of zizzing in a row at night, I call people up to tell them the happy news. But back then, I had to accept that post-treatment pain and the collateral damage my organs endured meant an hour or two with eyes closed, followed by another wide awake.

And that’s when In Search Of… stepped in, and helped keep me sane.

Hooray for Youtube. Legally or otherwise, there’s a lot of stuff from the golden age of television that’s been loaded to the most-viewed video platform in the world. (There’s also a terrifying amount of utter drivel, mostly advocating the views of flat-earthers, free-energy gurus, and people who think Tesla was smarter than Einstein. Guards, seize them.) An iPad and Youtube did wonders for keeping my brain distracted in the small hours, waiting for the latest round of painkillers to kick in. And when I found a channel filled with all six seasons of In Search Of… I found the nostalgia and wonder of this old show released waves of endorphins, just when I needed them most.

Hosted throughout its run by Leonard Nimoy of Star Trek fame, In Search Of… was a half-hourly exploration of the unexplained. It covered a spectrum of topics we’d nowadays associate with the bizarre; The Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, The Bermuda Triangle.

It also dabbled in religions, both old and new. Who remembers the episode The Man Who Would Not Die about The Count of Saint-Germaine, and the kooky cult that grew around his legend in California?

It was a smorgasbord of the weird, with delicious sides of spooky music, hammy re-enactments, and very 70’s pseudo-science and spirituality. And to an eight-year-old me, it was glorious. It was my introduction to many sources of inspiration, and I happily filled my burgeoning brain with as much nonsense as it could carry.

One of those inspirations was the episode simply entitled: UFOs.

Having been bitten by the sci-fi bug at a very young and impressionable age, the idea of visitors to the Earth from distant worlds wasn’t something new. But the mystery of their origins and purpose was. Nature abhors a vacuum, and thus my neurones fired off dozens of ideas to fill the gaps in the story. Why are the aliens coming here? How can they get to Earth? And are they really that desperate for beefsteak? I needed answers, and went in search of… my own.

Which is why this all began. Sort of. But as I said at the start, we need to travel back to 2016 to really get to the beginning of how. You see, if you’re a gamer like me — incapable of contentedly staying within the confines of rules and mechanics that game designers spend hours slavishly honing to perfection, because you just know you can do better… *ahem* — then you might be familiar with what was percolating to the surface of my brain while watching the UFO episodes of In Search Of… Up rose those infamous words that have launched a thousand sets of wargames rules: There’s a game in that!

Thus I was soon sketching out ideas for a miniatures wargame of battling UFOs — flying saucers, if you will — duking it out in the skies of the Earth.

As you can probably guess from this long-winded diatribe, A single spark of inspiration makes not a worthy game. There’s a lot more to the process of creating something like this. Any creative endeavour is a lengthy, often costly, task. With game design, weeks of research, writing, designing, playtesting, revising and re-writing go into the process.

But in my next post, I’ll take you through the initial stages I went through in charting my course to creating the past you never knew; the secret history of Saucer War One.

Until then; Watch the Skies!