I think that my grandparents gave me my first box of metal Britains Guards that they had purchased during a trip to London. I must have taken a shine to them immediately because thereafter, I was sure to receive more small red boxe of the figures for my birthday and Christmas. I added plastic Heralds ACW figures and Swoppets ( I really looked those WotR figures that they made). My armies were rather modest, probably 50 to 100 figure in all.
One year I gave a box of Guards to a friend (Tom Platt) for his birthday and he got hooked. I was particularly envious of him when his grandmother bought him that 200 figure Changing of the Guard set, which set me permanently behind him in the arms race. We would set the figures up on the floor and stage our battles, using a form of free kreigspeiling rules that we made up on the fly. Tom and I usually combined our metal forces into one Royal army while all of our collective plastic figures were the hoard of Bad Guys. Tom was the King, since he had the largest forces, and I was one of his generals.
I also discovered Airfix HO scale plastic WW2 figures and Rocco Mini Tanks equipment around age 12 and we would fight North African battles in my backyard sandbox. My teenage years and college saw my interest in toy soldiers wane and I didn't really think about them much until about 1980, when I was visiting London. I happened to stumble upon the Under Two Flags store and saw a large display of 54mm British colonials in square, fending off a hoard of Dervish. Having a bit more pocket money in my young adult days (age 30 perhaps), I bought the whole display and shipped it home. Over the years, I added more forces to my 54mm collection.
Then circa 1985-86, I wanted to repaint some Steadfast metals with a darker khaki color, so I visited a local store called The Hobby Chest to buy some enamel paints. It was there that I saw an advertisement for the Little Wars war game convention. It sounded interesting so I stopped in at the convention and was flabbergasted by what I saw: toy soldiers and a hall packed full of convention participation games. I did not know, until then, that the war game hobby even existed. The first game that I saw was Hal Thinglum's massive Isanhlwana game in 25mm. I was gobsmacked by what I saw and I stayed there for a good hour just watching the Zulus overwhelm the 24th. After that I roamed around the hall and watched a few games, Napoleonic games looked complicated even then. I then saw an interesting little game featuring soldiers wearing tricorn hats: French vs British. It was the SYW and the figures were the RSM range with the game being hosted by the owners of RSM. I vaguely recalled something about Frederick the Great of Prussia fighting the Austrians, but that was about all.
However, I knew in an instant that this is what I was looking for. The fellows at RSM got me started with a couple packs of British and French infantry, and as I ordered more figures over the phone , I got to know the proprietor Dennis Smail better. He invited me to drive on down to Lexington, Kentucky any weekend and play in a game. It only took one game to sink the hook firmly in my mouth and after that, I made the 400 mile trip ( one way) to Lexington once a month. I was totally enamored with the RSM figure range and soon I had two large Prussian and Austrian armies. I thought that the RSM figures ( made by Steve Hezzlewood ) were the most elegant toy soldiers that I had ever seen.
Via Dennis, I started attending the annual Seven Years War Association convention where I met Bill Protz and a host of other Wargame luminaries in the states. I acquired as many Christopher Duffy books that I could get my hands on, as his books were the only English language books on the topic. I also managed to acquire the Holy Grail of SYW wargaming : a copy of Sir Reginald Savory's book "His Britannic Majesty's Army in Western Germany during the SYW".
Bill Protz eventually burned out on publishing the SYWA Journal, so I took over the reins and published the journal for the next seven years, before I too burned out on the task of publishing a quarterly magazine. Along the way, I invited Christopher Duffy to our annual convention, offering to pay his airfare and hotel from the magazines budget. This started a long term association that Duffy has had with our group spanning more than 20 years. The ultimate highlight was going on two battlefield tours with Duffy and some 18 or so members to walk the battlefields in eastern Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic.
Time to wrap it up here, but the next big event was seeing the figures that Richard Ansell was creating for Frank Hammond''s Minden Miniatures range. These were like modern day editions of Steve Hezzlewood's old RSM range. Again I was hooked and in a long roundabout way, I ended up acquiring the Minden range from Frank last year , to augment my Fife & Drum AWI range and now the future is all blue skies and sea shells and balloons.