FEMbruary 2021

It’s that time of the year again that many of us figure painters, makers and bloggers look forward to. Fembruary has been declared by Alex at Lead Balloony blog. I’ve not missed a Fembruary yet and there’s no way I want to miss out this year.

My previous Fembruary submissions:

So I’ve been taking a look at my figures as usual to find something which could satisfy the core aims of Alex’s great idea which is namely to paint and post some female miniatures in the ‘name of fair representation in the hobby’. In his blog post, he goes on to say “Given that this is intended as an encouragement to think about inclusion in the hobby then it makes sense if your entries are kick-ass ladies, and not the product of some socially awkward mini-sculptor’s sexy fantasies…” A final round-up is in early March (in time for International Women’s Day, on the 8th March).

For more details on Fembruary, see the Lead Balloony post and you could do a lot worse than check out his son’s very impressive Amazon quartet while your at it.

Nancy Wake in First Aid Nursing Yeomanry uniform, 1945, Public Domain,

If it’s kick-ass ladies that Alex wants to see, then my selection should more than fit the bill. This year I couldn’t resist Bad Squiddo’s wonderful new range of WWII female SOE agents. All of them, with one exception, are based on real life heroic agents who served the cryptically named Special Operations Executive. The characters include:

  • Krystyna Skarbek
  • Nancy Wake
  • Virginia Hall
  • Noor Inayat Khan
  • Annie Norman

The first four are based on real WWII SOE agents, the last one is Bad Squiddo supremo herself, Annie Norman, aka “Gestapo’s Most Wanted”. Annie might, of course, even be a genuine agent too but I’m not allowed to talk about that…

Krystyna Skarbek, SOE agent, Public Domain

I’ve also had my eye on another female figure from Bad Squiddo but it’s doubtful I will get time to paint that before Fembruary’s deadline, so (like a good SOE agent) I’m keeping that very ‘hush-hush’ for now.

Man of Tin blog has submitted some lovely Fembruary work in recent years – are you in again this year, Mark?

I’ve been painting figures again this week, so more news on that to follow.

Soldiers (and Subbuteo) by Stadden

Though I’ve had little time for anything related to model soldiers of late, I thought I’d share some figures that I unexpectedly received for Christmas from my brother.

They came with a little handwritten note sharing some details he’d copied off eBay – “Fifty four vintage 30mm metal figures. Made by Chas Stadden. Era 1751-1815”. Nice one, bro. Lovely stuff!

A closer examination revealed that the figures appeared to be related to, I believe, the American War of Independence. A number were kilted highlanders engaged in a firefight led by some animated officers wielding some fearsome claymores.

What I believe to be light infantry wearing mitre caps were also well represented.

There were also a handful of marching line infantry, some officers, bandsmen (drummers and fifers) and groups of artillerymen too:

The figures are very nicely sculpted indeed, no surprise to anyone familiar with Stadden’s work. Charles C. Stadden is a legendary name in model soldier circles and a quick search of eBay will reveal many of his figures still for sale.

One of the first unpainted metal figures I ever owned, possibly around the age of 13, was of a 80mm model of a Victorian British infantryman, part of the ‘Stadden Collection’.

Box for an 80mm Stadden figure.

Bringing together his immense artistic talents with a light engineering experience, Stadden first turned to commercial model soldier production in 1951, yet throughout his life he also developed a deserved reputation for watercolour and oil painting too. Stadden died in 2002 at the age of 83. A very useful history of Chas Stadden can be found on his son Andrew C. Stadden’s website. Andrew has followed his revered father into miniature model making and his beautiful railway figures can be purchased via his own site.

Charles Stadden’s submitted designs for Subbuteo’s police crowd control set.

One thing that I admit I wasn’t at all aware of until recently was Chas Stadden’s close connection with my other major childhood passion – Subbuteo table football.

I’ve been sorting through my old Subbuteo collection (it’s true, I really have never grown up…) in readiness for a house moving date and came across some books on the history of the game; “Fifty years of Flicking Football” by Richard Payne and “Flick to Kick” by Daniel Tatarsky. Thanks to the latter, I now realise that it seems that Stadden appears to have had a hand in the production of the beautiful old Subbuteo figures of the 1960s and 70s. These so-called ‘heavyweight’ figures featured a footballer casually walking with leg partially lifted. They remain unsurpassed in quality by any figures since produced. Infamously, in 1978 Subbuteo cut costs and switched from hand-painted to machine painted figures, assisted by a new machine painting-friendly figure caustically known in the hobby as a “zombie” figure. The contrast between Stadden’s lovely creation and the stiff Zombie could hardly be more stark.

Aside from making many model soldier figures. Stadden produced figures for Scalextric and Hornby amongst others, so his influence upon the lives of many, big or little kids alike, must have been enormous and this big kid pays tribute to him!

The Foragers – Part 3

Erm… a belated ‘Happy New Year’. Seems like we’re back in lockdown – and for a long time too. Hope everyone is staying safe and looking after each other. In my spare moments, I have very slowly been adding some paint to the remaining figures in my Russian Sledge Train project. I previously had a few figures painted in December (see forager posts parts one and two for these), but I still had about a half dozen remaining.

The remaining figures include the following:

The Prodding Peasant:

This figure goes together with ‘The Peasant Pummeler’ figure I painted a month ago. I suggest that this irate yokel is unimpressed with the quantity of livestock that the Tsar’s troops are carrying off!

The Scarfed Supervisor

He’s the one with a list, an officer’s bicorne and a gesturing hand, so must be the man in charge of the foraging expedition. The green scarf around his neck is a nice touch by the sculptor.

The Barrel Bringer

This Cossack is rolling a barrel up to the sledge train. Plastic Soldier Review were somewhat confused about this figure, suggesting that it “…might be a Cossack doing something (our best guess is pushing the sledge, but it could be anything).” The barrel included in the set is the clue, the two seem to go so nicely together that I believe this was the sculptor’s intention.

The Rabbit Raider (or maybe, The Balalaika Burgler)

He could even be called The Hare Holder, certainly PSR seem to think it’s a hare. From his helmet, I can tell he’s a dragoon in winter dress. In his other hand is a balalaika which confuses me a little (although PSR seem unquestioning about it!). I’m wondering why this dragoon might have it. It’s unlikely that he’s taken it with him on the foraging expedition, so presumably it is – like his hare – booty taken from a peasant household to be enjoyed back at camp.

The Calf Carriers

These two characters can be seen from their dress to be some type of warrior from the Steppes, most likely Kalmyks or Bashkirs. They are carrying a pole tied to which is some type of an animal which I decided is probably a calf. I’ve had little opportunity to develop my cow painting skills, so I’ve just done my best here. PSR point out that the legs are tied somewhat impossibly underneath the pole!

And finally, the man left waiting around, whip in hand, for all these foragers to finally return with their food is…

The Dallying Driver

Another nice character, I painted his hat red as I thought there was a little something of Santa about him.

Another long lockdown ahead…

Those other finished figures again:

Just the sledge and horse to paint next and then – at some point – I will be putting the whole lot into some sort of scene (I could really use some of Pat’s diorama expertise here, but the plan ultimately is to use lots of snow…).

In Search of Lieutenant Kije

It has been snowing hard here today. As we endure/enjoy the season in the midst of an appalling pandemic, I’ve been thinking of some music most commonly associated with at this time of year and which contained a memorable tune about a sleigh ride. I’m talking of Prokofiev’s “Troika”.

For a youngster in the 1980s with a Napoleonic uniform obsession, I’d be delighted whenever television would rare occasions throw up something of interest. One Christmas, Prokofiev’s “Lieutenant Kije” suite really caught my imagination when an animated version appeared on television in the early 1980s. Decades later, I still remember certain parts of it and the pleasure I took in seeing animated Napoleonic soldiers appear on screen.

What was this animation?

It was an animation made in 1979 for the BBC and featuring some notable actors (Leo McKern as the Tsar, Patricia Hodge, Tony Robinson and narrated by Peter Settelen). The BFI site lists the puppets as being made by Bob Bura and John Hardwick, (more famous amongst middle-aged people in the UK as being the animators of the Trumptonshire series of programmes, amongst others). However, writer and broadcaster Tim Worthington’s very informative and amusing blog corrects this, citing regular BBC Schools contributor Alan Platt as being the maker of the puppets. His blog mentions how this animated story was shown initially in short instalments in a schools music programme series called Music Time, as part of a noble attempt to ‘make learning fun’, but later combined them into one longer stand-alone animated story.

The fiery Tsar, his generals and an unfortunate courtier.

The plot sees the name of Lt Kije being conjured up after four individual soldier names were put forward for a decoration by the Tsar’s squabbling generals who were unable to agree on a single candidate. The capital letters of each name collectively spelt out KIJE and the short-sighted Tsar, who could only see the capital letters, enquired who this soldier “Kije” was. No one dared point out his mistake and unwilling to risk the terrible wrath of the Tsar, the generals began to bluff and bluster the mythical Lieutenant Kije into existance, extolling his tremendous exploits and telling invented tales of his great bravery. Some stills from the animated film which can be seen below, (featuring the scene of Kije’s creation).

The Tsar’s squabbling generals are unable to agree on a single candidate for a bravery award, notes featuring the names of potential candidates lie crumpled on the floor.

And so the mythical Lieutenant Kije was born. In my searches, I found the lyrics to a song about Kije, the verses of which track his rise through the ranks; in this case from a hussar, via a captain, eventually through to a general and then a hero.

Oh, Kije was a hussar bold, a hussar bold was he.
The bravest soldier of the tsar, the pride of the Cavalry.
Oh, Kije was a captain fine, a captain fine was he.
So fearless in the cannons roar, he led his company.
Oh Kije was a Colonel fierce. A colonel fierce was he.
His soldiers never paused for rest till they routed the enemy.
Oh Kije was a general brave, a general brave was he.
His army always lead the van to gain the victory.
Oh, Kije won a hero’s fame, a hero’s fame won he.
The bravest soldier to serve the Tzar in the ranks of Muscovy.
Now Kije never lived at all the Tzar’s mistake was he.
But as the Tzar could do no wrong, a myth he had to be.

Mindful of those wonderful animated soldier puppets, I was interested in some of the depictions of the mythical Kije on the covers of Prokofiev’s music, seeing the myth brought to life, so to speak, one of which used model soldiers such as these below (looking curiously like Austrian grenadiers…).

Here, on the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s recording, Kije is now shown (as in the song), as a hussar. His dress includes a red shako with green pelisse and dolman.

This Kije on an RCA Victor LP at least appears altogether more distinctly Russian. He is dressed, it appears, as a guard Cossack of Tsar.

The Chicago Symphony’s recording of Kije has a more abstract cover combining a Nightingale and other figures but Kije can be see in another red Guard Cossack uniform, but this time with a tall shako and a strange multi-coloured feather plume arrangement.

The mythical Kije is (suitably enough) absent in the BIS release, leaving just a blue uniform with red facings and a black bicorne. Riding boots and gauntlet gloves suggest an equally invisible horse.

A very colourful artistic rendition for Capitol’s recording twinned with the Hary Janos Suite. The choice of coupling Hary Janos with Kije is appropriate as Janos was an old hussar in the Austrian army who would tell outrageous tall tales (in the manner of Baron Von Munchausen) including single-handedly beating Napoleon! The question from the cover below is – who is whom? Neither look particularly Russian, more Hungarian, but my money is Janos being the figure on the right with a hussar’s pelisse, which puts our Lt. Kije (with hearts at his feet) in a very curious – and very decorated – uniform indeed.

Decca describes its label as being “the world of great classics”, and this seems to extend to military history judging by this cover. From a uniform as outrageously fantastic as one of Janos’ tales, we return to an identifiable classic Russian army uniform. Kije’s back in the infantry here, apparently now an officer in the guard from the Napoleonic period.

Once again, those two military men of myth and fabrication, Hary Janos and Lt Kije, are brought together in this next release. They sit together sharing a drink and swapping outrageous tall tales with Janos dressed in a peasant outfit and Kije more identifiable this time in another Guard Cossack uniform. The cover even appears to use models, in the manner of my animated film.

Next we have on of the original theatrical posters for Prokofiev’s first production. Kije is shown in outline only with an officer’s bicorne hat, as suitable a way as any to depict a man that never was. I believe it’s the Tsar shown to the foreground with the Russian soldiers in a curiously red mid-18th century uniform!

The Soviets also produced one of the earliest sound films made in the Soviet Union using the plot of Lt. Kije. The court officials are forced to cover up Kije’s repeated non-appearance at court by announcing that “General Kijé” has, unfortunately, died leading to a lavish funeral, his tomb literally being a cenotaph. Set in the time of Tsar Paul I (1796-1801), a still below shows a really fabulous scene at the beginning of the film where (in a remarkably adept piece of early film editing) the soldiers parade, march and drill in time to Prokofiev’s memorable opening movement in the suite – ‘the birth of Lieutenant Kije’!

In the Soviet film production, Lt. Kije is born of a clerical error.

And – returning to the subject of sleighs – the most famous part of Prokofiev’s score is undoubtedly the “Troika” movement, used most memorably in the late Greg Lake’s Christmas hit “I believe in Father Christmas”. A troika is a sleigh pulled by three horses, and it’s the bells jingling on their tack which provides this music with it’s particularly Christmassy vibe.

All of which brings me nicely back to my own current Russian sleigh painting efforts. Preparations for an immanent house move have limited painting activity and may well do so for a while to come. In the meantime, I aim to keep up to date with the blogging and painting efforts of others as much as I can. In the interim, I offer best wishes to all visitors for the season and a hopefully much happier and healthier 2021.

POST SCRIPT: I am pleased to announce that this has been Suburban Militarism’s 500th post! Hoorah!

Retreat from Moscow

December, 1812. Napoleon’s army may be struggling against pursuing Cossacks and the cold Russian winter during their infamous retreat from Moscow, but for at least one French infantryman there’s something to look forward to…

My submission for my young daughter’s Christmas video extravaganza – a socially distanced entertainment event that she put together for all the family featuring songs, performances, a quiz, video montages and more.

Blogging the ‘Nog

It’s Christmas and I’ve been making my first ever Eggnog. Pat over at Pat’s 1:72 Military Diorama’s had, like me, never tried eggnog so we resolved an intention to give it a go this Christmas. This was all inspired by my raising of The Eggnog Cuirassier Regiment, earlier this year – the heavy cavalry of the Army of Advent.

I invited over the regiment’s commanding officer, Major Pigsin-Blankets, together with some of his men to observe and try out a glass of my eggy drink experiment.

I chose a recipe off the BBC Good Food website which called for condensed milk. Next, I added four egg yolks and some sugar syrup I made with a teaspoon of vanilla essence. The whole mixed together…

…and don’t forget the brandy!

Did someone say brandy?!

The Posset Posse ride out… straight to the brandy!

Two hours chilled in the fridge before serving over ice! I added a dash of nutmeg on top as a final flourish. My verdict? Totally delicious, if very sweet!

There has been a very timely post by Clare Mosley the Derbyshire Records Office about the historical Christmas ‘posset pot’, an ancient eggy drink not dissimilar to eggnog. Apparently, during the Great Plague of 1666, “it was even used as cure for the disease.” Well, we could all use a bit of that magic lately.

https://recordoffice.wordpress.com/2020/12/24/a-winters-posset/

Cheers, Major, and God bless us, every one.

The Foragers – Part 2

With preparation for a house move in full swing, I’ve not much time for figure painting and progress on my Russian Army Sledge Train set has slowed considerably. Nevertheless, I’ve managed to almost complete one – or should I say two – more of the remaining figures.

Plastic Soldier Review was unsure about the inclusion of this figure saying:-

“The figures in this set seem mostly to be involved in the business of feeding the army, but there are some odd poses too which seem to be random additions. The top row has a soldier carrying a woman for some reason…”

A close examination and some attention with the brush reveals a possible reason for this figure’s inclusion with the other foragers. Judging from the pose, the scene appears to show two lovers; the Cossack soldier carries her gently and she nestles her face in his shoulder.

The lady is clutching a bag of something in her hand which I believe to be a dowry paid to the Cossack for his new bride, or bride-to-be!

So this soldier has had a particularly successful foraging expedition, carrying away considerably more than mere fodder – his new wife! I think it’s a nice touch and a clever insight into the impact that a passing army the size of the Tsar’s might have on a small peasant village where soldiers could carry away supplies, food and even daughters.

Wikipedia states:

In late Tsarist Russia, the dowry originally consisted of clothing for the bride, linen, and bedding… and a money dowry was sometimes added, particularly if the bride was regarded as having some fault. Prospective in-laws, usually concerned mostly with her working ability, grew more concerned about a money dowry.

I don’t know what this poor young lady’s ‘fault’ might be, but we can suppose that the poor woman had very little say in the whole marital arrangement. Hopefully, the tenderness depicted in the scene augers well for her future.

Hopefully, I’ll get some time over the Christmas period to add more to this growing project.

Campbell’s Cavalrymen #2: Yeoman of Yorkshire

I’ve been quietly making a return to the 54mm yeomanry figure painting with one of my two remaining Mitrecap Miniatures figures. The figure in question is a 1908 officer of the East Riding of Yorkshire Yeomanry which, together with the Yorkshire Dragoons and Yorkshire Hussars, are one of all three Yorkshire yeomanry regiments covered by the manufacturer. This bias towards Yorkshire can be explained by the manufacturer heralding from Sheffield, South Yorkshire.

The painting instruction for this metal 54mm figure includes the following advice:

Thankfully, I already had one of these references, the former being a plate illustrated by E.A. Campbell in R.G. Harris’ 1972 book. This artist also inspired the previous Mitrecap figure I painted this year of the Surrey yeomanry. Campbell’s illustration of the East Riding soldier appears at the end of the book:

The other reference comes from the April 1983 edition of Military Modelling which I sourced cheaply from eBay. The relevant article is “The East Riding Yeomanry (Wenlock’s Horse) 1902-1947: Part 1” by Major R. Wilson. It contains information on the regiment’s formation, a detailed description of the uniform and a number of watercolour illustrations by an artist identified only with the initials “M.J.T.”.

The first challenge was trying to replicate the particular shade of the tunic which has variously been described as being either “claret” or “maroon” both in the Harris book and in the painting advice provided by Mitrecap, but simply as “maroon” by Major Wilson in the article. Not having a ready-made maroon/claret in my paint rack I had to set about mixing my own shade and, after a couple of abject failures, finally settled on one I was content with which, I hope, does the job.

This is the first 54mm yeomanry figure I’ve painted wearing a lancer cap (Czapka). It’s cloth panels are a colourful light blue with a black patent leather skull cap and gold lines and chin scales. The plume is described as a white and pale blue feather affair, the blue is really clear on Campbell’s illustration but less so on MJT’s which appears largely white. I’ve gone with MJT with just a hint of light blue peeking between the white feathers.

East Riding Museums have this lovely yeomanry czapka as an exhibit available to view online which seems to be white with a very feint hint of pale blue about it.

The light blue appears again as double stripes on the dark blue overalls. My captain also wears a lancer’s girdle of red and gold bands which had to be painted freehand, a bit tricky as there were no sculpted lines.

Pale blue piping is also on the rear and edges of the jacket. These rear views show my addition of some details on a plaque. The plinth is alder wood and hand-made in the Ukraine – very posh!

The figure came with a sword and scabbard with slings but, no matter what I tried, I just couldn’t place it anywhere which looked natural. So as he looks entirely happy without it, I simply left it off completely. However, since taking these photos, I’ve found an image which better explains its positioning so I’m going to have another go but it’s just too late for this post, I’m afraid!

The plastron on the chest, the shoulder straps and collar are also pale blue which, as a combination with the maroon/claret jacket, puts me in mind of the claret and blue of the football strips of West Ham or Aston Villa). The overall effect is to add a nice addition of more vibrant colours in contrast to the predominantly khaki and dark blue colours featuring on the rest of my 54mm Yeomanry Cavalry figures.

Watercolour of a 1906 East Riding Yeomanry officer appearing on the East Riding Musems site. The artist shows a pale blue plume!

Finally, the regiment has a badge on the collar featuring a guilt metal fox with the legend “Forrard” which wasn’t at all present on the figure so I’ve simply painted my own approximated version.

Overall, I’m very happy with this new addition to the yeomanry fold. I’ve a number of figures to keep adding to the project but only one Mitrecap version. The now sadly demised Mitrecap Miniatures made some terrific yeomanry figures and I’d dearly love to source those remaining ones one day (there are about five that I know of). The sculpting on this Captain of the East Riding yeomanry stands as testament to their quality figures.

The Foragers – Part 1

My ‘Russian sledge train‘ figures are progressing nicely. Because they’re such varied characters, I’m splitting them up into painting batches so that I feel a sense of making progress. Here’s the first batch:

The Peasant Pummeler

This fellow above is angrily wielding a big stick. Collectively, the figures in the box lend themselves to an overall narrative which will hopefully make sense when I put them together. Suffice to say, he might have something to do with settling the dispute taking place in the next group of figures…

The Goose Grabber

Plastic Soldier Review seemed unsure as to what this pair of figures were actually doing.

“The other piece is also a pair, and also includes one of the eastern irregulars, this time with a bow and quiver on his belt. He holds a fowl of some sort, as does the other figure, who is a woman. Whether they are capturing it, attempting to kill it, or perhaps fighting over it we cannot say – all seem reasonable possibilities. Whatever is going on it is bad news for the bird but quite an appealing piece for us.

It seems clear to me that they’re fighting over it, the Central Asian warrior (a Bashkir or Kalmyk perhaps) is taking it away to the sledge as fodder for the army. I doubt a dead bird would not be handed over by the legs like that (being all floppy and all) and what’s more they seems to be engaged in a tug of war, pulling away in different directions. Finally, I think the peasant woman’s face is shouting. She has good reason to protest. In winter, the seizure of livestock like this could mean life and death to peasant folk.

The Sheep Stealer

The next character is carrying a dead sheep across his shoulders. Again, PSR were unsure as to the nature of this animal, but the fleece (which doesn’t come out very well under the lens) seems to be a giveaway.

I’ve placed this Cossack in a tan coloured coat rather than the usual blue, just for a bit of visual variety.

The Pig Plunderer

This Cossack has his hands full with a pair of piglets. I’ve got to attend to their trotters and snouts but otherwise I think they look OK. Nice work from Strelets with the Cossack’s face, which is full of character.

More to come from these with another ten figures still to do including, of course, a sledge! Later, I aim to combine them all in some kind of a final scene.