TYPES OF VOLUNTEER & YEOMANRY (1902) #17

TYPES OF VOLUNTEER & YEOMANRY (1902) #17

From the cigarette card set “Types of Volunteer and Yeomanry”, issued by W H & J Woods Ltd of Preston in 1902.

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‘Loos’ Ends

Following on from a post earlier this year, I came into a snippet of further information regarding John Neal, which I thought I’d share. He was a soldier in the 2nd Battalion Leicestershire Regiment during the Great War, being my great-uncle and brother to my paternal grandmother.

This extra information came in the form of a copy of his medal roll, demonstrating that he was entitled to the Victory Medal, the British War Medal and the 1914 Star. This trio of medals was commonly awarded to the early participants in the war and collectively were wryly known as “Pip, Squeak and Wilfred” (after a popular newspaper cartoon of the day).

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Pip, Squeek and Wilfred. The medal roll for John T. Neal, 2nd Leics Regt. Under remarks he is still listed as officially missing and “Pres Dead”.

The 1914 Star was a medal only awarded to men of the British and Indian Expeditionary Forces who had served in France or Belgium between Britain’s declaration of war on the 4th August 1914 and the end of the First Battle of Ypres, 23rd November 1914. This confirms that John Neal was not one of Kitchener’s new army of volunteers as I had speculated in the previous post. Instead, he was likely to have been one of the first troops in France, a member of the so-called ‘Old Contemptibles‘ (that is to say a man who was already a serving regular soldier with the BEF at the beginning of the war, or had joined up very early on). He was therefore likely to have been considered a well-trained veteran when he died in September 1915, not some green volunteer fresh out from basic training in England.

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Gallagher cigarette card featuring Pte Buckingham VC

As part of the Garhwal Brigade in the Indian Corps, the 2nd Battalion of the Leicestershire Regiment had taken part in the Battle of Neuve Chapelle in March 1915. The battle was a costly success for the British army and a private from the 2 / Leicestershire won a Victoria Cross that day. Private William Buckingham enlisted in 1901 aged 15, serving in India and Egypt with the battalion, and was therefore a very experienced soldier at the inception of the war. Private Buckingham’s citation reads:

For conspicuous acts of bravery and devotion to duty in rescuing and rendering aid to the wounded whilst exposed to heavy fire, especially at Neuve-Chapelle on 10th and 12th March 1915.

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Pte Buckingham VC on his return from the front alongside boys from his former children’s home in Countesthorpe, Leicester.

He was wounded in the chest and convalesced back in Britain. Though he could have spent the remainder of the war recruiting and training new troops, he chose to return to the front and died in the later stages of the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Being in the same battalion, it is entirely possible that my relative and Private Buckingham will have known each other.

Returning to my great-uncle John Neal’s medal document, it wrongly lists his rank as ‘Private’, instead of Lance Corporal. Under the remarks section, he is “presumed dead”. Yet, from the information listed on the re-interment form of the same year (1920), it shows that he was at last belatedly identified by means of the discovery of an identity disc. The British Army introduced these identity discs, replacing previous identity cards, in 1907. They were made out of aluminium with the soldier’s basic details being pressed into the thin metal one letter at a time.

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British army aluminium identity disc of the kind which helped identify John Neal’s body.

The disc would have included his initial and surname, details of his regiment, and crucially his army number – 8666. John Neal was relatively fortunate in that regard; at least his body was identified via that identity disc. Of the 8500 soldiers killed on the first day of the Battle of Loos, incredibly barely 2000 have a known grave.

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‘Over the top’ at the battle of Loos, 1915.

The writer and poet Robert Graves was one of those also present at the Battle of Loos, his first experience of battle which he called “a bloody balls up”!

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A haunted look on Robert Graves face following the action at Loos.

In his book, Goodbye to All That, an appalled Graves tells the following anecdote of an officer advancing at Loos.

“When his platoon had run about twenty yards, he signalled them to lie down and open covering fire. The din was tremendous. He saw the platoon on the left flopping down too, so he whistled the advance again. Nobody seemed to hear. He jumped up from his shell-hole and waved and signalled ‘Forward.’ Nobody stirred.”

“He shouted, ‘you bloody cowards, are you leaving me to go alone?’ His platoon-sergeant, groaning with a broken shoulder, gasped out….

‘Not cowards, sir. Willing enough. But they’re all fucking dead!'”

Apart from John Neal, there was another notable death that day on the 25th September 1915 at Loos. The son of another famous writer, Rudyard Kipling. John Kipling was one of those who, like John Neal, was ‘presumed dead’ while missing in action. Unlike my great-uncle John, however, John Kipling was not found with his identity disc. However, many years later in 1992, the body of an unknown soldier was finally identified as being John following careful research, despite the continued absence of his metal disc. This caused his identity to be disputed by some historians until finally it was positively confirmed as bring John Kipling as late as 2016.

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John Kipling

Rudyard Kipling was devastated at the loss of his only son, having been instrumental in securing his commission through his high-level personal contacts in the army, when severe short-sightedness had already prevented John from joining up in either the navy or the army. Kipling Senior later elected to be closely involved in the Imperial War Graves Commission, the body which had ultimately re-interred soldiers such as John Neal into newly established cemeteries. Many, many years later, it would also do the same for his son.

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Rudyard Kipling

In his commission role, Kipling contributed to the liturgy of remembrance with his choice of biblical phrase “Their name liveth for evermore” on the stones of remembrance; the phrase “The Glorious Dead” which appears on the Cenotaph in London; and he even suggested the phrase “A Soldier of the Great War – Known unto God” which appears on the graves of unidentified servicemen – including, for many years and with great poignancy, that upon the headstone of his unidentified son.

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John Kipling – 3rd from left. His severe myopia is made evident in this photo from the reflection on his spectacles.

Kipling also worked with Winston Churchill to ensure that all of the gravestones of the soldiers were the same shape and size, regardless of rank. Thanks to this, Lance Corporal Neal and Lieutenant Kipling, both casualties of the 25th September 1915, both belatedly identified, have gravestones which differ only in inscription.

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18 year old John Kipling’s grave.

Leib-Kurassiere Garde (Nappy Cavalry Project Regiment #26)

I can now just about sign off my box of Zvezda’s Saxon Cuirassiers. I say ‘just about’ because there are some holes requiring filling in. These holes appear on the horse furniture and are to attach the carbines. Sadly, I found the carbines to be a pain in the ass to fix to the figure and so abandoned all but five of them. Even then I didn’t get the pegs into the holes!

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Fiddly firearms aside, the rest of the kit is very impressive and is yet another set that Zvezda can be very proud of. My only quibble might be that some of the detail is just too subtle, all of which makes bringing the detail to life so much harder! Hopefully, I’ve not done them a disservice.

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You may notice all of the figures are looking to the side, something which aided the production of the figures within the mould, no doubt. I could have perhaps given the heads a twist for variety but actually I like the poses well enough.

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Painting figures which are almost entirely white and black, like the Leib Cuirassiers, means limited opportunities for shading and highlighting nice, bright colours. Monochrome figures can also look pretty plain on photos as shading detail largely disappears under my budget camera lens.

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Nonetheless, it’s hard not to like this regiment’s uniform which stands out nicely in contrast to other cavalry regiments in my project. The black cuirass, which was looking far too shiny in my last post, has been dulled nicely with a lick of matt varnish.

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You may notice that I’ve added some purple/blue flowers (Lavender? Forget-me-nots?) to the ground across which they’re charging. There’s a nice touch of springtime about them – which is precisely what seems to be sadly absent from the UK so far this year (as I look out of the window it continues to be cold, grey and wet).

The command figures in the set are as follows:

The Officer:

He wears a more ornate cuirass (I shared a picture of a real example in my previous post) with lots of yellow braid and a black crossbelt. He also has a white plume which came separate on the sprue and required attaching on – amazingly I did this without any trouble! I realise now that I still need to paint his pistols which are attached to the horse furniture.

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The Flag Bearer:

The regimental standard features a white background with white and red fringes. In the centre is a wreath of leaves surrounding a yellow and green striped shield with a green diagonal stripe underneath a crown. On the reverse is the King’s cypher.

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The Trumpeter:

The Leib trumpeter is mounted on a grey, as is usual for cavalry regiments, and unlike the rest of his regiment does not wear a cuirass. The helmet crest is red, as is his jacket with a white collar – in reverse colours to the regiment. The trumpet is brass and has a white/blue/yellow cord attached.

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To end with, some more images and the usual regimental biography!


Biography: Leib-Kurassiere Garde [Saxony]

The regiment had its origins in 1680 as the Count von Promnitz Regiment. As such, it was one of the oldest cavalry regiments to be raised across Germany.

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After combining with the Crown Prince regiment 20 years later, it was to change it’s name a number of times. In 1735, it was known as the Kürassier-Leib-Regiment with the Elector of Saxony Friedrich August II as its colonel. Respective Saxon sovereigns continued this tradition until the final dissolution of the regiment in the 20th century. In 1764, it became the Kurfürst-Kürassier-Regiment and then was known by a number of minor variations upon that name thereafter. On 23 July 1734, the Saxon cuirassiers lost their previous red coats and received a white field coat instead, a change in colour which reflected the political alignment of Saxony with Austria. This new colour was to remain with them for some time.

The regiment rode principally black, dark bays and greys. As a rule, the darker-coloured horses were placed in the front rank, while the lighter-coloured horses were posted in the second rank. The cuirassiers had armour but it was often left it in the depots during wartime.

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Saxon Leib Cuirassier (7 Years War)

In the course of its history, the regiment participated in many battles and campaigns. It’s first real combat came as part of a force relieving the siege of Vienna, in 1683, which was being besieged by the Turks. In 1688, it took part in the Palatinate War of Succession and then in the 1701 Spanish War of Succession. It also fought in the Silesian wars of the 1740s, notably taking part in the battles of Hohenfriedberg and Kesselsdorf. In the following Seven Years War, it was briefly forced into Prussian service resulting in large-scale desertion by its troops who refused to serve the Prussians.

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Saxon Leib Curassiers c.1791

By the time of the 1806 Jena Campaign , the regiment was still known as the “Kurfürst” (or prince-elector’s) regiment and fought in the great defeat at Jena. After that disastrous campaign, the “Kurfürst” became known as the Regiment König-Kürassiere, (König = king) as a consequence of Saxony being elevated to the status of a Kingdom within Napoleon’s creation of the Confederation of the Rhine.

On 24th June 1807, the Regiment König-Kürassiere changed its name once again, achieving prestigious ‘Guard’ status to be known as the Leib-Kurassiere Garde. This was a reward for its most distinguished performance for Napoleon at the battles of Heilsberg and Friedland in 1807.

Napoleon and French Cuirassiers at Friedland, 1807.

Despite the losing many of its finest horses to the French army following the Jena defeat, Saxon heavy cavalry was considered excellently trained, exhibiting a professionalism long admired by other nations.

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pre-1810 Saxon Leib Cuirassier

On 22 Feb 1809, the Saxon army was mobilized again and the missing horses were replaced in time for war with Austria. The regiment subsequently impressed Napoleon at Wagram where the Leib Cuirassiers drove its Austrian Cuirassier counterparts from the field, inspiring Marshal Bernadotte to say “I have always counted on you but today you have surpassed my expectations!“.

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The Battle of Wagram

After 1810, the uniforms of the Saxon heavy cavalry changed significantly. The former Bicorne hat became a brass helmet featuring a brass comb with black woollen crest and white plume. A black fur turban wrapped around the helmet with officers wearing an additional gold oak leaf pattern overlaid. The regiment wore a black half-cuirass (only the front plates) lined red to match their facings.

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The Leib-Kurassiere Garde remained at home in Dresden during the 1812 invasion of Russia, acting as a royal escort to their king. Only the Von Zastrow and Garde du Corps guard heavy cavalry went into Russia. After this terrible campaign, it was the only Saxon heavy cavalry regiment which remained intact.

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The losses experienced during the war of 1812 forced the Saxon army to consolidate its heavy cavalry. In February 1813, a provisional cuirassier regiment was formed of men from the Von Zastrow and Leib-Kurassiere Garde regiments. As the 1813 Leipzig campaign developed, this regiment fought alongside the French at the battles of Bel Hautzen, Reichenbach, Dresden, Bautzen, Ostrand and Leipzig against the Prussians, Austrians and Russians.

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Saxon Cuirassiers and Russian Guard Cossacks

During the Battle of the Nations (Leipzig), 4 squadrons of the provisional regiment took part in an attack where they captured a Russian battery of 12 cannons and engaged the Russian dragoons that came to its aid. French service ended with Napoleon’s defeat at Leipzig. In 1814/15, now liberated from French control, the Leib-Kürassier-Guard took part in Field Marshal Blücher’s campaign against France leading to Napoleon’s eventual abdication.

The provisional regiment, which had absorbed the Leib-Kurassiere Garde, was to eventually become known as the 1st Royal Saxon Guards Heavy Cavalry (Garde-Reiter-Regiment) until finally disbanded on 31st March 1919, after the First World War.

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Saxon Garde-Reiter Regiment c.1907

Notable battles: Hohenfriedberg, Jena, Heilsberg, Friedland, Wagram, Dresden, Leipzig.

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Return of the Lost Sharpshooter

Using time off over the Bank Holiday period, I was emptying out some old magazines when I made a wonderful discovery. Let me explain…

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About two years ago, my parents handed me a small metal figure in a little plastic bag which they had discovered deep in their loft. Knowing that it was probably one of my old model figures from my childhood, and furthermore well aware that I’m always painting soldiers nowadays, they brought it over.

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£1.50? I certainly have had it a very long time…

It was a 54mm figure from Dorset (Metal Model) Soldiers Ltd, which I presume is the same company still going today but under the name The Dorset Model Soldier Company. I guess I must have purchased it from a Victorian Military Society fair in the mid 1980s. The bag also contained a square wooden plinth and a little green baize to mount it on. The figure was from a series called “Armies of the World” and represented a Trumpeter in Drill Order from the 3rd County of London Yeomanry (Sharpshooters) during the period 1902-1907.

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Men of the 3rd County of London (Sharpshooters), c.1902. Note the Trumpeter in Drill Order, far right – that’s the very man who literally inspired my figure!

I was particularly pleased to rediscover this figure as Yeomanry is a great interest of mine. Having (naturally…) the entire fifteen books from the terrific Ogilby Trust series; “The Uniforms of the British Yeomanry Force 1794-1914″, I pulled out my copy of the 5th book in the series on said regiment to do some research.

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There on the cover was the very figure I was researching – and, what’s more, in exactly the same pose! I guessed that the sculptor must have used the excellent Robert J. Marrion image on the far right of the cover as a guide, such is the similarity. Furthermore, the illustration in kind must have been based upon the trumpeter seen in the above photograph.

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Illustration and figure clearly resembling one another…

Finally, the figure came with a hand-written painting guide which, confirming the inspiration behind it, indeed recommended that for further details and colours I should see “No.5 in the series “The Uniforms of the British Yeomanry Force 1794-1914”.

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“C Squadron riding out in Field Service Dress at Bisley Camp in 1904.” The mounted Trumpeter (centre) is sounding a call.

And then it was lost.

Gone. Disappeared. Vanished. The figure was last seen in a generic plastic bag. I threw the bag out but took care to remove the figure first. I’m sure I did. Didn’t I? All that remained was the little wooden plinth that the figure would have been mounted on. I searched everywhere for the figure, fruitlessly turning the house upside down for days. Appalled, I finally became convinced that I must have thrown it out by accident. Two years passed by…

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…Until I discovered it yesterday! It turned up secreted at the bottom of a magazine rack. Heaven knows how or why it got there, and how it evaded my searches for so long. Now it has returned, I’m tempted to finally have a go at painting it. Heaven knows, I’ve got enough on at the moment, so it may be a little while yet before I make a start.

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Trouble is, not only have I already clumsily broken the plume off (hastily re-glued), but I am now unable to locate the wooden plinth which ironically has possibly been thrown out after the figure was given up as lost. Never mind; I’ll fashion a replacement!

I now want to end by saying some words about R.J. Marrion, the artist who inspired the Trumpeter figure and illustrated for the entire British Yeomanry Force series. Bob Marrion was a former police officer, firstly a dog handler and then latterly, after injury, a police draftsman. He illustrated dozens of books and articles on the subject of military uniforms including the entire Ogilby Trust series on the British Yeomanry Force.

 

Sadly Bob Marrion passed away in 2015 to the great regret of many with an interest in and appreciation for military history, uniforms and artworks.

From Carryings on up the Dale blog:

From French Revolutionary Wargames blog;

From Planet Figure forum:

Tantalisingly, from this forum it is suggested that in the 1970s Bob Marrion even sculpted, or at least designed, his own Victorian-era figures under the name Olive Figures. Something to look out for, perhaps?

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So painting this figure becomes, perhaps, a kind of belated personal tribute to the late Bob Marrion and his essential contribution to the hobby. What more appropriate way for me to do this than bringing to life a sculpted manifestation of one of his illustrations? Having not painted anything greater than 28mm, 54mm scale is something very different and so should be an interesting challenge.

Currently, I’m still finishing off the Zvezda Saxon Cuirassiers, which should be definitely finished some time this week, I reckon. After that, following what has been over 3 decades of being lost and found, I’d say it’s about time this lost sharpshooter – one of Bob Marrion’s artistic visions – was finally brought to life!

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Leib and Kicking

Thanks to the woeful bank holiday weather here in the UK, I’ve had plenty of indoor time in which to progress my Saxon Leib Cuirassiers. These are now, I’m happy to say, very well advanced. The riders are about finished, less the stirrups and spurs.

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The excellent, not-to-say generous, old-style Zvezda kit comes with a flag bearer, an officer and trumpeter. The officer has a white plume and a wonderfully ornate cuirass to distinguish him from the hoi-poloi of the rest of the regiment.

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I’ve given him a black crossbelt as 1) I believe that it was worn by Saxon cuirassier officers, and 2) quite frankly I preferred it to other possibilities. The officer also has gold wreath of leaves around the front of his helmet, not really visible on this photo. His cuirass has a brass royal cypher and studs around the edge. I found an example of one on the internet:

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As with the rest of the regiment, he has only a half-cuirass, the back being left unprotected to reveal his white coat.

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The Trumpeter wears reverse facings (i.e. a red coat and white collar instead of the exact opposite for the rest of the regiment). He does not wear a cuirass and has a distinctive red crest on his helmet. He has brass trumpet with ornately woven cord attached.

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The flag bearer has a flag which is, I believe, supposed to represent the Von Zostrow Cuirassiers. However, I understand from my research that the Leib regiment’s flag was very similar, all but identical but for colour differences and so must have looked much like my ‘attempt’ below. On one side of the flag in the centre, surrounded by a garland of leaves, is the Saxon coat of arms – a yellow and green striped shield with a green diagonal stripe under a crown:

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A closer view of the arms of Saxony

On the other side is the royal cypher surrounded by leaves under a crown. I admit that I wasn’t sure about the crossbelt for the flag bearer and so elected for black with gold trim.

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The rest of the men wear a plainer uniform with black crests, white crossbelts and the black half-cuirass. They lack the brass shoulder straps seen on the officer which I believe is simply a rare oversight by Zvezda.

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The collars and turnbacks are red with yellow trim and the cuirass is lined with red.

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I have to say that when I spend far, far too long than is sensible shading and highlighting all that white clothing and black crests to my satisfaction – it’s disappointing to find that virtually none of it shows up under the camera! You’ll just have to believe me when I say they look a little better to the eye…

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One other thing that I’ve noticed is that under the camera my cuirasses look more of steel gunmetal colouring than black. My approach is to mix black with gunmetal paint to get the required shade. This worked well but is at the cost of losing some of the metallic shiny surface. I’ve tried to restore the metallic sheen with a little gloss varnish but I now find that it reflects the light under the lens and now looks too metallic! I may add a little thin matt black paint to reduce the reflection a tad.

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Next on the painting table will be their horses. These are sturdy and well-sought-after Holstein horses – perfect for carrying their heavy cuirassier riders. Although Napoleon plundered the regiment for these Holsteins for his own cavalry in 1806-07 campaign, we can assume that they have since arranged remounts. I believe that the regiment would have had dark bay and black horses. I’ll make an exception for the trumpeter who will ride the usual grey.

Well, I’m loving being ‘back in the saddle’ painting Napoleonic cavalry, I have to admit!

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Steel-plated Saxons

Taking a break from the First World War, I thought it about time to dip back into the old Nappy Cavalry Project (the last regiment in the series – the Mamelukes – being painted in July of last year). The set I’ve chosen to paint is a box I’ve had lying around for a couple of years or so but never got around to painting them. Finally, the time is right to tackle Zvezda’s Saxon Cuirassiers.

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Thank you, young assistant. Presenting the latest in the Nappy Cavalry Project!

The figures are of Zvezda’s usual exceptional standard. These cuirassiers bear an uncanny resemblance to my Russian Cuirassiers of the same era which I painted over a year ago (see below example).

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Both Russian and Saxon cuirassiers wore white coats with headgear of brass helmets and a black comb. Both also were protected by a black cuirass. By chance, both nation’s cuirassiers found themselves on opposite sides in the Russian campaign of 1812, including the great battle of Borodino. The Saxons, as a part of the Napoleon-sponsored “Confederation of the Rhine”, accompanied the 1812 campaign and fought alongside the French until their defeat at Leipzig in 1813.

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Saxon heavy cavalry after 1800 numbered three Guard regiments, two of which – the Leib and the Von Zastrow regiments – were issued with front cuirass plates coloured black (there was no back plate worn).

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Saxon Cuirassiers – Leib Regt (left) and Von Zostrow (right)

So my choice is between these two; the Leib Regiment with red facings and the Von Zastrow with yellow (as illustrated above). As my previous Russian Cuirassier figures of the Astrakhan Regiment also wore yellow facings, to better differentiate I’ve chosen the Leib Curassiers as the 26th regiment in the project.

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In the Nappy Cavalry Project, I like to see as much variety as possible. This latest kit is certainly the first regiment from Saxony – which is good – but visually they will look similar to Zvezda’s Russians, even with facings coloured red. One area that I can differentiate them further, however, is in the riding overalls. My Russians wear campaign grey overalls on their legs whilst the Saxons are shown in buff on the cover of the box. This was their original colour prior to 1810, but the trouble is that most contemporary illustrations I’ve found show them wearing either grey overalls again or parade-ground white breeches.

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So, in keeping with the central figure shown in the wonderful old Richard Knotel illustration of the Leib Cuirassiers above, I’m opting for white breeches. I’ll simply paint over the row of buttons on the side of the legs. Not being a war-gamer, I’m happy that they look more ready for the parade ground than the battlefield. The red-jacketed trumpeter and shabraques should add a further dash of colour too.

Painting has begun already, so expect an update when they’re more progressed.

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Voilà les Poilus: French WWI Infantry (1914)

You’ll be pleased to note that this will be the last of my ‘franglais’ titles for a while because the French infantry are all finished. After posting on the machine gun teams from this set, I hereby present the remainder of my box of Caesar French WWI Infantry from 1914 (apologies for the slightly dingy photos lacking in daylight – I hate this time of year):

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Yep, these Caesar figures are very impressive. The proportions are good and the sculpting and mould are too.

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The only downside is that the soft plastic has allowed the rifles to occasionally bend and I have been unable to put them back into the correct position without them just bending right back again! I wouldn’t expect that the poilu on the left below will hit a great deal at any range…

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Aside from the machine gunners, the box also came with a small group of infantrymen lying prone on the ground. I’ve placed these together on the same base in a kind of firing line. Half of them are loading and the other half firing from behind a small rise in the ground. Despite the cover, the German army will have an easier time identifying where they are thanks to the bright red kepi on their heads. Furthermore, the kepi will not offer much protection when the bullets fly. The dull, all-metal Adrian helmet is yet to be adopted…

The officer I’ve painted with a blue cover over his red kepi, which is I believe named the ‘Saumur’ version,  which was usual by the time of the Great War. He has binoculars in  a case; a sword, which was pretty useless in modern combat; and a revolver, which was more useful in close combat. He has been sculpted blowing a whistle, a nice touch by Caesar as it was a vital communication tool on World War One battlefields. He also has spurs on his ankles which horse riding company commanders such as captains or lieutenants would have had. My rank cuff stripes of gold lace have been too widely spaced, I reckon.

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French officer blowing a whistle. Would have been handy for refereeing duties during the 1914 Christmas Truce…

This nicely thought out set also came with an interesting ‘walking wounded’ figure. He has presumably received a bullet or shrapnel wound to the left arm and been subsequently treated at a dressing station behind the lines. On reflection, I might get a bit bloodthirsty and add a little seeping through red paint to one or two of them white bandages. Convincingly, they have had their backpacks and weapons removed prior to receiving their treatment at the front. Presumably, they will be transported off somewhere to convalesce – lucky buggers!

So that’s the Caesar French poilu ticked off; the third group of figures from the First World War. Going through my embarrassingly excessive collection of soldiers, I’m in the process of considering what to do next and will no doubt reveal all soon.

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La Mitrailleuse

Mon Dieu! I’ve now completed the French WWI Infantry by Caesar Miniatures! Before I present the rest of the box, I thought I’d first showcase my machine gunners. The box includes three sets of these machine gun crews and I attempted two of them:

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In my limited knowledge of WWI armaments, I initially assumed the machine gun was a Hotchkiss, which took ammunition in the form of the long metal feed strip that one of the men can be seen holding, kneeling down and ready to insert into the side.

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The French did adopt the Hotchkiss guns but only, it seems, as late as 1917. At the beginning of the Great War, the French were using another model of machine gun; the Mitrailleuse Mle 1907 T, otherwise known as the St. Etienne.

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Beautifully painted contemporary postcard entitled “La Mitrailleuse”. Men can be seen holding the ammunition feed strip ready.

So, being 1914 figures, I must assume that they are using the St. Etienne Mle 1907 mitrailleuse (machine gun). This gun was a development from the disappointing Puteaux APX. Although superficially similar to the Hotchkiss, the St. Etienne was intentionally radically different in its design in a deliberate attempt by the French government to circumvent the patent held by the private firm Hotchkiss et Cie.

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French troops operating the much maligned Puteaux APX machine gun, forerunner to the St. Etienne.

The St. Etienne fired it’s 25-round metal strips of ammunition at a rate of fire which was adjustable between 80 and 650 rounds per minute. At a high rate of fire, I imagine the men feeding the 25-round magazines would have had their work cut out! The bullets were the standard 8mm Lebel and, as with the Chauchat light machine gun seen in use by my recent Serbian infantry figures, the St. Etienne suffered gravely from stoppages and maintenance issues in the dirty and difficult conditions on the front line.

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The St. Etienne Mle 1907 mitrailleuse. Note the seat low down on the rear leg. The small wheel and handle are presumably for elevation and direction changes.

The Hotchkiss was to considered to be much more reliable than the St. Etienne and was eventually adopted in mid-1917. Many obsolete St. Etienne’s were then sent to reserve units and allied armies such as the Italian or Romanian. forces

While I’ve been painting these machine guns, a little thought was nagging me about a Great War painting I vaguely recalled being titled “La Mitrailleuse”. Sure enough, I discovered it was the title of a 1915 painting featuring French soldiers at a machine gun position by Welsh artist and Great War soldier, Christopher Nevinson.

La Mitrailleuse 1915 by Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson 1889-1946
“La Mitrailleuse” 1915 painting by C.R.W. Nevinson

A BBC article from a few years ago had this to say about Nevinson’s “La Mitrailleuse”:

“It is a portrait of this first experience of truly modern war – rooted, as it now was, in mass production and the mobilisation of organised industrial process. In the painting the men are drawn with the same hard, angular, rigid lines as the gleaming silver-grey gun they are operating – the men are robotised to become, with the fiercely powerful weapon they are wielding, complementary parts of a coordinated destructive enterprise, humanity absorbed into the killing machine.” The Faceless Men – by Allan Little

The men in the Nevinson painting are wearing metal Adrian helmets, having abandoned the red kepi. However, they all still have the blue overcoat and the soldier operating the weapon is clearly still wearing the famous red trouser. In this image, the echoes of romantic military uniforms from the past are fading fast, but not yet quite disappeared completely. Le Pantalon Rouge is the only vivid and bright colour appearing in the painting.

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Looking at my figures, it does seem that some respects an incongruous image – a soldier wearing a 19th century-style colourful uniform sitting at an icon of industrialised killing. With the eventual change away from Le Pantalon Rouge into less colourful, camouflaged uniforms, these men would indeed merge ever more closely with La Mitrailleuse and become simply part of the industry of killing.

tuck oilette postcard french

Praise is due to Caesar Miniatures for producing these machine gun teams which, even with my typically ham-fisted attempt at model construction, look rather impressive.

I’ll be presenting the remainder of the box of figures shortly…

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