Come on in, the party’s in full swing! Pour yourself a drink and mingle…
Five years ago, my first post on WordPress was published. I’ve since maintained regular blogging for five years. I wasn’t at all sure what I was doing when I started – or why, but I seem to keep on painting figures and blogging away.
Ooh, that Cossack balalaika version of Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” is going down a storm…
There’s Capitaine Dubois and General Fournier indulging their Gallic love for fine wine by quaffing sauvignon blanc…Looks like both Major Donaldson and Ferik Ibrahim Pasha prefer a nice cup of tea, though…
Oh dear, Private Atkins, has disgraced himself by drinking far too much and practising his dance moves…
Earlier this year, Mark at Man of Tin blog posted a photo of his painting area, a flap-down desk which was based in his lounge. With this set up, he could be immersed in his miniaturised world (headphones on) yet could tidy everything away in a blink of an eye by closing the desk up and be back with his family again in moments.
That got me thinking about my own painting space. Since moving into my current home over 7 years ago I’ve been an itinerant occupying a temporary space on the dining room table, all items to be packed away when finished (mostly). Even my paint rack has been incongruously occupying a place on the kitchen worktop! Maybe the discrete desk idea of Mark offered a solution?
So here it is; my new painting place and a permanent home for my hobbyist activities. The desk top folds down and provides a place to paint. Behind the cupboard doors underneath lie all my materials; glues, flock and scatter, plastic card, modelling clay, spare paints and other sundry items which previously were packed into a drawer in the lounge.
Having only just moved in, I am still arranging the space and currently I’ve left the paint rack on top as I rather like it there, but we’ll see. You will also notice that I’ve also managed to hang one of my Henry Martens yeomanry artworks above the desk without (much) protest from the misses.
Also on display is a photograph of my handmade Grainadier Guard – a gift from my mother-in-law only yesterday. It is a photograph ordered from the local newspaper’s archive, taken by their press photographer for a report on the scarecrow festival I took part in last month.
Apropos to this, also arriving completely unexpectedly today was a letter from HM the Queen! Unknown to me, it appears my eccentric mother wrote to our monarch to inform her of our (or rather more especially my daughter’s) recent efforts at recreating her forebear in the form of Queen Vicstrawia and her guardsman. From the reply, it appears to have met with Her Majesty’s approval. The chest of my guardsman visibly puffed out with pride at this news.
Anyway, in recognition of the new painting area, I also treated myself to a new cutting mat, new brushes and a clean paint palette to boot. Let the good times roll!
Scattered around the new painting desk you might spy a number of different figures, ten of which are approaching completion, but more on this in a future post.
Back in 2013, I was new to painting figures. I had dabbled before in 25mm metal castings before but only began to really dedicate regular time, patience and, ah, money in 2012. At the time, on the 1st floor of a huge model and toy shop in my home town, boxes of 1:72 scale plastic soldiers of every description occupied an entire room. Then, one day, I walked in to the shop to find it all gone. The floor to ceiling high wall coverage by countless boxes of plastic troops of every description and from every manufacturer had all but disappeared.
The venerable old store was closing down and clearly, in the weeks since I’d last visited, I’d missed the ensuing super-sale bonanza. Modelling vultures had already picked the carcass clean. There would be time to have a little cry about the old shop’s fate later back home but at that point I could see a handful of boxes still remained on a shelf – the last remnant half-companies from an army on sprues once numbering many 1000s of figures.
The Marmite sculpting style of the early Strelets figures ensured they featured heavily amongst these final unwanted boxes. I decided to pick up two of their marching French Napoleonic infantry sets; French Infantry on the March (1) and French Infantry in Advance. The unloved kits hadn’t remained unpurchased due to over-pricing – priced only £2.50 each with the added inducement of a ‘buy 1 get 1 free’!
As I took them home to mourn the passing of that enormous model soldier department (not to say it’s ever helpful, knowledgeable, but sadly soon-to-be-redundant staff) I suspected that these figures would probably go forever unpainted, stowed somewhere in the loft. In truth, it was a purchase motivated by sympathy rather than by desire.
And then, a few years later, in March 2015. I decided to paint some with a view to maybe submitting them to an international group painting project. In the event, they weren’t sent abroad but I had at least now made some effort on 18 of them. To my surprise, I enjoyed painting them a lot, with no less than 24 individual poses across the two boxes, there was real personality from a crowd otherwise depicted doing more or less the same thing. Both boxes featured the troops wearing greatcoats so mixed perfectly well together.
These painted figures remained un-based for a long while until, during a heavy blizzard on a December day in 2017, I realised that their greatcoats suggested they’d do well marching through snow (an obvious idea given one box’s art even depicts snow) and somehow, I ended up adding a further 26 to make 44 marchers. And last year, continuing what was becoming a yearly tradition, I dutifully painted another dozen to follow the Strelets French sledge train I’d painted. This latest dozen painted only this week takes the painted group it up to 68.
Since 2008, both of these marching sets are now virtually unavailable but Strelets have recently made a new replacement; their French Infantry on the March (1), with apparently more on the way! I’ve tackled a sprue of these new figures to compare with the old figures. These will be the future of my French winter marching tradition once the old sets are finally exhausted.
They are very different to the original sets indeed.
Firstly, the new set has its marchers appearing sideways on the sprue, rather than face on. This has the effect of the figures being quite slender, almost appearing as a semi-flat.
Two of the figures wear some unusual headgear. PSR identify it as a pokalem, also known as a bonnet de police. Blue and piped with red, this early kind of informal headdress was warm and comfortable with ear flaps which could be worn up or down (as in these chilly examples), it could even be worn under shako.
Details, as with all newer Strelets figures, are much more subtle than before but overall the proportions and poses of these figures are impressive, even allowing for their semi-flat thinness.
To more clearly differentiate between the older regiment and the newly raised troops, I’ve adopted a grey greatcoat for the new recruits with a green ball plume.
The old style figures are now down to their last couple of remaining sprues. Do I have a preference between the sets? Plastic Soldier Review prefer the new set of figures. But for all that, when it comes to painting, I can’t help but have a fondness, perhaps even a bias, for the ‘Old Guard’, those original, ugly and unloved refugees from a dying High Street model shop.
There are stirrups which are unnecessary when riding camels, so I’ve simply painted over them. One of the mounted legionnaires you will notice holds a pair of binoculars, an essential item for any patrol.
Now, I’ve said it before. I really don’t like pegs on figures. Even when expertly made, I don’t like the concept – tiny plastic pegs in tiny holes do not a secure connection make.
Being camels intended for a number of other Strelets sets, needless to say these Foreign Legion pegs did not connect with the camel’s holes at all well and when they did it unseated the rider in an awkward way. What’s more, the legs of the riders were far too narrow for the camel also so I was left wrestling, bending and gluing for an unconvincing sit. The end result is just about convincing, I think.
The concept of camel-mounted legionnaires is fanciful, owing more to the romance of cinema than to reality. However, as my miniature camel train lopes off across the rolling Saharan dunes into the sunset, I’m still not quite done with the Foreign Legion. I’ve opened another box of French Foreign Legion also recently issued by Strelets, but this time I’ll be applying my own twist to it…
And now the men of the mounted company were very pleased with themselves. They had not to march, the morning was reasonably cool and… added to this, they were getting away from the detested garrison duty, and after a little time voices began to rise in the marching song of the Legion, Le Boudin, the whole column taking up the chorus: Tiens, voila du boudin voila du boudin voila du boudin…
My daughter dug out one of my old board games to keep us amused today. I remember it from my childhood as being one of the games that I wanted to play but struggled to get anyone to join me. This was a great shame because it was right up my street, describing itself as ;
“A compelling game of military and political strategy in the age of Napoleon.”
The game (first marketed in 1971) uses a board featuring six Napoleonic European countries; France, Prussia, Russia, Austria, Spain and Italy. Italy, not being an independent country at the time, does not take an active part in the game but is still subject to being invaded and its cities changing hands. Three different pieces represent either cavalry, infantry or a general and each of these pieces have their own attributes and abilities. To win the game, one must either capture enough cities / territory across the board, capture the opponents capital, or – less likely – to destroy the entire army of the enemy.
My daughter adopted the powers of Austria and France while I selected Prussia and Russia as allies. Understanding the game was difficult first off and she never really felt she understood it even at the end! For me, I enjoyed it and can see that repeated play would help my understanding of the elements of Napoleonic campaign strategy (boldness, caution, lines of communication, etc).
The edges of the game board are decorated with some fabulous illustrations of Napoleonic troops by an illustrator called I. Thompson:
A YouTuber has posted a detailed a multi-part examination of the game (five parts!). He mentions the ‘very attractive cover’ with its convincingly real Napoleonic shakos, cuirass, bugle and other militaria. It’s a sentiment which I fully agree with and which probably attracted me to the game in the first place back in the 1980s:
The game booklet suggests that “as players become more experienced they will recognise the parallels between the moves they make and the military and political strategies of the Napoleonic years…”. One YouTuber described the game as sharing ‘a lot in common with Chess, but is more asthetically pleasing and has a luck element in it’. The Campaign booklet itself concludes with the sage words “…Campaign is a game to be studied as well as played.”
Now, I wonder if I can tempt anyone else to another game?
Queen Vic-straw-ia and her Grainadier Guard, my family’s submission to a local village scarecrow-making competition is complete and ready for the crowds of people that visited the displays last year. My wife and daughter created Her Majesty (a very fine job indeed, I’m sure you’ll agree) and I made the guardsman (naturally enough).
In my last post I had finished making the head out of papier mache. Next, I stuffed his uniform with straw and stuck his head to a cardboard tube.
For a belt, I’ve stuck some white paper on to one of my old belts. I notice that the buttons on my uniform are grouped in threes which therefore makes it a Scots Guard! No plume is worn by that regiment, just a bearskin, so that made it easier for me.
For the rifle, I’ve borrowed some (toy) military hardware from the young son of a friend – on the understanding that it is returned to him in the same condition. So, as some temporary modifications I’ve used some brown paper to cover what was a bright green plastic stock. I’m intending to make it less like a lime-green Space Marine’s assault rifle and a tiny bit more like a .303 Lee-Metford or Short Magazine Lee Enfield. The orange end of the barrel seen in the photos above I’ve since covered in black tape.
The hands were a late addition. I was hoping for skin coloured marigolds or maybe white gloves but they’ll have to do. A couple of sturdy wooden poles up the legs and hammered into the ground will, I’m hoping, keep the whole thing upright and standing to attention!
Wait a minute – what’s this just around the corner from our pitch…?
Goddammit! Another one! And we’re gonna need a bigger bearskin! I’m seeing four buttons on the tunic and yet there’s no blue plume? Pah! Clearly these amateurs don’t know the Irish Guards uniform very well… 😉
As a final flourish, I’m planning to play “Soldiers of the Queen” on repeat from my military band music collection. Hopefully, Queen Vicstrawia and the Guardsman might even attract a few votes from the visitors to the competition? Wish us luck!
I know it’s ‘hump day’, but what’s this? Have I ditched horses for dromedaries?
Yes, I have! For the time being, anyway. This is my first attempt at painting camels and I’ve enjoyed it a lot. These ‘ships of the desert’ are courtesy of Strelets new “French Foreign Legion: Desert Patrol” release. I think Strelets’ camels are well sculpted, the proportions (so far as I my limited knowledge of dromedaries goes) seem perfectly good. Plastic Soldier Review, however, are – shall we say – less than impressed with their gait!
It features 8 walking legionnaires and 6 mounted camel riders dressed in the classic late 19th / early 20th century uniform familiar to us from the movies.
The concept of camel-mounted legionnaires from the 1890s/1900s is entirely fanciful according to Plastic Soldier Review who scoff that “no legionnaire ever patrolled while riding a camel until after 1945“, recommending that we find some mules for the riders and use the camels as baggage carriers, or even throw them away. Not me!
There are three different camel poses for the 6 riders to choose from:
France did later create companies of camel cavalry within their North African army (but not in the Legion). These were known as Compagnies Méharistes Sahariennes“, whose ranks were filled by local Arab and Berber tribesmen. These same camels turn up in other Strelets sets; the British, Turkish and Australian Camel Corps sets which each include 3 nice additional poses including a sitting camel. My three poses also reappear in another newly released set “Rif Rebellion“. Perhaps their Arabic riders might also pass for some Méharistes?
With nothing factual to go on, I’ve painted their tassled drapes in dark red rather than the blue I’ve seen used by Méharistes, just to give my figures a little extra colour. The saddle is a leather cover draped over a wooden seat.
Like me, PSR at least appreciate the theatricality and romance of the set stating that “if you want to recreate movies like Beau Geste (1939) or March or Die (1977) then this set is great” – and I say ‘who wouldn’t want to do that’? The legionnaire figures themselves are in progress and I’ll share the rest of my hot and thirsty ‘desert patrol’ when they’re finally done.
For all things French Foreign Legion related, you could do a lot worse than head on over to the fabulous Mon Legionnaire blog which has lots on La Legion in wargaming, in history, and it’s portrayal in art and popular culture.
My in-laws live in a village which holds a scarecrow competition each year. This year the girls and I thought we’d help out and make our own for them. For those unfamiliar with this kind of competition – see this example. Bad puns for the scarecrows are a feature of this kind of festival. The theme for the scarecrow contest this year was “Best of British”.
We elected to help out the in-laws and create this year’s scarecrows. My wife and daughter thought they might create Queen Vicstrawia in her iconic seated pose from late in her reign. I immediately suggested she needed a military escort, her very own GrainadierGuard!
Luckily, I managed to pick up a child’s Guardsman costume for only £5. Dating from the 1960s, it’s in perfect condition and is fabulously well made using quality materials (no plastic buttons here – metal only).
There’s some nice detailing on the back too…
First off, I needed to make a head. So a bit of papier-mâché, using a balloon as a template, I hoped would do the trick. Not done this before and my first attempt was a bit of a let down – literally! The balloon had a slow puncture and gradually went down leaving the head ended up all shrunken and wrinkled…
My second attempt came good. Getting into my papier-mâché stride, I added a rudimentary nose, brows and ears…
I slapped on a little poster paint and then started to think about hair. A trip into town to the charity shops allows me to track down some cheap, black felt material from a rags bin. I also find a thin, feathery, black boa which will do for facial hair. Et voila, we have a guardsman’s face!
I see my scaling for the head has – ah – somewhat overestimated the much smaller bearskin! Never mind, I’m pleased with it and ‘comical’ is what I’m after. But now I’ve got to somehow attach that head to the body… but before that I’ve also got to create and stuff the arms and legs… and then the whole thing will need to magically stand to attention!
This scarecrow building is harder than I thought it would be. Wish me luck!
It is early October in the year 1798. Leaves have started to fall in the grounds of Holkham Hall in Norfolk and a mild autumnal day is ahead. If we gaze out of the windows of the majestic stately home, we shall see that the south lawn of the estate today presents an extraordinary scene; for drawn up before us are 100 horsemen of the newly raised Holkham Yeomanry Cavalry. From across the lawn comes the sound of jangling tack and the cries of horses, punctuated by occasional shouts of military instruction. From our vantage point by the window, we can clearly make out the elegant red dress of Mrs Coke. Suddenly, an officer rides up to her and dips his sabre in salute. In her hand she holds out to him what appears to be a richly decorated standard…
In recent weeks I finished painting my version of the Holkham Yeomanry Cavalry, a local troop of horsemen raised by Thomas Coke of Holkham Hall, Norfolk during the French Revolutionary wars. Further information on this topic, can be found in previous posts:
Interestingly, the provincial paper, the Norwich Mercury, recorded the moment that the Holkham Yeomanry Cavalry’s standard was first bestowed upon the new troop. The correspondent recorded that, on October 6th, 1798:
“The two troops of Holkham volunteer cavalry, commanded by Major Coke, received their standard from the hands of Mrs. Coke. At eleven in the morning the troops, proceeded to the chapel, where the standard was consecrated by the Rev Henry Crowe.”
The account continues:
“At twelve o’clock the troops were drawn up on the South lawn, within a short distance of the house, when with some ceremony, the standard was given into the hands of Captain Edmund Rolfe. After the ceremony, the troops were entertained by their commanding officer, Major Coke, in Holkham House.” From “Records of the NYC”.
Thanks to the keen eye of Mark at Man of Tin blog, I managed to source some metal 1:72-scale Georgian-era civilians from KAMAR, a German manufacturer of excellent military figures. These figures have helped me recreate the scene and you will note that my troop of Holkham Yeomanry have arrived in force also:
List of local dignitaries at Holkham Hall:
I’d like to introduce some of the local dignitaries attending the presentation, beginning with the host and Major Commandant of the Holkham Yeomanry Cavalry:
Mr Thomas William Coke of Holkham
In 1798, Thomas Coke had fallen significantly out of favour with His Majesty King George III. He had been a vocal supporter of both the rebelling American colonists and also the French Revolutionaries, eventually feeling forced to repudiate the allegation of being an outright republican. A man of the ploughshare and not the sword by nature, Coke even initially opposed the establishment of local yeomanry forces in 1793.
By 1798, he felt moved to raise his own yeomanry force in the district of Holkham; ‘ eager to show my zeal in defence of my King and Country at this alarming crisis… ‘ and was petitioning the Prince of Wales for permission to base its uniform upon the Prince’s own 10th Light Dragoons. Coke was appointed to the rank of Major-Commandant of the HYC on the 19th July 1798.
On the 6th day of October 1798, the newly formed and trained Holkham yeomanry were to receive their standard in the grounds of Holkham Hall. For the purposes of my scene, I have chosen to depict Coke acting in his role strictly as host at Holkham Hall and dressed in civilian attire. Perhaps there’s even a very vague passing resemblance? It is quite possible that he would have been dressed in his military uniform, I suppose, but on such an occasion but I wanted to reproduce something of the man, and the agriculturalist, I’ve seen in a number of portraits.
Mrs Jane Coke (neé Dutton)
Mrs Coke, far from being a passive wife was, like her husband, a committed abolitionist and keen supporter of social welfare. At the time of the presentation in October 1798, Jane had been married to Thomas Coke (apparently for love) for nearly 23 years. She had born him three daughters: the eldest, Jane (21), being already married; Anne Margaret (19) the middle daughter; and the youngest, Elizabeth, who was only 3 years old.
For Mrs Coke’s figure, I’ve dressed her in a dark red dress, hopefully referencing the dress seen in her portrait, below right. I’ve even reproduced the white flower and leaves pinned as a brooch that she wears.
Jane died tragically at 47 years old, just 18 months after performing her essential role in the presentation ceremony. Her portrait now appears up on the wall in the Manuscript library (seen above) alongside that of her husband. Jane’s face is now seemingly forever gazing across to the standard which she had bestowed upon the regiment just months before her untimely death. I confess that I appear to have made the replica standard a tad larger in proportion than in reality…
Lady Jane Elizabeth Howard (neé Coke)
The eldest daughter of Thomas Coke and “a renowned beauty” according to Wikipedia. By the time of the presentation of the Holkham Yeomanry’s standard, 21 year old Lady Jane had been married for two years to Charles Nevinson Howard, styled as Viscount Andover.
Only 15 months later, her husband Charles was to be killed in a tragic shooting accident, the consequence of an ‘accidental discharge of his fowling piece’. They had no children.
Jane was to remarry 6 years later, having this time a more lasting union to Admiral Sir Henry Digby, a veteran of the battle of Trafalgar. This marriage gave rise to 3 children. Interestingly, their daughter, also called Jane, grew up to be a ‘scandalous adventuress” and her story is an astonishing one in its own right!
Charles Nevinson Howard, Viscount Andover
Charles Nevinson Howard, in the peerage known as Viscount Andover, was 22 years old at the time of our presentation. The son of the 15th Earl of Suffolk, he had married Coke’s eldest daughter, Lady Jane Coke, on 21 June 1796.
The site of the Holkham Yeomanry presentation was to prove to be also the place where he was to die a mere 15 months later. The estate was designed explicitly for the hunting of game and on the 11 January 1800, aged just 24, Viscount Andover was killed by the accidental discharge of his gun whilst out shooting in the grounds of Holkham Hall.
A reporter from ‘The Mercury’
One of my remaining figures I’ve fancied to be the reporter from The Mercury, the provincial newspaper which happily covered the event in such detail.
You will not that our correspondent’s top hat is cream coloured, the inspiration being a character I found in a satirical print on Thomas Coke dating from 1821.
Finally, one last local dignitary is included in my scene. In one hand, he holds a green bottle which we might imagine contains some port. In the other hand, he raises a glass, no doubt toasting to the future success of the newly-formed Holkham Yeomanry Cavalry! And to that we all give three hearty cheers!
And just to conclude this project, I’ve taken some more shots of men of the Holkham Yeomanry Cavalry drilling and manoeuvring with the entirely appropriate and glorious spectacle of Holkham Hall in the distance. Please note that any feint impression of tall obelisk in the distance that you may spot is a figment of your imagination, as clearly such an edifice would not have been built for another 50 years…