An Easter Sunday tradition at Suburban Militarism demands that a hard-boiled egg is painted by each member of the household and then rolled down a steep hill. I previously posted on this family tradition in 2017 in a post painfully entitled “Shell Shock”.
Here below are this year’s family submissions. You can probably guess which is mine and I believe that I was convincingly outpainted!
My own egg design was based on an actual 54mm yolkmanry – sorry, I mean yeomanry – figure that I’m currently painting. It represents the undress uniform of an officer of the Yorkshire Hussars in 1852. Overall, a predictable choice of topic for me, I know, but how could we have eggs without ‘soldiers’?
I can state that on the day my, err, Yolkshire Hussar performed admirably, taking part in three wild downhill charges before finally breaking apart…
‘Une oeuf’ of that – I should stick to the model soldiers. Best wishes to all for the Easter holidays,
Thought I’d post on International Women’s Day by featuring an image that I came across a few years ago of my late Great Aunt. Hilda passed away suddenly in hospital a few years ago at the age of 99. Found in her pocket at the time was a ticket for another solo trip away on holiday, which perhaps gives an idea of just how astonishingly active, vigorously alert and fiercely independent she was right up to the very end of her long life.
After the early death of her husband, she lived alone for many years until her death in late 2014 and when we took steps to clear her house, the photo shown below was discovered.
A small cross has been etched on the photo right in front of a lady sitting far left.
I now believe it shows Hilda with other employees at Boulton-Paul Aircraft Ltd in front of a large glider, possibly an Airspeed AS.51 Horsa, of the kind employed in Operations Overlord and Market Garden. From the diagram below, the similarity to the aircraft seen in Hilda’s photo is clear.
My mother informed me at the time that she knew Great Aunt Hilda was an inspector at a war time glider factory, and was sending the original photo to the Royal Air Force museum in London who had no photos of Melton Mowbray’s aircraft war work and were very pleased to add this to the collection.
Hilda’s side of my family are from Melton Mowbray. I found the following account from Melton resident Ray Lucas, a schoolboy during the war;
When I started work, I went to the Boulton and Paul works in the town [Melton Mowbray] as an apprentice carpenter. We were making the front end of Horsa gliders like the ones used in the D-Day landings. (From “A Boy in Melton Mowbray” by actexplorer).
From this old photo, Hilda appears to be the only one looking away from the birdie, adjusting her shoe! Fiercely independent, at her funeral, Hilda was rightly described by my mother as a ‘proper lady’. On International Women’s Day this blog pays tribute to her, and others like her, who contributed so much to the war effort in the Second World War.
‘WW2 People’s War is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar‘
As the fourth year of Suburban Militarism on WordPress comes to a close and a New Year looms, it’s a time for reflection. Swedish Napoleonic cavalrymen; Ottoman Turkish artillerymen; Serbian and Austrian infantry of the Great War; Belgian Carabinier cyclists; 28mm Yeomanry figures based on illustrations by Marrion; Saxon Cuirassiers and not forgetting some Napoleonic Poles back in January.
So, here’s a brief pictorial overview of some of the figures painted over 2018.
Looking forward to 2019, I know well enough by now not to forecast my painting plans in any great detail as distractions lead me on to other unforeseen areas over the year! However, currently demanding my attention are:
My Ottomania project – now well under way with the artillery corps progressing nicely;
The Great War project – I have a number of excellent kits I intend to tackle as I continue to develop my WWI collection;
Whilst enjoying a Christmas weekend at Calke Abbey recently, I caught sight of this mechanical organ with its soldier conductor. I always seem to find something related to my military interest at Calke! I particularly liked the brightly painted white and scarlet of the uniform and the bell shako with its sunburst plate.
The organ is by Chiappa, the company founded by a London-based Italian mechanical organ manufacturer, Giuseppe Chiappa. A little history can be found on this Shapcott family history blog.
It seems that for Chiappa and other organ manufacturers of the late 19th / early 20th centuries, carved soldiers in colourful uniforms were a popular choice or adornment with carvers apparently being given free reign on uniform design and colours in their carvings. Naturally, I think they look great!
Finally, it seems only appropriate to hear, as well as see, Chiappa’s marvellous mechanical military organ in action (apologies for the hopeless phone camera work…)
Recently, I’ve enjoyed getting the fake snow out for basing my Christmas Artillery figures and as the temperature drops here in the UK and December looms, it’s the perfect time of the year to do it, too.
In December of last year I added to my growing contingent of Strelets French army figures marching through the snow. I’ve just painted another dozen men to add to this already large group and am now planning to add something extra too to it too. This snowy retreat from Moscow will now include “Strelets French Army Sledge Train 1“, set.
Strelets produced four separate sets of sledge trains back in 2015, two for the French army and two for the Russians. Needless to say, as these sets are depicting Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow in 1812, the Russians are looking decidedly healthier and better equipped on their sledges than their French counterparts!
So, let’s take a look at the figures in the box:
First of all – the sledge with its horse in harness. The sledge is a simple wooden affair on skis, as you might expect. Strelets have depicted a suitably thin horse with plenty of bones on display, suggesting that the hardships were not confined to the men. Often, I find Strelets horses too bulky and stocky – one of the reasons no Strelets cavalry set has ever found its way into the Nappy Cavalry Project. This starving horse brings the anatomy pleasingly into more believable proportions.
The driver below looks like a lancer of the guard who has fortunately purloined a warm coat from somewhere. There’s a real problem as to where to put him as he appears to be sculpted to sit on something but the sledge unfortunately does not come with an armchair! I’ll work something out, maybe I’ll have him standing but in crouching position?
The set also comes with walking stragglers. The figures are very pleasingly old-style Strelets, which is to say each figure is full of great character and eccentric attention to detail. Recent sculpting is more refined but lacks a degree of personality.
Below Left: Appears to be a Chassuer a Cheval of the guard who unsurprisingly has chosen to wear his fur-lined pelisse to keep out the cold. He is also an amputee, leaning on a crutch. His chances of hopping the 1000km from Moscow back to Vilnius are slim, I’d imagine!
Below centre: This poor fellow ‘s helmet suggests he is a dragoon. The blanket around his shoulders looks inadequate for a Russian winter. His bare feet puts his chances of survival very low indeed.
Below right: Like the sledge driver, this man wears a polish czapka suggesting he might be a soldier of the Polish legion, or simply an infantryman wearing any discarded head protection he can find. Uninjured and with a long coat, my money is on him being the most likely of the trio to get home.
The fellow below has two burdens to carry through the snow; a drum and a small drummer boy clinging to his shoulders. It’s a touching idea and one that reminds us that children and families also accompanied the French army and shared in the appalling suffering of the retreat.
There’s always one who seems to look after himself while everyone else suffers. This man is lucky enough to be riding in the sledge. He also has a very warm fur coat and a pair of fur lined peasant boots. A hat and hood protect his head and he appears to have glasses or even goggles. Instead of a child, he cradles a barrel of something alcoholic to keep out the cold. He also has a handy seat in the form of a locked casket which, presumably, contains food or even money with which to buy all the best winter clothing!
Riding next to him in the sledge is an officer, identifiable by his cocked hat. The officer is again fortunate, no doubt thanks to his rank, to have a full length coat and a ride in the sledge.
So that is a preview of the sledge occupants and stragglers accompanying the column of French infantry I’ve been building up in recent years. Hopefully, now well under way with just a few figures to paint I should be able to update on my progress soon.
In the meantime, here’s a bit of light music to accompany the post, though I’m not entirely sure Leroy Anderson had Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow in his mind when he composed “Sleigh Ride”…
I was discussing children’s books with my daughter recently and thought back to some of my favourite stories from my own childhood. One of these which came to mind was a book called “Fattypuffs and Thinifers“. The story is about two children, brothers, called Edmund and Terry who are physically very different to each other – one is quite overweight and the other is particularly slim. The good friends descend on a journey deep into the earth to discover two feuding nations living there; the chubby, slovenly, easygoing and happy ‘Fattypuffs’ and their enemies across the ocean – the extremely skinny Thinifers whom by nature are punctual, well-organised, stringent and rude. The lands operate a kind of body shape apartheid and the two brothers get separated.
Despite its title, I think the tale is much more than 1930s-style body shaming. In many ways, it must be seen as the opposite. The moral of the story seems to be about acceptance of difference and how much more is achieved through the embracing and blending of such differences. The conflict described in the book is also a skit on the absurdity of the kind of nonsensical international dispute which had led to the terrible slaughter of World War I. This cataclysm had happened just a little over a decade before it was published. The book’s author was a former French army officer, an Anglophile called Andre Maurois, who had spent the Great War as a Liaison Officer and translator to the British Army.
For a preposterous children’s story, the narrative suddenly takes a very dark turn at one point, starkly describing the cruelty and horror of warfare as seen from the eyes of one of the two ‘surface dwelling’ children:
He heard the shells going W-H-I-I-I-Z over his head and suddenly exploding with a terrific C-R-U-M-P. He saw his Thinifer friends cut in half by fragments of steel (although they were so thin there was scarcely anything of them to hit). In the evening he heard aircraft zooming over the camp, and for the first time in his life he realised that an aeroplane was not always something to look up at and admire… As they advanced, they saw villages destroyed by gunfire, women and children wounded, little boys who had lost both father and mother.
Clearly, the author, an ex-poilu, was under no illusions about the horrors of war and was keen to help his young readership understand that too. Trenches which had loomed so large in the imagination of the Great War survivors feature in Maurois’ book.
In macabre – almost surrealist – humour, he amusingly describes how Fattypuff engineers solved the problem of fitting their rotund soldiers into narrow trenches which could still offer them protection from shellfire.
“The difficulty about these trenches, as the surface dwellers dig them” continued the Marshal, “is that they are much too narrow for an ordinary Fattypuff to be able to get into them. On the other hand, the wider they are the less use they are as protection. But the head of the Corps of Engineers, General Sappapuff, has invented a sort of globular trench, narrow at the top and rounded at the sides, which solves the problem. The only objection to it is that it can only be entered at either end, so that it is not possible to make a mass sortie. However, as we only intend to fight a defensive war, this is of no importance. On the contrary.”
Uniforms of the Fattypuff and Thinifer armies:
Looking at the book now, I’m particularly interested in the illustrator’s interpretation of their uniforms. The book’s characters in my own copy are brilliantly depicted throughout by Fritz Wegner, a Viennese-born illustrator who lived in London and died as recently as 2015. He was just one of a number of illustrators who, over the 90 years since the book’s first edition, have attempted to illustrate the military uniforms of the Fattypuff and Thinifer armies in their conflict with one another.
The very first edition of Fattypuffs and Thinifers in the English language however featured full colour images by Jean Bruller, a French artist and writer who produced his own absurd illustrated novels, even clandestine ones published during the Nazi occupation of his country. His early depiction of the two forces is radically different from what would follow. The Thinifer soldier is shown in a green uniform with what appears to be a pointed helmet, perhaps with a white cloth covering. He has black knee-length boots and red cuffs.
His heavyweight adversary is in a distinctly pink-looking red uniform. That may be down to the printing ink rather than the original intention but his puttees suggest differently, being more distinctly red. In addition to those puttees, the style of the rest of his uniform is distinctly modern (for 1930) with ammunition pouches, green identification flashes on his lapels and some kind of white headgear which may well be a steel helmet.
The book which I remembered from my childhood had the cover below. It’s an earlier edition of the one currently in my possession and was also illustrated by Fritz Wegner. It shows the two adversaries in the book in their full military attire; two proud soldiers of the Fattypuff and Thinifer armies (you can probably guess which is which). It shows the Fattypuff general wearing a more distinctly red-coloured coat than the Bruller version. He also wears orange-striped white riding breeches and brown Hessian boots. His hat is a gold-edged bicorn worn in transverse Napoleon-style. A sun or yellow flower badge with red centre is seen on the front. He wears an orange sash over his shoulder tied in a knot at his side.
His thin adversary meanwhile wears what appears to be a kind of navy-coloured hussar dolman with gold braid. A white pouch belt is just visible. The illustrator depicts two straggly coat tails as well. His riding breeches are red and he wears knee-length riding boots of black leather. Signs of his rank can be discerned in the ornate trefoil scrolling on the sleeves. The headdress appears to be some kind of very tall black shako with a red plume. Being senior officers, both soldiers feature extensive gold aiguillettes and large, frilled epaullettes.
In the book, the author does briefly describes the Fattypuff officer’s uniform;
…At this moment, a Fattypuff officer with a magnificent gold-embroidered, red uniform entered the audience chamber.
This basic description certainly seems to match most of the repeated depictions shown across other editions of the book, (pinkish looking original version aside). It seems that Wegner’s brilliant illustrations inside the book have been retained in following editions with only cover designs being subject to interpretation by new illustrators. This has meant that in effect, Wegner’s original 1960s uniform designs have been the template for subsequent illustrators ever since though, as we will see, this has not entirely stifled new interpretations of the Fattypuff and Thinifer uniforms.
Fattypuff coats are reliably reproduced in red across other various covers too, although the uniform detail is subject to different interpretations. I was unable to locate a description of the Thinifers uniform within the pages of my book but, no doubt thanks to Wegner, these with equal regularity are depicted as being dark blue or black, once again with the sole exception being Jean Bruller’s original illustrations in green.
Wegner revisited his cover illustration for a later edition. This later depiction (below) of both the Thinifer and Fattypuff coat colours shows that he broadly kept faith with his original 1960s uniform designs. The Fattypuff officer below however now has a blue-coloured sash. He has also adopted Thinifer-style yellow braiding on his coat and now wears yellow breeches with red stripes instead of the earlier white with orange version. Coat tails are now visible and the vaguely yellow plume has become a falling white over red affair. Gone is his bicorn hat and his headgear is now a black shako which is reminiscent of an Albert Pattern shako. Both colour and style of cuffs remain the same.
The Thinifer family scene below shows the soldier in a very similar form of dress to the previous edition. The navy-blue coat with yellow braiding, the red breeches (now with added yellow stripe) and the tall black shako with red plume all accord with the previous version. Facings are now red, not yellow, although we might assume this could be accounted for by individual regimental distinctions. White plumes are also visible and the white pouch belt has been dispensed with (or could this be an adaptation for the off duty ‘walking out’ order of dress?!)
The following 2013 edition by Vintage Publishing below has a cover which still reasonably closely reproduces the uniform of the Wegner books. The illustrator, Kristyna Lytten, has chosen to retain the original Wegner style of headdress (Fattypuff bicorn and Thinifer Shako) with broadly similar coat colours. However, she has now coloured the headdress to match the coats with even their plumes adopting the strict red / blue colour scheme. The Thinifer soldier retains his hussar-style braiding and now once more with a white pouch belt. There’s something curiously naval about the men’s dress, an effect further emphasised by the appearance of two ships in the harbour seen in the background.
I think [Jean Bruller and Fritz Wegner’s illustrations] are great. In fact the illustrations by Wegner are in the new version. I would have loved to have been asked to illustrate the interior illos to. But Wegner’s illustrations and F&T really do come hand in hand, it would almost be a shame to discard them. And I think children and adults alike will find them very humourous. I know I did.
With Wegner’s illustrations remaining in the pages, it explains the general continuity adopted by successive new cover artists. A more radical redesign can be seen in the distinctive style of Sean Sims who has a number of interesting variations. The Fattypuff’s headdress is now some kind of a shako or large cap with a yellow band and featuring a white Maltese cross centre. He wears no sash, adopting instead a white crossbelt and black waist belt. Facings are black. The Thinifer general meanwhile has adopted the kind of bicorn previously worn by the enemy in both previous illustrations and has even gone so far as to mimic the Fattypuff officer’s central yellow/red flower also! The navy-blue of the Thinifer uniform appears now to be very dark, very possibly black. Gold braiding loops are still visible, the waist belt is yellow and facings are red. Riding breeches have remained red and the familiar black riding boots are also still there.
Unfortunately, I am unable to identify the illustrator of the cover of the next edition. It’s a very detailed illustration which shows the Thinifer officer wearing a style of spiked helmet which almost certainly based on the German Pickelhaube. His navy-blue uniform has now become a light or sky blue. The uniform retains the familiar yellow braiding loops on the chest, straggly coat tails and also the frilled epaulettes. However, he wears curiously naval knee-length trousers with white stockings and buckled shoes. So we have mid-17th century naval legwear strangely juxtaposed with early 20th century infantry headgear! And if that doesn’t make those of us with an interest in military uniforms discombobulated, we note that he also on this occasion wears a cavalryman’s white gauntlet gloves!
The Fattypuff officer that he is jabbing an accusatory finger at has now brought back the old black bicorn with an added red feather plume. The familiar flower device on the hat has the same colours but is now reversed. Also back in fashion are the black Hessian boots and the orange sash tied at the side. His coat appears to be in the late 18th century style rather than the 19th century tunic seen on other covers. Such an attachment to antique military equipment could explain their eventual defeat at the hands of the Thinifers!
Today, more conscious of judgemental attitudes to body types and difference, we might consider that the terms ‘Fattypuff’ and ‘Thinifer’ derogatory. Certainly, Andre Maurois has lots of fun playing with how the uniformly similar body shapes of the two societies play out in their respective societies’ culture. However, the key message of the story is really one of acceptance and inclusiveness as the Fattypuff and Thinifer nations join together to form the United States of the Underground. Older generation Thinifers are suspicious and xenophobic, but the younger people embrace the different qualities and culture of the Fattypuffs as the inhabitants intermingle and, increasingly, intermarry.
In 2013, Tygertale blog suggested that this postwar children’s story could be read as an anticipation of the European union’. In 2018, it now reads more like an epitaph. We exist today in a world resurgent with nationalism and xenophobia. As such, one can only take comfort from the positive and peaceful coming together of two such very different peoples described in Maurois’ tale.
I’ve happy to say that I’ve recently come in the possession of another postcard from the “Girl Soldier” series by “Ellanbee” (the trading name for Landeker and Brown of London). The illustrator for the “Girl Soldier” series was comic postcard artist William Henry Ellam (1858–1935) and this series I believe to have been created around 1900.
This poised and dignified lady is of the 2nd Dragoons, also known as the Royal Scots Greys. So far in the cards that I’ve discovered, she’s the only character to have drawn her sword, holding the blade in her white leather gauntlet gloves in a relaxed manner.
The artist, Willam Ellam, has once more notably paid close attention to his military subject. The white pouch belt indicates the lady is a private. Her weapon could well pass for being the Other Ranks 1882 short pattern sword and scabbard.
The scarlet tunic with blue facings lined with gold are correct for this regiment, as are the pantaloons of blue cloth with a yellow stripe tucked into black ‘butcher’ boots (identifiable by the V notch) which she would have worn for mounted duties.
As a concession to some clue as to her gender, a few loose blond curls appear from underneath her bearskin. The gilt grenade holder and white plume on the bearskin appear to be correctly depicted. The bearskin she wears would have been shorter than for the officers and made of hair from the male bear rather than the female.
As with other cards in the series, I like the portrayal of this woman by Ellam. I’ve stated before that the original intention will have almost certainly been to create a comic image. Yet to a modern eye, it now lacks any overt sense of being absurd. Instead, suggestion of an ‘hourglass’ corset aside, it appears as a quite natural and even empowering view of a woman in the military. Ellam has drawn a lady entirely comfortable in her uniform and with her chosen profession; she is calm, confident, and with the discernible touch of haughtiness that comes with the prestige of belonging to a famous heavy cavalry regiment.
So far in this series, I’ve unearthed a Life Guard, a Royal Horse Guard of ‘the Blues’, a private of the 12th lancers, and a soldier of the Gordon Highlanders.
Only one card that I know of now eludes me; what appears to be a Sergeant Major of the “Grenadears”.
I wonder how many others, if any, were produced in this series and if so, from which regiments.
For more on this series you may wish to visit my original “Girl Soldier” post from 2017 where I discuss this series of postcards and compare it to a series of trade card illustrations depicting historically uniformed female soldiers issued by “Collectables of Spalding”. Likewise, on International Women’s Day this year, I compared this series to another postcard set of female soldiers by a female artist Winifred Wimbush.
“All is vanity, nothing is fair.” ― William Makepeace Thackeray,
Very much enjoyed seeing some Napoleonic uniforms on prime time TV of late. So also, it seems, did my two latest figures who were transfixed throughout the whole thing.
Thackeray’s Vanity Fair is being serialised on ITV and that means the appearance of lots of smart soldiers in period uniforms. Suburban Militarism says “hurrah” to all that.
These two chaps here are a work in progress, as can be seen by their being currently hopelessly stuck in some Blu-Tack. Their camp hand gestures will make much more sense once their 1796 Pattern Light Cavalry sabre comes in to play.
There’s still lots more to do to these figures, including work on the helmet, the addition of said sabres and mounting them on a base. As to who these two smart Georgian gentlemen actually are, and how I came to have more than one of them, more shall be revealed when I’ve eventually finished and based them. As I first need to go and buy some essential tools to do it, this may take some time…