Suburban Militarism’s 5th Anniversary!

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…

Well, here’s to the next five years! Salut!

It’s World Mental Health Day…

Take a seat, pour yourself a cuppa – it’s World Mental Health Day and Man of Tin blog is talking all about the remarkably important role that our humble little men and women of plastic and metal are playing in promoting positive mental health. Find out more here…

Desk Job

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.

The dining room table…

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?

Note my cat’s newly preferred sleeping area on the grey box . She keeps me company while I paint.

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.

The March of Time: Old Soldiers to New Recruits

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’!

Hmm, whatever happened to French Infantry on the March (2)?

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.

New recruits on the march!

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.

They march and sing:
“Napoléon avait cinq cent soldats.
Napoléon avait cinq cent soldats.
Napoléon avait cinq cent soldats.
Marchant du même pas !”

L’infanterie de Marine

This is one last group from the new Strelets French Foreign Legion figures I’ve been tackling, but I’ve decided to paint them as something a little different.

The “French Foreign Legion XXth Century” box includes figures engaged in action rather than the marching and mounted figures seen in my recent posts. Some of these figures wear the sun or pith helmet rather than the classic kepi and it is the figures wearing the pith helmets which I’ve been concentrating on.

Oh, darn it… forgotten to paint those bayonets!

In trawling the internet, I managed to find a single illustration of the French colonial marines wearing the double-breasted coat (known as the capote) together with the pith helmet. I have since struggled to re-find it again and so have no idea where it originated but given the anchor badge on the helmet it clearly was intended to be a marine. I suppose it is entirely possible that the French marines wore the famous capote, but marines in this uniform do not appear frequently on the internet.

So, looking so similar to my French Foreign Legion figures, I set about recreating that uniform with the blue trousers and anchor cap badge. I’ve added a little straggly grass to give a marshy, far-east impression, perfect for veterans of the Tonkin Campaign in the 1880s.

The capture of Sơn Tây, 16 December 1883
by an unknown illustrator. L’Illustration, Public Domain.

Interestingly, the marines, wearing light trousers, are clearly wearing the capote.
The Bắc Lệ ambush, 23 June 1884 which led to the Sino-French War. Troops from the French Marine battallion return fire.
By Jean-François-Alphonse Lecomte (1850-1919), Public Domain.

I was first inspired to create some French colonial marines after seeing 28mm khaki-wearing later versions of these troops on Atomic Floozy’s splended blog.

I thought the kneeling figures were quite effective:

Standing and firing figures:

And when the fighting becomes hand-to-hand, the other end of the rifle becomes useful…:

En guard! Yes, I know, I’ve forgotten to paint those bayonets…

All in all, I am quite pleased with my small force of French marines and I’ll be sticking with the infantry of France for my next paint too…

Légionnaires et Dromadaires

Sulky, stupid as a sheep, vicious as a mule, with the roar of a mad lion, the camel is not an animal from which to expect perfection in military evolutions...

The Demon Caravan by George Surdez

The second instalment of Strelets French Foreign Legion Desert Patrol set (see my Strelets marching legionnaires here). I shared the camels in a previous post. The six riders are dressed in the usual legionary uniform but without their packs.

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…

Lost Sheep by Vere Dawson Shortt

Strelets French Foreign Legion on the March

The Legionary on the march is a cheerful person, even when encumbered with from sixty to eighty pounds of kit, besides a rifle and ammunition, and marching on his own feet under a temperature of 100 degrees in the shade…

Lost Sheep by Vere Dawson Shortt

Well, I don’t know about being cheerful on a forced desert march, but it has been fun returning to the Foreign Legion with my brush again. One of the earliest 1/72 sets I painted was a few figures from Esci’s iconic 1987 set, one of which became the face of this blog’s avatar. A few years ago, I tackled 28mm metal versions from Avatar Designs, purchasing their “March or Die” set.

Strelets new “French Foreign Legion: Desert Patrol” box includes 6 camel-mounted legionnaires and 8 marching figures. I’m sharing the latter in this post and will follow up with the camel riders in a following post.

Each of the eight marching men is in a unique pose:

1
2
3
4
5
6
7

This next figure is carrying a Lewis machine gun. Not manufactured until just before WWI, this is something of an anachronism with this uniform which, according to Plastic Soldier Review, can be best dated to no later than 1912. As they concede however, “you can find the Legion using this weapon in films”, and so fits the cinematic vibe of this set.

8

All in all, a lovely set of figures by Strelets. My criticism as a figure painter would be that the detail is very subtle in parts and I like crisper detail. My other criticism is that for a force well known for its brutal marches through hostile desert (march or die!), 8 isn’t enough – I want more!

The remaining 6 camel-mounted legionnaires will follow in my next post, until then here’s Laurel and Hardy on the march to ‘Fort Arid’ in their classic Foreign Legion spoof Beau Hunks.


In one way, the Legionary is like an animal of the jungle. Put him in barracks with their monotony and he becomes surly and dangerous to himself and others, place him in his proper surrounding – the march, or battlefield – and he becomes what he is by nature, the soldier par excellence.

Lost Sheep by Vere Dawson Shortt

On Campaign

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?

Scarecrows Assemble! Queen Vicstrawia and her Grainadier

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.

That bearskin won’t pass parade at that rakish angle! I need to attend to that before the big day.

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.

Straw ankles in tights and beach shoes? The Sergeant-Major will have your guts for garters, laddie!

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!

My daughter and I with our handiwork.

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!

And I thought the sun never set on Victoria’s empire?

Follow that Camel!

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.