Making a stand for FEMbruary: The Wrens

My FEMbruary submission, the M.J. Mode Wrens which I painted recently, looked like they would appreciate some kind of bespoke stand to group them all together. So, I found a convenient wooden base which I’ve painted and varnished up. I’ve also added a little metal engraved plaque (£1.50) from eBay which finishes off the group nicely, I think.


FEMbruary Challenge 2019 – Update

Meanwhile, Mark at Man of Tin blog has been kicking on with his own FEMbruary ladies; some Soviet female sniper command figures, and a terrific group of Land Girls, believable female miniatures all courtesy of Bad Squiddo Games. Also, Alex at Leadballoony blog has created the magnificent but ill-fated Seros the Red, Thrice Cursed of Khaine!

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FEMbruary – à la Mode

Finishing off my group of FEMbruary Wrens that I’ve been painting up, I peeled one off a bottle top and realised that although one of the figures I checked had no clear markings on its base, the others certainly did! So, suitably embarrassed, I can now declare that my ladies are products of M.J. Mode of Leicester. Which is where I live. In fact, it turns out that the man who made them – Jim Johnston – did so in the exact same village as mine! Indeed, his first figures, Douglas Miniatures, were:

“… quite literally a “cottage industry”, with Johnston sculpting the figures in his own kitchen in Glenfield…” (Vintage 20mil website)

Curiously, a kitchen in Glenfield is exactly where, many decades later, I’ve been painting his Wrens figures! Posted from an eBay seller in Margate, these ladies have made their way home.

Much information on M.J. Mode I discovered over on the excellent Vintage 20Mil website which features an fabuous piece written about the history of Douglas Miniatures.

Douglas Miniatures logo

According to Vintage 20mil;

Insurance salesman John D “Jim” Johnston began making 54mm model soldiers for his own pleasure around 1965. In 1967 he met wargame enthusiast and rule writer Trevor Halsall in the Apex Craft Shop in Leicester. Together the two men founded the Leicester Wargame and Model Soldier Society.

One of my M.J. Mode Wrens, gloss varnished and awaiting something to stand on.

By 1977, MJ Mode (the M stood for Marie, the name of Johnston’s French wife)… concentrated on producing 54mm figures and “traditional” toy soldiers — some of the latter painted by Marie. The company also made a range of larger 25mm figures. Mounted on rectangular bases these were roughly the same build as modern Garrison figures. We believe the range was confined to Napoleonics…

This Wren appears to be glancing distractedly off to the side.

…As well as making his own figures, Johnston also cast figures for a number of other manufacturers in scales from 1/300th to 120mm and made replacement parts for Dinky toys for a local company. One customer was John Tunstill, owner of the famous Soldiers shop in Kennington, south London, whose range of “traditional” toy soldiers was cast by Johnston and transported to London by Sean Wenlock once a week in a pair of old ammunition boxes…

…”Jim was a lovely man,” Tunstill recalls, “but whenever we asked him to make a new figure for us he would always hum and hah about how difficult it was going to be. He had a strong northern accent and we used to try and arrange things so that at some point he’d say, “I’ll haf ta cast a plaster master” then we’d all cheer!”

MJ Mode thrived until 1986 when Johnston was struck by another heart attack and died. He was just 48.

This Wren is a real blonde bombshell – well, at any rate she loads torpedo bombshells on to submarines.

Jim was not very much older than I am now when he died, which is a sobering thought. Hopefully, he (if not his painter wife Marie) would have approved of my amateurish paint-job. It’s not my usual painting style, (I’ve painted – not shaded – the faces for example) and I’ve been adjusting, repainting and playing about with the results as I’ve gone along. But I’m cutting myself some considerable slack in this attempt and think they look pleasing enough painted in their glossy varnish – from a distance!

I’ve added very subtle shading and highlighting to their uniforms and the “HMS” in the centre of their caps are simply three gold dots. I particularly enjoyed how my shabby painting of the faces led to individual personalities. One looks suspiciously to her left, another has Mick Jagger-like lips (something she’d probably thank me for). Different coloured hair further adds to their individuality.

I suppose this FEMbruary submission has become also a Jim Johnston tribute. Thanks to Vintage 20mil, I now feel a real connection with these lovely old figures, unidentified as they initially were and bought on a whim from eBay. I’m not quite done with them as I’d like to base them too, an idea that I’m working on and hopefully will share in a future post.

M.J. Mode; made – and painted – in Glenfield, UK!


The FEMbruary Challenge 2019

Realistically proportioned, proud and smartly dressed, I think these ladies make a worthy addition to the FEMbruary challenge but already, Imperial Rebel Ork has smashed the ball out of the park with this incredible submission – (warning – not for those with a fear of chainsaws, zombies or Volkswagon Beetles).

FEMbruary 2019: Sailor Girls

It’s FEMbruary! This is a great idea is from Alex over at Leadballoony who managed to inspire many of us miniature figure painters last year to consider attempting female versions. Some wonderful creations abounded. For my part last year, at the suggestion of Mark from Man of Tin Blog, I attempted a figure from the wonderful Bad Squiddo Games; Catherine the Great of Russia.

2018s FEMbruary figure – Bad Squiddo’s Catherine the Great.

Alex is leading from the front once again with his 2019 call for Fembruary figures! And I’m answering that call again with a group of seven 54mm-scale metal ladies marching in uniform. These are Wrens, that is to say members of the Women’s Royal Naval Service. I guess they are WWII-era naval personnel judging by their headgear.

Wartime necessity gradually eroding those old, strict gender roles… The WRNS were first established in WWI and disbanded soon after its end., but WWII brought them back.

Purchased for a very reasonable bid on eBay, these female naval personnel are from an unknown manufacturer – can anyone advise (Man of Tin Mark – any ideas, fella)?!

The figures were purchased on eBay unpainted. They are about 54mm high and made of metal.

I’ve glued them into bottle tops with a bit of blu-tack as extra support. I’ve already sprayed them with black acrylic as a primer, so everything’s ready for painting.

Navy girls awaiting navy paint – my Wrens on the march.

The key challenge is that the style of these figures really cry out for a classic Britains-esque paint job which, as some of you may know, is not at all my usual style. I think I’ll stick, more or less, with a version of my usual approach and just see what I’m happy with.

Not the kind of thing I tend to do on Suburban Militarism, but that’s one of the things that makes them, and FEMbruary, so worthwhile. I’ll be painting some more figures from Bad Squiddo too this month which I will reveal soon.

Meanwhile, Man of Tin blog has hit the ground running with his inaugeral 2019 post on his plans for FEMbruary. Bad Squiddo Land Girls, female Russian snipers and a little choice reading material for starters.

You can also keep up to date with FEMbruary and its participants via Leadballoony’s blog post here!

Another Marrion’s Men post…

You’ll never guess what came through the post today. A couple of weeks ago, I complained about missing out on eBay on a Dorset Miniatures 54mm figure, another one for my “Marrion’s Men” series of yeomanry.

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Having been outbid, I was surprised to see the same figure quickly re-listed. Presumably, the original winner found themselves unable to commit to the purchase for some reason. I’m delighted to confirm that I subsequently won the figure – all of which makes for a happy me!

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So, I’ll be painting up this 1852 officer of the Yorkshire Hussars at some point. In the meantime, the lack of any finished figures appearing on this blog of late is not down to a total lack of endeavour on my part. Those Pegasus’ French WWI infantry are proving incredibly time-consuming. I’m creeping forward with them, so more on those whenever I finally get something worth sharing…

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Missing out on another Marrion Man…

I’ve some news of another Robert Marrion related figure which appeared on eBay recently. This was a superbly sculpted figure based upon Marrion’s illustration from the cover of “The Yorkshire Hussars”, the 3rd volume in the series “Uniforms of the British Yeomanry Force, 1794-1914”.

Yorkshire Hussars

The man that it is based upon appears fourth from right on the cover below;

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It represents an officer of the Yorkshire Hussars appearing in Undress from the year 1852.  He wears a scarlet cloth forage cap and an Undress frock coat and overalls from the same period depicted in my recently purchased 1844 print of the regiment by Fores. There appears to be a little flash to be removed from between the legs.

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The rear view is always interesting to see revealed on such figures because that’s the view of the illustration I never get to see from the cover of a book. The pouch on the back would have been black patent leather with a central silver York rose. This rose motif also can be just seen on the sabretache.

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I would have dearly loved to let my brush loose on those luxurious whiskers and characterful face…

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But I was outbid once again.

It is apparent that there is a particularly wealthy collector on eBay with a passionate interest in collecting lots of 54mm metal figures (apparently winning over 160 such figures every month)! Ah well, his win at least engenders a sigh of relief from my own sorry and beleaguered current account. Hopefully, the victor will find much pleasure in his purchase.

This well-heeled chap also comfortably outbid me for another Marrion figure a few months ago, this officer of the Sussex Yeomanry:

Sussex got away

That other figure collector is saving me a lot of money, but I confess to being a trifle downcast at my inability to source any more Marrion’s Men. I’ll of course keep looking for more but I wonder whether I shall be painting any more in the foreseeable future with such a formidable rival bidder on the scene!

Vanity Pair

“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.

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What’s this? 3A camp chorus line of Napoleonic yeomanry?

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.

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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.

Leicestershire yeomanry progress (6)

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…

Leicestershire yeomanry progress (5)

Leicestershire yeomanry progress (2)

Leicestershire yeomanry progress (4)

Marrion’s Men #4: Officer, Westmorland and Cumberland Yeomanry

In what, for the time being, will be my last post on my series of R.J.Marrion-inspired figures, I present an officer of the Westmorland and Cumberland Yeomanry in Parade Dress from the period 1905-1914.

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This figure is based on an illustration by R.J. Marrion appearing on the cover of #4 book in Barlow and Smith’s series on “The Uniforms of the British Yeomanry Force 1794-1914”; the Westmorland and Cumberland Yeomanry.

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Marrion Yeomanry comparison

The figure arrived through the post partly base-coated and with its own plinth…

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I re-primed it with some matt black paint and got started…

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54mm is still a new scale to me and I found painting this figure surprisingly challenging, getting the shade and colours to my satisfaction was like dabbling in alchemy. I made a good number of revisions and I think I’m satisfied with the result. Even attaching the figure to its new plinth involved some drilling, fashioning a short metal pin and some glue; such practical activities are never my forte but it’s worked –  it remains upright!

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Marrion Yeomanry WCYC (5)

Marrion Yeomanry WCYC (2)

The Uniform:

The Barlow and Smith book describes the uniform in the following detail:

The scarlet serge frock

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…the new serge frock was entirely scarlet except that there was a trefoil in mixed silver and red cord on the cuffs and similar cord all around the collar forming eyes below the top edging. On the collar were white gorget patches with a central horizontal red stripe and a lozenge-shaped button near the ends of the patch.

Marrion Yeomanry frock
Officer’s scarlet serge patrol frock, 1897-1914.

There were shoulder chains on scarlet backing and a scarlet waist band or self-belt secured in front of the lowest button. The frock had patch and pleated breast pockets and patch pockets below the waist; five silver lozenge-shaped buttons down the front, a smaller lozenge button on each breast pocket flap and one on each shoulder chain. 

I’ve painted the trefoil and collar cord white and scarlet, the former standing out better to the eye than the prescribed silver.

The blue overalls

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The Overalls were dark blue with double silver lace stripes mounted on scarlet cloth, showing scarlet edges and a blue light between the stripes. Wellington boots in dismounted duty with box spurs.

That was all a little too detailed for my liking, even on a 54mm figure. My stripes are basically silver with some kind of red in there too – and that will have to be sufficient!

The forage cap

Marrion Yeomanry cap

Barlow and Smith have a close-up picture of the cap (above) featuring a different badge post-dating the ‘three sprigs of heather’ which features on my figure. It describes the cap thus:

In about 1905 a very striking staff pattern, peaked, forage cap (Fig. 27) was introduced for the officers. It was scarlet, with a white band and piping in the crown seam, and a black chin-strap held by two silver lozenge -shaped buttons. The black patent leather peak had a silver-braided edge for the field officers. A silver badge of three sprigs of heather was worn. 

Marrion Yeomanry WCYC (12)

It’s certainly a striking feature. Again on my figure, for the silver edge on the peak, I’ve opted for white with a touch of silver so that it stands out more cleanly.

The pouch belt and pouches

Marrion yeomanry pouch

“In about 1902 a pouch with solid silver flap and red leather box was introduced (Fig. 15); it had oak leaf engraving on the flap and the same device as [the previous] cloth-faced pouch, but with the King’s crown all in gilt, entwined and reversed. This pouch was probably introduced for general wear, such as church parades in order to save the embroided type for levees.”

Marrion Yeomanry WCYC (17)

The sword

In a previous post about the third figure in my series of Marrion’s Men, I mentioned the very kind lady who is the widow of the original owner of these wonderful figures. She unexpectedly forwarded to me a couple of swords which had been found lying around which she hoped would suit the one that I was missing. Although it wasn’t quite right for the Sharpshooter figure, it has proved perfect for this WCYC figure and nestles under the crook of his arm perfectly. For all I know, it may even be the original sword which came with this figure.

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Quite honestly, it feels good to finish some of these figures which were once started by her husband but which, unfortunately, he was unable to complete during his lifetime. Of course, we figure painters ultimately know that we will never finish painting our stock and the hope must be that the ranks of the unfinished find their way to those who will appreciate them to the utmost, as has certainly been the case with this yeoman.

Marvin


Postscript: “the one that got away…”

Incidentally, I spotted another figure by R.J. Marrion which had recently come up for auction from the same stock as this WCYC figure. It’s yet another figure from the Sussex Yeomanry, which was the first book in the Uniforms of the British Yeomanry Force series.  I’ve already painted one from the cover of this book, but this one got away from me. I was bidding against a collector with seemingly bottomless pockets and my own bid, which was already much higher than I’d readily admit to my wife, was more than easily trounced by his first offer – which he then bolstered with another just in case! He needn’t have worried; I’m far from a wealthy man. Sometimes, it’s a good thing that my first love remains cheap plastic 1/72 scale figures…!

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Interestingly, this new figure was not from Dorset Miniatures, as all have been previously, but produced by Mitrecap Miniatures. So it seems that Marrion’s yeomen have appeared under the guises of various manufacturers.

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I made some enquiries directly with Dorset Model Soldiers, the successor firm to Dorset (Metal Model) Soldiers which manufactured the Trumpeter and other figures in this range of yeomanry from the Marrion, Barlow and Smith series. The new owner only acquired the firm a couple of years ago so could tell me little more but suggested that my sculpted figures are “likely to be the work of Giles Brown, the previous owner”. Whoever it was, my attempt at painting this figure stands as a kind of humble tribute to their very fine sculpting.

Marrion Yeomanry WCYC (1)

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1912 Camp with the officer seated on the right wearing a similar uniform to my figure.

 

Marrion’s Men #3: Officer, 3rd County of London Yeomanry (Sharpshooters)

The third in my series of 54mm figures inspired by Robert Marrion’s illustrations is another figure from the 3rd County of London Sharpshooters. Featuring on the front cover alongside my first figure (the trumpeter), the officer wears Camp Church Parade Order as seen circa 1905.

Sharpshooters Yeomanry Marrion (6)

Sharpshooters Yeomanry Marrion (9)

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The figures which I managed to source on eBay sadly were without the sword which appears in the RJ Marrion illustration. No matter as I sourced a couple of 54mm scale swords for my men to lean on. They came in their scabbards and so I had to slice off the rings. I had to also cut off the end off to shorten the sword into a size which would fit between his hands and the ground.

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Sharpshooters Yeomanry Marrion (5)

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OK, so maybe my sword looks a little, ah, short and somewhat stocky. Not so much a rapier, more of a cutlass! Ah well, it’ll have do until something else better comes along…

There are two figures and I’ve based them both. One of them is still awaiting an engraved plaque to place at the front.

Sharpshooters Yeomanry Marrion (3)

Sharpshooters Yeomanry Marrion (2)

There is one more figure that I’m currently working on in this series of figures – more on that in a future post. After that, I’m simply waiting for any more of these figures to pop up, assuming that there were any more made from this range. Given the fact that I’ve sourced two figures from a single book cover alone, and that the number of books in the Ogilby Trust sponsored series numbered 15, one has to assume there are more out there somewhere…

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Marrion’s Men #2: Sergeant, Sussex Imperial Yeomanry

I previously posted on mounting my ‘Lost Sharpshooter’ figure, the first of my Marrion’s Men series. With the latest delivery of more alder wood bases, I’ve been able to start mounting my other Robert Marrion-inspired 54mm yeomanry figures. The first to get the treatment is my sergeant from the Sussex Imperial Yeomanry.

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Sussex yeomanry sergeant (19)

As before, I’ve placed a brass plaque front and rear detailing the regiment and the rank / year of the figure.

Sussex yeomanry sergeant (18)

When I last posted on this figure, it was still awaiting the riding crop held in the left hand. In the event, the crop required chopping in two pieces and positioning delicately in place. Thankfully, the glue is just about holding this delicate item precariously in place!

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I previously wrongly identified what I thought were three bullets in the bandolier. This is incorrect. These items I now believe to be leather fixings which allow the top half of the bandolier to fold over and cover the bullets. I’ve added a dash of paint to cover them over.

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That’s the second of my Marrion’s Men done and dusted, and I’m rather pleased with him. The next one is awaiting the addition of accessory and will be featured in a future post.

Marrion Sharpshooter trumpeter (8)

And a few close-ups!
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Sussex yeomanry sergeant (24)

 

 

Marrion’s Men’s Medals

I’d like to introduce the third figure in my series of R.J. Marrion-inspired 54mm yeomanry figures. It’s another figure that appears on the front cover of the “3rd County of London Yeomanry (Sharpshooters)” book which was wonderfully illustrated by the late Robert Marrion.

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I should say that these are ‘figures’ plural as there are two of them, these identical twins coming as a pair in a single purchase from eBay. My figures appear in a much lighter shade of green under the camera lens, appearing a little more akin to the illustration to the naked eye.

Sharpshooter officer Marrion (5)

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A group of Sharpshooter officers c.1904, a number of whom are wearing the same green uniform and forage caps with yellow piping and metal shoulder scales. Others are wearing a khaki serge coat.

Sharing the same cover with the Trumpeter that I painted previously, this new figure is an officer dressed in ‘Camp Church Parade Order’. The authors state that;

“For Camp Church Parade Order, the officers wore the green forage cap, the green serge frock, Full Dress overalls, brown leather wrist gloves and the Sam Browne belt (as seen on the front cover).

I don’t know about a ‘camp’ Church Parade Order – it looks pretty macho to me…

Sharpshooter officer Marrion (3)

The Robert Marrion illustration shows the officer resting his hands on the pommel of his sword, which is out of its scabbard. Initially, I thought that the sculptor no doubt faithfully recreated this sword but, unfortunately, as both my figures are missing this item, they must have got lost. One thing I’ve noticed, however, is that in the illustration the officer’s hands come up to the top of his belt. On the figure, however, the hands come to rest quite a bit lower meaning that the sword will have to be trimmed significantly short. So, I then mused that perhaps there was no sword, but then the empty scabbard suggests otherwise. An oversight on the part of the otherwise impressively talented sculptor, perhaps?

Despite resting their hands upon air, the figure still looks convincingly as though the officer is merely folding his hands, in my opinion. But I’m going to go with the sword to match the illustration and I have secured a 54mm scale alternative for their “Infantry Pattern” sword which, with a little trimming, I hope might act as a substitute.

Sharpshooter officer Marrion (11)

You will notice that this officer of the Sharpshooters is a decorated soldier. On his chest, Marrion has depicted two medals. From the book cover, I could see that one is clearly a Queen’s South Africa Medal with bars, suggesting that he served in the Anglo-Boer War as part of the regiment’s initial incarnation as the 18th, 21st and 23rd Battalions of the Imperial Yeomanry. On 23 July 1901, the 3rd County of London Imperial Yeomanry (Sharpshooters) was formed from the veterans of these Boer War Imperial Yeomanry battalions.

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Queens South Africa Medal with three bars for “Cape Colony”, “Orange Free State” and “Transvaal”

After a little research, the other medal on my figures’ chest I now believe to be the King Edward VII Coronation Medal, a slightly oval-shaped medal awarded in 1902 to celebrate said monarch’s coronation with Queen Alexandra. It was awarded to “...service officers who were present at the coronation ceremony, performed extra work in its preparation, or who were involved in the coronation parade.” Interestingly, the date of the coronation which was printed on all the medals – 28th June 1902 – is incorrect. The king had to postpone the coronation until October when he’d recovered from an emergency operation for appendicitis.

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King Edward VII Coronation Medal

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Sharpshooter officer wearing his QSA and King Edward VII Coronation Medals.

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My figure doing the same…

With the exception of my original Sharpshooting Trumpeter, the remaining figures have all come from a lady who is selling off her father’s impressive collection of figures. I politely enquired after the missing swords for these figures and through the post a week later, completely unexpectedly, was a wonderful handmade card from the gentleman’s widow.

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Wonderful padded fabric card of a Guardsman musician, handmade by a very kind lady who is the widow of a model soldier collector.

Within her charming card, she had included a couple of swords that she had discovered loose amongst her late husband’s large collection. One weapon was quite suitable for one of these two figures, although it also appears to be an absolutely perfect fit for my next Marrion Man, who was also missing his sword…

Sharpshooter officer Marrion (9)

Sharpshooter officer Marrion (12)

It was a very generous act indeed by the lady. It’s a sad and sobering activity to observe; the selling off of a husband and father’s old model soldiers. As the army dissipates, it’s old commander having passed away, it is a vision of the (hopefully still very distant) future, when my own stock gets dispersed by my own spouse and daughter in a similar manner, hopefully to another grateful collector. Ah, but enough of such maudlin musings. Many a soldier I plan to add to Suburban Militarism’s army yet!

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Sharpshooter officer Marrion (6)

My Sharpshooter officers are both currently still standing in a blob of Blu Tack, patiently awaiting smart basing of the type that their fellow sharpshooter received a week ago. The final based and labelled figures, hopefully even with swords to lean upon, will be presented in a future post!

For now, best wishes

Marvin

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Officers seated on the front rank wearing the green uniform of my figures.