Looking through a few more of my old photographs recently I found some birthday snaps from my childhood, in the background of which featured (not unsurprisingly) some model soldiers.
I see on the photo above a box featuring an Asterix the Gaul figurine and “Crossbows and Catapults” – a delightfully destructive game literally played with said weapons in order destroy the opposition’s wall. What particularly interested me though was the large box in the background which I can see is an Historic Battle Game by Italian 1/72 figure manufacturer Esci.
This “Isandhlwana” box was one of the first in series of these historic battle boxes they produced.
First produced in 1984, the set included the equivalent of 2 boxes each of their Zulu War British infantry and Zulu Warriors. Also included within was this plastic moulded battlefield with part of Isandlwana mountain included (it came with the mountain top sliced off so as to fit in the box). My own box, I note, was actually one of the rarer first editions featuring C.E. Fripp’s famous painting of the battle filling the entirety of the box lid, so I guess this birthday may well date from 1984, the year of its release.
I don’t think I ever turned the plastic battlefield into a full diorama and the vacu-formed base was just too flimsy to use without gluing the figures directly into place. I did, nevertheless, have immense fun with their terrific figures, setting up diorama re-fights on anything from tables to carpets. I wonder if anyone did attempt a full diorama using the figures and the base provided?
But that wasn’t all. I found another photograph, presumably from Christmas Day given the party hat, with another of these Esci boxes secreted in the background.
This other Esci box, I can just make out showing “Waterloo 1815”. There were two of these Waterloo sets, one for the Infantry and the other, as appears here, for the cavalry and artillery.
PSR tells me that this set was released in 1985, so this is possibly be a year later at least than the previous pic. This box included Scots Greys, Imperial Guard, battlefield accessories (abatis, barrels, etc) and another vacu-formed base.
A wry PSR reports that “The leaflet is particularly hilarious, however. Not only does it somewhat mangle the English language, as they all do, but the author repeatedly fails to understand the difference between English and British. At one stage he even states the Scots Greys were part of the English cavalry, an ignorance likely to infuriate any Scotsman of the time or since!“
Furthermore, the Scots Greys and Imperial Guard did not, in reality, encounter each other on the battlefield that day, making the dramatic box artwork superfluous. It didn’t matter, boyhood imagination made for far more preposterous encounters than that between the Old Guard and the Scots Greys.
Plastic Soldier Review has a fascinating review of this series of battlefield boxes which eventually expanded to include;
- 501 – Isandhlwana 1879
- 502 – Waterloo 1815 – The Infantry
- 503 – Balaclava 1854
- 504 – Gettysburg 1863
- 505 – Waterloo 1815 – The Cavalry and the Artillery
- 506 – Rorke’s Drift 1879
- 507 – Hadrian’s Wall CLXV AC
- 508 – Austerlitz 1805
- 509 – Jena 1806
- 510 – Salamanca 1812
- 511 – Hamburger Hill 1968
- 512 – Quatre Bras 1815
- 513 – Borodino 1812
- 514 – Khyber Pass 1879
- 515 – Sidi Bel Abbes 1912
Historical accuracy of the battlefields was often low (Salamanca 1812 uses the exact same base as for Rorke’s Drift 1879 for example!) and the idea was mainly to push a group of figures which were already available separately. Regardless, the figures were always very nicely sculpted and the range for plastic 1/72 figures expanded massively under Esci, making them accessible for young lads such as myself for whom owning masses of metal figures then available was not really possible.
One final photo which I may have shown before on this blog. A birthday cake featuring a chocolate cake Fort Zinderneuf complete with Cadbury Fingers for gates and topped with two Britains French Foreign Legionnaires (the officer is partially hidden behind the French flag).
Look at that happy 10-year old face!