Christmas Crackers

Yes, I know it’s only just turned November, but I want to talk about Christmas, dammit! Just like the painfully over-eager High Street shops, for me early November is a time of preparation. For Suburban Militarism it is also the time when a handful of figures are painted up to join their brethren in the Christmas Corps in readiness for a seasonal duty.

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A Carolling Hussar

This prestigious group of model soldiers take their turn for a tour of duty on the mantelpiece as part of the household’s December Christmas decorations. In previous years, the following troops have been created:

With the Christmas Corps now comprising two slowly growing regiments of infantry and two also of cavalry, I thought it about time to add some suitably seasonal artillery to help the season go with a bang. Therefore, I am introducing:-

  • Cracker Battery of the Christmas Artillery!

I’ve remained consistent with the range of figures that I’m using. Revell’s sublime Seven Years War soldiers have provided all the figures so far. Up to about a year ago, the cavalry and infantry sets were becoming extremely rare until Revell reissued them in combined boxes of either Prussian and Austrian infantry or cavalry. This terrific development has pleased many. However, Revell only ever produced one set of artillery figures; the Austrians.

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And what a set it was! Superbly detailed sculpting and terrific poses. Unfortunately, Revell have not reissued this set, nor I believe have any plans to, leaving 7YW wargamers desperate for artillery support. The old 1994-era boxes of Austrian artillery are now as rare hen’s teeth and going for a tidy sum whenever boxes do crop up. So I’m very lucky to have sourced this box for a reasonable fee for the Christmas Corps.

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Men of Cracker Battery awaiting paint.

The Austrian artillery wore a light brown uniform but I wanted something with a just little more colour than that but different to the other regiments in the . So, I’ve elected for navy blue coats, red turnbacks with straw-coloured waistcoat and breeches; coincidentally this is also the colour of Prussian artillery during the 7YW.

Here’s how they are looking so far (with a biography of each man in the battery).

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Cracker Battery; Christmas Artillery:

1.Captain Rupert Fortune-Fisch

The officer of the battery is well-educated and the perfect gentleman. A keen interest in mathematics greatly assists in the accuracy of his guns. His tricorn hat is adorned with a sprig of Broom, a feature particular to the Christmas Artillery. This is a tradition which goes back to when they were said to have ‘swept away’ the enemy at the Battle of Broombriggs Farm. At this action, low on ammunition, their cannons famously took to firing off brandy-lit Christmas puddings at the enemy.

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Revell Christmas Artillery (9)

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2.Battery Sergeant Major Fred Cheaptoy

A stalwart of the battery and the Captain’s most dependable man. No one knows gunnery drill better than Cheaptoy. Although he knows the drill, BSM Cheaptoy sees his role as purely supervisory, seldom getting involved with any actual physical work.

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3. Corporal Frederick Faketache

This is the man trusted with the lighted portfire (well, once it’s painted…). No one else in the battery can be relied upon so dependably to actually fire the cannon when told to do so, and NOT beforehand…

Before he does apply the fuse, Corporal Faketache cries out “have a cake!”, at which point new recruits take a bite out of their regulation ration of Christmas cake only to scatter crumbs in shock as the gun noisily discharges. Old hands know better and cover their ears. Traditionally, the warning call was “have a care!”, but years of standing near loud cannonades has badly affected both his hearing and his memory. It is precisely this deafness which prevents any premature firing of the gun.

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Revell Christmas Artillery (12)

4. Bombardier Joseph Partihatt

Bombardier Partihatt can be seen below engaged in his favourite duty, carrying the ammunition over to the cannon. This involves much strength but little brain; a task in which Partihatt is perfectly suited. What’s that in his hands, you enquire? A white cannonball? Not so; the Christmas Artillery only ever fire snowballs, of course!

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5. Gunner William Dredfuljoak

Good old Bill Dredfuljoak is the battery comedian, always ready with a quip or an amusing anecdote, even (or especially) when limbs are being severed and heads are being detached by counter-battery fire. Below, he adopts a nonchalant stance so typical of the man. When in action, if the battle reaches a crisis point, he can often be heard being implored by his Captain to “shut up, man and for pity’s sake get a move on with that bloody sponge!

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Revell Christmas Artillery (5)

6. Gunner Johnny Tweezers

Johnny has a stick. Johnny likes to use his stick to move the cannon left or right. That’s about all there is to say about Johnny Tweezers. However, as a bass-baritone, Gunnar Tweezers sure holds a good note during the singing of any Christmas carols. His loud vocal is said to ‘boom like mortar fire’.

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Revell Christmas Artillery (15)

7. Wheeler Thomas Plasticfrogg

Wheeler Plasticfrogg might appear at first sight to be adopting a super-hero pose below. He is in actual fact rehearsing his key role in the battery which is basically wheeling the gun into position. Plasticfrogg takes his job very seriously and the sight of him exercising by stretching and moving imaginary cannon wheels about is a common sight during off-duty moments. BSM Cheaptoy considers him “a bit too-bloody-keen.”

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Revell Christmas Artillery (17)

So that’s the men of Cracker Battery. The Revell set still leaves me with enough figures for two more similar sized batteries to add to the brigade in future years and even provides some horses and drivers delivering ammunition.

In other news, I have purchased and extremely cheap lighted church model to also appear in my seasonal display on the mantelpiece with Cracker Battery. I may paint this up to appear more visually appealing too, perhaps a coloured roof or white walls.

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Although Captain Fortune-Fisch is pleased as punch with the location of his new billet over the Christmas period, the local parson may not be quite so enthusiastic…

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Talk Christmas artillery

No artillery battery is much use without a cannon, so I’ll post an update on that once that’s been painted and assembled. I am also making plans for the final display, which I will also post on at a later date.

Once more – my apologies if this ridiculously early Christmas-related nonsense has made anybody queasy…

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Swedish Swansong

2018 has so far seen me add another five regiments to the now 30-strong Napoleonic Cavalry Project which was begun back in 2015. In what will probably be the final cavalry regiment produced this year, I’m finishing off the remainder of my 2 boxes of HaT’s Swedish Napoleonic Cavalry. From this kit, I’ve previously painted;

Swedish Morner Hussars (4)

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Swedish Carabineers (44)

Hat Swedish Cuirassiers (2)

All of which just leaves my final Swedish regiment – the Småland Light Dragoons.

Småland Light Dragoon, c.1807.

In the contemporary print above, the regiment is shown in 1807 wearing a long-tailed navy blue coat with yellow facings, buff-coloured riding breeches and black shakos. Around the waist is a yellow cord sash. The black shako is shown with a peak and this is also reproduced in the sculpted HaT figures yet in this is not visible in Preben Kannik’s illustration of the regiment of 1808 (found in “Military Uniforms of the World in Colour”).

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Småland Light Dragoon, c.1808 by P. Kannik.

This style of shako reproduced by Kannik, with a tiny – almost non-existent peak – is seen in another contemporary illustration of a Swedish cavalry regiment; the Nylands Light Dragoons of the same year. From these illustrations, the shako appears to have yellow cord around it, something which is reproduced on the HaT figures. The rest of the uniform appears very similar to HaT’s sculpted figures with its waist length coat, although HaT’s troopers are wearing campaign overalls rather than riding breeches.

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The horses supplied by HaT are of course very familiar to me, being the same already used for the 18-strong Mörner Hussar regiment and also for the King’s Horse Guard.

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Scanian Carabineer

Aside from the headdress, the uniform looks closest to the Scanian Carabineers which I painted earlier on in the year. For that reason, I toyed with painting them with yellow coats instead. This was an undress uniform colour adopted for Swedish cavalry regiments for field duty resulting from wearing the reverse colours of the full uniform.

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In the final event, I decided to reproduce the same blue coats wonderfully depicted by Danish illustrator Preben Kannik. His “Military Uniforms of the World in Colour” book was a regular source of pleasure during my childhood and indeed continues do so right up to today. It contains many uniforms or regiments I’ve painted previously in the project and also, it must be said, regiments which I still intend to attempt.

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Cavalry regiments of the French Imperial Guard
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Saxony: Leib-Kurassiers, Trooper, 1812.
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…and my version of the same from earlier this year.

The Småland Light Dragoon figures are already well under way, so I hope to have something to share on progress reasonably soon.

Mon Infanterie Française!

Having posted on the machine gun crews, I’ve now completed the rest of the Pegasus box of WWI French infantry, so here are some pics of the end result. The figures wear the Horizon Blue coat and Adrian helmet. The trousers are white which were worn by some French units when serving on the Salonika front in 1917-18, which these troops are supposed to represent.

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A chap on Benno’s Figures Forum queried whether the white trousers would have been such a bright shade. My response was ‘probably not’, but my WWI encylcopedia states that the trousers worn overseas on the Salonika or Macedonian front were “Horizon Blue or white”, so I suppose that can be taken literally as I have here. Shades and colours during WWI could vary considerably for many nations suffering supply problems with clothing and dyes, so these trousers are probably as likely worn as anything else!

Below are two figures carrying the Chauchat light machine guns, a weapon featured and discussed in previous posts.

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Pegasus French WWI (19)

Another nicely sculpted figure is in the act of throwing a hand grenade. An illustration in my WWI encyclopedia depicted French hand grenades having been painted in the same horizon blue as the uniform, for some reason, and I’ve reproduced that here.

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The officer wears leather gloves and leather gaiters instead of puttees. He’s armed with a revolver and beckoning his men to follow.

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The separate arms allowed for a number of figures advancing with their rifles at different angles, like these poilus below:-

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En avant! Vive la France!

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The firing figures came together very nicely, once again in very convincing poses:

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There were also two kneeling poses which once again I thought were very effective.

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They certainly took their time to paint up, despite the fact that I didn’t paint the whole box, just about 2/3rds of it. .I’m not sure why painting these figures seemed so demanding on this occasion. All I can say is that I think the end result is one that I’m pleased with and so it was all well worth the effort.

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These are probably the last WWI figures I’ll paint for 2018 I think, although I’ve a number of kits ready for resuming the project again next year. Meanwhile, I’ve been making plans on what to paint in the run up to 2019, more on which will be announced in due course.

Until then –  On ne passe pas! On les aura! En avant et vive la France!

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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.

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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…

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Northampton’s Abington Park Museum: Day Trip #16

I fulfilled a long-standing intention to visit a military collection which, geographically, isn’t all that far away from me but which nonetheless I’d been unable to get to. It is a military collection housed within the Abington Park Museum in Northampton. Entry is free for visitors, entry times being restricted to afternoons on 4 days a week. It brings together collections relating to:

  • The Northamptonshire Regiment and its preceding regiments;
    • 48th (Northamptonshire) Regiment of Foot,
    • 58th (Rutlandshire) Regiment of Foot,
  • The Northamptonshire Yeomanry, militia and local volunteer units.

In 1970, the Northamptonshire Regiment collection was moved to Abington Park Museum having been previously based at various barracks in and around Northampton.

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I have to now admit that in an act of total incompetence I forgot to put a memory card into my digital camera before leaving! All of which meant relying mostly upon my phone’s camera, which is far from the best device for taking decent images. Furthermore, I then later located my missing memory card in my trouser pocket on returning home. Early senility or stupidity?! Nonetheless, I managed to photograph some interesting exhibits, particularly ones relating to that great personal interest of mine – the yeomanry, which I will mostly concentrate on for the purposes of this post.

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The Northamptonshire Yeomanry

On locating the military collection in the building, I was soon greeted by the sight of the distinctive uniform of the early Northamptonshire Yeomanry which was first formed in 1794. An example of their ancient Tarleton helmet was on display, looking pretty good for its age (over 200 years old), save for the threadbare comb which had retained a few tufts of its former glory, much like the balding pate of a very old man. The turban was a bright green (to match the uniform’s jacket) with brass chains holding it in place. The words “Northampton” and “Yeomanry” appeared in brass plaques on either side of the crest.

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The jacket was green with buff facings. On the shoulders were some distinctive shoulder scales, of a type which I’d previously modelled for the Warwickshire Yeomanry Museum figures a couple of years back.

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It’s a very distinctive colour (akin to the Norfolk Rangers I mentioned recently) and a pleasing design, which was of course entirely the point, it being important that the Northamptonshire Yeomanry looked impressive. A framed contemporary illustration accompanied the display, not very expertly reproduced below;

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Blurry phone camera… A print of a Northants yeomen, c.1790s.

Already in my possession prior to the visit was a book on the Northamptonshire Yeomanry; “Yeomen of England” by Ken Tout. It is a warm and lively account of the regiment told by one of its former soldiers. In it, Mr Tout recounts how “one great attraction in [yeomanry] recruitment was the colourful, even gaudy design of the uniform of a troop or a regiment, and poets were already at work writing patriotic songs.” One such early song in 1794 praises the uniform of the newly formed Brackley Troop, part of the NY;

British Yeomen, valiant Yeomen, brave Yeomen for ever
Green coats faced with black and in each hat a feather
The waistcoats are buff and their trousers are leather
With broadswords and pistols and hearts without fear
Great Jove must be pleased when these Yeomen appear

They were obviously proud of their green uniforms, although I should have thought that ‘sabres’ would have a better substitute for the word ‘broadswords’ which would have been impractical to wield on a horse! There was no sign of the feather mentioned in the lyrics but a plume was commonly used with Tarleton helmets so it may have simply gone the way of the balding fur crest.

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For the great smartness of their first green uniform, the regiment originally had to thank the affluent Earl Spencer whose influence with the King enabled him to secure the use of the King’s emblem, white horse of Hanover, one of only 4 regiments to be so honoured.

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Embroidered badge of the Northants Yeomanry with white horse emblem.

There was another uniform on display which I initially took to being an Northamptonshire Regiment infantry officer from the early half of the 19th century. I couldn’t spot an explanatory label and in my limited time in the museum I didn’t go back to confirm. However, Ken Tout’s book suggests that this uniform would have been similar to the mid-19th century Northamptonshire Yeomanry’s uniform. In 1844, the regiment escorted Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Tout describes their dress;

“It was an opportunity for the yeomen to don their finery. immaculate scarlet tunics with dark blue facing. gold epaulettes and plentiful gold lace, and the riders’ heights enhanced by their bell-top shakos.”

On my hurried exit from the museum, I noticed that the final room of the collection housed a wonderful display of model soldiers from the local Northants Military Modelling Club. There were lots of terrific models on display, mostly I’d say 54mm scale, of the Northamptonshire Yeomanry through the ages both mounted and dismounted. One of these looked much like the above Ken Tout description of the Victorian escort, though my blurry phone camera ran out of storage and I ran out of time before I could attempt a photo. Prior to that, I did however discover a curious object stuck randomly underneath a table – it was a section of what appear to be bathroom tiles which had carefully been removed intact. On the times, illustrations of Northants yeomen through the ages on them! I presume some individual had hand-painted them. I think they’re terrific, one of those nice eccentric discoveries that make visiting a museum so enjoyable.

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Now that’s my kind of bathroom design, (although possibly not my wife’s)! The ‘scarlet tunic’ mentioned in Tout’s book seems to be shown above (right on bottom row). Curse my blurry camera as the accompanying written descriptions which would have confirmed all aren’t readable. The green uniform seen earlier seems to be top right and the 1910-era version mounted in the middle. If we’re to assume they’re all Northamptonshire Yeomen, then it’s possible they also adopted an extravagant hussar style uniform, seen top left. If so, I assume this was approximately from some time between the 1850s up to 1873 (the year of temporary disbandment).

Tout’s excellent account also describes in detail the nature of the protective formation required by the Northamptonshire Yeomanry to guard the royal carriage from any threat. The fine and glittering sight of the scarlet-coated procession was commemorated in some spirited poetry by a local 17-year old girl, reproduced in the book:-

On Market Hill our great Yeomanry stood
To guard Queen Victoria to Weedon in the Wood
While through the High Street to Ket’ring she rides
With a thousand spectators arrayed on both sides

The Yeomanry in the Northamptonshire existed until the final troop (The Royal Kettering) was disbanded in 1873. As the Anglo-Boer War came to a conclusion, Northamptonshire, which had been without a Yeomanry regiment ever since, had a new regiment established, the Northamptonshire Imperial Yeomanry.

The Full Dress uniform was in the style of Dragoons and is described in “Yeomen of England” by Tout as being;

“…dark blue, with light blue facings and a white metal helmet with a light-blue and white plume. “

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The uniform fitting that description was displayed in the collection (see above). It is a 1910 Full Dress tunic and Field Service cap belonging to the then commander of the regiment, Col. H Wickham. The PAOY website has some information on the Service Dress uniform of the Northamptonshire Yeomanry:

The first [Service Dress] uniform of the new regiment was of regulation drab, or khaki, with pale blue collar, cuffs and piping up back, sleeves and down the front of the jacket. Shoulder chains with brass lettering NIY. The Regimental badge, as worn on the collar, side-cap, peaked cap etc., was the “galloping white horse”: the badge used as the centre piece of Maltese Cross on the Shakos of the 1830-45 period.

The emblem of that Hanoverian horse could be seen clearly on the two later NY uniforms were also on display including this below. It is also prominent on the collar of this corporal of the NY. This tunic dates from 1902-1908 and was displayed alongside a pillbox cap. Note the shoulder chains on blue cloth backing.

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Again, the Hanover horse appears – on the Full Dress helmet in a dramatic sunburst design…

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…and finally on the front of the Field Service cap, below:

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Most pleasing to me about this dragoon-style uniform and helmet was the attractive and unusual colour of the facings. Referred to by Tout and the PAOY website as being ‘light-blue’, this is described as being “Cornflower Blue” according to the “The Yeomanry Force at the 1911 Coronation” authors Robert J Smith and Ronald G Harris. Not only does it appear on the sleeves and collar of the tunic, but it can also be seen on both the cap and the helmet. The cap has this colour piped around the brim and also in a band around the middle. Other ranks apparently just had the band without the piping.

Two depictions of the Northamptonshire Yeomanry around the time of the coronation by R.J. Marrion and E.A. Campbell.

The helmet has a falling white over cornflower blue plume on a silver helmet, as can be seen below:

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Full Dress helmets: Other Ranks (left) and Officers (right)

On the eight-pointed star, the garter inscription surrounding the Hanoverian horse says “Northamptonshire Imperial Yeomanry”, which was the name of the regiment on it’s 1902 reincarnation. In 1907, it became simply known as the “Northamptonshire Yeomanry” following the Haldane reforms.

The difference between the two examples of helmets relating to the officers and ranks seems remarkably slight. The plumes have been tied back to better reveal helmet details.

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Below: the “Cornflower Blue” is evident on the collars and cuffs as well as the plumes:

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Below: close up on the arrow pickers and chain on the officers pouch belt. Note the horse motif appears on the buttons as well.

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The most complete collection of NY uniforms came unexpectedly towards the end of the collection. I’ve mentioned in the final room was a sizeable collection of mostly 54mm scale models of the regiment in a wide variety of guises. Close up pictures weren’t really possible but I managed to take a couple of a figure I recognised as already being in my collection, ready to paint. I suppose it highly likely that I’ll try and reproduce the 1910 NY Full Dress using my own figure to match the one below!

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Apologies for blurry image – see earlier comments!

The Militia:

I was surprised to learn recently that I have a personal connection with the Northamptonshire Militia going back to a relative who served sometime around the 1770s. This chap had the memorable surname Aldwincle (no, I don’t share this unusual surname) and he would have likely been compelled to serve in the force by ballot. This means of selection was not unsurprisingly often deeply unpopular with the mostly reluctant working class men who served in the Militia’s ranks, and so it may have been with Great, Great, Great Great Grandad Aldwincle.

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Thomas Rowlandson’s “Review of the Northamptonshire Militia at Brackley”, 1807. From Wikimedia Commons.

It was particularly pleasing to see some items relating to the same period and regiment in which my ancestor served. The drum below was presented to the Northamptonshire Militia by Lord Viscount Althorp on the 1st September 1779. So, I feel a sense of connection as it is entirely feasible that my relative would have known and indeed heard this drum. He would also have quite probably having been in attendance during its presentation to the regiment on that day.

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Northamptonshire Militia Drum dating from 1779.

Another, larger, militia drum was also on display. This bass drum was presented to the regiment while it was on service in Dublin in 1854, probably taking on duties that other regular infantry would have been doing were they not off serving in the Crimean War. It’s a beautiful object, richly decorated and emblazoned with not only the name of the regiment but also of the name of the drum’s benefactor, the regiment’s own Lt-Colonel Lord Burghley.

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With rich colonels such as Lord Burghley, one might expect militia officers to display some ostentation and these 1855 shoulder epaulettes provide some evidence of that. There’s a hunting horn symbol in the wreath, a sign of light infantry.

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The Volunteer Corps:

The Northamptonshire Rifle Volunteers were represented by a grey uniform of the 1st Volunteer Battalion of the Northamptonshire Regiment. The name dates it from being after the 1881 Childers Reforms which merged the existing 48th and 58th line regiments into a single Northamptonshire Regiment, also attaching the local volunteer corps and militia as additional battalions.

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With its grey uniform and red piping, and Home Service Pattern helmet, it looks much like the Cheshire Greys Rifle Volunteers that I modelled in 28mm scale last year.

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Finally, it was interesting to see displayed a cymbal which had been presented in 1876 to the band of the 2nd Northamptonshire Rifle Volunteers, demonstrating that military bands could be as much a feature of the Rifle Volunteers as any other force in the British Army.

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A Cymbal from the Rifle Volunteers

And very briefly, The Regulars!
Finally, although my greatest interest these days is on the volunteers, a very brief  word on the Regulars. The Northamptonshire Regiment was formed out of the amalgamation of two pre-existing line regiments, the 48th and 58th regiments. It served in a number of theatres including New Zealand, a number of exhibits from which were displayed. There were some interesting watercolours and artworks around the walls, although the artists themselves seemed to be largely unknown.

Some uniforms of a type similar to those depicted above could be found around the museum.

They were lots of very interesting items on display, but some of my favourites included some extravagant 1832 epaulettes from an officer of the 58th Foot and a Pickelhaube and bugle, trophies from the Great War, Pickelhaube war booty always being a popular choice for many British regiments it seems.

Footnote:

Being a collection housed as a part of a wider museum, the Northamptonshire Regimental Collection inevitably suffers from the lack of focus that that entails. To enter into the collection, for example, I walked past a room inexplicably containing a large painting and am Egyptian sarcophagus! When compared to some other more dedicated military museums, the Northants collection felt a little lost and unloved.

At the time of writing, the Northamptonshire County Council has been in the news recently for being the first (of many?) to go effectively bankrupt. In such circumstances, with public services being pared down to a statutory minimum, culture and the arts could suffer greatly in favour of more immediately essential services. The fate of the Regimental Collection of Northampton in such circumstances remains to be seen.

Presenting Belgium’s Carabinier Cyclists!

My latest venture into WWI figures is complete. HaT’s choice of figures is an inspired one, the Belgian army’s bicyclists being both an interesting and somewhat neglected subject. Much like Belgium itself, the bicycle’s contribution to the Great War can be easily overlooked, yet both played a small but nonetheless significant role in the conflict. Mark at Man of Tin blog, however, has mentioned that the same figures have at least been previously produced in 15mm scale by Peter Laing.

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HaT’s figures are a great attempt a reproducing something which I imagine is extremely complicated to replicate on a 1/72 scale plastic sprue; a bicycle and a rider with rifle over the shoulder.

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Belgian Carabinier Cyclists (25)

That said, some poses I found easier to construct than others and the figure requiring both of their fiddly arms and handlebars all attaching and gluing together was far beyond my ability to make look acceptable! The four separate poses supplied in the box are below:-

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I’ve based on them on what I hoped would look something like a flat dirt track, a little off-roading which would be well within the capability of these Carabiniers on their ‘Belgica’ cycles and made even easier by Belgium’s flat landscape.

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I think the poses are very good too. Maybe some extra dismounted poses would have been even better, with some carabiniers engaged in a fire fight, cycles lying flat on the ground? Can’t complain, though. Extremely fiddly assembly aside, these figures have been really interesting to research and good to paint – a great addition to my Great War project.


And with that, it’s time to look to the next painting task. I have many possibilities and kits coming out of my ears, so too much choice is the problem as ever. What’s more, there are also a few other posts to come to tell of my recent trips out and about. In the meantime, if you’d like to review the other WWI figures I’ve painted so far, feel free to visit my page on the Great War!

Best wishes,

Marvin

Belgium’s Carabinier Bicyclists

“The reasons of the success of the soldier-cyclist are not far to seek. In the first place it must be realised that his mount, unlike that of the cavalryman, is silent in progress. This gives him an enormous advantage over his noisy foe… But silence is by no means the cyclist’s sole advantage. He has a good turn of speed, which is a factor useful alike in attack and retreat.

“… the ability to take cover often spells the difference between victory and defeat, and here the cyclist scores distinctly. He has but to lay his mount down flat upon the ground and it is practically invisible.” Cycling Weekly Magazine, October 1914.

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Cycling and Soldiering

Cycling and soldiering may at first appear to some to seem almost mutually exclusive. Cycling, particularly of the sort from over a century ago, may suggest a rather quaint pursuit. It may bring to mind scenes of gently wayfaring Edwardian ladies riding prettily through leafy English lanes, or middle class gentlemen with their tweed suits and flat caps. Yet, as the mass industrialised slaughter of the Great War began, cyclist battalions were a common feature in many armies. Indeed, the very first British army casualty of the Great War was to be a cyclist.

On August 21, 1914, in southern Belgium, a 17-year old British soldier named John Henry Parr was sent on a mission with another reconnaissance cyclist to obtain information on the German army’s position. While offering covering fire for his comrade, who escaped on his bike, Parr was shot and killed, thus becoming the first British soldier to die in the Great War. The Bicycle Times, “From the Archives – World War I: Cycling Into Battle”, 27 Dec 2016.

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Germany, USA, Austria, Italy, Russia, Japan, France, Belgium and others all had their own cycling forces too. Great Britain had 14,000 cyclist troops in 1914. In the French and Belgian forces during WWI, an estimated 150,000 troops had made use of the army bicycle at various times. The practice was by no means exclusive to WWI, either. In fact, I painted some metal WWII Dutch army cyclists by Early War Miniatures for a Benno’s Figures Forum Group Build a couple of years ago. Surprisingly perhaps, the practice continues right up to the present day with some troops adopting the cycle for patrols even when deployed in global hotspots.

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German army cyclists, c.1910

The use of the bicycle in warfare first began to be initially explored in the British army by militia and volunteers, not in the more conservative regulars. Cyclist manoeuvres involving volunteer units was first held in 1880 and repeatedly thereafter gathering support amongst those who could see in their use great tactical advantage, speed of movement, and affordability. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle even argued the case for the Yeomanry switching from horse to cycles. Bicycles, it was argued, were silent and swift, increasing mobility on the battlefield for troops. They enabled soldiers to carry more equipment and were far easier to replace when compared to horses or vehicles and required minimal maintenance.

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The Anglo-Boer War gave the first significant opportunity for the British army to explore the bicycle in warfare. It was used by both the British and the Boers, although it met with some opposition by disdainful cavalry commanders at the time. It also came in for criticism as some general staff questioned its ultimate value on the rugged terrain of the ‘trackless veldt’.

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Caption reads: “A man of the “Handy Corps” –
“Handy afoot, handy awheel swift as a bolt from the blue,
Ready to ride and ready to tramp, seeing the business through;
Always there in the nick of time, always right up to the fore,
Eager to take their share in this fight are the men of the Handy Corps”

The BSA and Military Bicycle Museum describes the types of bicycle used by the military:

“There were two types of military bicycle: the roadster and the folding bicycle. Armies experimented with bicycles from the earliest era, but they were not generally accepted until cycle design had evolved sufficiently to produce a robust machine capable of withstanding typical military use. Roadsters were ideal for dispatch riders. Folding bikes were used first by Italian and French armies, and the Faun design, patented in 1896, was used by various British manufacturers, culminating in BSA’s well-known WW1 Folding Bicycle.” The BSA and Military Bicycle Museum

Belgian’s Bicycle Battalions

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With the advent of WWI, the thickly-roaded districts of France and Flanders meant that military cyclists would find the ground better suited for their wheels than combatants found in the South African veldt. The flat landscape of the low countries meant that Belgium in particular was an ideal environment for military cyclists and they were well used in the initial stages before the static stalemate of the trenches set in.

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French WWI chasseur cyclists by the roadside.

Four Carabinier battalions of the Belgian army had attached companies of cyclists. They wore a distinctive uniform with a somewhat old-fashioned peaked hat similar to a kepi. Their cycles were the “Belgica” which was a foldable cycle. This allowed the bicycle to be slung across the shoulder when encountering difficult terrain.

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A dedicated military cycling school in Belgium provided troops with specific training in reading maps, reconnaissance and communication techniques, as well as the mechanical skills needed to maintain the bicycles. Innovation with the military bicycle was rife:

While attempts to convert them into actual weapons by mounting machine guns on handlebars and makeshift sidecars ultimately failed, the bicycle did prove to be very adaptable during the war. Bicycle ambulances were created by welding two bicycles together, side by side, and placing a stretcher in between them. Tandem bikes allowed for a primary pilot to sit at the front and a gunner at the rear. And some bikes were rigged to tow machine guns and other small artillery into position. The Bicycle Times.

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The German invasion of Belgium began on 4 August 1914 and their own Jaeger cyclists went ahead of the infantry with leaflets requesting calm from Belgian civilians. Reconnaissance was often made by bicycle but the cyclist troops were also often hotly engaged, being the first into contact with the enemy. At the very first battle in Belgium, at Halen, the Belgians successfully repulsed German cavalry attacks with a force which included a company of 450 cyclists. Their concealed massed rifle fire inflicted large casualties upon the Germans.

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Model soldier manufacturer HaT has recently produced a couple of WWI cyclist sets for German Jaeger and Belgian Carabinier cyclists, and it’s the latter which I’m currently working on for my latest edition in my WWI project.

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My assistant presents…

The cycles themselves are already painted, as you can see below, and are simply awaiting their riders which I’ll be presenting as soon as I’ve finished painting and mounting them on their bikes!

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Parked ready for their cyclists – a dozen 1/72 scale WWI Belgian army bicycles.

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Exhausted Belgian army cyclists at rest by a roadside.

 

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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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.

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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. 

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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.”

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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.

 

Strelets WWI Austro-Hungarian Infantry

My Austro-Hungarian Pucherna infantry regiment has a pedigree that goes back to 1741. Garrisoned in Transylvania, its ranks are filled by ethnic Romanians. The multi-ethnic empire of Austria-Hungary fought Russians, Serbs, Greeks, Italians, Poles, and indeed other Romanians. In the K & K army, it was not uncommon for Poles to find themselves fighting other Poles, Italians fighting other Italians and Slavs fighting against other Slavs.

Anyway; the figures. First up; this is the finished officers armed  with revolver, binoculars and, somewhat anachronistically, a sword. No Austrian officer would have worn one in the Great War but I suppose it’s a way for Strelets to identify the officer more clearly for wargamers.

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None of the Other Ranks are wearing any metal helmets, just the kepi which, along with the rest of their dress, probably dates them to the early war period.

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I like this next figure, head down, holding on to his hat and running through the storm of bullets and shrapnel – though whether it is towards or away from the enemy lines, who can tell!?

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I’ve painted a couple of men carrying some type of machine gun. Being more knowledgeable than I about Austro-Hungarian machine guns, I can only quote Plastic Soldier Review who had this to say about it:

The standard machine gun of the war was the Schwarzlose M07/12, but this is not that. It has a bipod just in front of the ammunition feed, which must be fairly close to the point of balance, and it has a drum feed rather like the later Thompson sub-machine gun. This makes it look like the lightened German MG 08/15, although when this weapon was given a drum feed it was on the side rather than underneath. As an intended assault weapon its water jacket would have been emptied before being carried like it is here, yet it would still have been much heavier than this figure seems to suggest. However we can find no evidence that the Germans gave numbers of this weapon to the Austrians, so the question must be why it is in the arms of an Austrian.

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Perhaps, then, Strelets have simply been unfussy in their desire to include a machine gunner in the set, useful potentially for wargaming purposes. Incidentally, I have forgotten to paint the stock a wooden colour, something that I will attend to one day…

Other weapons include, of course, the rifle which is depicted being fired either standing or kneeling.

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Also, there are examples of men throwing a hand grenade. It appears to be similar to the German stick grenade, nicknamed the ‘potato masher’ by the British troops. I understand that the Austrians hand their own version of the stick grenade which was thicker and bulkier, so this might be a good match. With the empire having supply problems, I suspect that shortage of materials may have resulted in different versions or even German imports.

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The faces of Strelets figures often seem to suggest something of an individual character about them, such as this chap kneeling and loading his weapon.

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Finally, the use of the bayonet is being practised by this soldier who is holding a suitably aggressive expression.

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Strelets Austro Hungarian infantry (36)

And with that group of Austro-Hungarian infantry now despatched, I’m left musing what to paint next in my growing WWI project…

For now, with my summer holiday immanent, a short hiatus will begin as Suburban Militarism will be putting down the brush and taking a well-deserved vacation and heading for a beach. Until next time, best wishes to all my friends and visitors!