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!

Uhlan Regiment No. 1 (Merveldt) [Nappy Cavalry Project Regiment #32]

My 32nd regiment in the Napoleonic Cavalry Project reaches its completion with the basing of Merveldt’s Uhlans (Uhlan Regiment No.1). The figures are by Mars about whom’s merits I discussed in a recent post.

I won’t pretend that they were the easiest paint, and I can’t exactly say that they’re perfection incarnate, but I do reckon I’m satisfied with the end result! It’s good to have some Austrians as part of the project at last.

The most tricky aspect of the figures was perhaps the attachment of the lances to the figures. The hands were very indistinct and so I simply attached some old Esci Polish Lancers versions to the hand area with a blob of glue. Job done.

The curious horse poses allow for only certain figure combinations. Hence, one horse appears to be charging hard into the ground, presumably felled by a bullet. The only figure which satisfactorily sits with this equine this the man leaning backwards in a kind of counter-balance. Three of these figures means that a quarter of my regiment is in the process of being felled by a volley! It makes for a unique, dramatic and interesting pose, though.

The rearing horse allows for two standing figures, who, in another pleasing pose, appear to be desperately holding on to their agitated mount by the bridle. This was likely a not uncommon situation in battle.

A spare figure without any horses left to hold I simply gave a lance to, thrusting his weapon in the air and urging his comrades on… or perhaps admiring it… or waving it for attention… OK, possibly an unconvincing pose!

“Hang on, this looks like an Esci lance to me…”

Austrian Uhlan officers would not have had lances and so I’ve attached a sword which came with the Mars set to one of my officers but left the other simply gesturing heroically to his men. They have black pouch belts with gold edging.

The remaining figures include this one urging his horse forward and thrusting the lance.

Also, there is the figure with his arm held high in the air. Another slightly curious gesture, but not a bad one by any means once the lance is attached.

So that concludes regiment number 32 in the old ‘NCP’. Slated as the next regiment in the endless project are some figures which may see me make a return to painting some French cavalry. More on this anon. Until then, I continue the tradition of a sort-of-biography of the latest completed regiment.


Regimental Biography: Uhlan Regiment No. 1 (Merveldt) [Austria]

Austrian Uhlans were effectively Polish lancers and were dressed as such. Their country came under the leadership of the Habsburgs after 1772 when that empire gained part of the territory (Galicia). The first uhlan unit, the “Uhlan Pulk” was raised in 1784 with 600 men intended for use against a rebellion in the Netherlands. Later it was renamed the “Uhlan Freicorps”.

A Richard Knotel illustration of a Merveldt Uhlan in 1813.

In 1785, this unit was sent to Vienna and broken up into various uhlan units attached to a variety of chevaux-leger regiments. The first Uhlan Regiment, No.1, was raised on 1 November 1791 from those Uhlans existing in the Kaiser, Karaiczai, Lobkowitz and Levenehr chevaux-leger regiments.

Austrian 2nd Uhlans. Watercolour by French military artist, Henri Boisselier an example of which can be found at: https://repository.library.brown.edu/studio/item/bdr:248368/

This 1st regiment of Uhlans were known as Merveldt’s Uhlans in 1796, after the regiment’s proprietor (a position similar to that of honorary colonel), Maximilian, Count von Merveldt. Merveldt garnered considerable experience in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars against the French and he was considered a very able commander of cavalry, rising to the rank of general.

The No.1 regiment’s headquarters moved over the years, in 1791 it was based in Sárospatak in Hungary, ending the Napoleonic wars in St. Floeian, near Linz. It’s recruiting area was Galicia and most of the uhlans therefore were made up of either ethnic Polish or Ukrainian men.

Preben Kannik’s fabulous illustration of a wounded man of the Austrian Merveldt’s 1st Uhlan Regiment.

Uhlan Regiment No 1, as with the three other Austrian Uhlan regiments, wore jackets of green (initially ‘grass green’ but later ‘dark green’) with red facings. The pennons on their lances were black over yellow. Trousers were also green with red stripes with the lower part covered in black leather near the boots, although grey overalls could be worn when on campaign. The sheepskin over the saddles appears to have been black, though this is open to question. The only regimental distinction was the colour of the czapkas; No.1 having yellow czapkas and numbers 2, 3 and 4 being green, red and white respectively.

Another illustration by Boisselier of Austrian Uhlans; No. 4 (left) and No. 2 (right).

At Austerlitz in 1805, a handful only of Merveldt’s Uhlans were in the 1st Cavalry Brigade, otherwise the regiment was not represented. During the 1809 War of the Fifth Coalition, the regiment fought at Ursensollen-Amberg. One detachment was at the blockade of the Oberhaus fortress. Parts of the regiment were also involved in the Regensburg battles and later at Stadt am Hof. In July 1809, they were in Bohemia and fought against Saxons in the battles of Gefrees and Nürnberg.


Napoleon I. 1809 vor Regensburg by Albrecht Adam. Wiki Commons.

Merveldt’s Uhlans did not take part either in the Battle of Aspern-Essling, being instead kept in defence on the Danube later harassing the French rear lines of communication. After the Battle of Wagram, it retreated to Bohemia when the campaign ended.

 Wojciech Kossak’s “Austrian Uhlan of Savona“, 1891.

The 1st regiment towards the end of the Napoleonic Wars was fighting in the Northern Italian campaign of 1813-14 alongside its sister uhlan regiment No.2 (Schwarzenberg). Consequently, having largely missed out on the key battles of Austerlitz and Aspern-Essling, they were also to find themselves absent from the decisive Battle of Leipzig in 1813. The regiment’s namesake, Count von Merveldt, however was present at the ‘Battle of the Nations’, where he was unfortunately captured when wandering too close to Saxon troops.

In Italy, his regiment continued to do great service however; patrolling, reconnoitring and, as can be seen in the following brief quote I discovered about the Battle of Feistritz, also putting the enemy to flight!

… Austrian Generalmajor Speigel responded quickly, and a very successful charge of the Merveldt Uhlans encouraged the French to withdraw.

The Defense of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Northern Italy, 1813-1814, G.F. Nafziger, M. Gioannini

Notable Battles: Austerlitz, Ursensollen-Amberg, Regensberg, Gefrees, Nürnberg, Feistritz.

Siege Guns of the Kapikulu Corps

The third instalment of my Ottomania project is yet another group of artillery. After recently painting two boxes from the 17th century, I’ve been making use of one of RedBox’s 16th century guns instead. Cannon technology changed little between the 16th and 17th centuries, so the gun crews can be placed together with no problem at all.

The siege cannons in the set come in a four but as I appear to have, err, lost part of a crew somehow, I’ve only attempted three of them (this at least makes things a quicker to do).

Redbox’s 16th Century siege artillery guns are certainly of the kind of large calibre which suggest they’re capable of hurling wall-breaking cannonballs. Plastic Soldier Review suggests the barrels might be a little short, a notion which is supported by the guns looking somewhat stubby. I think they’re pretty convincing siege guns nonetheless.

The figures are of the usual high quality and this time I’ve gone for a grey uniform, blue trousers and a red sash. My Serbian friend from Bennos Figures Forum found some interesting information about the Turks.

“I spoke with one man from the history museum, he said the Ottomans never had regulation about the uniform colour…In fact, in XIX century we cannot speak about any standardisation of uniform except for Nizams…”

No regulation there may have been, but I like to think that perhaps wealthy leaders might choose to equip their artillery troops in some distinctive manner. Anyway, as I always say, ‘my figs – my rules!’

This group of siege gunners belong to the Kapikulu Corps, the Sultans’ elite of the Ottoman army which contained its own infantry, cavalry and artillery, much like Napoleon’s Imperial Guard. Begun in the early 14th century, the Kapikulu grew in size and Süleyman I increased them to 48,000 strong, half of which were Janissaries (elite infantry). Most of the artillerymen in the Ottoman army belonged to the Topcu Ogaki Regiment of the Kapikulu Corps. By the time of Bayezid II (1481-1512), up to 5,000 topcular (artillerymen) were serving in the corps.

The Topcu Okagi specialised in all forms of siege warfare including the manufacture of ordnance and guns, mining, sapping, transport, labouring and siege works. Such was their sophistication that my Osprey guide suggests that their sapping and mining activities (trenches, saps, artillery emplacements) had more in common with WWI than the 16th/17th centuries.

The figures contain an officer holding a quadrant, by which means he could (with some decent grasp of mathematics) calculate the desired angle of elevation on the gun barrel. For a good overview of its use, see this post by the “To the Sound of the Guns” blog dedicated the American Civil War. It seems that such a device was still very much in use in the mid-19th century and, indeed, has not entirely disappeared from gunnery even today!

Once more, I’ve made use of the very convenient and effective gabions by Anyscale Models, used in my two other sets (the 17th Century field gun crews and the Humbaraci Corps Mortars). I’ve even enough left over for the remaining box of Turkish 16th Century artillery… but that will probably be left now for another day, as that’s quite enough for now!

Next up on my painting table is a return to more familiar territory and finishing off those Mars Austrians for the good old Nappy Cavalry Project!

Men are from Mars…

A quick update on my Mars Austrian Uhlans. The figures are almost there, but there is a little more work to do including some paint still to be applied on the Czapkas amongst other things. The horses are next up on the painting table and also looming is the question of lances.

I’ve decided that the lances provided by Mars require too much effort removing from the flash. There are also no pennons provided and so would require their manufacture. Consequently, I’ve opted to source some lances from another set, possibly from some of my old Esci Polish lancers. The next challenge will be how on earth to affix them to the figures, the hands being extremely vague and amorphous!

Mounting them on horses will be another interesting challenge, a couple of the poses and postures being a little strange, I think. It makes for an interesting and different figure, however.

Aside from these technical issues, I’m pleased with how they’re looking now they’ve got some paint on them. An update, hopefully with mounted and lance-armed uhlans, to come in due course.

Martian Uhlans

A glance through my venerable Napoleonic Cavalry Project tells me that since 2015, I’ve attempted sets from 6 different manufacturers representing 7 different nations. My next set of figures brings both a new nation and manufacturer to the project.

Mars Scots Greys – which Plastic Soldier Review confirms as being copies of original figures by Esci.

Mars are a Ukrainian manufacturer who, I believe, started out producing copies of other manufacturer’s figures (Matchbox, Revell, Esci, etc.) Although I can’t verify claims, some believe that this was effectively piracy of other companies’ work. However, in the plastic model soldier world, some felt that even this bootleg reissuing of out-of-production old sets at least made some old figures, often much in demand by hobbyists, available once more and was so to be welcomed. It’s a contentious issue for sure and one perhaps left to the lawyers to pass judgement over but since (I think) 2009, Mars have been making their own sets instead.

The quality of some of their own-brand work has been criticised as being disappointing by Plastic Soldier Review, amongst others, with PSR saying of one set; “This set is typical of Mars output in many ways. The sculpting is not attractive and the poses quite flat, with some of the faces being particularly messy. Accuracy is good and the selection of poses is adequate if uninspired. The subject itself is unusual and not widely known…”

Mars Lithuanian Medium Cavalry

Once again, however, criticism should perhaps be tempered by the fact that in today’s trading climate, a plastic soldier manufacturer is out there producing sets at all. Furthermore, as PSR suggested, Mars have often concentrated on eras overlooked by other companies, including an extensive 30-Years War range, Crimean Tartars, and the Lithuanian-Teutonic wars (see above). Fancy some late-Mycenaean Light Infantry anyone? Mars has that covered too!

15 figures – 12 horses? The answer is that a choice of riders is offered.

Mars have largely steered clear of the ever-popular Napoleonic period, yet they have produced a few cavalry sets; Russian Dragoons, Russian Uhlans and Austrian Uhlans. The latter are particularly interesting as, to my knowledge, no one has produced Napoleonic Austrian cavalry with the sole exception of HaT’s early Curassiers and Chevauxleger sets in 1998/2000. For such an important participant to the Napoleonic Wars, this seems a real oversight (Great Britain has 11 sets with two more slated for release). Furthermore, it’s been said that during the Napoleonic Wars;

“Austrian cavalry was considered the best in Europe, and one of the best of the time anywhere”

(Fisher and Fremont-Barnes “The Napoleonic Wars”)

The ‘best Napoleonic cavalry in Europe’ surely needs a place in the Nappy Cavalry Project, but can Mars’ Austrian Uhlans figures justify that inclusion?

The set is a bit of an enigma in parts but there’s some real quality there for sure. Even PSR grudgingly admitted that “the sculpting of this set exceeded our admittedly low expectations.” The ‘riot of flash’ of the sprue for the weapons reported by PSR seems to be also present on parts of the figures too for me and I’ve had to spend some time trimming and cleaning them up – never a skill that I excel at!

It’s curious that whilst their Austrian Uhlans seem good, Mars’ Russian Uhlans set doesn’t quite match the same degree of quality. I can only really appreciate the standard of these Austrian’s once I’ve painted them up, so I’ll share how I get on and maybe you can judge for yourself!

Martian horses, lots of flash on their noses but otherwise I think look pretty good.

So, for regiment number 32 in the Napoleonic Cavalry Project I will be attempting the Austrian 1st Uhlan Regiment (Merveldt’s Uhlans) who, like all Austrian lancers, were made up of Polish men.

Wish me luck!

The Humbaracı Corps

Continuing with my new 17th Century Ottomania project, I’ve been further developing the Sultan’s artillery. The two guns of the Ottoman field artillery that I painted are now joined by four siege mortars of the Humbaracı Corps.

Once more, I’ve made use of more gabions from Anyscale Models, a slightly different type to those used in the last group of artillery, however.
Four mortars in total are crewed by a total of 16 men of the Humbaracı Corps.

Siege warfare was developed to a highly sophisticated art by the Ottomans and their artillery was amongst the first professional, standing force in Europe. Mortars were an effective means of hurling missiles over city walls in order to degrade the target by indirect fire. I have set my mortars at a high angle as if they are close in on an invested town’s walls, terrorising inhabitants and defenders alike with their bombardment.

Established in 1481, the Humbaracı Corps included mortar, bombardier, grenadier, mining and incendiary regiments. These were all part of the elite Kapikulu Corps and my Osprey guide has this to say of their ordnance;

The Humbaracılar used havayi mortars, humbara bombs of glass or iron, and humbarasi grenades of glass or bronze.

You will note that the Mortars are sited on a kind of raft of wood to provide a stable base. Interestingly, Osprey also state that “…when not cast-on-site, Ottoman gun barrels were normally transported separately from their cumbersome carriages”.

In my eagerness to finish these off, I realise now that I’ve neglected a couple of final touches including those portfires with their glowing ends which I so enjoyed producing for the last set.

As with the last group of Ottoman Artillery field guns, and entirely for my own satisfaction, I’ve imagined the corps to be wearing a consistent dress uniform in a kind of light blue with mid-blue trousers and red sash.

The reality might have been far more diverse and less uniform, but I can’t find a definitive statement on their dress. I also rather fancied keeping the artillery in a uniform manner because the infantry and cavalry will be far more individualised when I get around to painting them too.

It seems that I’m not the only one to take this approach as other hobbyists have painted their Ottoman artillery in uniform colour schemes too, one of which inspired my own design for the Humbaraci Corps.

Excellent Old Glory figures of Ottoman artillery crews – as seen on Lonely Gamers blog.
…and these beautifully painted uniforms of the sipahis and a gun grew from the now sadly dormant Kaiser Bill’s blog.

If that’s not enough Turkish artillery for you (and surely it is), there’s a third set that I’m busy working on too, so I should have a sizeable Ottoman artillery contingent when I’m done. But more on that in due course!

2018 in Review

As the fourth year of Suburban Militarism on WordPress comes to a close and a New Year looms, it’s a time for reflection. Swedish Napoleonic cavalrymen; Ottoman Turkish artillerymen; Serbian and Austrian infantry of the Great War; Belgian Carabinier cyclists; 28mm Yeomanry figures based on illustrations by Marrion; Saxon Cuirassiers and not forgetting some Napoleonic Poles back in January.

So, here’s a brief pictorial overview of some of the figures painted over 2018.

Looking forward to 2019, I know well enough by now not to forecast my painting plans in any great detail as distractions lead me on to other unforeseen areas over the year! However, currently demanding my attention are:

  • My Ottomania project – now well under way with the artillery corps progressing nicely;
  • The Great War project – I have a number of excellent kits I intend to tackle as I continue to develop my WWI collection;
  • Some 54mm Yeomanry cavalry figures are crying out for attention;
  • I have my eye on a couple of soon-to-be-released new figures for 2019;
  • And of course, there’s the Nappy Cavalry Project which continues proudly into its fifth year being now up to 31 regiments strong!

My ever growing pile of unpainted model soldier kits suggests the likely fate of at least some of these hobby intentions, however!

Best wishes for a happy and peaceful 2019 to all Suburban Militarism’s friends and visitors!

Marvin

A Miracle in Advent

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the town
Not a soldier was stirring or marching around…

With my Cracker Battery of the Christmas Artillery taking a turn on the mantelpiece for the Christmas period, my 12-year old daughter wondered if she could take some photos. Recently she has been undertaking a photography course and, in my unbiased opinion, has a real aptitude for it.

Noticing my fake snow jar, she asked if she could create some winter scenes with it using my figures. She had not previously photographed my figures before and I just let her snap away using a 2nd-hand free camera she is using. It’s just a bargain basement instamatic type thing but the results were really interesting.

I told her to take as many she liked and I’d make up a Christmas story from the output, putting these random scenes together. The result was this overlong piece of doggeral I’ve entitled “A Miracle in Advent”. It wasn’t meant to be ‘published’ on the blog, being just a random piece of fun to make use of her images. I also threw in a few of my own where the story needed it.

Nonetheless, featuring some of my figures as it does, here it is – for posterity if nothing else. Presenting “A Miracle in Advent” – be warned – it’s five minutes of dreadful rhymes.