A glance through some old school work turned up a project I thought appropriate to this blog. I think the choice of topic for me and my fellow pupils was entirely our own choice and so I went for the obvious.

The work was a surprisingly lengthy compendium of narrative, illustrations, maps, bibliography and index all on the Battle of Waterloo.

“An excellent project, very well researched and written. A+, Commendation” – it appears that all my hard work was rewarded!

My list of sources for my project included (amongst a number of other books) Aubrey Feist’s “The Field of Waterloo” and “Military Uniforms of the World in Colour” by Preben Kannik and W.Y. Carman. I also included some “Information sent by the Wellington Museum” at Apsley House in London. Aside from the general information sent by the museum, a glance at their list of books, postcards and transparencies (and jigsaws) available makes for interesting reading. There was a great range of photographic reproductions of famous paintings or other features within Apsley House.

It’s clear that I put a lot of energy, time and passion poured into my pet topic as an 11 year old.

These drawings appear to be ‘after’ Preben Kannik!

That enthusiasm understandably wasn’t always matched by total historical accuracy but did include some rather splendid illustrations, apparently carefully copied from other sources.

I spy a Polish Lancer cap, a Tarleton and a Carabinier helmet amongst my chosen headdress display.

Older, more knowledgeable, perhaps a little wiser, I still carry that same enthusiasm for the subject today and the project is a nice connection with the schoolboy who poured so much effort into that school work.

Stansell’s Bandsmen #6: The Ophicleide

The 6th in a series on some of the roles of British army bandsmen as illustrated by Frederick Stansell c.1900 in the book “Bands of the British Army” by W.J. Gordon. #MakeMusicNotWar

No.6: Ophicleide- The Black Watch

“In military bands there are always the baritone, generally known as the saxhorn, the euphonium, which took the place of the ophicleide, and the bass or bombardon; but a saxhorn band includes a soprano, a contralto, a tenor or althorn, and a contrabass. The whole family, as well as the saxophone series, are names after a Belgian, Adolphe Sax, who settled in Paris in the middle of the nineteenth century and invented and made them, and may be fairly described as the chief improver of our military bands.”

W.J. Gordon

Stansell’s Bandsmen #4: The Bombardon

The 4th in a series on some of the roles of British army bandsmen as illustrated by Frederick Stansell c.1900 in the book “Bands of the British Army” by W.J. Gordon. #MakeMusicNotWar.

No.4: Bombardon – The Connaught Rangers

“All (saxhorns) have a cupped mouthpiece and consist of a conical brass tube of easy curves opening out into a wide graceful bell, three pistons providing the intermediate tones and semitones. In military bands there are always the baritone, generally known as the saxhorn, the euphonium, which took the place of the ophicleide, and the bass or bombardon; but a saxhorn band includes a soprano, a contralto, a tenor or althorn, and a contrabass. The whole family, as well as the saxophone series, are names after a Belgian, Adolphe Sax, who settled in Paris in the middle of the nineteenth century and invented and made them, and may be fairly described as the chief improver of our military bands.”

W.J. Gordon

Looking much like the military bombardon illustrated by Fred Stansell, here the modern sousaphone appears capable of being mastered by even the smallest band member.
Edrich Siebert’s “Bombastic Bombardon” being performed. Self-taught Siebert began his musical career in 1917 as a boy musician in the Cheshire Regiment in which he served until 1929. Recalled to the army during the Second World War he travelled more than ten thousand miles with the regimental band, entertaining troops in Sicily, Italy and later Austria. Compositions included many marches and solos for various instruments including some not often accorded solo status, like The Bombastic Bombardon.

Campbell’s Cavalrymen #4: The Lincolnshire Yeomanry Officer

I’ve returned to my 54mm scale Yeomanry Cavalry project by tackling a figure representing an officer of the Lincolnshire Yeomanry.

Various Lincolnshire small and independent troops were raised in 1794, becoming eventually the single North Lincoln Regiment of Yeomanry Cavalry until it was disbanded in 1847. The county was then without a yeomanry regiment until the “Lincolnshire Imperial Yeomanry” was raised in 1901 following a call for volunteers to serve in the Imperial Yeomanry in the Boer War. The nominated regimental commander was the Earl of Yarborough.

The full-dress uniform the regiment adopted was that of a lancer regiment, Lincolnshire being one of five newly-raised, post-1900 yeomanry regiments to adopt this pattern of uniform (see my East Riding of Yorkshire and Surrey figures as being among the others). It is this full-dress uniform that Chota Sahib have depicted.

Previous yeomen in the project have been manufactured by Dorset Metal Model Soldiers, Mitrecap, Tradition and Ensign Miniatures. My Lincolnshire yeoman figure is by Chota Sahib, the very first that I’ve painted from this manufacturer who produced (so far as I’m aware) at least six yeomanry figures in this scale.

I did visit the Museum of Lincolnshire life in Lincoln some years back and, though the memory fades since 2014, I don’t recall any yeomanry in their military gallery, although I understand it must have been there. Instead, I relied on a postcard and some some books already in my collection, including the plate below by Edmund A. Campbell taken from R.G. Harris’ “Fifty Years of Yeomanry Uniforms”. Harris provides a good description of the uniform in question.

It’s most likely that Campbell’s illustration directly influenced the Chota Sahib sculptor as the year and details of both (nearly) match. What’s more, all the other figures in their range also appear in Harris’ book, their Loyal Suffolk Hussars figure being identical in practically every way.

Postcard on the Lincolnshire Yeomanry, part of a series, with an illustration by Bryan Fosten.

I found an extract from an old Chota Sahib catalogue online which had this below image of a painted version of their Lincolnshire Yeomanry officer. From the low-resolution photo I can still tell how beautifully painted it is. The painter has included a white falling plume whereas the Harris/Campbell book and the postcard of the same uniform all agree that the plume by 1911 was green, R.G. Harris confirming that “a silver cockade with green-velvet front carries a green plume of cock’s feathers.” Apparently, a trial-pattern only, full-dress uniform in 1902 did include a white plume, so presumably this influenced the painter.

Figure Y8 from the original Chota Sahib catalogue.

Hidden under that green falling plume is a very nicely sculpted cap plate of white metal carrying “the arms of Lincoln – argent, a cross charged with a Fleur de Lys – surrounded by a laurel wreath and surmounted by a crown. the Regimental title on triple-scrolls below“. All of which seems to have been beautifully sculpted on this figure only for the plume to sadly hide it all away! An image of the cap at the Museum of Lincolnshire Life is available and shown below.

The lance cap is otherwise made of black patent leather (I’ve used glossy black for this), with white panels and silver cord quartering the top.

The lancer cap itself, as with the rest of the Lancer uniform, was apparently based on that of the 17th Lancers. The principal difference presumably being the green rather than dark blue cloth. The green is supposed to be a shade called ‘Lincoln-Green’, “a lighter shade than dark rifleman’s green”. I’ve not fussed as to interpreting what this subtle colour difference could actually mean and simply painted it something that looks green! Both E.A. Campbell’s and Brian Foster’s (below) illustrations seem to look pretty much like rifleman’s green to me!

The plastron is white (a la 17th Lancers) and the pouch belt and pouch is silver for officers. I’ve also picked out in silver the cap lines, the pricker, plate and chain, as well as all the buttons.

Lincolnshire Yeomanry lancer’s tunic in green with white plastron, collar and cuffs the latter two items edged in silver.

The shoulder cords are silver and the edges of the tunic are white as are the flaps to the rear.

The overalls are green with two broad white stripes down each leg.

The girdle around the waist is silver with two scarlet-silk lines within it, although “The Yeomanry Force at the 1911 Coronation” says this is green.

The figure required some gluing, both the arms and the plume were attached separately. No doubt down to my ham-fisted assembly efforts, I was left with a centimetre gap between the scabbard slings. Thankfully, I found some nickel strips which I used to bridge the gap I hope convincingly enough.

Trouble attaching the figure to the plinth has left me with the scabbard hanging a few millimetres high in mid-air rather than rested on the ground but I think it’s barely noticeable. It’s the sort of thing that flock or grass scatter would hide if he wasn’t based on bare wood.

It’s all finished off with the usual engraved plates detailing the regiment (front) and rank / year (rear).

After serving in the First World War, Lincolnshire lost it’s yeomanry regiment once again after it was disbanded in 1920 and the notion of a British lancer uniform in Lincoln Green became history.

I often find myself tinkering and making small improvements to my 54mm painting even after the figure is varnished and based on the plinth. I will probably do the same with this officer too as there are a few small things I still want to attend to. I’m pleased with my first Chota Sahib figure. It’s very very slightly more slender than my other yeomanry figures, but otherwise fits in very well.

I’ve also been working on my more familiar 1/72 scale lately. More on that soon!

Officer of the Lincolnshire Yeomanry photographed at the 1911 Coronation wearing his Full Dress uniform with green feather plume.

In Search of Lieutenant Kije

It has been snowing hard here today. As we endure/enjoy the season in the midst of an appalling pandemic, I’ve been thinking of some music most commonly associated with at this time of year and which contained a memorable classical music tune about a sleigh ride. I’m talking of Prokofiev’s “Troika”.

For a youngster in the 1980s with a Napoleonic uniform obsession, I’d be delighted whenever television would rare occasions throw up something of interest. One Christmas, Prokofiev’s “Lieutenant Kije” suite really caught my imagination when an animated version appeared on television in the early 1980s. Decades later, I still remember certain parts of it and the pleasure I took in seeing animated Napoleonic soldiers appear on screen.

What was this animation?

It was an animation made in 1979 for the BBC and featuring some notable actors (Leo McKern as the Tsar, Patricia Hodge, Tony Robinson and narrated by Peter Settelen). The BFI site lists the puppets as being made by Bob Bura and John Hardwick, (more famous amongst middle-aged people in the UK as being the animators of the Trumptonshire series of programmes, amongst others). However, writer and broadcaster Tim Worthington’s very informative and amusing blog corrects this, citing regular BBC Schools contributor Alan Platt as being the maker of the puppets. His blog mentions how this animated story was shown initially in short instalments in a schools music programme series called Music Time, as part of a noble attempt to ‘make learning fun’, but later combined them into one longer stand-alone animated story.

The fiery Tsar, his generals and an unfortunate courtier.

The plot sees the name of Lt Kije being conjured up after four individual soldier names were put forward for a decoration by the Tsar’s squabbling generals who were unable to agree on a single candidate. The capital letters of each name collectively spelt out KIJE and the short-sighted Tsar, who could only see the capital letters, enquired who this soldier “Kije” was. No one dared point out his mistake and unwilling to risk the terrible wrath of the Tsar, the generals began to bluff and bluster the mythical Lieutenant Kije into existence. They extolled his tremendous exploits and told invented tales of his great bravery. There are some stills from the animated film available on the internet, one of which can be seen below, (featuring the scene of Kije’s creation).

The Tsar’s squabbling generals are unable to agree on a single candidate for a bravery award, notes featuring the names of potential candidates lie crumpled on the floor.

And so the mythical Lieutenant Kije was born. In my searches, I found the lyrics to a song about Kije, the verses of which track his rise through the ranks; in this case from a hussar, via a captain, eventually through to a general and then a hero.

Oh, Kije was a hussar bold, a hussar bold was he.
The bravest soldier of the tsar, the pride of the Cavalry.
Oh, Kije was a captain fine, a captain fine was he.
So fearless in the cannons roar, he led his company.
Oh Kije was a Colonel fierce. A colonel fierce was he.
His soldiers never paused for rest till they routed the enemy.
Oh Kije was a general brave, a general brave was he.
His army always lead the van to gain the victory.
Oh, Kije won a hero’s fame, a hero’s fame won he.
The bravest soldier to serve the Tzar in the ranks of Muscovy.
Now Kije never lived at all the Tzar’s mistake was he.
But as the Tzar could do no wrong, a myth he had to be.

Mindful of those wonderful animated soldier puppets, I was interested in some of the depictions of the mythical Kije on the LP and CD covers of Prokofiev’s music, seeing the myth brought to life (so to speak), one of which pleasingly used model soldiers (see below – looking curiously like Austrian grenadiers…).

Here, on the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s recording, Kije is now shown (as in the song), as a hussar. His dress includes a red shako with green pelisse and dolman.

This Kije on an RCA Victor LP at least appears altogether more distinctly Russian. He is dressed, it appears, as a guard Cossack of Tsar.

The Chicago Symphony’s recording of Kije has a more abstract cover combining a Nightingale and other figures, but Kije can be seen in another red Guard Cossack uniform. This time he sports a tall shako with a strange multi-coloured feather plume arrangement.

The mythical Kije is (suitably enough) absent in the BIS release, leaving just a blue uniform with red facings and a black bicorne. Riding boots and gauntlet gloves suggest an equally invisible horse.

A very colourful artistic rendition for Capitol’s recording twinned with the Hary Janos Suite. The choice of coupling Hary Janos with Kije is appropriate as Janos was an old hussar in the Austrian army who would tell outrageously tall tales (in the manner of Baron Von Munchausen) including single-handedly beating Napoleon! The question from the cover below is – who is whom? Neither look particularly Russian, more Hungarian, but my money is on Janos being the figure on the right with a hussar’s pelisse, which puts our Lt. Kije (with hearts at his feet) in a very curious – and very decorated – uniform indeed.

Decca describes its label as being “the world of great classics”, and this seems to extend to military history judging by this cover. From a uniform as outrageously fantastic as one of Janos’ tales, we return to an identifiable classic Russian army uniform. Kije’s back in the infantry here, apparently now an officer in the guard from the Napoleonic period.

Once again, those two military men of myth and fabrication, Hary Janos and Lt Kije, are brought together in this next release. They sit together sharing a drink and swapping outrageous tall tales with Janos dressed in a peasant outfit and Kije more identifiable this time in another Guard Cossack uniform. The cover even appears to use models, in the manner of my animated film.

Next we have on of the original theatrical posters for Prokofiev’s first production. Kije is shown in outline only with an officer’s bicorne hat, as suitable a way as any to depict a man that never was. I believe it’s the Tsar shown to the foreground in a blue coat with the Russian soldiers wearing a very un-Russian red mid-18th century uniform!

The Soviets also produced one of the earliest sound films made in the Soviet Union using the plot of Lt. Kije. The court officials are forced to cover up Kije’s repeated non-appearance at court by announcing that “General Kijé” has, unfortunately, died. This leads to a lavish funeral, his tomb thereby literally becoming a cenotaph (the Greek word ‘cenotaph’ literally meaning ’empty tomb’). Set in the time of Tsar Paul I (1796-1801), a still below shows a really fabulous scene at the beginning of the film where (in a remarkably adept piece of early film editing) the soldiers parade, march and drill in time to Prokofiev’s memorable opening movement in the suite – ‘the birth of Lieutenant Kije’!

In the Soviet film production, Lt. Kije is born of a clerical error.

And – returning to the subject of sleighs – the most famous part of Prokofiev’s score is undoubtedly the “Troika” movement, used most memorably in the late Greg Lake’s Christmas hit “I believe in Father Christmas”. A troika is a sleigh pulled by three horses, and it’s the bells jingling on their tack which provides this music with it’s particularly Christmassy vibe.

All of which brings me nicely back to my own current Russian sleigh painting efforts. Preparations for an immanent house move have limited painting activity and may well do so for a while to come. In the meantime, I aim to keep up to date with the blogging and painting efforts of others as much as I can. In the interim, I offer best wishes to all visitors for the season and a hopefully much happier and healthier 2021.

POST SCRIPT: I am pleased to announce that this has been Suburban Militarism’s 500th post! Hoorah!

Ensign Miniatures and the drawings of René North

Over the past few years, I’ve picked up a few 54mm metal yeomanry figures from the Napoleonic Wars which have been made by Ensign Miniatures. They have a distinctive sculpting style which didn’t fit well with my other Bob Marrion / Edward Campbell-inspired yeomanry from the late 19th/ early 20th century era. Occasionally, one would turn up at an affordable price and I would add to my collection meaning I now have three different figures.

Two of my Napoleonic yeomanry by Ensign Miniatures

A couple of years ago, I had nearly finished painting a pair of their Leicestershire Yeomanry figure but held off from completing pending a visit to my local Leicestershire Yeomanry museum in order to review any exhibits and information relating to these early uniforms. An extended period of closure ‘for refurbishment’, and also the COVID-19 virus has prevented a visit since. So. now I’ve pushed on with them and present my two Leicestershire Yeomanry officers.

The reason I had painted two was that strangely they came in an auction as a group of five identical figures. A misspelling of ‘yeomanry’ meant that I won the lot for a tiny sum. I found some spare wooden bases to use and added plaques as a finishing touch. What to do with my extra yeomen, including painted and unpainted version, I’m not so sure!

The figure came with a 1796 Pattern Light-Cavalry Sabre and nickel strips for use as sabretache slings. I’ve done my ham-fisted best with these.

The overalls were described in the painting instructions as being sky blue with either ‘scarlet bands to outer seams’ or ‘silver with central red piping’. At the time I painted these, I found some excellent colour photographs of an original uniform which showed the latter design, so I stuck with that. Sadly, this invaluable website appears to be now unavailable.

The helmet instructions were detailed and again I benefited from the example online which included a pink turban around the Tarleton. I was satisfied that my colouring seemed to hit the right note.

The faces of the two, despite being identical, I’ve somehow manage to create individual expressions which I like the look of.

The rest of the uniform consists of a scarlet jacket, sky blue collar, cuffs and turnbacks, silver shoulder scales and buttons, with a sash described as crimson. Seeing the original uniform helped enormously at the time I painted these.

René North

Further to these yeomen, I had once read somewhere that Ensign Miniatures made a large quantity of figures relating to the yeomanry. However, another random purchase (I know ‘another‘ purchase, I despair of myself, I really do…) has thrown up some interesting information on these Ensign figures.

Leicestershire Yeomanry officers by René North. In a nice coincidence, there are two of them.

My purchase was for a set of six 1960s postcards with illustrations on them of Napoleonic English yeomanry, 1800-1809 all by an artist named René North. These black and white drawings came with painting instructions written under the illustration, which I thought could maybe prove useful in any future yeomanry painting endeavours. When they came through the post, however, I immediately recognised a pattern emerging among the six regiments. The regiments included:

  1. The Warwickshire Light Horse, Private, 1801
  2. The Surrey Yeomanry, Private, 1800
  3. The West Kent Yeomanry (Sheppey)*, Officer, 1800
  4. Loyal London Cavalry, Private, 1804
  5. The Leicestershire Yeomanry*, Officers, 1808
  6. The South Bucks (Eton Troop)*, Officer, 1809

Three of the above were exactly the same Ensign Miniatures figures which I had in my possession* and very specifically the same troops for both the South Bucks and West Kent yeomanry. This seemed more than coincidence, so I delved further into it.

A little research eventually dug up a pdf copy of an old Ensign Miniatures catalogue. This catalogue showed that my yeomanry figures were part of the ‘A’ Range (summarised somewhat vaguely as “A variety of British figures at home and overseas…”) and consisted of nearly all of the six regiments specified in the René North cards. The sole exception was the “Loyal London Cavalry” which was not featured. Instead, two Scottish yeomanry regiments from the same period were also available.

Some of Ensign Miniatures’ ‘A’ Range

The catalogue cites Bob Rowe as being the designer of this series of figures. It seems clear that René North must have been a key inspiration or information source for much of Bob Rowe’s Napoleonic yeomanry designs. Who was this illustrator René North and why did he produce this monochrome set of cards? A quick glance at eBay shows a number of other “Paint-Your-Own” uniform sets covering a wide range of military topics, all black and white line drawings with full colouring information included in text.

The excellent Helion Books blogged a very informative biography of Mr North who was both the illustrator and researcher for all the cards in this series. Cost was a driving factor in issuing colourless cards, but they also encouraged the collector to colour the illustrations themselves.

“Initially the colouring information was on the actual card, but on later sets it was moved to the accompanying text sheet leaving the card purely for the illustration itself.”

My English Yeomanry series was one of the earlier releases, set #22 of a total 113 sets issued, my illustrations being dated 1961. The text on the card notably includes the sources for each illustration. The Warwickshire Yeomanry card, for example, quotes a painting which I’ve seen in their museum and which inspired my own 28mm figures which now reside there. The Leicestershire Yeomanry card cites the original uniform as the source which I had seen online.

Notably, North also produced some uncoloured cardboard soldiers, “essentially forerunners of Peter Dennis’ excellent ‘Paper Soldiers’ series published by Helion”. Described as being “modest and softly spoken with a gentle twinkle in his intelligent eyes“, one person who knew him goes on to say;

“René North’s name is rarely mentioned today…but his work is the foundation of many of the studies of British Napoleonic Uniforms and he deserves to be better remembered.”

René North passed away in 1971. Not entirely forgotten though, I can vouch that his work is still inspiring painters like myself nearly half a century after his death.

The blog post by Helion is very well worth a read for anybody interested in the topic of military uniforms and uniformology.

Marlburian Men

I am particularly delighted to have a book come through the post recently which is an indispensable guide to the era I’m currently painting. It’s a 2016 hardback edition of C.S. Grant’s “The Armies and Uniforms of Marlborough’s Wars”. This terrific book combines two previously separately released volumes on the topic and – best of all – is lavishly illustrated throughout with line sketches and lots of full-colour depictions of Marlburian-era soldiers by one of my favourite military uniform artists, the now sadly deceased R.J. Marrion (the author’s ‘great friend and collaborator’).

To anyone interested in the War of the Spanish Succession, I can only highly recommend it – if you can find or afford a copy, that is! Although recently published, it seems to be very rare and, from some sellers, hideously expensive. For an era whose records of military uniforms are sketchy at best, it is proving extremely useful to tap into Charles Grant’s ‘many years of research’ with this beautifully presented book.

I’ll be honest here, it didn’t come cheap but I think is worth every penny and is an essential help to one of my 2020 projects – wargaming the Marlburian Wars.

Yes, wargaming isn’t something I’ve ever done before but I’ve been steadily looking into it with a view to trying some solo games. I’ve already invested in a green baize table cover for the landscape and also secured some ‘buildings’. The intention is to explore putting my 1/72 scale Lace Wars figures into use on the wargaming table. This will be a slow-burn process involving steady research and development, specifically requiring:

  • developing my understanding of wargaming and how it works!!!!!
  • developing some Marlburian-era rules through research on the period
  • developing the armies themselves by painting the figures (1 regiment (Sankey’s) completed so far!)

Of course, I’ve plenty of other figures from different eras I could use for skirmishes, etc, but my Lace Wars figures are the first being developed with wargaming specifically in mind and this has already led to some development on the bases;

Grenadiers of Sankey’s Regiment – now with decorated caps!

By grouping the bases together instead of individually (I’ve grouped them in groups of 4, 2 and singles), it will facilitate rapid deployment and movement during the game, the individually based figures allow for any casualties/losses to be reflected on the table… Apologies to wargamers – this is all new to me!

So my first regiment is virtually completed. The British army is already represented by the above Sankey’s Regiment which consists of 24 figures including 2 sergeants, an ensign and an officer. I’ve deliberately used a simple, plain, green grass scatter on the bases to help reduce shedding of the grass through wargame use, and also to better match my dark green baize which they’ll be marching across.

The flag was a real pain to paint! I love the sculpting but trying to understand the fold of the flag and then reflect that fold with the painted cross of St. George resulted in a number of repaints. The end result is still not right but I’m sticking with it!

Given that the Act of Union was in 1707, British regiments at this time were for some time represented by either English or Scottish flags instead of the Union flag. So I have shown this English regiment carrying the cross of St.George into battle. The other regimental flag, the colonel’s colour, was much more open to individual interpretation often with any colour background and a design of the colonel’s own choosing.

I’ve already started on the other half of the box of Strelets’ advancing infantry by depicting a Scottish regiment – more on that in a future post!

British Infantry Uniforms of the 19th Century: #13

13. Royal Berkshire Regiment

This regiment was formed in 1881 and adopted the name of “Princess Charlotte of Wales Regiment”. In 1885, the regiment was granted the title of “Royal” in recognition of the service of the 1st Battalion at the action of Tofrek in 1885. The drawing depicts a private of the old 66th Foot in the uniform of 1855.

Number 13 of 25 from “British Uniforms of the 19th Century” – a cigarette card series issued by manufacturer Amalgamated Tobacco (Mills).

British Infantry Uniforms of the 19th Century: #12

12. Royal Welch Fusiliers

“This regiment was raised in 1689. In the Royal Warrant of 1713 it was described as the “Royal Regiment of Welsh Fuzileers”. The present form of spelling “Welch” was adopted in 1920. The drawing shows a fusilier in 1849.”

Number 12 of 25 from “British Uniforms of the 19th Century” – a cigarette card series issued by manufacturer Amalgamated Tobacco (Mills).

The March of Time: Old Soldiers to New Recruits

Back in 2013, I was new to painting figures. I had dabbled before in 25mm metal castings before but only began to really dedicate regular time, patience and, ah, money in 2012. At the time, on the 1st floor of a huge model and toy shop in my home town, boxes of 1:72 scale plastic soldiers of every description occupied an entire room. Then, one day, I walked in to the shop to find it all gone. The floor to ceiling high wall coverage by countless boxes of plastic troops of every description and from every manufacturer had all but disappeared.

The venerable old store was closing down and clearly, in the weeks since I’d last visited, I’d missed the ensuing super-sale bonanza. Modelling vultures had already picked the carcass clean. There would be time to have a little cry about the old shop’s fate later back home but at that point I could see a handful of boxes still remained on a shelf – the last remnant half-companies from an army on sprues once numbering many 1000s of figures.

The Marmite sculpting style of the early Strelets figures ensured they featured heavily amongst these final unwanted boxes. I decided to pick up two of their marching French Napoleonic infantry sets; French Infantry on the March (1) and French Infantry in Advance. The unloved kits hadn’t remained unpurchased due to over-pricing – priced only £2.50 each with the added inducement of a ‘buy 1 get 1 free’!

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

As I took them home to mourn the passing of that enormous model soldier department (not to say it’s ever helpful, knowledgeable, but sadly soon-to-be-redundant staff) I suspected that these figures would probably go forever unpainted, stowed somewhere in the loft. In truth, it was a purchase motivated by sympathy rather than by desire.

And then, a few years later, in March 2015. I decided to paint some with a view to maybe submitting them to an international group painting project. In the event, they weren’t sent abroad but I had at least now made some effort on 18 of them. To my surprise, I enjoyed painting them a lot, with no less than 24 individual poses across the two boxes, there was real personality from a crowd otherwise depicted doing more or less the same thing. Both boxes featured the troops wearing greatcoats so mixed perfectly well together.

These painted figures remained un-based for a long while until, during a heavy blizzard on a December day in 2017, I realised that their greatcoats suggested they’d do well marching through snow (an obvious idea given one box’s art even depicts snow) and somehow, I ended up adding a further 26 to make 44 marchers. And last year, continuing what was becoming a yearly tradition, I dutifully painted another dozen to follow the Strelets French sledge train I’d painted. This latest dozen painted only this week takes the painted group it up to 68.

Since 2008, both of these marching sets are now virtually unavailable but Strelets have recently made a new replacement; their French Infantry on the March (1), with apparently more on the way! I’ve tackled a sprue of these new figures to compare with the old figures. These will be the future of my French winter marching tradition once the old sets are finally exhausted.

New recruits on the march!

They are very different to the original sets indeed.

Firstly, the new set has its marchers appearing sideways on the sprue, rather than face on. This has the effect of the figures being quite slender, almost appearing as a semi-flat.

Two of the figures wear some unusual headgear. PSR identify it as a pokalem, also known as a bonnet de police. Blue and piped with red, this early kind of informal headdress was warm and comfortable with ear flaps which could be worn up or down (as in these chilly examples), it could even be worn under shako.

Details, as with all newer Strelets figures, are much more subtle than before but overall the proportions and poses of these figures are impressive, even allowing for their semi-flat thinness.

To more clearly differentiate between the older regiment and the newly raised troops, I’ve adopted a grey greatcoat for the new recruits with a green ball plume.

The old style figures are now down to their last couple of remaining sprues. Do I have a preference between the sets? Plastic Soldier Review prefer the new set of figures. But for all that, when it comes to painting, I can’t help but have a fondness, perhaps even a bias, for the ‘Old Guard’, those original, ugly and unloved refugees from a dying High Street model shop.

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