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.

Strelets Standing Soldiers: Napoleon!

Having showcased the Old Guard figures in my last post, as promised I’ve now painted the head honcho himself – L’empereur Napoleon Bonaparte!

It’s my submission for Ann’s Immaterium’s April Painting Challenge!

You’ll notice that I’ve thrown some sand down to act as an ersatz parade ground and pressed my 18th century country house into action once again (last seen acting as a St. Petersburg palace).

Forming a hollow square, my Old Guard are waiting to listen to him say a final farewell, prior to leaving for exile on the island of Elba.

Eventually, he appears before them, wearing his traditional bicorne hat and long grey coat. The emperor is visibly emotional. His voice, passionate and breaking, echoes across the parade ground as he begins…

You can now view the epic scene in this YouTube movie what I made:

Alternatively, the non-video version of my scene is below:


“Soldiers of my Old Guard, after 20 years I have come to say goodbye!”
(a dramatic pause ensues)
“France has fallen! So remember me!”
Très dramatique, non?
“Though I love you all, I cannot embrace you all...” (now, you wouldn’t catch Wellington saying that!)
“With this kiss, remember me!” (relief all round – it’s just the flag he’s snogging)
“Goodbye my soldiers!…”
“Goodbye my sons!…”
“Goodbye, my children!!!!”

The scene was brought to you with apologies to Orson Welles, Dino De Laurentiis and Rod Steiger. Any resemblance to actual films, past or present, is entirely intentional – The original, and in my view vastly inferior, scene is viewable on YouTube.

To help my painting of Strelets’ Boney, as a guide I settled on some portraits of him wearing a grey overcoat and the uniform of a colonel of the Chasseurs a Cheval. He seems to be consistently shown wearing a silver medal with a red ribbon, so I’ve reproduced that too.

Is it me, or does my Napoleon have more than a passing resemblance to Marlon Brando?

There was also the small matter of finishing my pioneer sergeant. Admittedly, it looks a little like he’s wearing a skirt with an apron but, given the size of his axe, I won’t be saying that to his face.

And with that, this submission for “Paint the Crap You Already Own” is complete. Needless to say, there’s plenty more I could get my teeth into and with some days left yet of April, I may yet even have a go at something else.

Until then, I say – goodbye my followers, goodbye my visitors, and goodbye my children!!!!

Strelets Standing Soldiers: The Old Guard

Following the issuing of April’s challange by Ann’s Immaterium to stop buying new shiny things and paint up some of our backlog of figures – I’ve made solid progress with my 2018 box of 1/72 scale Strelets Old Guard figures. Nearly complete, there’s 28 of them in total, including a pioneer sergeant, an officer and Napoleon Bonaparte himself.

I’ve so far just concentrated on the rank and file plus the officer, so I’ve still got the sergeant to finish off and Napoleon himself still to paint. I’ve based them very simply on a kind of parade ground type of surface.

One of the things I thought was great about painting these figures is the facial features which seem to give each pose character. Perhaps my favourite is this fella below who seems to be casting a quizzical glance askew.


Eyes right!


The officer:


Apparently, the Old Guard did not have buttons to turn their coats back. Whether that’s true or not, I like the look.






Boney (and his Pioneer Sergeant) will be reviewing his Old Guard in a future post…!

The Grumblers

Ann’s Immaterium has issued forth a challenge for the month of April – “Paint the Crap You Already Own!” The aim is to pitch into some of our collectively large pile of unpainted crap (aka our precious collections) and the restrictions of national lockdown are providing the perfect conditions to do just that.

Strelets Polish infantry on the march.

Rifling through my excessive mountain of unpainted kits, I randomly picked up one of a number of the Napoleonic ‘standing’ sets by Strelets that I own. There’s lots of these type of sets available from Strelets. They feature anything from Highlanders to Prussian Landwehr, all in poses which range between ‘order arms’, ‘shoulder arms’, ‘at ease’, ‘at attention’ or ‘on the march’.

I painted one of these sets last year, Strelets’ British Infantry Standing at Ease, painted as the 37th Regiment and, at my friend Pat’s suggestion, a platoon of the 95th Rifles;

Painting figures which are just standing around waiting seems a strangely appropriate choice in while in ‘lockdown’…

A little more space between these ranks I think to satisfy the criteria for social distancing.

So, I’ve picked up my “Old Guard at Attention” box which I bought in 2018/19.

So here they are, les Grognards – about 30 ‘grumblers’ – currently all standing to attention and stoically awaiting some paint.

Cleaned, primed and blue base coat applied…

I notice that Old ‘Boney’ himself is included in the box, so perhaps i will include him also? I think the aim was to provide the painter with the means of recreating the scene where Napoleon takes his leave of the Old Guard prior to going into exile for the first time on the island of Elba.

Soldiers of my Old Guard, I bid you farewell. For twenty years you have been my constant companions on the road to honour and glory!

NAPOLEON’S ADIEUX TO THE OLD GUARD AT FONTAINEBLEAU, 20 APRIL, 1814

So, here I go. I hope to post some progress reports if time allows.

“Au revoir, mes enfants!”

Strelets French Army Sledge Train (Set 2)

These are dark nights and short cold, wet days here in the UK. Winter can seem a little like something to be endured at times but my latest painting venture puts it all into perspective. Strelets 2nd French Army Sledge Train set includes yet more scene of tragic suffering from the Grande Armee’s retreat from Moscow in 1812.

Once again, as with Set 1, the sledge is being driven by a man wearing a polish czapka, possibly a Polish lancer missing his mount. Cracking a whip, he is seated in an impresive half-lotus posture! The previous driver didn’t fit on the sledge well, so this yogic flexibility at least helps me fit him to the sledge more easily.

Also seated in the sledge are a hussar and a lady holding a baby. This lady is sitting on top of a barrel and wrapped in a shawl. A nice little figure and a poignant one too.

The hussar meanwhile cradles a horse’s leg and hoof, possibly the last remnant of his beloved mount, now a source of food in these desperate circumstances.

Bringing up the rear of this vignette are two comrades in arms. I think that Strelets has again produced impressive and moving figures here. Badly wounded, relying on one’s comrades would be the only slim hope of making it home alive.

Likewise with another pair of Napoleon’s soldiers. Although sculpted separately, these two seemed to go together nicely to me. The blind grenadier’s outside outstretched hand found a natural home on the backpack of the other soldier carrying a heavy sack. Together, they stumble through the Russian snow back to Vilnius.

Whilst others hobble homeward, one character is sprinting to catch up with the sledge. A senior officer, I like to think there’s a backstory to his running; catching up after answering the call of nature; or recovering from a rude awakening when falling face first off the sledge into the snow having dozed off; or maybe he’s seen Cossacks approaching…

Laden with desperately needed provisions, the final figure from the scene is trudging alongside the poor imaciated horse.

Here are the two French sledge train sets, 2018 and 2019 versions of the winter retreat together.

As a reminder, here are last year’s retreat figures. Below: a soldier carrying a small drummer boy and his drum, with a barefoot dragoon looking appallingly cold.

Above: the figures in the sledge; another officer in a bicorne and a mysterious bespectacled gentleman who wears a luxorious fur coat and cradles a locked casket which possibly holds the source of his securing a fur coat and a ride in the sledge – money!

There are two other sledge train sets produced by Strelets for the Russian army. These make for a nice contrast to the French ones, being far better dressed for the cold and well fed too. I’ve kept these back to continue the tradition next winter.

Well, I’m feeling very cold now. Reckon it’s time for drop or two of something to keep out the cold…

It’s Snow Time!

It was around this time last year that, taking some inspiration from the onset of winter, I tackled the first of Strelets French Sledge Train sets. The results were really pleasing, unusual and inventive, albeit in a somewhat macabre way.

So it’s a perfect time of year again to attempt Set number 2 of the Strelets French Army Sledge Train sets. This one contains the exact same sledge and horse but with different occupants and walkers.

The figures are nearing the end of the painting process, with just a few things still to attend to or improve. I’ve yet to start on the sledge itself and the base, so I thought I’d share the characters before they get included in a little diorama, similar to that produced last year:


1. The Hussar:

This chap is wearing an hussar uniform with a less-than-regulation, broad-brimmed hat that he’s taken from somewhere. I painted him in what I believe to be the colours of the French 7th Hussar Regiment.

Depicted as as lucky occupant of the sledge, what perplexed me at first was what he was craddling in his arms. Predictably, Plastic Soldier Review got it quite right by suggesting that it was a horse leg! With a little paint, it indeed became clear, hoof and all. All in all a typically odd and delightfully imaginative figure from Strelets.


2. The Blinded Grenadier:

A grenadier of Napoleon’s Imperial Guard is a pleasing inclusion. He is blinded, presumably from a combat wound. Strelets have signified this by a bandage around his eyes, a walking stick and a hand extended out to feel the way. He appears to be wearing a scarf but he needs to urgently button that coat up against the winter snows!


3. The Comrades:

I’ve not quite finished them but I like these figures in particular. In a moving scene, Strelets have created two comrades struggling through the snows together. One is clearly wounded, his arm in a sling. His other arm is around his comrade who helps him walk. His comrade is wearing what appear to be very similar to the Opanci peasant shoes I last painted on the Serbian WWI infantry last year. Perhaps a sympathetic local took pity and helped him out?


4. The Plunderer:

This fortunate chap wears a warm regimental forage cap, that looks like a night cap. He’s well-equipped, smartly dressed, and in a piece of great fortune has managed to get his hands on a sack of something. Whatever it is, it’s clearly valuable enough to carry with him.


5. The Mother and Child:

In a reminder of the women and children which accompanied armies of the period, Strelets have included a lady sitting on a barrel in the sledge. She appears to be holding a tiny baby wrapped up on her lap. Appallingly, the outlook for both on the retreat would not be good whatsoever.


6. The Littlest Hobo:

Another well-equipped soldier who stands a better chance than many of survival. He has full packs on his back and has even tied a bundle of privisions to his musket. He’s ditched or stowed away his shako and wraped his head in a warm covering.


7. The Running Man:

A senior officer, perhaps even a Général de brigade, runs through the snows. Perhaps his horse has bolted or the Cossacks are hot on his heels? I think it is more likely that he’s another occupant of the sledge who’s now chasing after it after answering the call of nature! Run, Monsieur Général, run!


8. The Yogic Sledge Driver

The driver of the sledge wears a Polish lancer’s cap but otherwise could pass for an infantryman. Cracking a whip, he is sitting in an extreme crossed-legged position which can only be described as a half-lotus! Very flexible!

9. The Pitiful Pony

The same half-starved labouring pony from Sledge set 1 makes a reappearance. Definitely one of Strelets best horse sculpts, in my opinion. A sad reminder of the very considerable animal suffering experenced in the retreat from Moscow.

So, just final touches to the figures, and the sledge to paint and assemble, before I start to put the whole sledging expedition together and then this suitably snowy scene will probably be the last completed project before Christmas!

#37 Regiment: 2nd Hussars + Uhlan Squadron [Duchy of Brunswick]

Okay, so the 37th Regiment in the Napoleonic Cavalry Project is actually two regiments as it incorporates a troop of uhlans for good measure…

My approach to painting black uniforms is no doubt excessively complex – after all, when all’s said and done, they all just look… well, black!

The box comes with 9 hussars and 3 uhlans. Firstly – the 2nd Brunswick Hussar Regiment:

Nine hussars in total all wearing their finery, pelisses, shakos and plumes. One arm ‘option’ included a bugle which I’ve used and assigned to the grey horse.

I’ve never been a fan of separate arms glued onto pegs – they never seem too secure to me, but I recognise it provides some interesting extra choices. One of the figures with fixed arms had a broken sabre which I cut off completely to hopefully give the impression of simply riding.

On the shako is a white skull and crossed bones (the Totenkopf in German), which appeared on both cavalry and infantry regiments in the army of Brunswick.

For the uhlans, with only three figures in the box I wanted to make sure that all my lancers were carrying lances, although the other arm options were available.

The czapkas worn by these uhlans have an attractive colour scheme – light blue cloth with yellow piping. These colours mimic the colours of the Duchy’s flag, which was similar to the Ukrainian flag of today.

To be honest, I didn’t have much faith on these uhlans looking all that impressive but I think they’ve turned out quite nicely.


Biography: 2nd Hussars and Uhlan squadron [Brunswick]

In 1809 Prince Frederick William, Duke of Brunswick, raised a corps of soldiers to fight the French, who had occupied his country since it’s defeat in the Jena Campaign of 1806-07. The whole army were called ‘Black Brunswickers’ because they wore black uniforms in mourning for their lost independence. Brunswick had been absorbed into the newly formed Kingdom of Westphalia which had Napoleon’s brother on the throne.

Brunswick Oels Corps (including left – a hussar) 1812, by Charles Hamilton Smith. National Army Museum.

After an initially successful uprising, Duke Frederick William eventually was forced to England where his army of over 2000 troops (including cavalry) formally entered British army. Now known as the Brunswick Oels Hussar Regiments, the Peninsular War (1808-1814) saw them fight at the battle of Fuentes de Onoro, Salamanca, Vitoria, the Pyrenees, Nivelle, the Nive, and Orthez.

In 1815, the Duke of Brunswick re-raised his army and took two cavalry regiments into the 100 days capaign; the 2nd Brunswick Hussars (684 sabres in 4 squadrons under Major Cramm) and a single squadron of lancers (just 235 men under Major Pott) .

Brunswickers at the Battle of Quatre Bras by Richard Knötel (1857-1914) [Public domain]. Infantrymen in their black uniforms are shown supported by Brunswick ‘avant garde’ light troops in grey.

The entire Brunswick contingent was heavily engaged in the Battle of Quatre Bras with the cavalry incurring 46 casualties which included the fatalities of not only the Duke himself but also the Brunswick Hussars’ own commander, Major Cramm.

The Death of the Duke of Brunswick in a contemporary print. The Duke is being aided by some of his hussars.

In Wellington’s despatch of the 19th June, he praised the contribution of the Brunswick troops and their commander;

The troops of the 5th division, and those of the Brunswick corps (The Black Brunswickers), were long and severely engaged, and conducted themselves with the utmost gallantry. Our loss was great, as your Lordship will perceive by the enclosed return; and I have particularly to regret His Serene Highness the Duke of Brunswick, who fell fighting gallantly at the head of his troops.” 

During the Battle of Waterloo, Wellington thought it prudent to keep the battle-scarred Brunswick cavalry far from the front line, in reserve near the centre. Consequently, they were only called into action during the latter stages of the battle, counter-attacking the French cavalry attacks costing them a further 92 casualties.


Notable Battles: Fuentes de Onoro, Salamanca, Vitoria, Quatre Bras, Waterloo.

Back in Black

Well, I’m back in black. Yes, I’m back in black.

AC DC

Plenty of free time yesterday allowed me to spend some time preparing the evening meal and – best of all – painting my soldiers. More correctly in this instance, I was painting their horses. Yes – I’m back at the Napoleonic Cavalry Project with the 37th Regiment in the collection. You can make up your own mind whether having painted 37 Napoleonic cavalry regiments is something to be proud of…

Still in progress: Brunswickian equines

When they were available, I prevaricated over purchasing Napoleonic HaT’s Brunswick Cavalry box. HaT figures are always nice, but they don’t often excite me a great deal. As the Nappy Cavalry Project progressed and options for new sets declined, I found myself belatedly wishing I’d secured a box before it had sold out. So it was with some pleasure that I discovered that HaT were releasing the set recently as part of a raft of re-releases.

Another Nap cavalry box presented by my assistant.

During the 1806 invasion of Prussia by Napoleon, one of the Prussian Field Marshalls, the Duke of Brunswick, had been mortally wounded during the Battle of Auerstedt. The Duchy of Brunswick itself spent the next five years as part of the Napoleonic kingdom of Westphalia, occupied by French troops.

The Duke’s son, himself a major general in the Prussian army, loathed the French as much as his father and dedicated himself to fighting for liberation for his Duchy. He raised a corps which became known in England as the Black Brunswickers for their all-black uniforms (apparently adopted ‘in mourning’ for their homeland). After some initial success, he and his troops fled to Britain to become part of the British army where they faught in the Peninsular War. A re-raised Brunswick corps faught at Quatre Bras (where – like his father – the Duke was killed fighting the French) and also at Waterloo where they saw the French finally defeated.

Death of the Black Duke By Friedrich Matthäi (1777–1845), Public Domain.

The Duke’s Black Brunswicker corps have been reproduced in various ways by HaT and recently by Strelets. The Brunswick Corps cavalry consisted of a regiment of hussars and a squadron of uhlans, both wearing the ubiquitous black uniform. HaT’s Brunswick cavalry box reflecting the relative sizes of the regiments includes 3 uhlan figures and 9 figures of the hussars.

Even his dog is black – “The Black Brunswicker” by John Everett Millais – John Everett Millais, Public Domain.

The pre-Raphaelite painter Millais, painted the above in 1860 following a conversation with William Howard Russell of the Times:

My subject appears to me, too, most fortunate, and Russell thinks it first-rate. It is connected with the Brunswick Cavalry at Waterloo…They were nearly annihilated but performed prodigies of valour… The costume and incident are so powerful that I am astonished it has never been touched upon before.

In terms of my own painting, I’ve been here before – painting black-uniformed Germanic hussars in 2015 in the early days of the project. These were Waterloo 1815’s Prussian Leib Hussars who also wore the death’s head symbol on their shakos. The key difference between those Prussian uniforms and the Brunswick Hussars is that the Brunswickers go even further with all that Gothic blackness, having black lacing and black breeches too.

Prussian Leib Hussars by Waterloo 1815

Better get back to those horses. Speaking of which, I’ve come to the conclusion that my horse painting technique has stood still for too long and have pledged to slowly develop my ‘repartoire’. Firstly, I’ve turned my attention to my dun horses. We own a dun pony called Woody, so I feel it’s important I always paint at least one in any given regiment. Trouble is, I’ve never been quite happy with them, so I’ve changed the colour mix and I’m already a little happier with the shade for the coat.

Next, inspired by Bill’s magnificent dapple grey from his glorious Spanish hussars (Tiny Wars Played Indoors blog), I might turn my hand at some variations too. Palominos, Piebalds or Strawberry Roans anyone?

Flintlocks and Figurines: a Return to Holkham Hall

Earlier this year, I embarked on a project to recreate a vision of the Holkham Yeomanry Cavalry, a volunteer formation sponsored and led by Thomas Coke of Holkham Hall in Norfolk. After some research as to the uniform worn by the HYC, I used Strelets 1:72 scale plastic figures to paint as the yeomanry troop:

The project concluded with my eccentric recreation of an historical event in 1798 whereby the cavalrymen, with great ceremony, received their standard from the hands of Mrs Coke on the south lawn of the estate.

Finding myself in the area for a short break last week, I paid a short visit to Holkham Hall once again. I was fortunate in that the hall was open during the brief time I could visit (it would usually have been closed) but, unluckily, a special event meant that the manuscript library, which holds the yeomanry standard, was closed off to public access.

Nonetheless, it was a very enjoyable tour and I had a good talk with one of the fabulous room guides there about the Holkham Yeomanry. As we talked, visible through the windows was the south lawn looking glorious in the sun – the scene of the presentation of the yeomanry standard over 200 years ago.


My newly purchased postcard of Thomas Coke by Gainsborough.

Although a celebrated agriculturalist first and foremost, his passion for hunting on his estate meant that he would have been well familiar with guns. Here, he is pictured reloading, with three gundogs and a dead woodcock in view.


However, despite missing out on seeing the HYC standard again, there was still a pleasant surprise to be found in a downstairs room which I don’t recall being visible to the public on my last visit.

Access into the room was restricted but I could see it contained a snooker table with the walls festooned with examples of antique taxidermy and also what appeared to be 30 identical flintlock muskets.

There was no guide in attendance anywhere near this area, so I was left to speculate that these could be left over from the time of the Holkham Yeomanry’s service. In fact, I’d previously seen other examples of the Holkham Yeomanry’s muskets in a case at the nearby Victoria Arms on the Estate. It seems very likely that these are also part of the original HYC arms cache, as I find it difficult to imagine why the household would otherwise have retained at least 30 muskets of a seemingly identical pattern.

On display at the Victoria Arms – guns of the Holkham Yeomanry.

I took some low-quality photos of the room on my mobile phone but when back at home, on closer examination at home I was surprised to discover something else very intriguing.

Close up on the low resolution photograph, on a mantelpiece, a grainy image appears of a mounted figurine. It’s difficult to tell, but might I suggest that the rider has a sword drawn and is – just possibly – wearing the same Tarleton crested helmet seen worn by my own modelled versions of the troop…

For over a decade now, I yearly visit that part of the country, so perhaps another trip in 2020 will reveal yet more information?

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 !”