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.
That enthusiasm understandably wasn’t always matched by total historical accuracy but did include some rather splendid illustrations, apparently carefully copied from other sources.
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.
It’s midwinter here in the UK and that means it’s time to paint my Strelets French Infantry on the March. I started the two unloved but very, very cheap boxes (a closing down sale) back in 2014, the first year of this blog. I never thought I’d paint any of them but for some reason, the thought that I’d probably never paint them spurred me on to make a start on a sprue.
And I’ve been painting them ever since.
The first dozen of these early Strelets creations were painted and shared back in 2014, blog post number 22.
Last year, I even produced a short film involving one of these marching men for a seasonal family entertainment event. I did not enter it into Cannes.
Whenever the winter nights draw in, and we’re approaching midwinter here, I am always reminded that it’s time to paint some more of those cold, great-coated infantrymen again; frozen, struggling refugees of Napoleon’s bitter retreat from Russia.
The latest group:
And here’s what ninety six marching Napoleonic Frenchmen looks like.
And so, eight years on, I have finally reached the very last sprue of these two boxes of figures and have completed my seasonal efforts on these marching monsieurs.
Or have I?
Despite being sold out a long time ago, I found another box online last year. This was much to my surprise as Strelets replaced these sets by a newer and more delicately sculpted version. So, there are years more of these French amblers to keep me entertained during future winters – at which point I’ll probably start on those new versions. Like many a retreating French infantryman during the winter of 1812, you may ask – “will this ever end?!”
Looking through a few more of my old photographs recently I found some birthday snaps from my childhood, in the background of which featured (not unsurprisingly) some model soldiers.
I see on the photo above a box featuring an Asterix the Gaul figurine and “Crossbows and Catapults” – a delightfully destructive game literally played with said weapons in order destroy the opposition’s wall. What particularly interested me though was the large box in the background which I can see is an Historic Battle Game by Italian 1/72 figure manufacturer Esci.
This “Isandhlwana” box was one of the first in series of these historic battle boxes they produced.
First produced in 1984, the set included the equivalent of 2 boxes each of their Zulu War British infantry and Zulu Warriors. Also included within was this plastic moulded battlefield with part of Isandlwana mountain included (it came with the mountain top sliced off so as to fit in the box). My own box, I note, was actually one of the rarer first editions featuring C.E. Fripp’s famous painting of the battle filling the entirety of the box lid, so I guess this birthday may well date from 1984, the year of its release.
I don’t think I ever turned the plastic battlefield into a full diorama and the vacu-formed base was just too flimsy to use without gluing the figures directly into place. I did, nevertheless, have immense fun with their terrific figures, setting up diorama re-fights on anything from tables to carpets. I wonder if anyone did attempt a full diorama using the figures and the base provided?
But that wasn’t all. I found another photograph, presumably from Christmas Day given the party hat, with another of these Esci boxes secreted in the background.
This other Esci box, I can just make out showing “Waterloo 1815”. There were two of these Waterloo sets, one for the Infantry and the other, as appears here, for the cavalry and artillery.
PSR tells me that this set was released in 1985, so this is possibly be a year later at least than the previous pic. This box included Scots Greys, Imperial Guard, battlefield accessories (abatis, barrels, etc) and another vacu-formed base.
A wry PSR reports that “The leaflet is particularly hilarious, however. Not only does it somewhat mangle the English language, as they all do, but the author repeatedly fails to understand the difference between English and British. At one stage he even states the Scots Greys were part of the English cavalry, an ignorance likely to infuriate any Scotsman of the time or since!“
Furthermore, the Scots Greys and Imperial Guard did not, in reality, encounter each other on the battlefield that day, making the dramatic box artwork superfluous. It didn’t matter, boyhood imagination made for far more preposterous encounters than that between the Old Guard and the Scots Greys.
Plastic Soldier Review has a fascinating review of this series of battlefield boxes which eventually expanded to include;
501 – Isandhlwana 1879
502 – Waterloo 1815 – The Infantry
503 – Balaclava 1854
504 – Gettysburg 1863
505 – Waterloo 1815 – The Cavalry and the Artillery
506 – Rorke’s Drift 1879
507 – Hadrian’s Wall CLXV AC
508 – Austerlitz 1805
509 – Jena 1806
510 – Salamanca 1812
511 – Hamburger Hill 1968
512 – Quatre Bras 1815
513 – Borodino 1812
514 – Khyber Pass 1879
515 – Sidi Bel Abbes 1912
Historical accuracy of the battlefields was often low (Salamanca 1812 uses the exact same base as for Rorke’s Drift 1879 for example!) and the idea was mainly to push a group of figures which were already available separately. Regardless, the figures were always very nicely sculpted and the range for plastic 1/72 figures expanded massively under Esci, making them accessible for young lads such as myself for whom owning masses of metal figures then available was not really possible.
One final photo which I may have shown before on this blog. A birthday cake featuring a chocolate cake Fort Zinderneuf complete with Cadbury Fingers for gates and topped with two Britains French Foreign Legionnaires (the officer is partially hidden behind the French flag).
Erm… a belated ‘Happy New Year’. Seems like we’re back in lockdown – and for a long time too. Hope everyone is staying safe and looking after each other. In my spare moments, I have very slowly been adding some paint to the remaining figures in my Russian Sledge Train project. I previously had a few figures painted in December (see forager posts parts one and two for these), but I still had about a half dozen remaining.
The remaining figures include the following:
The Prodding Peasant:
This figure goes together with ‘The Peasant Pummeler’ figure I painted a month ago. I suggest that this irate yokel is unimpressed with the quantity of livestock that the Tsar’s troops are carrying off!
The Scarfed Supervisor
He’s the one with a list, an officer’s bicorne and a gesturing hand, so must be the man in charge of the foraging expedition. The green scarf around his neck is a nice touch by the sculptor.
The Barrel Bringer
This Cossack is rolling a barrel up to the sledge train. Plastic Soldier Review were somewhat confused about this figure, suggesting that it “…might be a Cossack doing something (our best guess is pushing the sledge, but it could be anything).” The barrel included in the set is the clue, the two seem to go so nicely together that I believe this was the sculptor’s intention.
The Rabbit Raider (or maybe, The Balalaika Burgler)
He could even be called The Hare Holder, certainly PSR seem to think it’s a hare. From his helmet, I can tell he’s a dragoon in winter dress. In his other hand is a balalaika which confuses me a little (although PSR seem unquestioning about it!). I’m wondering why this dragoon might have it. It’s unlikely that he’s taken it with him on the foraging expedition, so presumably it is – like his hare – booty taken from a peasant household to be enjoyed back at camp.
The Calf Carriers
These two characters can be seen from their dress to be some type of warrior from the Steppes, most likely Kalmyks or Bashkirs. They are carrying a pole tied to which is some type of an animal which I decided is probably a calf. I’ve had little opportunity to develop my cow painting skills, so I’ve just done my best here. PSR point out that the legs are tied somewhat impossibly underneath the pole!
And finally, the man left waiting around, whip in hand, for all these foragers to finally return with their food is…
The Dallying Driver
Another nice character, I painted his hat red as I thought there was a little something of Santa about him.
Those other finished figures again:
Just the sledge and horse to paint next and then – at some point – I will be putting the whole lot into some sort of scene (I could really use some of Pat’s diorama expertise here, but the plan ultimately is to use lots of snow…).
December, 1812. Napoleon’s army may be struggling against pursuing Cossacks and the cold Russian winter during their infamous retreat from Moscow, but for at least one French infantryman there’s something to look forward to…
With preparation for a house move in full swing, I’ve not much time for figure painting and progress on my Russian Army Sledge Train set has slowed considerably. Nevertheless, I’ve managed to almost complete one – or should I say two – more of the remaining figures.
“The figures in this set seem mostly to be involved in the business of feeding the army, but there are some odd poses too which seem to be random additions. The top row has a soldier carrying a woman for some reason…”
A close examination and some attention with the brush reveals a possible reason for this figure’s inclusion with the other foragers. Judging from the pose, the scene appears to show two lovers; the Cossack soldier carries her gently and she nestles her face in his shoulder.
The lady is clutching a bag of something in her hand which I believe to be a dowry paid to the Cossack for his new bride, or bride-to-be!
So this soldier has had a particularly successful foraging expedition, carrying away considerably more than mere fodder – his new wife! I think it’s a nice touch and a clever insight into the impact that a passing army the size of the Tsar’s might have on a small peasant village where soldiers could carry away supplies, food and even daughters.
“In late Tsarist Russia, the dowry originally consisted of clothing for the bride, linen, and bedding… and a money dowry was sometimes added, particularly if the bride was regarded as having some fault. Prospective in-laws, usually concerned mostly with her working ability, grew more concerned about a money dowry.“
I don’t know what this poor young lady’s ‘fault’ might be, but we can suppose that the poor woman had very little say in the whole marital arrangement. Hopefully, the tenderness depicted in the scene augers well for her future.
Hopefully, I’ll get some time over the Christmas period to add more to this growing project.
My ‘Russian sledge train‘ figures are progressing nicely. Because they’re such varied characters, I’m splitting them up into painting batches so that I feel a sense of making progress. Here’s the first batch:
The Peasant Pummeler
This fellow above is angrily wielding a big stick. Collectively, the figures in the box lend themselves to an overall narrative which will hopefully make sense when I put them together. Suffice to say, he might have something to do with settling the dispute taking place in the next group of figures…
“The other piece is also a pair, and also includes one of the eastern irregulars, this time with a bow and quiver on his belt. He holds a fowl of some sort, as does the other figure, who is a woman. Whether they are capturing it, attempting to kill it, or perhaps fighting over it we cannot say – all seem reasonable possibilities. Whatever is going on it is bad news for the bird but quite an appealing piece for us.“
It seems clear to me that they’re fighting over it, the Central Asian warrior (a Bashkir or Kalmyk perhaps) is taking it away to the sledge as fodder for the army. I doubt a dead bird would not be handed over by the legs like that (being all floppy and all) and what’s more they seems to be engaged in a tug of war, pulling away in different directions. Finally, I think the peasant woman’s face is shouting. She has good reason to protest. In winter, the seizure of livestock like this could mean life and death to peasant folk.
The Sheep Stealer
The next character is carrying a dead sheep across his shoulders. Again, PSR were unsure as to the nature of this animal, but the fleece (which doesn’t come out very well under the lens) seems to be a giveaway.
I’ve placed this Cossack in a tan coloured coat rather than the usual blue, just for a bit of visual variety.
The Pig Plunderer
This Cossack has his hands full with a pair of piglets. I’ve got to attend to their trotters and snouts but otherwise I think they look OK. Nice work from Strelets with the Cossack’s face, which is full of character.
More to come from these with another ten figures still to do including, of course, a sledge! Later, I aim to combine them all in some kind of a final scene.
Don’t–don’t–don’t–don’t–look at what’s in front of you. (Boots–boots–boots–boots–movin’ up an’ down again); Men–men–men–men–men go mad with watchin’ em, An’ there’s no discharge in the war! “Boots (Infantry Columns)” by Rudyard Kipling
As we head into a pandemic-fuelled ‘winter of something-considerably-more-than-discontent’, us modellers and hobbyists will recognise the great importance of our hobbies in helping us face the trauma and keep going. I often hear stories from others who find solace and support in the act of focusing our attention upon these little men and women.
And so it is with me. November will soon be turning distinctly wintry in this part of the world and so I’m going back to something comfortingly familiar which suits both the coming season and the current necessity of doggedly carrying on. I’m back on the march!
Try–try–try–try–to think o’ something different — Oh–my–God–keep–me from goin’ lunatic! (Boots–boots–boots–boots–movin’ up an’ down again!) There’s no discharge in the war!
The men doing all the marching with me will be the good old Strelets French Infantry in Advance. This is the last of those veteran early Strelets sets I purchased for a pittance on the sad closing down of a local model shop. They’re wearing their greatcoats and stoically foot–foot–foot–foot sloggin’ through the deep snows of a Russian winter. I add a handful more every year and they now number just over 70 in total. In recent years, I’ve also painted the associated wintry Strelets ‘sledge train’ sets.
They’re not the most elegantly sculpted figures ever made, but for some reason I just can’t help but love them. I’m already well under way with them, having add a bit of paint to them in my spare moments recently. Once I’ve painted the latest cohort of 14 marchers, I will have the remnants of the sister set “French Infantry on the March (1)” to paint.
Happily, and much to my surprise, a box of ye olde “In Advance” set finally came up for auction recently and I’ve now got another box also for a snip. All of which means there’s another few years left in this winter painting tradition to go yet. In the meantime, my Ottoman Turkish Sipahi are finished and I’ll be sharing them soon in my next post!
It must have been a few years ago now since I joined the crowdfunding of Hat’s Napoleonic Light and Heavy Dragoons sets. At long last, after a number of incidents and issues (retooling and resizing), and much forum commentary (not all being very complimentary), these troubled soldiers finally, belatedly, arrived at Suburban Militarism HQ – and in shockingly bright, red plastic!
With my two boxes, HaT have kindly included their sampler set consisting of 16 more light and heavy dragoons, making for a grand total of 40 British dragoons unexpectedly arriving through the post this week. Plenty more recruits for the Napoleonic Cavalry Project.
I know HaT have taken some stick for the long delays on this crowdfunding project, which is certainly understandable. However, for hobbyists like myself (that’s right; these are not toys because I’m a grown-up, serious, bona-fide hobbyist) at least we can thank them for two shiny brand-new sets of Napoleonic British cavalry.
They’ve been such a long time coming that they almost feel like an unexpected gift from some mysterious benefactor. Given the size of the Great Unpainted Pile, they may be an awful long time before any paint gets applied too…
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.
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.
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.
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:
The Warwickshire Light Horse, Private, 1801
The Surrey Yeomanry, Private, 1800
The West Kent Yeomanry (Sheppey)*, Officer, 1800
Loyal London Cavalry, Private, 1804
The Leicestershire Yeomanry*, Officers, 1808
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.
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.
“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.