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?!”
This winter’s sledge train set belongs to the pursuing Russians. Strelets have blessed the Russian sledges with more provisions and better clothed figures. For Set 1, I’ve been spending some time deciphering what the sculptor intended.
I’ve come to the conclusion that it is essentially a foraging expedition inflicted on the peasant population by Russian irregular troops such as Kalmyks and Cossacks. Many of the poses seem to involve the carrying off of dead or slaughtered livestock. So this one is a bit of a challenge being a mix of exotic irregular tribal warriors and farmyard animals. Neither of which are regular topics for Suburban Militarism…
I’m setting my brush to work and will update this blog accordingly!
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!
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 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!
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’!
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.
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.
My Strelets French Army Sledge Train is now finished with snow freshly dusted over the scene. The end result looks suitably cold, I think. Or maybe it’s just the deteriorating weather outside having that effect on me?
In the sledge there is a driver wearing a Polish Czapka, an officer wearing a cocked hat and another man wrapped in a luxurious fur coat. This chap holds a keg and is sitting on a locked casket. Notably, he wears a pair of spectacles. His hat is a bit of mystery to me. If not a specific piece of military headdress, it could be anything stolen or purchased simply to keep his head warm, so I’ve just painted it blue.
I mentioned in my previous post that the driver figure could in no way be made to ride the horse or sit in the sledge without something to sit on. Imperial Rebel Ork suggested I made something out of green stuff, sculpting anything is always a risky strategy for me! At the last minute, I decided to use a 1/72 scale wooden box from my childhood collection of Napoleonic French Artillery. The box was perfect but the driver still didn’t sit well as his legs were too far apart, even after I rashly cut his toes off (which I now put down to frostbite, you see…). He’s leaning a teensy bit far back for my liking, but as he’s about to wield a whip, I can just about say ‘he’ll do’.
Those walking behind include (from foreground to background below):
An infantryman in great coat wearing a Polish Lancer’s discarded czapka.
Another infantryman carrying on his back a small drummer boy and his drum.
A dragoon with a blanket around his shoulders and without any footwear.
At the back, a Chasseur of the Guard amputee using a staff as a crutch.
You may just be able to pick out the sledge tracks in the snow? It looks a little more convincing to the eye!
There’s a convincing sense with these figures or struggle and hardship, particularly now they’re painted and in the snow. Little things that I was pleased with are lost to the camera in these pics; the wooden floor of the sledge and the casket, to name but two.
I think my favourite figure is the soldier carrying the drummer boy and drum on his back. It’s quite a complex piece of sculpting which comes out very well after applying some paint. All the figures look good, though, I think. The barefoot dragoon is convincingly cold with the blanket, for example.
Napoleon himself adopted the use of a sleigh when he abandoned the remnants of the Grand Armee on its retreat from Moscow, so it really was the best way to get around in the snowy conditions.
I mentioned how much I liked Strelets emaciated pony. The suffering endured by the horses taken on campaign with Napoleon was truly appalling. Virtually all of Napoleon’s 200,000 horses died from starvation, wounds, injuries, exhaustion or, increasingly during the terrible retreat, at the hands of starving men desperate to use them for food.
Even in the opening weeks of the campaign, many thousands of horses died in a great storm. The outlook for this poor, struggling pony in my scene is probably as bleak as for the men walking on behind.
You may notice from the pic below that the horse is moving off to the left. This is simply a feature of one of the poles connected to his harness being longer than the other! But if anyone asks – the horse is very deliberately turning left…
I’ve also added another dozen men to my growing collection of painted Strelets Marching French infantry figures, currently now over 50 strong. It’s a long-term aim of mine to finish both boxes in the coming years and build a 100-man marching column to accompany the sledge train.
Settle down, grab your popcorn – it’s time for a short movie:
There’s a second set of the French Army Sledge Train with different figures which I may source for next year’s wintry hobby painting. And finally – just a few last pics showing the marching column making its way across the icy wastes of my lounge carpet:
Recently, I’ve enjoyed getting the fake snow out for basing my Christmas Artillery figures and as the temperature drops here in the UK and December looms, it’s the perfect time of the year to do it, too.
In December of last year I added to my growing contingent of Strelets French army figures marching through the snow. I’ve just painted another dozen men to add to this already large group and am now planning to add something extra too to it too. This snowy retreat from Moscow will now include “Strelets French Army Sledge Train 1“, set.
Strelets produced four separate sets of sledge trains back in 2015, two for the French army and two for the Russians. Needless to say, as these sets are depicting Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow in 1812, the Russians are looking decidedly healthier and better equipped on their sledges than their French counterparts!
So, let’s take a look at the figures in the box:
First of all – the sledge with its horse in harness. The sledge is a simple wooden affair on skis, as you might expect. Strelets have depicted a suitably thin horse with plenty of bones on display, suggesting that the hardships were not confined to the men. Often, I find Strelets horses too bulky and stocky – one of the reasons no Strelets cavalry set has ever found its way into the Nappy Cavalry Project. This starving horse brings the anatomy pleasingly into more believable proportions.
The driver below looks like a lancer of the guard who has fortunately purloined a warm coat from somewhere. There’s a real problem as to where to put him as he appears to be sculpted to sit on something but the sledge unfortunately does not come with an armchair! I’ll work something out, maybe I’ll have him standing but in crouching position?
The set also comes with walking stragglers. The figures are very pleasingly old-style Strelets, which is to say each figure is full of great character and eccentric attention to detail. Recent sculpting is more refined but lacks a degree of personality.
Below Left: Appears to be a Chassuer a Cheval of the guard who unsurprisingly has chosen to wear his fur-lined pelisse to keep out the cold. He is also an amputee, leaning on a crutch. His chances of hopping the 1000km from Moscow back to Vilnius are slim, I’d imagine!
Below centre: This poor fellow ‘s helmet suggests he is a dragoon. The blanket around his shoulders looks inadequate for a Russian winter. His bare feet puts his chances of survival very low indeed.
Below right: Like the sledge driver, this man wears a polish czapka suggesting he might be a soldier of the Polish legion, or simply an infantryman wearing any discarded head protection he can find. Uninjured and with a long coat, my money is on him being the most likely of the trio to get home.
The fellow below has two burdens to carry through the snow; a drum and a small drummer boy clinging to his shoulders. It’s a touching idea and one that reminds us that children and families also accompanied the French army and shared in the appalling suffering of the retreat.
There’s always one who seems to look after himself while everyone else suffers. This man is lucky enough to be riding in the sledge. He also has a very warm fur coat and a pair of fur lined peasant boots. A hat and hood protect his head and he appears to have glasses or even goggles. Instead of a child, he cradles a barrel of something alcoholic to keep out the cold. He also has a handy seat in the form of a locked casket which, presumably, contains food or even money with which to buy all the best winter clothing!
Riding next to him in the sledge is an officer, identifiable by his cocked hat. The officer is again fortunate, no doubt thanks to his rank, to have a full length coat and a ride in the sledge.
So that is a preview of the sledge occupants and stragglers accompanying the column of French infantry I’ve been building up in recent years. Hopefully, now well under way with just a few figures to paint I should be able to update on my progress soon.
In the meantime, here’s a bit of light music to accompany the post, though I’m not entirely sure Leroy Anderson had Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow in his mind when he composed “Sleigh Ride”…
After a very satisfactory Christmas Day with my family, I’ve enjoyed a bracing Boxing Day walk in the hills. Sitting back with a glass of iced single malt, I’ve been surveying the embarrassingly high number of model soldier kits which have been bought for me as Christmas presents. More details on these will no doubt feature in forthcoming posts…
The holiday has allowed me time to do plenty of figure painting already and I’ve (somewhat astonishingly) completed my large group of Strelets’ French Infantry on the March.
It has been an interesting process, returning to paint Strelets figures again. Being nearly two years since my last serious Strelets painting, I had forgotten how different an experience it is when compared to figures from other manufacturers. Furthermore, my painting style has developed and consequently I’ve had to rethink how to approach these figures.
Being less ‘pretty’ and refined than other figures, it’s a different aesthetic. Strelets figures look their best in larger groups rather than showcased individuals. This marching cohort is perfect for showing off Strelets. Their chunkier figures make for clearer details when seen from a distance, ‘en masse’. Incidentally, newly released Strelets figures appear to be sculpted to an increasingly refined standard than with these early French infantrymen.
Although, it’s been a challenge at times and involved some repainting, I’ve been really enjoying the process. As a result, I intend to paint some more Strelets figures which have just come through as Christmas presents!
Now, I wonder if I get even more figures for my birthday, tomorrow…?
Just as the snow outside has at last thawed to an icy slush, indoors I’ve been adding my own fake snow to some figures. Those Strelets French Napoleonic infantrymen on the march, which have for so long been awaiting basing, are now ankle-deep in the white stuff. I’ve also just decided to cut off any fixed bayonets in order to make them a little more uniform, though they’re still showing in these pics.
Their brethren, meanwhile, all 26 of them, are having their greatcoats painted. I’m struggling to get the coats to a similar shade as that painted two years ago, they should look closer in colour than in these photos but regardless I’m just going to go for it. Different shades can only add to that wonderfully shabby look with its patched up clothing.
And they will certainly need those coats in this bleak midwinter…