Fighting his Battles O’er Again

Close up scan of the Britain’s toy soldiers on the table. Spot the first casualty on the right.

I came across this Edwardian / WW1 postcard by Underwood the photographers featuring some delightful and familiar toy soldiers.

These  look like the Foot Guards, marching at slope, firing, drummer and officer, some of my favourite Britain’s toy soldiers manufactured  from their early days in the late 1890s /1901 onwards (wearing gaiters) right through to the 1950s / 1960s but ones which are still in production from time to time today, date on their base 1990.


The boy and the toys give this a look of H.G. Wells’ 1913 book  Little Wars, mixed with Edwardian children in woollen Jerseys such as Christopher Robin from Winnie The Pooh and other children from A.A. Milne poems illustrated by E.H. Sheperd.

The bearded old soldier has a military style greatcoat, a hint of a Chelsea pensioner, opposite this curly haired boy (or almost girl?) Maybe the postcard suggests he is not only reliving his past  battles with the Britain’s toy soldiers and bell tents but looking at his once eager young self. This is a motif repeated in famous Victorian paintings like Millais’ The Boyhood of Raleigh:

Underwood photographers postcard

You know how you buy something, start researching it and come up with some unrelated unusual stories?

This postcard led me to discover more about early stereoscopic photographers in America, Edwardian penny magazines and one of the BFI’s most wanted missing silent films by a pioneering British woman film director. A film which started a court case between one early female film critic  and the female director about whether women could direct proper films or not …

The toy soldier postcard was given away free in 1d weekly magazines, so there must be quite a few of these cards around, posted and unposted.

It was given away in Smart Fiction magazine published weekly 1d by Shurey’s of London which was published or flourished between 1913 and 1924 before merging with Smart Novels. It published short stories by a range of authors:

The Underwood photograph was also given away in the similar Yes or No magazine, published weekly by Harry Shurey of London from 1904 – 1922, interestingly entitled in a 1917 (sample copy online) edition  “A favourite in the trenches”:

Short story magazines for the boredom of billet and trenches must have been a welcome distraction. Would the soldiers have been sent these magazines and postcards by their families or would they have been bought and posted home by the soldiers to their children?

The Shurey family and lost British films …

The Shurey family were an interesting or pioneering bunch from publisher father Harry, editor Charles  through to Harry’s daughter the 1920s silent movie producer Dorothy / Dinah Shurey

On the BFI most wanted lost films, Dinah Shurey’s final film The Last Post 1929  (sound added 1930) has an intriguingly Underwood style photo of children dressed as ‘toy’ soldiers.


I wonder if a childhood full of sentimental Underwood photo postcards influenced this visual element of her film? See the still photo thumbnail at

Brief Plot Synopsis: Soldier takes the blame when his Bolshevik brother shoots a soldier during the General Strike (which was in 1926). All for the love of the same woman … childhood sweethearts etc … you can read more of the plot at:

Looks like this postcard has been well cared for in a scrapbook or album, having well marked triangular mount corners.

This Space for Communication?

A collector I know of animal and zoo postcards named Alan Ashby, author of We Went to the Zoo Today: The Golden Age of Zoo Postcards, pointed out to me once that postcards with the space on the back to write your message were permissable only from 1902 onwards in the UK. Hence the reminder  “This Space for Communication.” Before then the short message had to be written squeezed into the caption space on the front of a picture postcard. The back was all for the important business of the address and postage stamps.

The cost of  a postcard postage and the stamp give some you a rough idea of date if no postmark date can be read – the 1/2d or halfpenny postage mentioned on this unposted card changed to 1d round about 1918 onwards. If this had been posted it would likely had  a George V stamp from the WWI period.

Alan Ashby also pointed out that many early postcards were mounted in albums, rather than posted,  as they were bought as souvenirs of a visit or collected for scrapbooks.

Two of the different poses featured in the postcard. The Britain’s drummer is a restored or repaired and repainted one of mine, the others were recently acquired from Britain’s stockists and online. Note the recent 1990 shiny detailed paint work compared to the front older Britain’s second grade or lower quality three / four paint restricted palette.

The Toy soldiers?

These look distinctively like early Britain’s figures and bell tents. These look like the Britain’s Foot Guards, marching at slope, firing, drummer and officer, manufactured from the late 1890s /1901 onwards (wearing gaiters) right through to the 1950s / 1960s. Some are still in production from time to time today, dated on their base 1990.

What games rules are they playing by? 🙂

Photo Underwood?

The “Underwood” photographer may have been Underwood and Underwood brothers from the USA, producing photographs and stereoscopic pictures in the right period

The same company produced several other child and soldier WW1 era patriotic postcards given away in the same manner:

This boy or girl and toy soldier or soldier daddy motif is obviously a sub genre of postcards across the whole of Europe at this time of war.

Lots more interesting WW1 era  toy soldier postcards in his fascinating June 20, 2012 blog / Article “The Search for Identity in a Smaller World” by Alan Petrulis in his Metropostcard blog:

More wealthy Edwardian moptops

The Edwardian child in the postcard is not that different in appearance from the poorly child in an illustration of the Land Of Counterpane poem by Robert Louis Stevenson, illustrated here by US artist Jessie May Wilcox.

Robert Louis Stevenson  himself was a poorly child who went onto become not only the famous novelist but also an early wargamer, writting up his battles in the Yallobelly Times maginatively about in the 1898  Scribners magazine article Stevenson at Play.

But collecting illustrations of this (my favourite?) poem and the difficulties of wargaming with toy soldiers in bed is a whole ‘nother story for a future blog post …

Now that’s what I call imaginative terrain! Jessie Wilcox Smith’s illustration to The Land of Counterpane. Wikipedia image source.

Posted by  Mark, Man of TIN blog, 25 November 2016.



5 thoughts on “Fighting his Battles O’er Again”

  1. The photo from Last Post is VERY reminiscent of the opening of the 1939 Beau Geste. Coincidence? Probably not?

    Are you sure that the newer Britain’s are factory painted? I’ve never seen them done with white slashes like that whether antique or the occasional nostalgic limited re-release.


  2. Ross
    I’m fairly sure these ‘modern’ Foot Guards by Britains in firing pose were bought about 7 or 8 years ago from the Guards Museum Model / Toy Soldier Centre in London (well worth a visit if ever in London, near Buckingham Palace, also the base for MKL models). I’m usually only in London every couple of years but try to visit it when there.
    I probably chose them at random from their counter display of retro modern solid cast Britain’s where I pick up oddments, along with a few loose figures of their vintage old Britain’s cabinet. Many of their visitors are tourists who have come to see the Palace, Changing the Guard, the Royal Parks etc so there is a focus on the Ceremonial and London figures.
    I haven’t repainted them and the base says Britain’s 1990, although they could have been produced after that date.
    Mark, Man of TIN blog.


  3. A great posts and well researched, thanks for sharing it with us. The figures in the postcard are unmistakably Britains but I think the tents are of German manufacture going by the cast flags atop the tent poles. The open window in the background looks like a painted backdrop so the picture may have been taken in the photographer’s studio?


    1. Brian

      Thanks for your comments on the photo / postcard. I have no tents of that vintage to compare with and Britain’s catalogues of the time are often just artists impressions.

      I think you’re right, the window must just be a simple / crude photographic studio backdrop as the perspective is a bit skew-whiff. It seems a bit amateurish compared to the usual theatrical painted ones you see in portrait photo backgrounds of the time . It fills the centre of the image but badly.

      Maybe they were just cranking them out to order and intended at some point to put a photographic insert / thought or dream bubble of the veteran as young man doing heroic deeds there, as they often do in many of this “Thinking of or about the past or someone far away” type / WW1 genre postcard.

      Mark, Man of TIN blog


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