Fixing Broken Britain(s) Part 1 – Three Charging Highlanders head out for a coffee


Recently toy soldier collector John Forman very kindly sent me a small box of “Broken Britain’s” from his family collection which were otherwise going for scrap.

Some had lost heads, bases, hooves, rifles and arms from being played with by John and his father before him, these were the battered toy soldier veterans of  battles going back from the 1960s into the 1930s.

Three Charging Highlanders 

One such casualty amongst John’s Broken Britain’s figures was this charging Highlander. He had come off his base and had previously also lost his head.

I love this pose and pick these figures up at reasonable price if I ever see them. In addition to these three new repaired ones, I have about ten to fifteen Highlanders  of this pose  in various regiments to repair to make a small mixed unit.

In some cases I was repairing previous repairs, such as the  traditional head repair of sticking the head onto a matchstick and glueing in place. This repair from many years before needed resticking.

Using a fine 1mm drill bit and hand drill (or pin vice) bought from Prince August, I drilled into the Highlander’s leg and inserted a short piece of 1mm stiff garden wire. If you run out, paper clip wire will do as well.

Drilling through the ankle right through to the base, it was then easy to fit leg to base, secured with a tiny drop of superglue.

The wire pin securing the leg to to the drilled foot or base on this attractive running  Highlander.

To secure the weak ankle join into place, as these figures will be fighting tabletop or garden battles again, at the risk of slightly thicker looking ankles, I wrapped a thin bandage of masking tape around the glued and pinned ankle.  A thin smear of superglue supports and seals the join. This masking tape ‘sock’ can later be painted in an off-white to match the other of the white spats or gaiters, worn over black shoes. The red tops to the white spats are tartan red socks

Two other Highlanders in John’s scrap pile had intact bases but broken rifles.

Moustaches on these Black Watch faces suggest they are prewar / pre 1940 figures.

Out came the 1mm drill again  and I drilled behind the rifle and hand into the body to secure a long piece of wire to make a new rifle barrel.

Alternatively you can clip or file the rifle back to the hand and drill carefully into this hand to anchor your wire rifle barrel, but there was enough rifle here on these two Highlanders not to want to lose this original  section.


Wrapping a small piece of masking tape tightly round and round the barrel bulks out the 1mm wire to the desired rifle thickness and also gives a rough base for painting. I usually put a very thin line of superglue on the wire first to secure the first fold / wrap and then to seal the final fold. This stops the masking tape unravelling later on.

Looking at the surviving paintwork, some of the Highlanders seem to have an all gold or bronze painted rifle. I continued this colour scheme but painted an undercoat of black on first before putting on the top  coat of  gold or bronze.

I usually use Revell Aquacolor  Gloss Acrylic paint  (the square tubs) as they are low odour, dry fast and any brushes wash out easily enough, especially with a spot of washing up liquid. Unlike enamels, I find a second coat of Acrylic is usually required for good deep colour. They colour mix well enough and can be thinned with water.  My current mixing palettes are plastic milk bottle tops.

The paint condition is playworn but reasonably good, with an attractive patina of past battles,  so apart from painting the feather bonnets and hackles again, as this is where a figure is usually picked up, I have left them much as they arrived.

Which Highlanders are which Highland Regiment?

The repaired broken ankled figure with yellow cuffs or facings is an Argyll and Sutherland Highlander, Britain’s Set 15 produced in this style from 1903 onwards. The dark green kilt has light green stripes, according to Andrew Rose in his excellent book The Collector’s Guide to Toy Soldiers.

Our broken example has yellow facings on collar and cuffs and red kilt stripes, suggesting a Seaforth Highlander (James Opie, Britain’s Toy Soldiers 1893-1932).

The Black Watch have black cuffs or facings, a red hackle or plume in their bonnets and dark green kilts with black hatching or stripes.

Three Charging Highlanders of the Composite (Camp Coffee) Highland Brigade restored, rearmed and returned to fighting fitness on their tuppeny bases. Ready for action, Ready Aye Ready! *

However to get them battle ready, I based them on tupenny (2p)  pieces. British 1p and 2p coins minted after 1992 are also slightly magnetic, handy if you use magnetic strip in your basing trays, travel or storage boxes.  I attached the figure base to the coin with hot glue gun adhesive. The tuppeny base gives good stability during a game, storage and transport.

To cover the coin colour, I painted any coin metal that was still showing in several thick coats of chrome or sap green acrylic to near match the original Britain’s green base paint. A simple bright green base easily gives that old toy soldier look as the pink cheek dot on a toy soldier face. The faces on these figures had survived well and were quite ruddy cheeked. Being pre-war  figure, they had the dapper dignity of a moustache painted on before Britain’s stopped this on routine figures postwar.

The repairs may not be pretty on parade but they are designed to be robust enough for handling in war games as H.G. Wells and Britain’s  intended.

More Broken Britain’s to be featured in future blogposts.

And now Mancraft mending time  over for the day, it’s time for coffee …

Having a mixture of Highlanders that I don’t want to repaint over the original facings (colours, cuffs) and mixed tartans, I have merged them all (“Royal Regiment of Scotland” style) into one Composite (Camp Coffee) Highland Brigade, following the inspired lead  of Bob Cordery as he did did cleverly on his blog with his The Works sourced Cordery’s Composite Cavalry Brigade:

Composite (Camp Coffee) Highland Brigade? 

* If you’re puzzled, Camp Coffee is not their Regimental Barracks, though it probably will become so. Camp Coffee is the Victorian liquid coffee essence, the one still with the Victorian style label Highlander and Indian seated drinking coffee together, although originally the Indian was a servant or batman. Their motto for this instant coffee and chicory blend? Ready, Aye  Ready!

According to Wikipedia,

“Legend has it that Camp Coffee was originally developed as a means of brewing coffee quickly for military purposes. The label is classical in tone, drawing on the romance of Empire. It includes a drawing of a Gordon Highlander (allegedly Major General Sir Hector MacDonald) and a Sikh soldier sitting together outside a tent, from which flies a flag bearing the drink’s slogan, “Ready Aye Ready“. That was also the motto of the Frontier Force Rifles of the old British Indian Army, and the Frontier Force Rifles, now part of the Pakistan Army, still use the motto. In this context, the Scots word “aye” has the meaning of “always” rather than “yes”, and indicates, in the case of the drink, that it is “Ready Always Ready” to be made.”

The label has changed much over the years:

Robert Pool’s contribution to the BBC History of the World in 100 objects.

“The original label, by William Victor Wrigglesworth, depicted a Sikh servant waiting on a kilted Scots soldier. A later version of the label, introduced in the mid-20th century, removed the tray from the picture, and was seen as an attempt to avoid the connotation that the Sikh was a servant, although he was still shown waiting at attention while the Scottish soldier sipped his coffee.  The current version, introduced in 2006, depicts the Sikh as a soldier, now sitting beside his former boss, and with a cup and saucer of his own.” (Wikipedia)

I rather like the new equality logo of both soldiers sharing a cup of tea together, and rather like the taste of Camp Coffee too! It has fuelled many happy hours of  painting, this Victorian convenience product of Field Campaigns in the old Empire days.

The modern logo for Camp Coffee – still bright and colourful …

There is another form of equality at issue here as well, as the original Gordon Highlander depicted is said to be modelled on the interesting figure of Sir Hector Macdonald  or “Fighting Mac” –

And the Polish military connection to coffee and the Cappucino?

Look through previous recent blogposts for more Broken Britains and figure mending.

Blogposted by Mark, Man of TIN 12 / 13 May 2018.



12 thoughts on “Fixing Broken Britain(s) Part 1 – Three Charging Highlanders head out for a coffee”

  1. Thank you for the primer on how you repair your toy soldiers. I have a running “B” series Fusilier who’s broken at the ankle, just as your Highlander is. I was thinking of trying to drill and pin the leg, but chickened out on doing it. Your making a bandage around the ankle is a great idea.


    1. John
      Yes the Britain’s running 44mm B fusilier and 54mm charging Highlander are similar poses but obviously your B series as you say being smaller, this makes for a much more fiddly job. You would need a finer drill bit (I have some at 0.5mm but need to find a finer / smaller hand drill or pin vice to take these) and finer wire that is stiff enough for the job. Superglue and the masking tape bandage spats / gaiters should secure the join well enough. You lose nothing by trying. I have no experience of soldering.
      Best of luck with this. I’m sure you will post it online if it works.
      Mark, Man of TIN


    1. Hello Colin, Yes sorry, these are 54mm Britain’s figures. I do dance around the sizes and figure scales without always saying in a figure post. The comment from John was about fixing Britain’s B series which are slightly smaller 42- 44mm.


  2. I’m still sorry I didn’t buy some vintage Britain’s when I visited the antique shop at Portsmouth Dockyard a few years ago (though I did pick up a couple Featherstone books there). Lovely figures, and a lovely story of the coffee logo and its history. I’m happy to see a more “equal” version. And MacDonald deserves to be remembered, for both his good and bad points. There is a excellent recording of the period song “Hector the Hero” by the Scottish band North Sea Gas, which I also discovered on a trip to the UK.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Many are the times I saw vintage Britain’s beyond my young price range. Sometimes I now realise that they were or are clearly overpriced. Fixing random old ones from EBay, junk shop finds and bashed donations helps to make these figures more affordable and riskable on the tabletop or back garden. I feel slightly sad to see sewn in pristine box sets that might never have seen action … this is much the spirit of message of reading the Pauline Clarke book Return of the Twelves about the Bronte soldiers that you recommended. Almost finished this book.
      I didn’t know the song about ‘Fighting Mac’ Hector Macdonald – a man worth researching more – I will track this down online. Thanks for the information Jennifer.

      I like the new equal Camp Coffee Logo as they look like they are sitting down together to reminisce about their campaign days … or off one more adventure.


      1. The tune is by the famous composer M. Scott Skinner, who was a friend of MacDonald; it’s rarely recorded with the lyrics, but is a well-known tune, considered a classic.

        I look forward to your thoughts about Return of the Twelves!


  3. I’m enjoying the Broken Britains series. And why have I never tried Camp coffee? I’m scared off by the presence of chicory, I think, though of course always attracted by that famous label. You know, I think I just might just add Camp to my ‘bucket list’…

    I’m trying to place the Indian regiment – some sort of light cavalry or lancers but not sure about the turban? Maybe just a generic regiment. I didn’t know that he was supposedly Fighting Mac, either. From private to major-general was not small achievement for a man of humble background.


  4. Camp Coffee is an acquired taste but a bit of liquid History – it is quite sweet and mostly used these days as flavouring for coffee cakes not campaigning in the foothills of the Raj and the North West Frontier. Cakey Suburbs and Victorian Campaigns – Pure Suburban Militarism!

    Not sure about the Indian figures uniform – it could be generic. Looks a bit like a Blue Light Madras cavalry version (Britain’s set) shown in Andrew Rose’s Collectors Guide Toy Soldiers and a bit like a blue version of the yellow Skinners Horse (based on my Ladybird Book of Soldiers). I have got some Peter Laing 15mm Versions to possibly paint in this style. Certainly an Indian Regiment worth modelling, however inaccurate!

    Supposedly the Scots officer is a Gordon Highlander which seems likely enough and supposedly Fighting Mac is the Scots soldier. His unnecessary and ignominious end sounds a little like fellow colonial soldier Valentine Baker that Bob Cordery has mentioned and as has featured in Soldiers of The Queen (Victorian Military Society) Magazine.

    This magazine and society might know more of the Camp Coffee background – there are some very stirring Military scenes on poster adverts for Camp Coffee online that may be of interest to you.

    Interesting stuff!


    1. Sorry for delay in replying – didn’t get a notification! Dammit – I’m now convinced. I’m going to buy some Camp Coffee. I love coffee and I love Victorian military history, so there’s no excuse.

      You know, modelling an Indian cavalry regiment off the Camp Coffee label is a really great idea. I have some 1/72 Bengal Lancers that possibly would do very nicely.

      Interesting also that you mention Valentine Baker. I recall the article in the VMS Soldiers of the Queen. For Christmas, I indeed received the same book shown on the Wargaming Miscellany blog on Valentine Baker – a terrific book. There’s something in the risk-taking mania of Valentine Baker to eradicate his disgrace that reminds me of the premise of the Four Feathers.

      Some further research on the relationship between Camp and Fighting Mac is beckoning…



      Liked by 1 person

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