Recalled To The Colours – 54mm metal detectorist’s toy soldier finds restored to fighting condition

How these figures looked once I cleaned them of the earth and mud, much  as they were found over many years by a metal detectorist.

A week or two ago I shared photos of how my inexpensive purchase of a metal detectorist’s finds of battered old toy soldiers were cleaning and shaping up.

Alongside repairing some other Broken Britain’s figures, I have been painting and restoring these wrecked figures to gaming and playable condition  or fighting fitness.

The aim is to give them the kind of glossy toy soldier factory painting bench finish that they might once have enjoyed.

Ahoy Sailors Ahoy!

A small Royal Navy Landing party restored from earth battered bodies.

The Britain’s sailor figures as they cleaned up, still with blue paint, alongside a complete example in my collection. The other torso with swagger stick is possibly  Crescent Models?

Two bashed sailor bodies required a lot of restoration, although some of their original  blue paint remained. These Britain’s sailors were once proud part of either the prewar Royal Navy Reserve set 151 or the second grade paint set Royal Navy Bluejackets Set 49N, an attractive simple fixed arm figure like one I have in my collection.

Sailors and Guardsman  Repairing or restoring legs with matchstick and cocktail stick wrapped round and round in masking tape, then sealed with paint.

Legs were repaired or restored  with matchstick and cocktail sticks,  wrapped round and round with masking tape, then sealed with paint.

The sailor figures  had no base and feet remaining. Fimo bases were made, fired and  painted to match my other Britain’s figures which are mounted on 2p pieces.

A 1mm hole was drilled through the shoulder where the rifle is broken off to insert some 1mm metal to rebuild a barrel. This was thickened to rifle size again by winding a small width of masking tape around it.

Two restored sailors alongside my original Britain’s sailor figure for reference.

Two sailor’s heads with different hats were found in my bits box,  both recasts from Dorset Soldiers, and the neck  and sailor scarf area built up on each one to take these heads.

These figure repairs need to be stout and strong as they will once again be in tabletop  action or campaigning in the garden, H.G. Wells’ Little Wars style, albeit without firing real projectiles at them.


I do not use Milliput due to a family allergy,  instead I use the masking tape, matchstick and Fimo (polymer clay) method of repair. I also do not yet know how to solder such small figures.

The pink or red cheek dot on the faces is a useful gloss paint toy soldier style trick. Nothing very Military Modelling or realistic about this type of face.


I worked on the swagger stick torso figure and made this figure out of him, using a peaked cap Prince August 54mm Toy Soldier head that I had previously cast in one of their traditional toy soldier moulds.

He got one of the disembodied pair of legs with puttees, along with a separate wooden leg. This (Crescent Models?) figure’s  body is curiously rather short in the arms!


Guards! Guards!

Comparing these two metal detectorist’s finds with original Britain’s  Guards figures in my collection.

These Guardsmen needed both leg and rifle repairs.


Guardsmen on the left, preaparing new Fimo feet and bases to fit a 2p coin base. On the right are two more Broken Britain’s figures from John Forman, Khaki Infantry  on guard in Steel helmet and Boer War Gloucester Regiment in Khaki firing set 119. I will feature these two groups in future blogposts.

Two of the broken figures were clearly Britain’s Guardsmen marching and firing.

After preparing new legs as required, replacement bases were made from Fimo (polymer clay). Metal replacement bases can be bought for some footless damaged Britain’s figures from companies such as Dorset Soldiers.  As these are being repaired back to gaming or  fighting condition, rather than restored to red box display condition, I thought Fimo and tuppeny mounted bases like my other restorations were suitable, as well as cheaper and to hand.

A temporary spare original head whilst I wait for a recast one to arrive.

Until some suitable recast Guardsman heads arrive, I am showing these figures with a spare loose fusilier or guards busby head.

Restored Britain’s Marching Guardsman with repaired wooden matchstick right leg, new feet and base and new rifle. The head is a temporary spare original head from my bits box. 

As these old soldiers are special, restored to life and recalled to the colours, I have given several of them suitable status with various stripes as Corporals and Sergeants / NCOs.

My favourite figure of this bunch so far is one of the most wrecked figures whom, with the addition of a Dorset recast bare head and moustache, I have made into a brave bare-headed Battling Sergeant.


This bareheaded “on guard” pose reminds me of Victorian Battle paintings.  I have painted this brave fellow with the yellow facings (colour and cuffs) of the Buffs (East Kent Regiment), one of the popular Britain’s Toy Soldier Line Infantry Regiments.


This Sergeant  matches two of the Buffs “on guard” figures amongst the Broken Britains figures recently given to me by John Forman, whose broken rifles I  have repaired.


Compared to what he was a few weeks ago, he’s looking quite handsome! I like the fact that his painted red coat is still showing even after years in the soil and now sits within his new red gloss Acrylic painted tunic.

A new pair of legs and new rifle repaired.

Next task – watch this space

Amongst the next figure challenges from amongst the metal detectorist’s finds are these fine kilted colonial Highlanders by Britain’s and John Hill Co. (Johillco).

New legs, arms and heads needed for these three damaged Highlanders.

I would love to know their previous history, past battles and how these battered toy soldier figures ended up in the earth to be found by metal detectorists decades later.

Great fun, I am really enjoying this quiet, slow and colourful restoration work.

Blogposted by Mark, Man of TIN, 20 May 2018.


19 thoughts on “Recalled To The Colours – 54mm metal detectorist’s toy soldier finds restored to fighting condition”

  1. Back from the dead! I especially like the bare headed figure. I hope we see these staunch warriors in a wargame. Who will they fight?
    One question I have for you is your method of cleaning especially the interiors of the figures.


    1. James
      They should be in action this summer in small skirmish games, hopefully in the garden if weather is good. The Redcoats might be fighting (under a Bronte Angrian Imagi-Nations flag) against an aggrieved and fearsome assemblage of native warriors (both lead and plastic) made up from Zulus and American Indians Allied as “Generican Natives” armed with spears and rifles.

      Your other question about cleaning the inside of figures is an interesting one. These metal detectorist finds were still filled with earth and the metal / lead had formed a marble white crusted coat. I tried not to disturb or scrape this crust / coat back to shiny bare metal but cleaned the outside with lots of cotton buds, using water that was slightly soapy with washing up liquid. I wore disposable gloves throughout to protect myself from soil and old lead. I also did this stage in the garden for good ventilation from the dust, rather than using a dust mask inside.
      Crusted earth or mud was removed gently by shaking, gently drilling with my 1mm hand drill and poking about with cocktail sticks. More gentle tapping and shaking etc. shifted most of the remaining soil inside. I stopped cleaning when the remaining paint pigment started coming off on damp cotton buds as this was another clue to their original appearance.
      The outside of the lead / metal figures was undercoated and painted fairly swiftly to seal the figures before proper painting.
      The insides received a protective coating or filling up of UHU adhesive or superglue squeezed in through available openings once new matchstick legs etc were in position, partly to help fix these into place. Any figures or animals I cannot restore will have a protective varnish coating and be put into a display box.
      Hope this answers your question. Mark.


    1. Thanks Bob, it has been very very satisfying working on these scrap lead finds (and other low value / commercially worthless Broken Britain’s) and turning them back into shiny gaming or fighting condition.
      I look forward to some 54mm summer skirmishes with them, using upscaled Donald Featherstone rules, who acknowledged his own debt to H.G. Wells and Little Wars and lost his own childhood lead collection in the London Blitz.


  2. I’ll say it again – all very satisfying to see them restored to life from such a seemingly hopeless condition.

    I was abstractedly thinking – seeing all these dug up soldiers – that maybe these figures are being not so much restored as reanimated like zombies or Frankenstein! Which put me in mind of the “March of the Dead”, a poem by Robert Service in which he imagines the dead Tommies from the battles of the Boer War returning to Britain on the day of national triumph.

    They were coming, they were coming, gaunt and ghastly, sad and slow;
    They were coming, all the crimson wrecks of pride;
    With faces seared, and cheeks red smeared, and haunting eyes of woe,
    And clotted holes the khaki couldn’t hide.
    Oh, the clammy brow of anguish! the livid, foam-flecked lips!
    The reeling ranks of ruin swept along!
    The limb that trailed, the hand that failed, the bloody finger tips!
    And oh, the dreary rhythm of their song!

    And that poem has been going through my head all day… keep up the good work!


    1. Thanks Marvin, I looked up the rest on poemhunter
      and was surprised that this existed before WW1. It’s a bit Kipling Tommy Atkins but almost Siegfried Sassoon stuff. It still works today. I know there was much opposition to the Boer War (Emily Hobhouse and all) and that the Poetry wasn’t all Thomas Hardy’s Drummer Hodge.

      Zombie / Frankenstein toy soldier body parts? I did have these thoughts about blending a set of legs from one to the body of another on restored figures all mixed and fused together, that in their tiny hearts of TIN they would object to being so mixed up and repainted potentially the wrong Regiment. So I tried to keep the original colour scheme where I could work this out.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That poem first came to my attention as part of an entire album of Service’s anti-war poems set to music in 1971 by Country Joe McDonald. “The March of the Dead” was just one of them –

        This was particularly appropriate as I understand Service intended his rhythmic poems to be easily remembered or sung by people.

        The album was mostly taken from Service’s collection called “Rhymes of a Red Cross Man” (he volunteered as a stretcher bearer during WWI). I’ve got an old copy of it and some of the poems are written in the 1st person Kipling-style vernacular (dropping the h’s, etc.). Some are excellent, in my opinion. So, you’re right about the Sassoon – Kipling approach.

        Great to see these old veterans treated with such sensitivity and respect during reconstruction!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Piece of trivia – the cover of this album features a young Mick Jagger as a wounded British soldier, disguised by a bandage covering his eyes…


      3. I think that this poem would make a fine blog post for your Suburban Militarism, linking the Boer War WW1 and Vietnam / 1960s antiwar movement.
        Inside Robert Opie’s magnificent Victorian Scrapbook there is a good copy (certainly frameable) of an interesting poem / colour print of Kipling’s Absent Minded Beggar, specially written in 1899 and sold by or at the time through the Daily Mail fund to raise money for soldiers’ wives and children, raising 1/4 million pounds. Interesting poem alongside Service’s March of The Dead and Studdart Kennedy / Woodbine Willie’ s WW1 cockney rhymes in Rough Rhymes of a Padre.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Cheers Pete! Veterans they truly are, so that’s why they get the stripes and the rank. These will always be a little bit special, having been through so much as toy soldiers.


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