Two by Two into the Metal Airfix Ark: The Case of the Metal Box

A few of the surviving figures, as I empty out and sort my old Airfix figures.

How did your childhood toy soldier collection survive, if at all?

How did you preserve your collection of childhood figures or how did they survive? By luck? By accident?

One reason that I can still play with some of my childhood family Airfix figures is this battered old flight case or engineer’s aluminium suitcase.

As far as I can remember the case was passed on to me by my late Dad. Having left home for college and work, the play things of my childhood were being packed up, sorted and some things reluctantly passed on.

Three of my surviving Airfix plastic preformed tanks, early 1980s painting. Figures “To Keep …”

The core of my Airfix OOHO and 1:32 figures survived in this suitcase, an Airfix toy soldier Ark.

It has lots of height so this was packed to the brim lid with bagged figures. This stout travel case has meant that this collection has survived several house moves since first leaving home.

Similarly the odd old 1970s battered biscuit tin has preserved a medley of such bagged childhood soldiers. Reopened, they have that familiar ‘plastic death’ chemical smell of ageing figures.

Two by Two …

I remember sitting at ‘home’ before the family final move from my childhood home in a sort of Noah’s Ark mode, sorting out who was to survive, who was to be set aside and who take their chances.

I chose one of each Airfix pose unpainted and some interesting painted ones from each Airfix set.

After that, any gaps were filled with more of my favourite veteran figures – all my 1:32 Airfix Italians, larger numbers of ImagiNations Japanese, my few Airfix Space Warriors and Airfix medieval Knights all survived, crammed in.

Some of the more useless mouths (boxed Airfix Modern Infantry, boxed 1980s Britain’s Super Deetail SAS / Marine / Paratroopers) that had no play history or emotional connection were set aside to sell on early eBay type sites.

I’m not sure what happened to most of the Matchbox 1:32 boxes of figures – probably mostly sold – but my few Atlantic OOHO and 1:32 figures survived.

Some of our 1960s and early 70s Airfix OOHO family figures were already brittle and beginning to crumble by then, so they were set aside during sorting and quickly sold, especially the scarce Waterloo ones. This was at a time when Airfix 1:32 and many of the OOHO figures had vanished again from the shops.

This core collection would survive, even when some of the surplus figures were sold.

This case was to put it fancifully my Seed Bank, my Lifeboat, my Ark or Gene Pool from which to rebuild my collection in future. A Touchstone or Portal …

Other Survivals

In early Lockdown, I have previously shown my 1980s blue box of varied and random spare figures.

My small group of based 15mm Peter Laing ECW and medieval figures survived in a ‘carry case’ curious birthday present from the family, a converted 1970s/80s LP case with wooden trays, copied from an early 1980s Military Modelling or Miniature Wargames magazine. The wooden trays and figures have survived, the plastic and cardboard LP case has sadly not.

Having preserved a core of my collection in such a way, I am often fascinated by the odd mixed lots of other people’s plastic or hollowcast figures in an old tin that pop up on EBay. I have had such rusty old tins of mixed Airfix passed on to me by friends, workmates or fellow bloggers.

What I like about this metal box is that it has preserved early family ImagiNations sparse paintwork on figures with random selection of available matt and gloss Humbrol or Airfix paints.

Japanese figures with black hats and boots with red epaulettes?

It has also preserved samples of my own childhood and teenage efforts at Britain’s Deetail style or shiny toy soldier style painting on drab WW2 figures, minus the glossy varnish.

Another cardboard box in a loft held boxes of bits of 1970s and 1990s Airfix Playsets, tanks and figures crammed in – one to show another time.

Thankfully the communal family box of motley 1960s and 70s plastics, Herald and Britain’s knights, cowboys, indians, ceremonials and Guardsmen also survived in a box, along with a battered wooden Fort, having done play service for a time in the extended family.

Old plastic bags might not be the most recommended means of storage for plastic figures but it kept them all sorted until Really Useful Boxes came along and rebasing began.

Two by Two? Numbering the Airfix.

Having kept these figures safe, I am now number code labelling the bases of each of my surviving OO HO and 1:32 figures or rebasing them and labelling them before storing them in Really Useful Boxes.

One crammed metal case of bagged figures turns into a surprisingly large number of Really Useful Boxes and trays, not to be stored in the loft or garage to protect these ageing plastics from the extremes of heat. Some of them are now 50 to 60+ years old. Some of them are older than me!

Once done, I will know what I have got, what still sits on the sprue in my red box and blue box Airfix hoard and which are my original childhood figures. I am using a permanent marker Staedtler fineliner pen, the sort once used for marking DVDs CDRewriteables and CD-Roms. Remember them?

Have case, will travel again …

This metal case almost saw service again last March 2020, emptied out for the occasion, as it was how I planned to carry up by train to Woking a selection of my 54mm snowballing and Scouting Wide game figures and terrain for the Little Wars Revisited 54mm Games Day. The emerging Covid situation had other ideas on this occasion but maybe someday soon …

Blog posted by Mark Man of TIN, 7 May 2021


12 thoughts on “Two by Two into the Metal Airfix Ark: The Case of the Metal Box”

  1. Let’s hope that box and you go Woking Bound in the not too distant future!
    I enjoyed your post immensely. I have hardly anything left apart from some a Elastolin both plastic and composition. I was due to leave home the summer my father died but at that point my mother moved into a much smaller place so my stuff was put into storage or given away, l just can’t recall , it was a difficult time. Then some years later I had to radically downsize and much went to charity that was left. It is all confused in my mind. I did lose stuff due to the storage company not being great, some folk taking my Military Modelling collection when working on the house and thinking it was unwanted. I also lost my father’s pre war Dinky vehicles and figures in a move. It is all a tad sad to ponder upon. There was loads of boyhood stuff I just cannot recall where it went! Difficult times, after a long illness for my father leading to his death, has left me forgetting where things went. It was long ago and far away.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think many of these objects and collections have a strong emotional link to happy or unhappy parts of childhood and early adulthood, depending on your circumstances. It all depends on family and house moves and job moves etc. as well as your concept of adulthood.
      I’m just pleased I had the chance to select and sort the metal box and that other stuff survived anyway. It is all grist to my mill now.
      “A-Woking we will go” at some point, maybe not this autumn, maybe next year …


  2. Being the unreformed hoarder that I am, I kept all of my old Airfix soldiers tanks, etc. from my childhood. Thankfully, my parents kept them for me until I had a house with enough space to store them!
    The only ‘toy soldiers’ that have gone are those that I consciously decided I know longer wanted’ like the ‘Timpo’ figures that I sold on e-Bay last year


    1. Airfix Veterans all!
      At the time of the metal box sorting or some other later house move clearance, we sold some random Timpo swoppet type Cowboys and Mexicans, mostly in parts etc from the communal family collection. I was amazed what certain pairs of legs or torsos went for. Obviously a collectable rare colour variation that meant a lot to Timpo fans in Germany and the UK and meant nothing to us.
      A bit like Peter Laing figures I suppose, beauty and value being in the eye of the beholder.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. My return to toy soldiers and 54mm wargaming is all thanks to my mother. When I went off to university my father saw it as a time to purge the house of childish things and there was a cull of all the more obvious toys; Action man, Britains Deetail, Herald, Timpo swoppets , the unpainted Airfix 1:32 stuff all went to church jumble sales as did a lot of my more recent annuals etc. I’m told they helped with the church roof and, besides I had a teaching career to worry about for a while – then marriage, home buying etc. About 10 years ago (whilst my mind was occupied on 25mm war gaming and table top roleplaying) my parents were downsizing and Mum drove over to our house with a tea chest in the back of the car. She’d kept it sealed up and wrapped in tissue paper (I later found out archival tissue paper that absorbed all of the chemical changes to lead soldiers and books) and put in the garage and forgotten about. Inside here my first love Britians boxed lead soldier sets that had been purchased cheaply during the whole ‘lead is evil’ scare of the 60s and 70s. (plus all my 1960s annuals the Giles books from 1 to 30, a complete run of eagle annuals and some rare Man From Uncle bits).

    Needless to say, my collecting tastes had changed (I could still see and paint 25/28mm then) So, my first reaction was to sell off all the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s boxed lead soldiers as that’s not where I wanted to go and, frankly, I needed some seed money for my ‘repair, repaint and reuse’ Boer War 54mm project. Two and a half years later that project is nearing completion; nearly 3000 54mm lead soldiers all ready for battle if the world pandemic ever lets us again and I can find a big enough table 🙂

    Thanks Mark for sparking the reminder of how I got dragged back into all of this wonderful gloss craziness 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Great story – what an amazing Mum.
      I was at first surprised that you sold the survivors but then sometimes what use are boxed stringed mint valuable lead figures, unless you are a boxed valuable lead figure collector? At least you were given the choice of what you kept. I had a similar dormant toy soldier phase with work etc in my twenties and early 30s.

      With conversions from Airfix Highlanders and WW1 Germans and ACW Confederates, I could have recreated The Boer War in Airfix. As a 70s child I found the Boer War both fascinating as a precursor of early WW1 – still within living memory, local roads named after generals and battles like the Crimean War but in khaki, armoured trains, fascinating early cine footage – and also offputting / repellant (Emily Hobhouse, concentration camps, blockhouses, national blundering, volunteering, disease, jingoism).
      I found the wily Boer commandos fascinating, again a precursor of later commando operations. Always a challenge to recreate on the battlefield at any scale.
      I’m sure you can fit in some 54mm skirmish games whilst you wait for big enough tables and the pandemic suitably over. Do you have a website prepared for these Boer War battles?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hadn’t thought of a website but, since so many of you have had success with blogs, I guess it’s time to di my toe into the water. Decided to have a short campaign based on Neil Thomas’ suggestion in one hour wargames – roughly 60 figures a side keeping a running total of personnel lost, RAMC successes, and supply chains – there’s now nearly 300 Boers in the collection so there’s plenty of choice. Been a long time since I’ve ‘commanded’ anything in anger on the table but the back straightening, the shoulders becoming wore powerful and my hands ready to wield a sabre once again.

    Right where’s that map case ? Hook’s farm – where the bloody Hell’s that then ?

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Most of my figures were 1.72 scale plastics and most of them survived by discarding their original boxes and rationalising storage into two of those plastic storage boxes intended for screws, nails, etc. Opening the lid on my old classic Airfix and Esci figures emits an evocative plastic odour and I’m taken back to the days they paraded and fought in my room. I’m not sure if you ever recall specific campaigns or battles from childhood but I remember a few and opening that lid brings it all back.

    I did have some 1.32 scale figures too – Airfix Arabs, Commandos, Japanese, Australians, etc, etc and I have no idea where they are or what happened to them. I thorough search of my parents loft may be in order.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A few Airfix 1:32 are being reissued,in case the loft is empty 😦

      I used to keep the boxes when a bit older if they had a colour illustration and uniform paint scheme on them, but also relied on our few Airfix catalogues which had these painting guide type pictures on the figures page.

      I had similar sorting boxes and a great cast off haberdashers plastic display cabinet for showing and storing different colour cotton reels in pull out, see through trays (long gone now) – perks of one of the family working in retail.

      I know what you mean about the evocative old Airfix soldier odour of “loft / slow plastic death” – I think it is the plasticiser “offgassing” hence the crumbly brittleness.

      One of the A4 “black and red” ledger A-Z type notebooks that I am still looking for from teenage years had brief pencilled entries about my most famous Airfix battles, casualties etc. and figures used. I think it’s gone. I can still picture in my mind’s eye a few battlefields focussed around rivers and bridges and buildings (not much has changed then). I think the photos in Featherstone’s Wargaming Airborne Operations hardback (from the branch library) had a big impact on these later WW2 type games. (Yes, reader, I did later buy that very copy and I still have and use it).

      Liked by 2 people

      1. You were obviously much more organised than I! I remember I did use a shaggy rag type rug as a Belgian cornfield frequently.


  6. It is strange how very strong the visual, tactile, smell and sense memories are still of these childhood toys and their fabric / felt, wood and plastic terrain. With some toys, same with their sound.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s