Hello I'm Mark Mr MIN, Man of TIN. Based in S.W. Britain, I'm a lifelong collector of "tiny men" and old toy soldiers, whether tin, lead or childhood vintage 1960s and 1970s plastic figures.
I randomly collect all scales and periods and "imagi-nations" as well as lead civilians, farm and zoo animals. I enjoy the paint possibilities of cheap poundstore plastic figures as much as the patina of vintage metal figures.
Befuddled by the maths of complex boardgames and wargames, I prefer the small scale skirmish simplicity of very early Donald Featherstone rules.
To relax, I usually play solo games, often using hex boards. Gaming takes second place to making or convert my own gaming figures from polymer clay (Fimo), home-cast metal figures of many scales or plastic paint conversions. I also collect and game with vintage Peter Laing 15mm metal figures, wishing like many others that I had bought more in the 1980s ...
Female war gamers often describe themselves as legendary or mythical creatures.
Search around, there are now a fair number of female war gamers blogging (usually more fantasy than historical).
Cards on the table: I am not a club war gamer or club board gamer, never have been and probably never will be. I have always been essentially an occasional solo gamer, but mostly a repairer, converter, painter, collector and general hack-abouter of toy soldiers.
However the ‘social history’ of gaming and war gaming is an interesting one to me as it spread out from a military training tool in the nineteenth century onwards via H.G. Wells’ Little Wars, avoiding a destructive swish of skirts on the nursery floor to a more diverse civilian audience in the 1960s and 1970s boom.
I was intrigued whilst casually researching ‘war games’ on the British Newspaper Archive to come across this curious snippet from The West Briton November 18, 1971 (interestingly around the Armistice / Remembrance period):
“A meeting of wargaming societies from Truro School and Truro Girls Hugh School was held last week at Truro School to discuss the possibility of forming a Wargaming Society which would be open to members of the public of Truro.
About 20 attended the meeting, which was presided over by Mr. Derek Burrell, headmaster of Truro School.”
What makes this noteworthy fifty years later is the words “and Truro Girls High School“.
Both schools are still in existence, both long established (nineteenth century) independent, fee-paying or private schools in Cornwall.
The time of the event is not surprising: 1971 was midway through the ‘first Wargames boom period’ from Featherstone’s War Games 1962 onwards with Airfix riding high: cue vintage wargaming sort of nostalgia.
A month or so later a further interview turns up in the West Briton, 20 December 1971: almost no mention of any girl gamers or female gamers.
Club spokeswoman sixth former Bob Aldridge on “Britain’s fastest growing hobby” West Briton, December 1971. (Bob Aldridge was still active on Facebook in the last few years.)
I can find no further trace of this Truro Wargames Society involving girls or female gamers.
As club members move on, it may not have lasted very long. Clubs schism over rules, scale and periods played.
A Fantasy and Wargames Society was announced in the same area in the 1983, according to the article, one particularly seeking female members to play Dungeons and Dragons.
Kevin Roke, organiser of a Fantasy and Wargames Society of Cornwall, (21 March 1983 West Briton) sought more members including women gamers. Keen to “attract some women, secretary Kevin Roke believes, the games being played have appeal not only for men.”
This type of press article is always fascinating, as bemused local journalists try to get their head round a quirky niche hobby and make it sound interesting to outsiders:
An Armageddon Club of gamers also met in the Truro area in the 1980s, maybe not the most sensitive of naming in the Nuclear 80s when the phrase The War Game in the British Newspaper Archive ironically throws up multiple 1980s listings of the local CND groups showing ‘The War Game’ film in village halls.
Another West Briton newspaper snippet about a new Wargames West society was announced at a local boys club in Truro in 1993 suggesting the other 1971 Society or 1980s ones were no more?
As mentioned, the Cornwall Wargames Association and other SW games societies still exist, with a few outposts of Games Workshop stores down West and a declining number of local model shops.
Maybe other readers know more?
There may be some veteran Truro High School for Girls female war gamers in their sixties and seventies out there with vague memories in 1971 of pushing lead and plastic figures around a table
but sadly I somehow doubt this …
Blog posted by Mark Man of TIN, down far West, 2 October 2021.
In several Harry Potter films, magical orphan schoolboy Harry is shown living under his aunt and uncle’s stairs, living on their charity and cast offs, playing with his Cousin Dudley’s cast off toy soldiers. These are all shown as broken and headless. Very symbolic …
Toy soldiers, wargames and chess sometimes appear in films, books and adverts as shorthand symbols for tactics, scheming and strategy (Bond Living Daylights film, Callan, The Crown.)
At the end of the first Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone book and film, there is a giant, living and deadly chess game that Harry and friends must play and win to solve their quest.
The headless toy soldiers from “The Cupboard Under The Stairs” also appear briefly in the part 1 of the film adaptation of the final lengthy tome Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. They are briefly glimpsed as symbols of his deprived childhood as Harry leaves the magical protection of his neglectful blood relatives the Dursleys and their house on Privet Drive for the final time when he comes of age.
They did not appear in the books, although in a short interview clip with screenwriter Steve Kloves, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling approved of the film’s visual shorthand and symbolism of the headless soldiers, the “broken army” of cast out, cast off figures:
Obviously the headless soldiers have a symbolic role, as toy soldiers in films usually have. They symbolise his abused, second class, neglected, cast-off status as an unwanted, unloved orphan child.
Symbolic headless soldiers – Maybe Harry Potter is both a helpless pawn or a increasingly clever game player in the quests and riddles that run through the Harry Potter books?
The Harry Potter fandom site suggests: “It’s not known if these toy soldiers were a cheap birthday present for Harry on one of his birthdays or if they were inherited toys from his cousin Dudley that he most likely no longer wanted.
It is not very easy from these screen shots to recognise which original figures they were, ones that the props department found headless or beheaded as props?
Anyone recognise the originals or makers of these figures?
Maybe a good Halloween fantasy scenario (Pauline Clarke, Twelves and the Genii or Return of the Twelves style) where the headless figures must seek out their heads or the headless soldiers are some zombie automata …
I enjoyed reading the Harry Potter books, and later watching the Potter films, partly for their punning wordplay and also for their look, both the CGI fantasy of Diagon Alley and increasingly grungy, gritty look as the real world and the magical world collide.
Some more colourful Jacklex 20mm Mexican Infantry 1910-1920 almost done on the painting table. Only a face wash and a tidy-up left to do before varnishing. These will probably be shiny gloss varnished to match the gloss acrylic shirt colour.
The shiny inspiration for these were the first (4-5) and second rate (6-7) colour schemes for the 54mm Britain’s Ltd. lead hollow-cast Mexican figures, pictured in Andrew Rose’s Toy Soldiers book, seen in my last Jacklex Mexican post.
Keeping the paint scheme simple in a Britain’s kind of way meant that the bold colours sing out and give me painting joy, the Carmine Red scarf on the glossy Light Blue jacket and matt Sand sombreros (Revell Acrylic Aquacolor range).
I also like the simple chrome green or sap-green Britain’s type base colour in place of my first attempt with the logical desert Sand bases.
Still some more work dry-brushing and highlighting to do on these guns …
Painting notes for the future
Undercoat – brown craft Acrylic
Revell Aquacolor Acrylics
Flesh – Dark Earth matt
Hair – Teerschwarz – Tar Black Matt
Scarves or Neckerchiefs – Carmine Red Matt
Jackets – Light blue gloss, mud brown gloss or dark green matt
Face and hands – Citadel shade wash – Nuln Oil (Black)
I lack a desert background for North Afrika, Wild West and Mexico, so improvised in a simple Featherstone kind of manner. A J G desert background is on order for future shoots.
Add in a train track and whole new scenarios present themselves …
That’s all folks!
Blog posted by Mark Man of TIN / Hombre de HOJOLATA, 16 September 2021
Over the last weekend or two I have been painting a strange mixture of metal 20mm figures in my collection, as varied as 1940s Boy Scouts and Girl Guides from Sergeants Mess, some more colourful 1910-20 Mexican Infantry from Jacklex and these Early War Miniatures 1940 Danish Infantry, along with their Dutch equivalent.
One of the best films or programmes that I have seen in the last couple of years that isn’t weird sci-fi (Star Wars / Stranger Things / X-Files) is 9.April, the Danish film about the first few hours of Blitzkrieg as German forces cross the border of Denmark on 9 April 1940.
This tense drama focuses on the fate of a small handful of conflicting characters (including some usual war film stereotypes) in a platoon of bicycle mounted troops desperately to hold off the motorised columns of the German Army until reinforcements arrive.
EWM Danish 1940 Infantry with rifle and grenade
The film has that ‘against the odds’ feel of a western with an outnumbered and outgunned retreating outpost of troops with little chance of the cavalry arriving. The cinematography and its eerie soundtrack captures well the chaos and confusion of the short lived resistance.
Anyway, film club over …
I have posted about the 9.April film before in 2020:
I don’t intend gaming the historical scenarios from Denmark or the Netherlands in 1940.
Instead I will be recreating those insteresting small scale infantry skirmishes in the forests, heaths and border villages of a small Scandinavian ImagiNations setting called Svenmarck. The kind of small country like Leichtenstein that you go through to reach somewhere else. Further north in Nordweg, it’s a bit more snowy forests with beautiful Fjords. It all exists somewhere on or in my ImagiNations map, probably near Tradgardland from Alan Gruber’s blog Duchy of Tradgardland.
No doubt an ImagiNations equivalent or renaming of Nazi Germany will be required, such as Großreich or GrosReich. All ethical issues about gaming the modern period swept aside, then …
***** Update ***** see blog comments below for brief outline of the political and military geography of Tradgardland and Svenmarck and surroundings *****
It was from Alan Gruber and also from Bob Cordery of Wargaming Miscellany that I first heard of this film. Alan has converted some 54mm figures with the help of Danish helmets from the late Les White. Alan’s conversions here show the mix of traditional old black, grey and newer khaki greatcoats in 1940 that Danish troops wore, many of the updated newer khaki uniforms still in store and unissued:
Uniform References / Painting Guide
Preben Kannik, Military Uniforms of the World in Colour (Blandford)
*** EWM Dutch or Netherlands 1940 Infantry are next on the painting table. ***
Painting took longer than expected on these figures as I undercoated using a bulk craft acrylic Mars Black that dries shiny rather than matt, leading it to look in some awkward areas like unpainted shiny metal even after I thought I had first finished painting. This showed up in nooks and crannies in photos, after I had already once overcoated the black greatcoats with Revell Aquacolor Acrylic Teerschwarz / Matt Tar Black. A second overcoat of tar black and targeted infill was required.
Unlike the bicycle troops of the 9.April film, there are forstærkninger or reinforcements on the way. More EWM troops from the Danish, Dutch, Norwegian (and Mexican!) range have been ordered from Paul Thompson at EWM for the Christmas cupboard including Tankette Tuesday material and bicycle troops!
Like Annie at Bad Squiddo’s little extras on postal orders, there’s sometimes the odd complimentary surprise item from EWM as a thank you for ordering, such as resin items (from the EWM scenics range?) like the oil barrels and boxes seen in the photographs. Peter Laing used to do this with his 15mm ranges, such as a new sample figure from a new period, in his rapid post returns.
Good customer service touch, tempting your customers with new ranges of shiny figures …
Blog posted by Mark, Man of TIN, 12 September 2021
B.P.S Blog Post Script
One of my blog readers left me a comment (thanks!) that others may also be interested in re. a free Memoir 44 scenario and hexmap for Denmark 1940 on Kaptain Kobold’s site Hordes of the Things site:
Well I missed Jack Alexander’s birthday in one way (he turned 92 on 22 August just over a week ago) but in other ways, he was much remembered on my painting table at the time.
Belated – Happy Birthday Jack – from the many gamers who enjoy your figures.
The first dozen of my 20mm Jacklex Mexicans, ones that arrived in their sawdust filled red box for a birthday or Christmas a year or so ago, have slowly been inching along the paint queue until being finished today (bar the toy soldier style gloss varnish).
So that’s my birthday parade for Jack Alexander their designer …
Jack Alexander was first introduced to wargaming and figure productions by reading Donald Featherstone’s 1962 book War Games, the same book that later inspired my first childhood ‘war games’ and continues to inspire my games today.
The figures were designed to be compatible with Airfix 20mm and fill gaps in the Airfix range.
The first Jacklex figures I ever saw would have been in the black and white photo pages of Featherstone books (probably the Colonials). They were fairly unobtainable at the time anyway, even if I could have afforded them on pocket money budget.
I liked the samples enough to buy the Mexicans in 2020 to put away as a birthday or Christmas 2020 present.
Airfix made Cowboys, Indians, Waggon Train, 7th Cavalry and ACW figures but never made Mexicans. The sombreros almost look like or could also pass as Tom Mix ten gallon high cowboy hats.
20 Jacklex 20mm Mexican infantry, with officer and standard bearers, 1 machine gun and crew, 1 artillery crew. The start of a small skirmish force against initially Airfix WW1 American Infantry and a few Jacklex American Infantry samples?
All are based on Penny MDF Warbases – but how to paint them?
A Colour Scheme for my Mexicans?
The Jacklex site has some good painted examples of the Mexican figures on its website, ranging from cowboy colourful to desert dusty grunge.
Arriba! Arriba! Desperados!
Who could forget the fabulous Timpo or Britain’s Deetail Mexicans of our childhood? Great and colourful characters including their leader, the central cartoon two gun ‘Yosemite Sam’ figure, suitably battle worn or play worn.
Some of my favourite Britain’s 54mm figures are the old hollow-cast Mexican infantry, produced from 1914 to 1941. For colour schemes, I found the Rurales (Pride of Mexico) figures pictured on the Archive of the Christie’s auction website
The Mexicans are also featured in James Opie’s The Great Book Of Britain’s (below). I like the colour scheme but find that the neckerchiefs will need to be simplified to a red neck cloth.
Andrew Rose’s Toy Soldiers book (below) mentions other paint schemes.
Second grade painting – Officer in green jacket, the men in blue or red jackets – useful future uniform colour scheme?
James Opie in his Britain’s Toy Soldiers 1893-1932 mentions that these are “one of Britain’s most sought after sets.”
I have only two such 54mm hollow-cast figures in my collection, both only part painted so possibly ones sold off as unpainted castings or since paint stripped and repainted? However one of these is in the unusual blue jacket colourings .
Putting these uniform ideas together and after consulting the trusty Ladybird Leaders: Soldiers, I decided to follow the attractive colour scheme used by Britain’s from 1914 to 1941. Grey trousers, brown jackets, red scarves or neckerchiefs, straw coloured sombrero.
More on Mexicans
Having already bought lots of his Mexican peasants, I am resisting the rest of the 54mm Mexicans range from Steve Weston on his Plastic Toy Soldiers website (or choppedmerc eBay sales site.)
I could of course paint the Jacklex Mexican figures in the white clothes of Mexicans seen in Hanna-Barbera Speedy Gonzalez cartoons (another influence from my childhood).
‘Mexicans’ tended to form the stereotypical or traditional bandit enemy in many western cowboy films, not surprising when most such movies are ‘Made in America‘ with its long history of border and territory disputes including the US Punitive Expedition to Mexico for which these Jacklex figure range was developed.
The Britain’s hollow-cast figures were produced by 1914, obviously picking up on the Mexican Revolution events from 1910 onwards.
These sombrero figures remind me of the opening section at the Campo Grande train station of sombrero wearing revolutionaries with sub machine guns in the ImagiNations Latin or Central American country of Parazuellia in the Morecambe and Wise 1960s comedy film The Magnificent Two, (also with its villainous President Diaz!) As seen in the YouTube Trailer https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=NXOJBc_i_GE
FMI – For My Information – (as source websites tend to vanish)
The Jacklex Story (edited from the Vintage Wargaming Figures Website)
An article in Meccano Magazine was the catalyst for the Jacklex range of 20mm figures.
In 1962 military-hobby enthusiast Jack Alexander, a local government work-study officer, was travelling up to London when a piece about Donald Featherstone’s new book “War Games” caught his eye. “I had a birthday coming up, “ he recalls, “And my wife and I were going to London to get me a present. So we got off the train and went straight up to Foyle’s and bought a copy of Don’s book”.
[Jack] Alexander was soon hooked. “The trouble was the period that interested me was the Franco-Prussian War and there were no figures for that, so I started to convert my own from Hinton Hunt and Rose”.
Eventually Alexander’s efforts caught the eye of Bill Pearce, who ran The Garrison model soldier shop in Harrow, Middlesex …
Pearce put Alexander’s first models, the British Colonial Infantry into production in the summer of 1968.
“One day I went in to see Bill,” Alexander says, “and he said, “Have you got any more of those Jacklex figures?” I said, “Who are Jacklex?” He said, “It’s you, you idiot, you’re Jacklex!”
After half-a-dozen or so years The Garrison closed down … From then on Jacklex figures were sold through Arthur Cross’s Harrow Model Shop …
While the American Civil War figures – deliberately made to tie in with Airfix ACW – were always the best-selling of the various Jacklex ranges (which also included Foreign Legion, The Great War and – a prize for the most unusual choice, surely- The Russo-Japanese War), it was the Colonial selection that increased most rapidly …
In the late-1980s The Harrow Model Shop ran into difficulties finding anyone to cast the figures, which were made using hand-poured drop-moulds, a time consuming process.
As the remaining miniatures were gradually sold Jacklex faded away.
In 1993-4 Jacklex’s ACW range briefly re-surfaced with an advert and mention in Practical Wargamer (It is believed they were being cast by PW’s editor Stuart Asquith, a friend of Jack Alexander). There was a promise of the whole range being made available once more, but things soon went quiet again. A few of the 1993 ACW figures are around. They are distinguishable from earlier castings by the thick bases and poorer quality.
Peter Johnstone in 2002 took on the Jacklex figures as part of the Spencer Smith Miniatures Range.
As mentioned, Peter Johnstone in 2002 took on the Jacklex figures as part of the Spencer Smith Miniatures Range, and he still has this succinct summary of the Jacklex range on his website:
“In 1962 Jack Alexander, a local government work study officer, was travelling up to London and reading an article in Meccano Magazine about Donald Featherstone. Since it was his birthday, his wife took him to Foyles and bought him Don’s book War Games. Jack was hooked, and after early efforts working on some Franco-Prussian War figures, and following an introduction to the Garrison model shop in Harrow, Jack brought some British Colonial Infantry onto the market in the summer of 1968.”
“But the real business took off with Jack’s American Civil War range, which was designed to complement the HO/OO (20mm) Airfix range at the time. This quickly increased to include WWI, Foreign Legion, Boer War and the Egyptian/Sudan campaigns. What was particulary interesting was the extensive range of equipment to go alongside the figures.”
“Jack’s figures were sold through the Harrow Model Shop from the late 70s to the late 80s and then they went off the market, but a chance conversation between Peter Johnstone and Jack in 2002 led to Spencer Smith Miniatures taking on the moulds and production, leaving Jack to enjoy his wargaming in retirement. Slowly but surely, Peter is converting the old hand-cast moulds to centrifugal ones and greatly improving the finished product to do justice to these lovely little perfectly-scaled figures. All the ACW range are now up and running on the new moulds.”
“Back in the 60s when I started wargaming 20mm was king, mainly due to AIRFIX plastic figures. For the first time there were full ranges in inexpensive plastic like the ACW boxes. I could buy infantry for both sides, cavalry, artillery and civilians (cowboys and settlers).
Pioneering metal sculptors were producing their own 20mm figures and one of these was Jack Alexander – JACKLEX. Jack was interested in the 19th century and decided to make his figures compatible with AIRFIX.
He modelled his 20mm figures on toy figures from his childhood made by BRITAINS.
These BRITAINS were real toy soldiers, stylised and with little detail. Jack’s figures were similar, and with minimal detail – if you wanted more detail you painted it on. Yet it was this very simplicity that gave them a charm of their own, a charm that has lasted from the sixties till today. Jack’s figures are still available and he is producing new figures for the wargames group he games with.
Back in the 60s Jack was asked for advice by Don Featherstone and features in one of his books. As well as figures he made artillery, wagons and various models. He continues to do so. When he wanted artillery pieces for his Russo Japanese series he sculptured a 15 spoke wheel and scratch built the guns.
In the 70s most manufacturers abandoned 20mm and enlarged their figures into 25mm, but Jack stayed true to 20mm. He expanded his figures to feature a huge colonial range which included British, Boers, Pathans, sailors and assorted equipment including an artillery train pulled by elephants. Don Featherstone had got him started on naval modelling and as well as 20mm Victorian sailors he has since produced junks, Korean turtle ships, Victorian gunboats and pirate ships.” (2015)
Pictured: Dazzle Camouflage recently applied at a west country / Southwest shipyard at Falmouth Docks 2021.
In the days of Radar, “Dazzle camouflage was phased out by the Royal Navy after 1945. Commander David Louis of the Overseas Patrol Squadron, said “Dazzle has much less military value in the 21st Century” but “it is very much more about supporting the unique identity of the squadron within the Royal Navy.” (BBC source above)
More BBC coverage of Dazzle Paint and its history
2014 Mersey Pilot Boat Edmund Gardiner repainted as an art event to mark the 1914-18 WW1 centenary
“A Venezuelan artist called Carlos Cruz-Diez designed its fancy new coat. He was commissioned by the Liverpool Biennial and 14-18 NOW – a pop-up arts outfit that is planning a series of commissions to mark the centenary of World War One … Carlos has turned the plain old Edmund Gardener into a “dazzle ship”: a piece of optical art intended to bemuse. The dazzle idea is not his, it was the brainchild of a rather conventional British marine artist called Norman Wilkinson (1878-1971).”
Quote from Dazzle Ships and the Art of Confusion, Will Gompertz BBC online 2014
BBC Teach piece on Norman Wilkinson and the WW1 origin of Dazzle Camouflage.