I managed to finish my American Civil War skirmish today with my rebased vintage Airfix figures – The Battle of Pine Ridge River crossing – for a railway bridge over a rocky ravine cutting of the good old Hicksville River USA, sometime in 1862 whilst zouaves still had confusing uniforms.
These veteran troops have not fought a battle since the late 1980s. Game write up follows later this week.
I am this weekend I confess – Confused by Zouaves.
I have recently rebased and flocked some of my original 1970s and 1980s paintings of Airfix OO/HO American Civil War infantry, along with some other Airfix WW2 figure conversions to other troop types.
We had very few American Civil War Airfix OO/ HO troops, as they were a scarce set by the 1980s. Reinforcements were needed from unusual sources!
I have liked for a long time the Airfix WW2 OO/HO Japanese (and Russian) infantry for their slender build and possibilities for conversion to troops from other periods.
Sometimes I can tell looking back what (roughly) these reinforcement figures were supposed to be or were inspired by, helped by looking again at Kannik’s Military Uniforms of the World in Colour by Preben Kannik’s and the Blandford book Uniforms of The American Civil War by Philip Haythornwaite. Both books were sporadically available in our local branch library.
They were created or converted by repainting Airfix WW2 Japanese Infantry.
Wallace’s Zouaves featured in the few, the very few, ACW uniforms shown in Kannik’s Military Uniforms of the World in Colour, as well as Philip Haythornwaite’s more extensive ACW Uniform book (Plate 25). Text notes reveal the unusual career of Lew(is) Wallace, their commanding officer, who went on to write Ben Hur, amongst other things! https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lew_Wallace
But are these 1983 Airfix conversions really Wallace Zouaves?
I painted these grey coated Zouaves with a “first National Flag” of the Confederacy with the grey coated Zouaves, suggesting they may be instead Confederate McClellan’s Zouaves or Chichester Zouaves Cadets, both from Charlestown South Carolina.
Kannik notes that these “Union Grey” uniforms faded out quickly early in the American Civil War, no doubt to avoid confusion with such Confederate Grey or Zouave regiments.
No doubt also that many of these fine colourful uniforms would have quickly been adapted to the rigours of whatever could be found or repaired on campaign.
I am not entirely sure of all the intended regiments of the Zouave figure conversions 35 years on, even looking through the original uniform books I had available.
Why so many Zouave regiments? I wondered.
“In the United States, zouaves were brought to public attention by Elmer E. Ellsworth. Inspired by his French friend Charles De Villers, who had been a surgeon in the North African zouaves, he obtained a zouave drill manual. In 1859, Ellsworth took over a drill company and renamed them the “Zouave Cadets”. The drill company toured nationally, performing the light infantry drill of the north African zouaves with many theatrical additions. “Zouave” units were then raised on both sides of the American Civil War of 1861-5, including a regiment under Ellsworth’s command, the New York “Fire Zouaves” …”
None of the Airfix boxes with their uniform pictures had survived in my family by then, so further uniform notes could only be glimpsed in the pages of the old Airfix Catalogues or Military Modelling magazine and the eye-candy illustrations of Miniature Wargames.
Converting easily available first version WW2 British Commandos to Zouaves worked surprisingly well, on account of the puttees, soft caps, straps and spindly rifles.
The Zouaves with red caps and red trousers with white spats or puttees probably represent the Union’s 14th New York Volunteers (or 84th New York Infantry Regiment) known as the “Brooklyn Chasseurs”, pictured in Haythornwaite’s Uniforms of the American Civil War Plate 24a.
Equally they could be the red trousered, red capped 1st Battalion Louisiana Zouaves fighting for the Confederacy, shown on Plate 55. Confusing in battle!
You will also notice that the Louisiana Zouaves in the Kannik book look different to the Haythornwaite book – confusing for a young boy with his paints. I needed Confederates more than Union troops as I had few of the original Airfix Confederate Infantry.
Converting WW2 infantry into 19th Century troops?
Such strange figure conversions did not seem odd at the time in the early to late 1980s as these original ACW Or other Airfix historical figures were much sought after second hand. I remember a dealer called “Andy Peddle, Sunnymead …” regularly advertising in the small ads of Miniature Wargames each month for further stock of such loose figures. The price quoted by dealers alway seemed too high on my pocket money or paper round budget at the time – ” I will pay 3p per foot figure, 6p per cavalry figure, 12p per cannon, waggon or limber” advertised one Mr. S. Russel of Wingham. No doubt they were resold for more.
To give a comparison, in the same 1983 magazine (cover price 80p) the new Esci 1/72 figures were being advertised for a £1 per box of 50 Esci figures. Soon Esci would have their own range of ACW and Colonial or historic figures but too late for me. I was moving on to Peter Laing metal 15mm at 7p a foot figure.
In the absence of Airfix ACW, I generally made do with whatever bizarre tiny Atlantic Wild West packs turned up, sometimes cheaply in model shops like Beatties, although these seemed more like diorama sets than gaming figures. The Atlantic Wild West range provided a few scruffy Confederates and 7th cavalry on horses with bases unlike the irritating Airfix horses. I also painted up whatever American Civil War looking figures I could make from leftover WW2 infantry or Cowboys.
I was always puzzled that no flag or standard bearer figure was produced by Airfix with their ACW infantry sets but I checked here on Plastic Soldier Review and there is no sign of one:
Again in 2017, these Airfix ACW figures have disappeared and I don’t think that HAT did a reissue a few years ago. They don’t seem to have been in production since early 1980. No fort or playset reissue ever featured them. Some boxes and loose figures lurk on E-Bay and online shops, becoming increasingly pricy and, for the old 70s stock, increasingly brittle.
Will they ever be reissued again? The 150th anniversary of the American Civil War has now gone by.
Good to see on many people’s blogs that these charming ACW figures have retained their nostalgic appeal.
2017 – More reinforcements!
Recently a retired work colleague kindly gave me an old biscuit tin of 1970s Airfix figures, a jumble of loose figures and some on sprues, predominantly ACW and AWI figures with a few British Paras mixed in. A relic of his 1960s and 70s flirtation with wargames before American railroad modelling took over, I shall unpack this Airfix owl pellet in a future blogpost. There look to be some Confederates and ACW artillery lurking!
I also chanced upon two half price “Red boxes” of recently produced Airfix WW2 Japanese Infantry from a shop closing down its models section (mostly it was all Airfix USAAF aircrew boxes) so I should be able to produce some more reinforcements in the future. USCT US Coloured Troops are one thought, and finally some more unconfused Zouave regiments?
Zouaves troops also turn up in my Bronte gaming scenarios, based on troop descriptions in the Bronte family Angria and Glass Town scenarios – I’m sure all these vintage Airfix figures will find a role in these Imagi-Nations, just with a new standard bearer or two.
A second-hand find, this picture rich 2009 book by Bill Dunn is now out of print but was published by Lawrence King.com (a publisher of many fashion and textile books). It contains 294 pictures, 247 in colour.
Bill Dunn is a style editor, having worked on GQ, Esquire and LV magazines. As a result, he brings a different feel to this book than a military historian might. Full of uniform pictures, mostly in colour, Dunn uses familiar film stills as well as colour photos from all over the world to illustrate the very short essay at the start of each section. Overall , Dunn wants to know “why is it a good idea for people to look the same? Nothing sums up the power of the ‘We’ like a uniform.”
The book illustrates the role of uniforms for every job role from Hitler and The Pope and his Papal Swiss Guards to traffic wardens in Britain and Vietnam, from Boy Scouts to bunny girls, from fast food restaurants in the USA to policemen in Korea, from air hostesses to schoolchildren in Japan.
The book is interesting for the gamer or creator of Imagi-Nations uniforms.
One of my favourite ornate uniforms in the book is shown on the back cover – the mystery of who wears this smart get-up is revealed on page 78/79. They are Monaco police officers in their dress uniforms. Intriguingly, one of them has paratroop wings!
The captions are both informative and witty in places – the Carabinieri picture is captioned “Giant Italian Police (Carabinieri) in front of very small people in the Piazza del Duomo in Milan.” Pure Slinkachu or model village, this.
The Future section covers Astronauts to Science Fiction films and some bizarre past visions of the future.
Uniforms by Bill Dunn covers equally male and female uniforms, military, police and civilian. Ukrainian female paratroopers (women make up 10% of their armed forces) share the page with Indonesian women soldiers with sub machine guns trying to march on parade in absurdly tight skirts!
My other favourite elaborate Imagi-Nations uniform is the parade dress of male and female members of the Moroccan army, c. 2000.
This book sets up such smart military and police parade uniforms up against civialian uniforms of drum majorettes and cinema or hotel Commissionaires to show the similarities and differences. If you’re not in the military or public services, it’s not always called a uniform, it’s called “career apparel” (or workwear).
The chapter introductions are quite interesting. Uniform is something you (have to) wear to show belonging, sometimes to show Authority but paradoxically of also being under Authority – you have to wear what you’re told. It reminds me of many of my Dad’s stories about the importance of spotless kit, shiny boots, berets and shapeless uniforms to a National Serviceman, some of which I shared last month.
Uniforms by Bill Dunn is as interesting to flick through and dip into as Preben Kannik’s Military Uniforms of the World in Colour (Blandford, 1967/8). I am happily reminded of the section in Harry Pearson’s gaming memoir Achtung Schweinhund when he talks about endlessly poring through this library book trying to make lists of which is the coolest and most impressive, the worst or most curious uniform. I’m sure we all did this in our own ways. But that’s for another blogpost …
If you like uniform books or creating Imagi-Nations troops, Uniforms by Bill Dunn is well worth ordering online secondhand. It has some inserting points to make about the uniforms that many of us, military or civilian, choose or are forced to wear throughout life from childhood onwards.
One blog reader (thanks!) suggested looking at Flint and Feather rules by Crucible Crush in Canada written by Howard Whitehouse.
I recognised this name from reading a fun and crazy set of “Caveman” conflict rules written by one Howard “Ugga” Whitehouse in Miniature Wargames many years ago (early 2000s?), again also with a Scissors, Paper, Stone game mechanic. I am now casting up some Prince August cavemen this summer to finally try this out as a solo game.
This uses a ‘Rock/Paper/Scissors’ form of deciding how warriors attack and defend. It was available in beta version (free) and being playtested.
Players choose or use a deck of cards (at the back of the PDF rule book) to indicate which option below is selected.
“Key Characters – not only Great Warriors and Companions but Shamen and Healers – get to choose their maneuver, placing the card face down on the table but keeping it hidden until both sides reveal their maneuvers. Others choose cards randomly and reveal once both sides have placed their cards face down on the table. Obviously, “Huh!” is an accidental choice that only occurs only when the figure rolls, rather than chooses, an option.” Flint and Feather rules PDF
1) Swing: a good strong swipe at the foe. Often risky … (Flint and Feather goes on to suggest the ‘Best’ weapon for each manoeuvre).
2) Cut: a dependable attack, without much risk of disaster …
3) Lunge: a fierce thrust …
4) Bash: A Strong overhead blow …
5) Taunt: no armed attack at all, but a pithy insult to taunt the enemy …
6) Huh!: accidentally failing to make any attack, and possibly making a fool of yourself in the process. Not a deliberate choice …
The Defender has also six options – again, “Huh!” is an accidental choice.
1) Counter Blow: hitting the other fellow before he strikes you! Risky …
2) Leap Aside: dodge that blow and show off your agility …
3) Jump Back: see him swing at thin air …
4) Duck: Drop down! …
5) Parry: the safest way of fending off an assault, with shield or with weapon. It’s good to have a shield! …
6) Huh!: accidentally failing to offer any defense at all. Usually not a deliberate choice.
One aspect I like is that it shares some of the move words from Gerard De Gre’s Lunge, Cut and Stop Thrust duelling game.
Flint and Feather has a combat table that is similar in appearance but larger than to Gerard De Gre in Lunge, Cut and Stop Thrust
Surely if they have a HuH! move, that nobody would choose by choice, there should also be a clumsy “whoops-a-daisy” move.
I have changed this into a more Lunge, Cut and Stop Thrust type simple table.
Using The X cards used in Lunge, Cut and Stop Thrust game means that you can have a mixture of Both Hit, None Hit / Both Miss and random event cards such as the Whoops- a-Daisy falling over, ducking, run away, etc and whether a hit is landed or not on either player.
Numbering the Attack and Defence Options 1-6 means that a solo or two player version could be used, rolling dice to randomly select attack, defence or both moves , rather than relying on cards.
If Huh! got too annoying, another unused move type could be added in such as Thrust and the Hit on Attacker / Defender options rewritten for this line.
It remains to be seen how Taunt will work outside of the Flint and Feather rules context. It sounds much like “sledging” in modern sport, designed to put your opponent off their game. It usually ends up with attackers being hit!
Testing Out a Dice version
I ran a quick play test of the dice choice option using suitable lead figures on a paper sheet using red dice for attacker, green dice for defender. Dice were used instead of cards for selecting the attack and defence options.
Instead of 5 combat point counters, quick scrawled circles are crossed off as combat points are lost or one added if you win the contest and defeat your opponent.
Sparking of Scissors Paper Stone, after a big of scratching of heads, I finally worked out what the current freebie Sainsbury’s handout Lego cards are supposed to be, having spotted scissors paper stone logos on the cards. Good fun as a family card game, along with fast snap and dominoes if you look at the brick dots on the back etc. They were free with purchases at Sainsbury’s (May to early June 2017).
Stone blunts scissors, scissors cut paper, paper wraps stone …
I recall seeing the shapeless uniform and beret of a National Serviceman in the Duke of Cornwall Light Infantry Museum at Bodmin and on visits with my Dad to the National Army Museum in Chelsea.
Dad told me how itchy this battle dress was and how they used to soap the insides to reduce this itchiness. It’s true – having worn battle dress trousers for a re-enactment event a couple of years ago, scratchy they certainly are! Boots were softened and broken in by peeing in them, leaving it overnight. How fragrant they must have smelt.
My late Dad as a lowly private was pretty philosophical about his National Service, talking about it 25 to 30 years after the event. He understood that what they were doing by keeping you away from family, shouting at you, making you work or fail as a platoon, not wanting to be the weakest link etc. It was all about “breaking you down as a civilian” to build you up as a soldier who follows orders without question – he understood the cult psychology of training, which somehow made it easier.
One day he was up on a charge. His crime? Having his back pocket undone, whilst lying down on rifle firing practice at targets. Why? Next time, he was told, it could be an undischarged round in your rifle when cleaning. Attention to detail.
This photo from the IWM’s National Service collection reminds me of this training story and of my Herald British Infantry figures.
It’s odd how some of these wartime or army sayings make it into family life including from someone my family their WW2 maxim that “Time spent on Reconnaissance is rarely wasted” (or “seldom wasted”).
Dad told me lots of stories of his National Service Days, but sadly I can’t remember them all now, as he died almost 20 years ago. He never wrote them down or recorded them.
Stories of navigation training and map reading, involving an army lorry drop off in the middle of nowhere, tasked to find your way home using a compass and map. Who would be home first? He seemed to enjoy this as a bit of a country lark.
Stories of sleepwalking squaddies found by civil or military police wandering naked in the centre of Aldershot, having climbed over a barbed wire fence to get out of camp unobserved – the sentries on duty that evening got a rocket for that one.
Guarding the gatehouse and camp armoury against arms theft (by the 1950s IRA?) Cycling back from leave, Dad said that you could wake the sentries up by holding your bike pump out and rattling it along the camp railings so that it sounded like a machine gun. That put the wind up the sentries!
Being in a technical trade (REME), Dad reckoned he could still strip down and reassemble a Bren Gun with his eyes closed in a remarkably short time of a few minutes. One day in the mid 1990s I saw a Bren Gun still crated, greased but deactivated. I was tempted for a few moments to buy it as an unusual retirement present. Similarly he could rattle off his National Service number many years later.
Wise words from my Dad’s National Service days
Wearing boots all the time will apparently give you weak ankles.
“Get a trade or a certificate so you have something to fall back on”, said this former REME Craftsman.
He seemed to spend a lot of his National Service time fixing the electrics of tanks and lorries – it made him very practical around the house, competent with tools and DIY, something that didn’t get passed on to his cack-handed son. He was also pretty keen if any of were thinking of joining the forces to make sure we got a trade certificate for civilian life so we had something to help us bridge life into civilian work. This was probably from his experience of his working generation of former WW2 and National Service conscripts.
As my Dad was called up in the last few years of National Service in Britain and he said that they didn’t really know what to do with them all. He spent as a result a lot of time (once technically proficient at his trade) cycle racing for the British Army and doing the Isle of Man cycle TT, training and racing to the point of boredom for his former much-loved sport. Moral of this lesson, he said: “Never make you hobby your job!”
The endless 1970s sitcoms reliving the war from Dad’s Army to It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, along with National Service RAF comedy Get Some In!, all of these brought back his National Service memories. The early Carry On Sergeant film (1958) and Private’s Progress (1956) also brought back similar memories to be shared.
The youngest photo I have of my Dad is his REME platoon passing out photo, signed by all on the back, along with his discharge papers releasing him as a National Service / Territorial Army Reservist a year or two after his National Service ended.
There are many other interesting books about National Service including:
Brasso, Blanco and Bull by Tony Thorne
730 Days Until Demob! National Service and the Post-1945 British Army by Keith Miller, 2003 (which accompanied the National Army Museum exhibition?)
Shire Books short histories: National Service by Peter Doyle and Paul Evans.
Bring Back National Service?
I have met many older work colleagues about whom you could sometimes tell that they had done their National Service in the 1950s and 1960s. Others you would never have guessed that they once passed muster and the scrutiny of a drill sergeant.
Some told you about it; some indeed thought me a bit scruffy and that I could be much improved by a spell of National Service or time at Sandhurst to smarten both me and my ideas up.
Some had had National Service colleagues injured or killed during overseas National Service. 395 National Servicemen were killed between 1945 and 1963 on active service.
Stranger still, some of my overseas student colleagues during my college days many years later were only a year or two older than me but had done national service and active service in their home countries ranging from the Middle East to southern Africa. They didn’t talk much about it. They were generally happy it was over.
“Demob happy” is still a National Service phrase that gets used 50 / 60 years later by many at work about holiday leave or moving on to a new job. Likewise “Demob Suit” for something a little garish or very old fashioned or “Civvies” as well for your non-work clothes.
In a future part of this National Service Remembered blog post, I’ll show some of the Herald figures that Dad and I used in our under the table floor wars or gardens wars (based on other postwar National Service era 1950s troops).
Many of these Herald figures look posed just like the photos from a 1955 British Army infantry training manual that I have, which no doubt formed the content of my Dad’s rifle training.
Then there’s the story of the sadness or joy of a closing suburban toy shop in the Eighties to boost my childhood Herald plastic soldier armed forces …
Happy Father’s Day!
When the Falklands were invaded, my Dad jumped out of bed convinced like much of the Nation that these Islands were somewhere off the coast of Scotland and probably wondering not only why Argentina was invading Northern Scotland but also if 20 years on he would be recalled as a Reservist for Home Defence. Now where’s that National Service / Territorial Army Discharge Certificate …
Posted by Mr MIN, Man of TIN, on Father’s Day, June 18th 2017.
More lovely Plastic pound store inspiration or more seaside plastic tat?
A useful collection of Combat Mission 80 Soldiers plastic Airfix copies per bag, some now so long copied, cloned, shrunken and ‘degraded’ that they have acquired a slender toy soldier charm of their own.
Crossposted from my sister blog Pound Store Plastic Warriors – Little Wars on a Budget.