This 30mm white plastic cake decoration guardsman was around when I was a child, whether I hope a left over ‘treasure’ from a family birthday cake or maybe just part of a random jumble sale bag.
I can’t recall his origin but this Drum Major was too big to fit with my other figures, so I kept him aside in my odds box.
The idea of a parade or band of these marching over a cake seemed highly appealing.
I always loved the decorated cakes on display in our local bakery window. Beyond the reach of most ordinary families in the 70s and 80s, who did you know who had a ‘boughten’ birthday cake from a shop? I recall staring for many years at the same pale green and white line iced football match cake with players and goals. Clever but by then very very stale!
It was also fascinating to rummage through the boxes and boxes of cake decorations in bakers or stationers, but they were pretty expensive for such cheap and badly painted plastic. Seemingly the boxes always seemed far too full of wedding cake figures or ballerinas, rather than useful, convertible figures for gaming.
Sadly I have yet to find an online museum of vintage cake decorations to find out more about this Guards Drum Major.
Fimo / Polymer Clay and Resin figures online now seem to have replaced these cake decoration selections in shops. Some of these offer creative possibilities!
The silicon cake decoration moulds around online now prove pretty handy for a range of gaming figures or tokens – from guardsmen to nativity shepherds and cowboys and Indians, lots of polymer clay and gaming play possibilities. If you like your figures on the cartoon, game token or ‘toy soldier’ side …
I only bought these four sample 15mm World War Two figures from Peter Laing back in the 1980s and now wish I had bought more.
Peter’s range was very limited, British and German infantry and some American infantry which I never bought.
These Peter Laing metal 15mm figures had to compete for my limited pocket money with the burgeoning and cheaper 20mm plastic figure scene (Matchbox, Esci, Atlantic, erratic Airfix) in the 1980s. I wish now that I had chosen differently, although my love of cheap plastic figures still extends to Vintage Airfix, Britain’s Deetail (not so cheap), Atlantic Wild West figures and pirated / pound store plastic warriors.
Luckily I am now collecting and painting my way towards Peter Laing WW2 infantry tiny skirmish games “at platoon level … To give a most satisfactory infantry action game” as Peter Laing describes it in his catalogue.
I have been lucky enough to spot some distinctive Peter Laing WW1 and WW2 figures in job lots of other 15mm figures recently.
As Peter Laing didn’t make vehicles for WW2, I intend using the troops as he intended “at Platoon level” wood field and forest bocage bolt action and bayonet game version on suitably cluttered terrain hex boards of my usual Little Close Wars games.
The bulk of the WW1 Peter Laing Germans in my collection are wearing Steel Helmets and carrying rifles, so will easily suit. A couple of Peter Laing WW1 maxim guns F746 and loader gunners F747 will pass muster for German Machine Gunners with Steel Helmets.
These rules for natives versus troops will require a little alteration to incorporate machine guns, light mortars, small field guns and motor cycles! No natives but plenty of awkward terrain and no vehicles. Still an infantry slog!
The various WW1, native and late Colonial figures I have would also make an interesting African campaign:
” Few collectors seem interested in World War 1 , although there is much of value to be found in the battles of 1914 and 1915, before the war bogged down in a mass of trench warfare – a fascinating little campaign can be made of the German East Africa fighting in which natives can be used.” Donald Featherstone, War Games (1962) , p. 20.
These figures came with a small online job-lot of what may be Peter Pig 15mm WW2 figures, some of which are similar in style and scale to Peter Laing figures. There are a number of peaked cap officers, some French resistance ladies and some paratroops with bikes to add some variety. It may be possible to mix a few of these in as needed with the Peter Laing figures. Peter Laing purists, look away now!
I even have a few surviving unmade card sheets of John Mitchell’s card buildings to make up to match Peter Laing’s catalogue suggestion that “these items can be used in conjunction with John Mitchell’s building sheets … to give a most satisfactory infantry action game.”
A lovely couple of posts on the Tims Tanks blog about meeting with Peter Laing and showing some of his WW1 / WW 2 range. I too found Peter Laing was always very helpful, encouraging and efficient dealing with young gamers with small pocket money orders by post. Often Peter included a free sample figure or two from his new ranges to offset breakages and postage costs – and no doubt to tempt more purchases. Smart marketing!
Note some interesting post blog comments (June 2016) that the elusive Peter Laing moulds may have turned up in the collections of the late John Mitchell with many Peter Laing figure fans interested in re-establishing these ranges. Me too!
This Father’s Day gift this year has a double significance.
My late father had a small and much loved collection of lead toy figures during the Second World War.
Somehow these figures did not survive the war, given up for the war effort or passed on to other children. I can’t recall how they vanished but I kept a look out for suitable lead toy soldiers for him as possible birthday presents.
My grandfather was a professional driver and later chauffeur and probably handyman / gardener to one of the directors of a prosperous southern English building firm. My grandfather was given some lead toys to pass on to his little boy such as a 1930s coronation coach that had carelessly been dropped by his employer’s children into the garden pond.
This driver grandfather went on to serve in the RAF, driving airfield vehicles such as petrol bowsers throughout the bombing of airfields during the Second World War.
My father as a wartime child in his Morrison shelter played with a plaster and lead barrage balloon toy, hoisting it up through the mesh sides. (William Britain’s made such a toy). He also had a small plane carved out of aircraft crash turret Perspex, long since lost.
I recall my father talking about a boxed set of Britain’s RAF firefighters that he was given amongst his lost legions, but never found such a replacement figure for him as a present.
The choice makes sense with his father’s RAF ground crew wartime experiences, who would have seen these RAF firefighters in their protective Asbestos Bestobell Suits.
Maybe these strange figures were all that was available when the supply of toys became scarce as companies including Britain’s turned their factories over to war production. I think he also had some Britain’s peaked cap khaki infantry firing.
Apparently this Britain’s Firefighters of the Royal Air Force set no. 1758 of 8 figures (or 2 in larger display set 2011) was only produced for a short while, introduced circa 1939 /1940 to 1941, which explains why it took too long to track one down.
I wonder if my interest in toy soldiers, replaced by plastic by the time I was born, came from my father’s lost legions?
Dad was always keen when I was small to join in toy figure games on the floor, garden or tabletop. Later he encouraged my collecting of yet more Airfix or other plastic figures with the gift of history, modelling or gaming magazines; I’m sure he enjoyed reading the history articles on the train home.
He had many stories to share from his National Service years in the British Army, which I will save for another figure and another blogpost.
That was the history of my family in toy soldiers part 1.
Great uniforms amongst enemy troops, but as a child I couldn’t work out why the Police in Tintin for example of what I took to be a supposedly British / English setting for Captain Haddock of Marlinspike Hall looked so odd.
Had Herge (I wondered as a child) never been to Britain? Slowly as I got older I realised that Herge was drawing mostly European / Belgian settings and that the books are translated all over the world.
This ‘Glocal’ World (both Global and Local) of Herge in translation has strange villains and fake euro Imagi-Nations such as Borduria in the Calculus Affair and the regime of the villainous Kurvi-Tasch with his strangely fascist moustache logo on his very Nazi looking generals, troops and 1950s looking tanks.
Even though Tintin goes back to the 1940s, to me his books are the ‘Funny Little Cold Wars’ of the 1950s and 1960s in graphic novel / comic strip version, akin in style and feel to the early 1960s James Bond movies with the suave and stylish Sean Connery and his menacing enemies.
A range of plastic Tintin figures / key ring figures is available online in various sizes.
Great inspiration for some enemy troops as shown with generic enemy “red troops” or “red guards” in my Back to Basics DIY figure making blogpost:
Making up your own enemies, uniforms and all isn’t that far from the truth.
The Milihistriot Website (c/o Sheil family USA website) has an interesting section with coloured plates of threat, enemy or “aggressor” troops with adapted uniforms from military exercises:
Green crested helmet enemy troops as just one example of some colourful training enemies from a 1964 MIlihistriot article soldiers of Never-Never Land by James Glazer, based on US troop manuals. These are archived at: http://www.thortrains.com/online/aggressor1.htm
Examples of 30-101 / these US troop manuals can be seen at:
These manuals have obviously inspired many of the imaginative paint finishes and uniforms on the Sheil range of vintage home cast Toy Soldier Art figures. More have been created on the same principle at their Spy Troops page: http://www.thortrains.com/online/spytroopies.htm
The Tintin / Calculus Affair Kurvi-Tasch troops also have a look of the strange Atlantic modern troop figures that occasionally and erratically appeared in shops in the 1980s, featuring an odd sort of Euro army appearance. They looked strangely foreign, even futuristic on occasion (not quite American, not British and not German). Only later did I discover that they are meant to be Italian / Euro troop types. Atlantic figures and their strange box art are well covered in the Airfix’s Competitors chapter of my much-thumbed copy of Airfix’s Little Soldiers by Jean Christophe Carbonel (Histoire & Collections publishers, 2009). Some of the Atlantic figures were recently reissued by NEXUS.
An attractive paint scheme (if poor face painting) for a Charbens G I American infantryman figure of hollow-cast lead.
This colour scheme would work well in gloss acrylic on pound store plastic figures.
This figure in my collection is one half of a stretcher party, Charbens figure set No. 210.
They are notedly similar in style and paintscheme to Timpo lead hollow-cast GI figures of the 1950s.
Some of the other Charbens GI figures in my collection appear to have been simply repainted (by their original owners?)
Made of hollow-cast lead, they have an animation to them that you could see followed through into plastic figures like Airfix, Timpo, Crescent and Lone Star / Harvey. The lack of bases to the kneeling figure or minimal bases on the Grenade Thrower are ways of saving expensive metal and similar in this way to the American ‘pod foot’ dime store figures.
Their modern plastic pound store warrior equivalents often have similar minimal plastic saving bases, making them cheap but annoying if they keep falling over!
These repainted figures with few colours are not unlike some of the postwar paint colour reductions by figure manufacturers. To keep production costs down, an increasingly smaller palette of colours was used by many figure manufacturers. Some figure painters were paid according to / by the number of colours per hundred figures completed.
Reference numbers are to the Charbens figure list in Norman Joplin’s The Great Book of Hollow-Cast Figures (New Cavendish, 1993/99) which shows this range on page 77 / plate 143.
All these figures are postwar hollowcast lead figures produced by Charbens (London, 1920-66) from 1945 to 1960s when lead figures were phased out in favour of plastic.
The Charbens name came from brothers Charles and Benjamin Reid who set up their own hollowcast business in the early 1920s, one of them having previously worked for William Britain.
What I like about gaming and toy soldiers are all the incidental things you learn.
Such “Hobby Learning” you might assume to be all about battles, weapons and suchlike.
“The pleasure does not begin and end with the actual playing of the war-game. There are many pleasant hours to be spent in making model soldiers, painting them, constructing terrain, carrying out research into battles, tactics and uniforms …”
Donald Featherstone, War Games 1962
However you find out a lot about many other subjects, including art and painters such as Andrew Wyeth.
I had only known of Andrew Wyeth (1917 – 2009) through his famous and much reproduced Americana painting Christina’s World.
However reading Richard Scholl’s Toy Soldiers book about the Malcolm Forbes Toy Soldier Collection (2004, Courage Books USA) I came across this delightful ‘Borrowers’ style tiny figures by a sunlit window frame sketch by Andrew Wyeth, a 1962 painting known as “The British at Brandywine.”
After Richard Scholl’s book I looked up “Andrew Wyeth” + “Toy Soldiers” or “Military Miniatures” and found an interesting YouTube video “Andrew Wyeth Military Figurines” (Lora Engelhart, 17 April 2012) about his dimestore / composition collection of American Toy Soldiers at his house / studio being curated and conserved.
I have a few of these interesting American and composition figures in my own collection.
There are lots of other YouTube interviews and features about Wyeth and his artistic family and landscape to follow up.
Wyeth’s world was the terrain of the American War of Independence and where the Battle of Brandywine Creek was fought. Hence the gift of the Revolutionary War soldiers being highly appropriate.
Andrew’s father N.C. Wyeth was a well known illustrator of books featuring historical topics. He was part of the Brandywine School of painting, an artist’s colony set up by American artist and illustrator Howard Pyle, famous for his pirate and battle paintings.
The Brandywine School was a style of illustration as well as an artists colony in Wilmington, Delaware and in Chadd’s Ford, Pennsylvania, near Brandywine River. Both were founded by American artist Howard Pyle (1853–1911) in the late 19th century. Many of these pictures were widely published in adventure novels, magazines, and romances in the early 1900s. http://www.rockwell-center.org/essays-illustration/the-nation-makers/
As well as N.C. Wyeth, one of the other pupils that Howard Pyle tutored was American illustrator Jessie Wilcox Smith. Wilcox painted this interesting illustration of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Land Of Counterpane poem, about which we will post a separate future blog post on gaming and toy soldiers in bed.
The things you learn … All good gaming inspiration.