Close up you might notice a range of Army Blue troop types.
Above: The first two were once Britain’s Redcoat Guards marching with rifles at slope, followed by two Britain’s Redcoat Line infantry, a Fimo base repair to a damaged footless US Marines figure, (Home cast? type) Officer with pistol and one of my recent Home cast infantry.
From the back – The simple white belts, equipment and cross belts show up more than practical black and gives a proper toy soldier look.
Basing and Painting
A variety of basing can be seen, experimenting with bases for these soldiers to be part of future Close Little Wars skirmish games on the games table or in the summer garden.
Four of them are based on 2p coins, although I am still experimenting with the best adhesive. Wood Glue might not be strong enough. Whilst it was still wet and white, I mixed in some flock to see how this worked. Flock basing is not very traditional toy soldier but then the two pence bases are practical, suitably light but weighty enough, inexpensive and more importantly, to hand.
My fierce but motley playbashed bunch of Britain’s natives have been slowly collected together over several months from job-lot, damaged, scrap or for repair lead hollowcast figures bought mostly through EBay. Such damaged figures have little value to collectors. So it doesn’t really matter if I repaint or repurpose them.
I bought some Humbrol Gloss Brown Number 10 and used this only very briefly on a couple of figures before I got fed up of the fumes … not very family friendly! Next time I will paint with these enamel paints outdoors or with doors and all the windows open.
The end gloss results look promising already, even before gloss varnish, and suitably toy soldier like.
Shield designs aside, a suitable weapon such as a spear needs to be added to the hand. I have tried filing and adding a wire spear but on first attempt it did not stick.
These chunky Zulu figures are second grade Britain’s figures that were sold in A Series sets or singly. The fragile knobkerry on each of these figures is usually found broken, the original is shown in Andrew Rose’s excellent The Collector’s Guide to Toy Soldiers (Salamander 1985/97).
Andrew Rose’s book also shows various arm versions of the Britain’s classic running Zulus of Africa Set 147, 1906 to 1959 and another version of the set into the final Britain’s lead year of 1966.
Handy to see these more slender Zulu figures as shortly before Christmas I bought a Britain’s Zulus “jigsaw puzzle” in the form of a job-lot of bashed legs, bodies and bases. This should keep me busy fixing throughout the year. Recast Britain’s type arms with spears or even rifles from firms like Dorset Soldiers http://www.dorsetmodelsoldiers.com
Interestingly these loincloths on these jigsaw Zulus seem to have been painted by their owners in stripes and spots for a more tribal animal skin look.
Britain’s used to indicate ‘native’ or ‘non-uniform’ troops by using at random three basic colours of yellow, red and blue for clothing – “The loincloths were painted in three different colour schemes, as Britain’s always did for native troops or irregulars who might not be expected to wear uniform.” (Page 107, Britain’s Toy Soldiers 1893 -1932 by James Opie, published by Victor Gollancz, London, 1985)
Not sure whether to preserve (if I can) the strange ‘Black and White Minstrel’ style extraordinary face painting on some of these Britain’s Zulus.
Not sure yet what to do with the shield designs as I don’t really intend these to be Zulus, rather more Generican Natives or Ashantee tribes.
In the Bronte juvenilia of Glasstown and Angria, these tribes are the savage Ashantees.
The Bronte family juvenilia stories feature various tribal forces such as generic ‘Arabs’ or also Ashantee warriors, for their map of their Glasstown Confederacy and Angria ‘Imagi-Nations’ was based on West Africa, the natives based on early 19th Century journals and prints (pictured in the blogpost shown below)
The Ashantees are led against Angria by the fictional Quashia Quamina Kashna, son of the equally exotically named King Sai Too Too Quamina.
Quashia was adopted as a baby by the Bronte’s fictional Duke Of Wellington and a rivalry grows up between Quashia and his stepbrother Zamorna, Wellesley’s eldest son who becomes King Of Angria.
Quashia and several Western characters successively invade Angria including Branwell Bronte’s fictional alter ego ‘Northangerland’, Ardrah (who opposes the creation of Angria by Zamorna) and MacTerrorglen.
Confused? So am I, still slowly figuring out the complex and intricate Game of Thrones style cast of characters and events created over many years by the young Bronte sisters and their brother Branwell. If it proves too difficult to create scenarios, I may keep the places but fast forward the Bronte “Imagi-Nations” a few decades clear of the Bronte’s main fictional characters that populate their Gondal, Angria and Glasstown sagas.
Stranger than fiction?
This fictional story of Quashia is not that dissimilar to true stories of how native princes were assimilated, educated or westernised such as Alamayu, the son of Theodore, King of Abyssinia (buried in 1879 at Windsor Castle Chapel and commemorated on a plaque by Queen Victoria). Alamayu was captured in the Magdala Campaign of 1867-68.
The Magdala campaign in what is now modern day Ethiopia is described in fascinating detail in Ian Hernon’s Britain’s Forgotten Wars: Colonial Campaigns of the Nineteenth Century (Sutton, 2003), republished as a compilation of a trilogy of Hernon’s books. You may have also read this as the first part of the trilogy previously published by Ian Hernon as ‘Massacre and Retribution’ (Sutton, 1998).
So the Bronte juvenile stories, albeit fictional, are not much stranger than some real life Nineteenth Century events.
The Bronte family Gondal stories (devised by Emily and Anne) are based on North and South Pacific islands (mixed with a bit of Yorkshire for good measure!) so the islands of Gondal (North Pacific) and Gaaldine (South Pacific) no doubt have their own tribes.
Ashanti Chieftain c.1819 Wikipedia source
Ashanti warrior c. 1824 Wikipedia source
Illustrations from the Ashanti Empire Wikipedia entry show left an Ashanti warrior and right one with a simple musket and powder horn.
Plenty of scope for many interesting scenarios. That’s why I’m keeping the figures “Generic” rather than “Zulu”.
Still lots of lovely repair and repainting work to do … I will post photos of the finished results.
I came across this Edwardian / WW1 postcard by Underwood the photographers featuring some delightful and familiar toy soldiers.
These look like the Foot Guards, marching at slope, firing, drummer and officer, some of my favourite Britain’s toy soldiers manufactured from their early days in the late 1890s /1901 onwards (wearing gaiters) right through to the 1950s / 1960s but ones which are still in production from time to time today, date on their base 1990.
The boy and the toys give this a look of H.G. Wells’ 1913 book Little Wars, mixed with Edwardian children in woollen Jerseys such as Christopher Robin from Winnie The Pooh and other children from A.A. Milne poems illustrated by E.H. Sheperd.
The bearded old soldier has a military style greatcoat, a hint of a Chelsea pensioner, opposite this curly haired boy (or almost girl?) Maybe the postcard suggests he is not only reliving his past battles with the Britain’s toy soldiers and bell tents but looking at his once eager young self. This is a motif repeated in famous Victorian paintings like Millais’ The Boyhood of Raleigh:
You know how you buy something, start researching it and come up with some unrelated unusual stories?
This postcard led me to discover more about early stereoscopic photographers in America, Edwardian penny magazines and one of the BFI’s most wanted missing silent films by a pioneering British woman film director. A film which started a court case between one early female film critic and the female director about whether women could direct proper films or not …
The toy soldier postcard was given away free in 1d weekly magazines, so there must be quite a few of these cards around, posted and unposted.
It was given away in Smart Fiction magazine published weekly 1d by Shurey’s of London which was published or flourished between 1913 and 1924 before merging with Smart Novels. It published short stories by a range of authors: http://www.philsp.com/data/data433.html#SMARTFICTION
The Underwood photograph was also given away in the similar Yes or No magazine, published weekly by Harry Shurey of London from 1904 – 1922, interestingly entitled in a 1917 (sample copy online) edition “A favourite in the trenches”:
Short story magazines for the boredom of billet and trenches must have been a welcome distraction. Would the soldiers have been sent these magazines and postcards by their families or would they have been bought and posted home by the soldiers to their children?
The Shurey family and lost British films …
The Shurey family were an interesting or pioneering bunch from publisher father Harry, editor Charles through to Harry’s daughter the 1920s silent movie producer Dorothy / Dinah Shureyhttps://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dinah_Shurey.
On the BFI most wanted lost films, Dinah Shurey’s final film The Last Post 1929 (sound added 1930) has an intriguingly Underwood style photo of children dressed as ‘toy’ soldiers.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Soldier takes the blame when his Bolshevik brother shoots a soldier during the General Strike (which was in 1926). All for the love of the same woman … childhood sweethearts etc … you can read more of the plot at: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Last_Post_(film)
A collector I know of animal and zoo postcards named Alan Ashby, author of We Went to the Zoo Today: The Golden Age of Zoo Postcards, pointed out to me once that postcards with the space on the back to write your message were permissable only from 1902 onwards in the UK. Hence the reminder “This Space for Communication.” Before then the short message had to be written squeezed into the caption space on the front of a picture postcard. The back was all for the important business of the address and postage stamps.
The cost of a postcard postage and the stamp give some you a rough idea of date if no postmark date can be read – the 1/2d or halfpenny postage mentioned on this unposted card changed to 1d round about 1918 onwards. If this had been posted it would likely had a George V stamp from the WWI period.
Alan Ashby also pointed out that many early postcards were mounted in albums, rather than posted, as they were bought as souvenirs of a visit or collected for scrapbooks.
The Toy soldiers?
These look distinctively like early Britain’s figures and bell tents. These look like the Britain’s Foot Guards, marching at slope, firing, drummer and officer, manufactured from the late 1890s /1901 onwards (wearing gaiters) right through to the 1950s / 1960s. Some are still in production from time to time today, dated on their base 1990.
The Edwardian child in the postcard is not that different in appearance from the poorly child in an illustration of the Land Of Counterpane poem by Robert Louis Stevenson, illustrated here by US artist Jessie May Wilcox.
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.