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.
Trying to find interesting 54mm civilian figures is always a challenge. Apart from an unusual set ordered online from China, it usually involves looking out for figures with playsets or vehicles.
An expensive way to acquire a few figures!
Parading Through The Zoo
It was always frustrating as a child to have a zoo or farm or a parade set out but no visitors to watch; it usually resulted in lots of troops endlessly parading with their bands through the model zoo (H.G. Wells Floor Games style) along with assorted military staff feeding the animals, selling tickets etc.
Zoo animals were an important and long running part of any lead or plastic figure series, from Britain’s onwards.
To be fair, military bands and other forms of entertainment and display from balloon rides and fetes to fireworks to lifeboat launches were not unknown in the Victorian zoo such as Bristol Zoo. A bandstand was an everyday part of parks, seaside promenades, botanic gardens and often zoos.
This carried right through at Manchester’s Belle Vue Zoo from Victorian times into the 1950s, they staged elaborate military and historical tableaux through both world wars with a local cast of hundreds. Their theatrical stock of obsolete muskets were borrowed by the early Home Guard units locally in 1940.
Today, Edinburgh Zoo has a penguin called Nils Olaf “commissioned” into the Norwegian Royal Guard and occasionally visited and paraded by his fellow (human) comrades in their magnificent full dress uniform.
The Zoo and Wartime Morale
I have 1939 ‘propaganda’ press pictures of servicemen enjoying elephant rides at Belle Vue Zoo Manchester. This was sort of true of many British Zoos in wartime – there were special rates for servicemen (and lady friends) in uniform, entertainments in WW1 for injured servicemen.
In the first few weeks of being closed to the public on ARP grounds in September 1939, London Zoo made arrangements for servicemen to walk round for the animals to look at. ‘The Zoo’ also made their canteen over to the RAF as the big houses around became RAF Regent’s Park full of training aircrew.
Britain’s and other lead toy soldier manufacturers made plenty of civilians and farm workers in the more pacifist aftermath of WW1. Plastic manufacturers haven’t widely followed suit and painted railway figures in this 54mm /1:32 scale are often quite expensive.
Failing the mounting of a full scale military parade through your zoo, Wild West town etc. all day and everyday, some normal civilians are useful for floor games, sandpit games or wargames.
F.E. Perry in his quirky First Book of War Games and Second Book of War Games often featured civilian or town settings alongside his wargames scenario / photographs.
These feature sets came from a zoo gift shop with two zebra striped jeeps handy for conversion, some brilliant wooden watch towers and rope ways (of which more anon), a couple of odd sized animals and these interesting modern civilians. Similar figures are made for dinosaur playsets.
Something similar to the girl child in the photos has recently been repainted and reused in a Slinkachu type way on the front cover of an art photography book about the recent group of artists / photographers playing with scale for satiric, unsettling or comic effect.
Microworlds contains some slightly disturbing dystopian or to some tasteless items from a range of photographers.
More plastics including civilians are featured on my Pound Store Plastic Warriors sister blogsite –
Police and firefighters are now available sometimes in pound store tubes, suitable for conversion.
Back in the 1980s there were Britain’s Deetail nurses, doctors and construction workers, not forgetting the Britain’s farm workers ranging from lead to Herald plastic and a modern farm worker range still around in toy shops or online today.
In future blogposts I will feature more civilian figures to be used for game scenarios from the Chinese made sets available online to the useful USA manufactured Toob “heritage” plastic figures roughly in 54mm, also purchased online.
Steve Weston’s Plastic Warrior website also feature an excellent set of Mexican Wild West civilians or peasants.
A Very Happy Christmas to all my readers, gamers and blog friends.
Gaming to me has always been a little bit like The Nutcracker story.
There seem to be lots of Nutcracker Soldiers around as a Christmas decoration theme this year.
I’m not very knowledgeable about ballet, nevertheless the idea of toys coming to life (at midnight naturally) has long had an appeal to me and many other children and adults.
The fact (or facet of the imagination) that some toys are likely to be bad, jealous, malevolent makes for a more interesting story, just as in the Steadfast Toy Soldier. An instant Enemy! Instant villains, instant bad guys.
The Nutcracker features the basics of narrative and gaming – good and bad, overcoming evil. Colourful uniforms, childlike toys. Return to the nursery etc. and the basic plot of Toy Story.
1,2,3, 4 – I declare a Toy War!
I like the creative tangents and incidental hobby learning stuff whilst surfing the Internet – all more inspiration for gaming scenarios, historical background and uniform paint schemes.
There are stacks of Pinterest and Wikimedia images of The Nutcracker, the toy soldiers and other characters. Well worth a search through for some bling uniform Imagi-Nations inspiration.
The Tchaikovsky ballet, once of the Tzarist Russian era, is now an American snowy Christmas classic with many adaptations from Duke Ellington jazz to cartoons.
Hoffman was an interesting Prussian character and story teller living in the upheaval of Napoleonic Europe, writing in the Romantic or Gothic vein of the Bronte sisters but with the folk tale influence of Hans Christian Andersen. Andersen also wrote and lived during wartime, namely the Danish wars of 1864 and the mid 19th Century. He is quoted in the book that inspired the Danish TV series 1864.
The idea of Nutcracker toy soldiers defeating the evil mouse king and his troops throws up some interesting fantastic / fantasy gaming scenarios.
Silvered metal finish inexpensive Nutcracker charm Soldiers are available as charms or pendants in batches on EBay or Etsy. Silicone food moulds of The Nutcracker are also available for Fimo toy soldier production.
A seven-headed mouse king, now there would be a figure …
The Nutcracker Plot or Storyline
The grandfather clock begins to chime … Mice begin to come out from beneath the floor boards, including the seven-headed Mouse King.
The dolls in the toy cabinet come alive and begin to move, the nutcracker taking command and leading them into battle after putting Marie’s ribbon on as a token.
The battle goes to the dolls at first, but they are eventually overwhelmed by the mice.
Marie, seeing the nutcracker about to be taken prisoner, takes off her slipper and throws it at the Mouse King, then faints into the toy cabinet’s glass door, cutting her arm badly.
(Plot summary, Hoffmann’s Nutcracker story – Wikipedia)
Slipper artillery, now there’s another thing …
Check out Youtubè sections ballet or cartoon versions (about 25-30mins in) of The Nutcracker’s ‘battle with the mice’ and you’ll variously see innovative cheese artillery, mousetraps, Christmas present terrain or scenery, toy forts, cavalry, cannons, the lot, performed by dance companies big and small all over the world. Tchaikovsky’s music here reminds me greatly of his martial 1812 Overture, beloved of many wargamers.
Another writer famously inspired by toys was Robert Louis Stevenson. In turn, early wargamer Stevenson’s works like Treasure Island will surely have inspired many pirate games.
“The Land Of Counterpane” from Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses (1885) is a poem I have enjoyed since I was a small child, because it chimed with my own happy memories and experiences of bedtime and playing with toy soldiers.
It reads as if this poem child, this I Of the poem, really was Stevenson who lived and then relived this Land of Counterpane situation through verse, as he was at times a sickly bed-bound child; A Child’s Garden of Verses is dedicated to his nurse or nanny Alison Cunningham.
Something to save for another blogpost but several other verses in his classic book of poems are about toy soldiers (‘The Dumb Soldier’ and ‘Historical Associations’, both precursors of garden Wargames) or ‘Block City’, which seems an early wooden precursor of Minecraft.
Some of his lead toy soldiers appear to have survived in this RLS museum collection in America and are pictured by Nancy Horan on Pinterest:
Just tracking the many illustrations of this poem online is an interesting web browsing activity, easy to do on picture sites like Pinterest.
When I was sick and lay a-bed,
I had two pillows at my head,
And all my toys beside me lay,
To keep me happy all the day.
And sometimes for an hour or so
I watched my leaden soldiers go,
With different uniforms and drills,
Among the bed-clothes, through the hills;
And sometimes sent my ships in fleets
All up and down among the sheets;
Or brought my trees and houses out,
And planted cities all about.
I was the giant great and still
That sits upon the pillow-hill,
And sees before him, dale and plain,
The pleasant land of counterpane.
In this book of poems, there are some interesting ideas of scale, scenarios and temporary miniature worlds that are explored playfully and humorously as proper ‘Art’ and ‘Photography’ by artists today such as Slinkachu. http://www.slinkachu.com
Lots of ideas to explore or return to over the coming months and years!
On Pinterest you can find several illustrated versions of The Land of Counterpane poem by different illustrators including the famous one by Jessie Willcox Smith in the USA.
A patterned bedspread or counterpane is obviously an early version of a grid square or grid hex wargame, or any early improvised version of what today we would call or buy as an wargames terrain mat.
Hexscapism and War Gaming in Bed
Donald Featherstone in his Solo Wargames book mentioned in a chapter on “Wargaming In Bed” exploring the apparent possibilities of lying in bed as wargames terrain
“At first glance beds , with their blanket-covered hummocks, hills and valleys, might seem pretty reasonable places upon which to fight a wargame, but experiment soon proves that this is not so. In the first place, the figures will not stand up and even the most judicious positioning of the legs under the bedclothes so as to make the hills less steep will eventually be defeated by cramp if nothing else …”
This excerpt is from Chapter 20, “Wargaming in Bed” in Solo Wargamingby Donald Featherstone (1973 /2009 reprint p. 139), an excellent chapter full of suitably simple rules for skirmishes with jousting knights or duellists.
After all, the easiest wargames terrain is a cloth draped over hills made of books, again if only you can manage to get your figures to stand up on it.
Using Hex boards it should be possible to recreate the 3D terrain of legs, knees and bumps(adaisies) to recreate those Counterpane type battles.
When I get sufficient spare Heroscape hexes and cover these with offcuts of patterned fabric, I hope to build a ‘Land of Counterpane’ type terrain with those suitable tiny German wooden toy buildings and trees, beloved of ‘old school’ and grid wargamers.
On this patchwork grid or ‘counterpane’ terrain I should be able to play out further Toysian / Wellsian adventures using my version of Donald Featherstone’s Close Wars simple two page appendix rules, a bash about mash up of rule versions I have called Close Little Wars.
On a vintage gaming site recently was a clever reprint of an article on how to convert your bed into the footings of a wargames table (and still sort of sleep in it). Brilliant – but I can’t find the link at the moment.
Redesigning the Counterpane bed for more gaming value
Alternatively, bed manufacturers could embrace the wooden shapes of the bed into suitable features for imaginative play for the child and young at heart! Imaginative Counterpane redesigns include:
More interesting blogposts from the web on Robert Louis Stevenson and toy soldiers:
An interesting toy soldier scrap to add to my scrapbook collection, dated roughly to 1919 / 1920 from the news items on the back.
Toys from the Scrap-heap
A discharged soldier of Deptford turns his ingenious hand to making toys from margarine boxes and various odds and ends , such as knitting needles.
It is an attractive castle that I’m sure any boy would be delighted to receive as a present. Lots of levels, bristling with field guns with a good parade space in front.
It has an unusual bridge style drawbridge, a full parade of toy soldiers and a tiny glimpse of (handmade?) toy battleships.
Rough photos of this clipping don’t show much detail, I shall try to scan it in more pixelated detail when next possible.
I wonder if the double or modern meaning of being on the employment scrap heap as an injured veteran facing the economic troubles and postwar crash of the 1920s and 1930s had quite happened yet. The photograph caption instead seems to applaud this discharged serviceman’s quiet determination to make something from nothing, of skill and industry well applied, as something to be proud of.
The unnamed Deptford soldier appears to be wearing on his lapel a regimental metal badge or possibly the silver badge issued to discharged or invalided soldiers.
Hopefully he found some therapy and income from his talents, as well as cheering many young children.
In the 1920s it is often said that toy soldier companies developed more ‘pacifist’, civilian or non-military ranges such as the Home Farm, railway figures, gardens and others. This change and these ranges are excellently covered in Norman Joplin’s brilliantly comprehensive The Great Book Of Hollow-Cast Figures (New Cavendish, 1993/99).
Toy Workshops for disabled and discharged war veterans
The same Joplin book features amongst the many manufacturers, an intriguing advert and some toy soldiers from Lord Roberts and Lord Kitchener’s Workshop for injured soldiers, painting toy soldier castings from various manufacturers c. 1916
Well worth tracking down a copy of this well illustrated Joplin book.
After the First World War there must have been thousands of such injured veterans, competing for work during the difficult economic times of the 1920s and 1930s. Dolls houses, furniture and board games like Bombardo were made postwar alongside the wartime painting of toy soldiers.
The following websites cover more about the Lord Roberts Memorial Workshop:
The writer is none other than George R. R. Martin, who wrote the Game Of Thrones series of books (which I have not seen or read yet). George collects toy lead and plastic knights and has had problems with lead rot.
“I have been known to paint a few figures from time to time, usually while “watching” television. (It’s odd how many TV shows don’t need to be seen to be understood). My skills are no match for any of the other painters whose figures are shown here, but I enjoy it … The marvelously detailed pewter castings (by Eduard Kasintzev of the Ukraine) surely deserved better paintwork than I was capable of giving them… but I am a lot better than I used to be, for what it’s worth.”