When the British Army came into existence after the Act of Union in 1707 there were no Highland regiments, and the first was not to appear until 1739 - a regiment that became the famous Black Watch. In March 2006 the last Highland regiments ceased to exist. In the intervening period the Highlanders earned for themselves a reputation as extremely tough soldiers, and they participated in many of the colonial conflicts that marked the rise and fall of the British Empire. Our first duty therefore is to attempt to date the figures in this set, for the title is more than a little vague.
A good starting point when dating regular infantry is to look at their belts and equipment. In this set only one man is in full marching order - appropriately enough, the marching figure. He is wearing full 1871 valise type kit with the valise below the waist, which immediately gives us a date to work with, although it took several years for the older kit to be replaced throughout the Empire. Missing is the ball bag, the extra ammunition pouch that was worn under the right ammunition pouch when in full marching order. The rest of the men have a much lighter burden, as you might expect when actually in combat. They all wear a haversack (supported over the right shoulder) and a canteen (supported over the left). Their waistbelts support the standard two ammunition pouches at the front, but they have no braces. At the back there is another large rectangular ammunition pouch which is supported on the waist belt. This is not part of the 1871 kit, and while the ball bag should be worn here when the valise is missing this model is clearly not the ball bag but a rather earlier type of pouch. While such an item appears in many illustrations it is always carried over the shoulder, as had been done since the days of Wellington, so this item is a mistake. Furthermore its place should have been taken by the kidney-shaped mess tin that is missing here. Finally no one has a bayonet scabbard, even though most have a bayonet currently fixed.
Where visible these figures appear to wear a fairly standard tunic with the front corners rounded to allow for the sporran. Such a garment was introduced in 1873 for hot weather, which further pinpoints the dating. Prior to that date Highland regiments wore the single-breasted doublet, with its very distinctive skirts. Some of the figures have obscured the skirts with equipment so could pass for wearing the doublet, but clearly this was not the intention. However whichever garment is desired they both had elaborate cuffs whereas no one in this set has any cuffs at all.
Naturally the most obvious item of clothing for these soldiers was the kilt. Here it has been well done, with a good length to the knee and the correct pleating at the rear. All the men also wear a sporran, and while different regiments had different designs those here are perfectly authentic. The men correctly wear shoes and spats but the sculptor has made the tops of the hose very thick, making them look more like turned down ski socks. As is often the case, the box illustration shows how it should have been done.
Finally we skip effortlessly from the legs to the head, for all these men wear the foreign service helmet that was introduced in the 1870s. In this case they all have a puggaree wrapped round the crown, which was a practice approved for India, Ceylon, Hong Kong and the Straits Settlements but not permitted in other parts of the Empire. However this arrangement was also sometimes seen in actions outside the Empire such as Egypt, the Sudan and Afghanistan.
The sculpting of these figures is quite pleasing, with pretty good proportions and fair detail (ignoring the cuffs issue for now). Faces are pretty good although rifles have a minimum of features which makes precise identification difficult, although they look to be the Martini-Henry, in use from the 1870s. Not the most beautiful sculpting ever but perfectly adequate for most tastes. Much the same is true of the poses, with all of them being appropriate and well chosen. The piper is something of an inevitability in Highland sets it seems, and you could argue that a set with only eight poses cannot afford such a figure, but few are likely to complain so nor do we. We particularly liked the marching man, who has his head down and really looks like he is on a long hot march rather than on a parade ground.
Kilted regiments naturally stood out from the rest of the infantry and were a popular choice for Victorian engravers and illustrators. For the same reason they tend to be popular with modellers and colonial wars enthusiasts today. This set provides this attractive element for the first time in this hobby, and could see service in many smaller wars of the late 19th century.