The square was the classic response by infantry to the danger of attack by cavalry, and for the most part a well-formed square was almost invulnerable to them, although it could suffer greatly if the cavalry retired and enemy artillery opened up on the concentrated mass of men. Waterloo is a battle remembered more for cavalry charging around squares of Allied infantry than for anything else, yet for the kilted regiments under Wellington the hardest fighting was to be had at Quatre Bras two days earlier, and particularly at one moment when French cavalry surprised the 42nd as they were in the process of forming square. Some horsemen got amongst the soldiers before the square was complete, and it was a hard and bloody fight before they were despatched and the square was made whole. Once formed however there was little a horseman could do against a square except attempt to do some slight damage with sword or lance, or fire his pistol at it, all the time receiving musketry from the foot soldiers.
Ideally a square would be formed of four ranks on each side, the front rank kneeling pointing the bayonet at chest height for the horses while the rest fired or added to the hedge of bayonets. We have three poses for the front rank (our third image), and for men firing we could look to the recent set of Highlanders Firing Line from Strelets. Here the standing men are mostly engaged in fending off their attackers with the bayonet. Those that are just showing the cold steel work well, and we thought those were really great poses. Some however are apparently more actively engaged in thrusting their bayonet forward, and those we found harder to accept. To begin with, the distance between such a man and any mounted opponent would be dictated by the bayonets of the front rank plus any bodies that had fallen, so much of the time the cavalryman would be just as much out of reach of the infantry as they were from his sabre. Simply showing the bayonet and holding it steady was often enough, but if some cavalryman did manage to get close enough then they might find a bayonet pointed in their face. On that occasion, we wondered how likely the last man in the top row was, thrusting down, and so aiming at the horse most likely. Equally the last man in the second row seems to make little sense, as he aims at the leg of a mounted man. The ’culloden’ pose in the third row also seems rather unlikely, again because he should be defending against a mounted opponent. However, the first man in the second row looks great as he perhaps unconsciously leans back slightly in the face of the danger, and the same goes for the last kneeling figure – you really get a sense of the danger of the situation.
The single-copy poses in our lower two rows are an exotic bunch. It seems hard to imagine anyone having the space to use their musket as a club, even if that seemed like a good idea, but perhaps this unusual pose harkens back to the incident we mentioned in our introduction, when a few enemy cavalry had effectively penetrated the square and so needed to be dealt with. The falling wounded man is not the most convincing pose we have seen, and the dramatic figure on the end is certainly something novel. He clearly has what can only be a lance stuck in his abdomen, and certainly lancers were more of a threat to men in square than those with swords thanks to their reach. Ideally lancers would want to inflict the injury and then withdraw the lance, ready for another victim, but this one has snapped, which would again seem pretty unusual. It is certainly a unique figure however, and the same can be said for some in the bottom row. First, do people play the bagpipes while sitting down? With Irish pipes yes, but we could find no image of this with Scottish ones. However this figure put us in mind of piper George Clark of the 71st Highland Light Infantry at the Battle of Vimeiro in 1808, who played the pipes while wounded and sitting on a rock. To us this man, sitting on a drum, looks wrong, but that is not to say it never happened. Next is a sergeant apparently using his spontoon to parry an enemy blow, although the pose is quite flat, but it does at least imply combat with a mounted opponent. The ensign is much more conventional, holding the flagless staff in the middle of the square, but the officer, with sword crossing the middle of his headdress, is a flat and unconvincing pose.
We have talked a lot about the poses, but there is much less to say about the historical accuracy of the appearance of these men. As with the other sets of Highlanders from Strelets, these are correctly uniformed, starting with the Kilmarnock bonnet, which here is sometimes ‘hummel’ (without feathers), but mostly mounted with feathers in the way most Highlanders are presented. The jacket with lace and short tails is properly done, as is the kilt, hose, half-gaiters and shoes. Equipment too is correct, with haversack, water bottle and bayonet scabbard on the left hip, while the cartridge pouch is on the right. All the men have a rectangular knapsack with rolled blanket on top and mess tin attached. Piper, sergeant, ensign and officer have virtually no items of kit, and while the piper has no belts either, the other three have a sword belt and a sash worn on the correct shoulders.
This is another great piece of sculpting, with lovely detail and a very natural look to the figures. The kilts have been given a checker pattern, and the lace on the jackets is particularly fine, as are the faces and hands which really bring these figures to life. By having no flag, Strelets have made it easy for the customer to provide their own, which many find useful. The figures in our top three rows we found to be free of flash, but the ‘command’ figures did have some, though this was variable.
Since there are no accuracy problems here and the sculpting is great, it is the poses that are the main talking point of this set. Lots of really good ones here, but those actually thrusting with the bayonet would be much less likely (although of course they do not have to be used in a square). ‘Much less likely’ also sums up the bottom two rows quite nicely, especially for the man using his expensive and delicate musket as a club, and for the seated piper. In a general set we would say these are rather a waste, but given that Strelets have made many Highlander sets, they can be forgiven for providing some more unusual poses, and these certainly add variety to a battle scene. So a mixed bag with regard to poses, but otherwise an excellent set and one which greatly expands on those figures already available for Highlanders formed in square.