The rather formal term 'Naval Brigade' merely describes sailors and marines from ships of the Royal Navy who were temporarily put ashore to perform land duties as if they were ordinary infantry. Such an expedient was usually something of an emergency measure, when a crisis occurred in some far-off part of the British Empire and the only military forces close at hand were ships companies. Victoria's sailors had the necessary training to handle this kind of role, and these 'bluejackets' made appearances in many larger conflicts such as the Crimean War, the wars in Sudan, the Boer Wars and those against the Zulus, as well as innumerable smaller clashes and expeditions. However for the purposes of this review we shall concentrate on the subject at hand, which is the bluejackets of the Boxer Rebellion.
As so often happened, when the crisis erupted the only force close enough to respond was the Royal Navy, and as a result Marines and most particularly bluejackets had a presence in all the main campaigns of the war - the siege of Peking, both relief expeditions, the taking of the Taku Forts and the battle for Tientsin. After this hectic period regular forces arrived in greater numbers and the sailors resumed their ship-board activities, leaving the land fighting to the soldiers once more.
We often start our reviews with a discussion of the accuracy of the figures, and perhaps that is just as well here because while the accuracy is fairly reasonable it all goes sharply downhill thereafter. Bluejackets fought in various forms of uniform over the years, but in China they wore either the blue or white version of their normal uniform. Whites were unpopular because they made the wearer conspicuous, but at least one photograph shows these were worn, although blue was more normal and certainly the choice for the early contingents here. These figures wear the classic square rig, which is the correct outfit, although a more casual shirt-sleeve order was generally worn once things got going. These figures then reflect an ideal more than the reality, but that is also true of so many other figure sets in this hobby. All the men wear the brimmed sennet straw hat, which was the most popular and therefore widely worn choice, although this generally had the brim turned up or down, both of which would have been difficult for the sculptor to reproduce here, so these are flat. The men all seem to correctly wear the leggings that were worn for land operations, so given the qualifications mentioned above the uniform is pretty well done.
The men correctly wear a belt with braces crossing at the back, and they have the 'expense' pouch in the middle of the back. However all bar one lack the ammunition pouches that they would always carry on the front of the belt, which carried 60 and 40 rounds respectively. What the sculptor has given them is bandoliers, which were introduced in the 1890s, and commonly worn as here, with one round the waist and another over the shoulder. The only other item of kit is the bayonet scabbard, which curiously is empty in all cases, even where the man does not have a bayonet fixed to his rifle. Apart from the ammunition pouches all the men are also entirely missing a haversack (or other form of knapsack) and a canteen - a particularly vital omission in the heat of the Chinese summer.
Officers tended to wear their normal uniform, although as so often they had some freedom in their choice of wardrobe. The officer here wears a double-breasted coat and a peaked cap, which might not be the most common form of uniform but is perfectly reasonable. He carries a sword, which might seem, and indeed was, pretty archaic by 1900, yet swords were still being carried at this time. However this chap has been thoughtless enough to leave his sword belt behind, so he has no choice but to carry it.
The poses are not particularly varied, with a strong emphasis on those firing or reloading. The second man in the bottom row has departed wildly from his bayonet drill, and looks to be bayonetting over some obstruction, although the second figure in row one is putting on a far better demonstration. In general this is a pretty uninspiring collection of poses although most are reasonably useful ideas.
That’s not the most positive review of accuracy or poses we have ever written, but things get worse, so much worse, when we consider the quality of production on this set. These figures are quite awful, with chunky poorly-defined features and very indistinct detail. Many of the men seem to be very obese, and there are few, very shallow, attempts at folds in the clothing. Hands (really nothing more than blobs) sometimes seamlessly merge into the sleeve, while the head of the prone man is nothing but a mass of featureless blue plastic. The bandolier which most wear (it held 25 rounds) was a clever device that could be incorporated into the waist belt or worn round the trunk, but in the latter case the sculptor has completely forgotten to sculpt the belt round the back of the figure, even if we are generous enough to assume the belt is under the square collar. Rifles are just long pointy things with no apparent attempt at locks, triggers etc., and so on. You get the picture. Adding to the misery is the flash, of which there is a great deal in some places, although this is quite variable.
Although Naval Brigades were used in many British colonial episodes during the 19th century, the presence of bandoliers limits these to the last years of Victoria’s rule. Other than the Boxer Rebellion the main British conflict of those years is of course the second Boer War, but the sailors who fought in that conflict wore army tunics. As a result you would not use these figures for the Boer War, but in all fairness their really poor quality means you would think twice about using them for the Boxer Rebellion too!