Joining the British Army in the mid Victorian period was something most did through desperation – avoiding justice, debts, personal problems etc. – as the Army could offer little to those making a success of civilian life. With the standout exception of the war with Russia in the Crimea, the new recruit might expect to be trained and employed to either face any of a number of supposed imminent French invasions, or to undertake various ‘policing’ actions throughout the Empire. Operating in such far off territories brought many hazards, but he would probably have supposed that he was at least fighting a far inferior bunch of ‘savages’ who could not stand the firepower of a modern European army. In Zululand any such conceits were swept away as the first British invasion of 1879 was ignominiously repulsed, along with the annihilation of a large British force at Isandlwana. A second, massively reinforced and far more cautious invasion later the same year did achieve the desired result, yet it was the reverses of the first campaign that stuck in the public mind, and made a minor defensive action at a place named Rorke’s Drift into one of the best known battles of Victoria’s armies. Esci and A Call To Arms have previously made sets for these redcoats, and now we have this from HaT, part of their much wider range of Zulu War sets.
Just a generation earlier uniforms had been little different from those of the Napoleonic era, but now they were becoming much more practical, although still in traditional colours for the Zulu campaigns. Apart from the first figure in the bottom row all these men wear the standard uniform of foreign service helmet, tunic, trousers, boots and short leggings. We felt the rear rim of the helmet was a bit exaggerated here but generally everything is accurately done. They have a waist belt that supports an ammunition pouch on each side, a water bottle on a strap over the left shoulder and a haversack slung over the right, all of which is typical campaign equipment. None have the full valise equipment, which is fine for those in battle, but we were a little surprised that none have the expense pouch, either under the right-hand pouch or on the belt in the small of the back. Photographs suggest this was not always worn, but we would have liked to have seen at least some here. It is hard to see a bayonet scabbard on the left hip of some, although they all should have one, but essentially if not necessarily perfectly typical, there is nothing actually wrong with the historical authenticity of any of these figures.
There are no officers, but the first figure in the bottom row stands out because he wears no uniform. He has a jacket and trousers, a neck tie and a slouch hat with a band around the crown. Clearly he is a cuckoo in the nest, and looks to be one of the many irregulars that accompanied the British, in which case he might have a red puggaree on his hat but is otherwise in civilian costume. A full set of such men would have been nice, but at least they are represented in the range.
The poses of the true British infantry are fine, although we did wonder at the man kneeling with rifle and bayonet pointing up. This seems to suggest an anti-cavalry pose, which makes no sense as the Zulus had no real cavalry. The set does include a number of advancing figures, which normally would be fine but since all the major actions of the war – Isandlwana, Rorke’s Drift, Eshowe, Ulundi etc. were essentially defensive we felt there could have been more poses standing still and defending themselves as if in square or manning the ‘ramparts’ of some mission. There is nothing wrong with any of the poses here, but we would have made some different choices.
The sculpting is very nice, and the men have good proportions and reasonable detail. There is one mistake; the third figure in the second row has the usual water bottle and haversack straps across his body at the back, but the water bottle strap has been forgotten at the front. Otherwise the figures are good but not the best ever made, and there is just a little flash in places, although as can be seen above very little. We liked the fact that some of the men have whiskers, but occasionally things get a bit vague as in the transition between rifle and bayonet. Also the way some of the men hold their rifles – especially those firing them – is rather odd and certainly not natural.
To our eye these are not the greatest Zulu Wars British infantry set yet made (see comparison below), but that is because they are up against some good competition, and they are certainly more than serviceable. We would have gone for some different poses (but that is true of many sets) and there are some small slipups in the sculpting, but this is a nice set that will be very useful to those with an interest in this conflict.