Having made model cars and military vehicles for as long as anyone can remember, Matchbox began production of HO scale plastic soldiers in the early 1980s. Though of a slightly smaller scale than the figures from Airfix etc., the good quality of the first sets boded well for a fine and successful range. Sadly production ceased after only nine sets, but what there is of it is well worth a look.
The first thing to say about Matchbox sets is that you get an awful lot of poses for your money. 17 in this case - as good as or better than most of the output from Airfix. This means you can portray a wide range of weapons and activities while still having good numbers of regular riflemen. The poses here are pretty good and have been very well sculpted with plenty of action. There are no less than three officers - one in a coat and peaked cap and the other two wearing berets. Finally there is a member of the Tank Regiment holding binoculars and with his hand raised as if signalling.
Apart from the tank man and the senior officer, all the men wear standard British battledress that saw service throughout the War. For some reason the trousers are missing the large map pocket on the front left thigh and the smaller field-dressing pocket on the right side as well as any pockets on the rear. The blouse however is correctly sculpted. All the helmets are of the Mk I / Mk II pattern (there was little difference between them) that is most associated with the British infantryman during the War.
There is a good range of weapons on these men. Most common is the rifle, but there are also examples of men using a Sten gun, a Bren gun, a flame-thrower and some sort of anti-tank device that resembles an American bazooka. This last has been poorly done, with the weapon passing right through the right-hand half of the operator's head. This avoids any excess plastic but looks pretty silly and not a little painful! A heavier machine gun is also included with an operator and a man feeding the ammo. We were not able to exactly identify this device, but it clearly is not being used in any case as there is no empty belt appearing from the other side of the barrel. Finally, two crew are feeding a mortar. The mortar is the standard Matchbox device, a crude and massively simplified piece that makes no attempt to accurately reflect any specific device used by the British. As with other Matchbox sets, where the bayonet is fixed to the rifle it is a short affair that barely looks capable of peeling fruit much less terrifying an opponent.
All the figures are on very slender bases, which makes them less able to withstand jolts than those from other manufacturers. However the overall impression from this set is very positive. The mistakes and shortcuts that were taken are to be regretted, and like most manufacturers Matchbox were to improve their quality as further sets were developed.