The British soldier that went off to war with the Boer Republics in southern Africa thought himself part of the greatest army in the world. Well most soldiers probably think that, and while such arrogance may be unpleasant at best, in the face of a resourceful and intelligent enemy such as the Boers it could be fatal; in the early months of the Second Boer War (1899-1902), it was. The British soldier was as always professional and stubborn, but would many times find himself in very difficult positions created largely by the complacency of his officers and commanders, and the many defeats he suffered, particularly during ‘Black Week’ in 1899, would shock the nation back home. Over time the British learned to respect the abilities of the ‘Dutch farmers’, and to adapt their tactics accordingly, and one major aspect of this was to engage the enemy in open order rather than in closed ranks as had worked well in the past against less effective opponents.
This set follows the current trend of depicting their subject in a particular activity rather than covering everything, and here the activity is skirmishing. Against an enemy that was well-armed and very skilled in the use of their weapons, it was of course important to use cover whenever it was available, and to present as small a target as possible when cover was lacking. During the period up to the Battle of Spion Kop there were many times when British troops were pinned down by heavy and accurate Boer rifle and artillery fire, so they soon learned to keep down, and this set reflects that very well as the majority of poses are either kneeling or on the ground. In a skirmish with the Boers, standing to fire could almost be suicide, so we thought these poses very well chosen, and the few standing ones are either moving into position or firing from cover such as a trench. All the poses are strong in our view, but the two lying on the ground are the pick of the crop, as they are well realised and can also be used for the many engagements in which the soldiers were forced to the ground like this.
Another very positive aspect of this set is the accuracy of the men’s appearance. All wear the standard khaki service tunic and trousers with short boots and puttees, and the foreign service helmet with a cover. Later in the war such items as slouch hats and bandoliers became more common, so the flavour of this set is more for the period prior to the guerrilla phase, although individually nothing here is incorrect for any moment in the war. Just one pose wears a neck curtain attached to his helmet, which is fine as these were worn, but apparently not very often, so a single example here feels about right. The officer has in some respects been wise and followed advice to not stand out from his men. He wears the same covered helmet as they (rather than the Wolseley pattern), and puttees rather than riding boots. However the effect is spoiled by his having a revolver rather than a rifle, and he still carries a sword, which was an open invitation to enemy snipers and became very rare in the field as the war progressed. Definitely an early-war appearance for this figure then.
The kit is the correct cut-down Slade-Wallace pattern, with twin pouches on the front of the waist belt, a haversack on the left hip along with the bayonet scabbard, a water bottle on the right, and a rolled greatcoat attached to the back of the waist belt with a mess tin on top. No one here wears the valise, which is right as this was left in the baggage. There is some variety here as some poses lack the mess tin, and one also lacks the greatcoat, which might suggest a surprise engagement, and makes sense here. No one is wearing their haversack up on the shoulders (mostly a marching position), so no problem there. The details of this kit all look good, especially the relatively recent oval water container, although this does move about a bit to suit the needs of the sculptor. The officer has either the same belts or a twin-strap version of the Sam Browne (little difference at this scale), but lacks all the accessories (including the water bottle) and just has the holster for his pistol and the scabbard for his sword, plus binoculars round his neck; a very obvious target, and probably a recent and rather naive new arrival.
Weaponry would be either the Lee-Metford or the newer Lee-Enfield rifle – we couldn’t identify which here. However the remarkably short bayonets must be the 1888 pattern, which were only 30cm long in reality, although even then a few of the bayonet scabbards on these figures seem particularly short.
The style of these figures is very appealing. We liked the good proportions and the natural look to the poses. The detail is good but a little soft compared to the best on the market, though more than acceptable. Despite there being no excess plastic the poses do not feel at all flat, and what little flash there is is very inconspicuous, so these are just great figures to look at.
The Boer War was a further milestone on the path towards total industrial war, and taught the British much about how to engage an enemy by skirmishing rather than sending large bodies of troops into an open field. Skirmishing and open-order combat had never been as important, and this is a great depiction of such troops in action. The officer and his foolish choices in terms of appearance is probably more to do with Strelets’ desire to highlight the officer for us, but apart from him we can find nothing but praise for a really attractive set, which is incomparably better than the previous Strelets set on this subject, made over a decade earlier.