Most people knew war was coming, and for some it was a relief when it finally arrived in October 1899. Men in both the Transvaal and the Orange Free State were quickly summoned to their local commando, where they soon moved off, grasping their freshly-issued Mauser rifles, to begin their new role as soldiers. Virtually none had had any training, but they were well used to using firearms and in surviving in the rough, inhospitable landscape that was their country, and they were confident that they could better the relatively few British soldiers they were to face. God, after all, was on their side, and their cause was just.
Inevitably of course things did not turn out as most people expected, and the Second Boer War was to last three long years before the two Boer republics fully succumbed to the might of Britain and her empire. The image of the Boer as a sturdy farmer, expert marksman and survival specialist is something of a stereotype that was not universally true, but as neither state had any professional infantry, their armed forces were overwhelmingly what would be called a citizen militia, filled mainly from a rural environment with no training but excellent skills in fieldcraft that would serve them well. There were no uniforms, and each man wore what he thought best, which was whatever civilian clothing they could call upon. Hopefully that was something comfortable, rugged and able to withstand the hard wear of campaign life. Every figure in this set matches that description very well. A few, mostly town-dwellers, started action in poorly-chosen clothes, but they soon adapted so that everyone wore tough trousers, generally a jacket or coat over their shirt, and a soft brimmed hat of various styles. Some of these figures have no jacket, and one man has a longer coat as well as a tall hat. This would have been more likely to be spotted early on in the war, and certainly very unlikely by the time of the guerrilla campaign, but is perfectly valid here. In short, all the clothing is accurate and typical.
Every man here carries a rifle, which is as it should be. Initially many of these would be the new Mausers, or older models previously owned by the individual, but as time went on and ammunition ran out, rifles were increasingly taken from the British. Luckily at this scale the differences between the Mauser and the Lee-Enfield are hard to see, so they could pass for both, especially as they are not well detailed. Many of the figures also have a bandolier, a very popular means of carrying ammunition, and a few have bags, so again a very typical and pleasing mix of accoutrements. We criticized the previous Strelets set of Boer soldiers for some exotic weapons, so it is good to see a far more representative collection here.
The previous set of Boers was in the Strelets style of the time, with a chunky feel and poor proportions. Happily these figures are very well proportioned, so none of the enormous heads and thick details here. While the subject requires little in the way of fine detail, these figures are a bit ‘soft’ in that regard, which generally does not matter, but faces, rifles and particularly hands are not on a par with the best being produced in this hobby. The penultimate figure in the last row has no discernible left hand at all, and while he is an extreme, the general style reminded us of early Airfix figures like their cowboys, though that may be a little harsh on these Boers. Something did go wrong however with the third figure in the middle row, because the left side of his rifle has not been sculpted at all and is just a slab of smooth plastic. Around all of the seam between the two halves of the mould there is a visible ridge, but no other flash anywhere, and any extra plastic between man and weapon is minimal and not intrusive.
The Boers did not fight in formations, and were smart enough to know where their advantages lay. They preferred to provoke British forces, maybe with a few shells, then shoot the soldiers down with rifle fire as they attacked a well-prepared position before moving off, ready to repeat the exercise on another day. The poses in this set include a good many firing, and the rest are either reloading or moving with rifle in hand. While some prone figures would have been appropriate, we thought 13 of the 14 poses on offer here were excellent and portrayed the way these men fought very well. Our one reservation was with the afore-mentioned third man in the middle row, who is moving forward and stooping (no problem there) but holds his rifle close to the muzzle, almost as if he is using a bayonet. The Boers had no bayonets of course, and neither does this figure, but his stance and the way he holds his rifle is very odd, and more to do with making the sculptor’s job easier than anything you are likely to actually see on a battlefield. By contrast the man in front of him, firing his rifle slightly downwards, reflects perfectly the many occasions the Boers occupied higher ground and forced the British to attack them uphill. So apart from that one advancing figure the poses here make it easy to picture these figures operating from a trench or earthwork, or in the open as pictured on the box.
While the old Strelets set had a vast range of poses, and had some fun with many of them, this current set is far more typical of the look of a Boer commando in 1899, and the anatomical proportions are a huge improvement too. With mostly great poses, we liked this set despite the lack of sharp detail, and we particularly liked the fact that no man stands out as a candidate for an officer (the real officers also mostly looked just like their men). A set such as this also offers possibilities for many other civilian fighters such as in the American West, so we think this will prove a popular release that depicts its subject well and could be very versatile.