In 1899 the British Army had five kilted regiments. Four were represented in the forces present in southern Africa during the first few weeks of the Second Boer War, and the fifth, the Cameronians, would join them early in 1900. Regiments entitled to wear the kilt were very proud of the privilege, and desperately clung on to it, even though it was becoming increasingly apparent that it was not an ideal garment for a modern battlefield. First there was the tartan, which might have a strong emotional link but hardly fitted with the inconspicuous uniform now being worn. Then there were the bare knees. On several occasions over the next year or so Highlanders found themselves pinned down in the open, unable to shield the backs of their knees, and suffered serious sunburn as a result. Nevertheless the kilt remained throughout the war, and many a Boer, with an entirely practical and no-nonsense approach to clothing on the veldt, must have been amazed to see such troops facing him.
Many years ago Strelets did a similar set of Highlanders to this (although not specifically for the Second Boer War), but this one is enormously better. The sculpting is very good indeed, with all the equipment and finer details being exactly the size they should be. The usual measures are the faces and hands, and here they are extremely good throughout, but so too are other smaller details like the puggaree round the helmet and the pipes of the piper. Although there is little flash, most of the seams have a slightly rough feel to them, though this would be fairly easy to smooth off. A couple of places (the left elbow of the two firing poses for some reason) has rather more flash. But overall the level is low and does not impact on the good sculpting, which is always good to report.
Unlike the older set, here the poses are much more dynamic and give a much more plausible impression of movement in a battle. We thought all the poses looked natural, and even the man running – often a pose that struggles to look credible – is reasonably good here. Having a piper in a set of Highlanders seems to be almost compulsory, although of course they did serve just as much as the rest of the men. This one is just standing and playing, and is perfectly fine, though he might not be doing so in the face of the enemy. The officer is a bit of a disappointment, for with a drawn pistol and his sword by his side he is very obviously an officer. When you are facing expert marksmen such as the Boers, being so obviously an officer is asking to be shot down, and most quickly ditched sword and revolver, instead taking both men’s kit and a rifle to attract far less attention to themselves.
Uniform is that worn in southern Africa and is correctly modelled here. All wear the foreign service helmet (even the officer – smart move), which has a puggaree wound round the outside. Only one wears a cover on his helmet, which seems to have been very common, so we would have liked to have seen more like this. On the uncovered helmets there is no sign of a badge on the side, nor of a hackle or other insignia, which did tend to disappear as the war progressed as such conspicuous decoration was seen as unwise. All wear the standard ‘frock’ tunic with standing collar, which gave way to one with a fall collar later in the war, but this is fine. The frock has the front corners cut away in the traditional Highland manner. The kilt is of course the most obvious feature (although not all ‘Highland’ regiments wore them), and here it has been given the front apron to make it less conspicuous – an innovation that was made soon after the war started. The sporran is hidden under the apron, and there is no covering at the back, which caused problems when the men lay down. Instead of the normal puttees these men have the Highland hose and spats, so in every respect the uniform is here correct.
The men’s kit would be the Valise Equipment Pattern 1888, commonly called the Slade-Wallace. This consisted of a waist belt supporting twin ammunition pouches at the front, which we find here, and two braces going over the shoulders to help take the weight. These crossed at the back, but unfortunately the sculptor has not done this – instead they fall near vertically to the belt, which is wrong. None of the men wear the valise, which is good as it was not normally worn in action, but they are all also missing the rolled greatcoat and covered mess tin, both of which should be on the lower back as they were worn in action. If the valise was not worn then the haversack was often worn high on the back instead, but here every man has it on his left hip, which is also acceptable. They all also have a circular water bottle, the 1890 model, which is accurate too. Although the officer has been unwise enough to make his rank obvious by his choice of weapons, he has at least opted to wear the same rig as his men, as many did.
The men carry the Lee-Enfield rifle, which is at it should be, and some have the bayonet attached. Later in the war the slouch hat became a popular form of headgear, although the helmet never disappeared entirely, so the apron is the only thing that really restricts the dating of these men – from early 1900, rather than 1899. We will forgive them that! Otherwise the uniform is perfectly accurate, as are the weapons, but the missing items of kit are an annoying oversight which naturally costs the set some accuracy points. The poses are good and if a couple of the running ones are a little flat, with legs behind each other, then it is not too apparent. We particularly liked the last figure in the second row, and the man who has lost his helmet, but despite the problems with the missing kit we really liked this set as a whole, which is not only a vast improvement on the older offering, but a very worthwhile addition to the Boer War range, and indeed one of the best so far made for that conflict.