As with so many things, the Great War was to change the British army enormously. At the outbreak of war it was an all volunteer professional army used to police the empire, but small compared to the conscript armies of the other great European powers. The first soldiers that faced the Germans that autumn were well trained and equipped, and gave a good account of themselves, but ultimately this was to be a war where numbers and resources were to be decisive.
These figures wear the standard uniform as seen in 1914, with most of it introduced in the years immediately after the 1899-1902 Boer War - a conflict that taught the British many valuable lessons. The cap is the M1905 service dress cap, which has a stiffened crown. While this was smart, a more practical soft cap appeared in 1915, after which the stiffened M1905 became more the exception than the rule. The service dress uniform is generally correctly sculpted, and includes the puttees round the lower leg, although the jacket lacks rear vents.
The troops are all very lightly equipped, in fact too lightly equipped, with many having nothing more than their rifle and haversack. Some have a water bottle, but all are missing such important items as the bayonet, entrenching tool and all the other impedimenta that the soldier was expected to carry, even in action. The pack that most of these men are wearing is too large to be the haversack, which is what it should be for 'battle order', yet as the full pack it would not have been worn when actually in action. The webbing is more or less correctly done, and is of the 1914 pattern with the pouches for 90 rounds rather than the 'stack' arrangement of the '08' webbing that held 150. This type of webbing was a temporary expedient to equip the millions of new soldiers that the war generated, and although not originally intended for front-line use it did see considerable service in France and elsewhere. However how many such sets were worn by front-line troops while this early war uniform (i.e. the stiff cap) was in use is far from certain and may have been few. As a result the 08 pattern webbing would have been a better choice here.
One of the strengths of the Airfix World War I range is the number of poses on offer, and the poses here are a fair selection. They include a man with a large bag and wearing an armband. He is presumably a doctor or other medical man, though the bag hanging from the front of his belt (there is no other means of support) is not authentic. The two casualty poses look realistic, and what Airfix call a 'wiring party' makes an unusual piece. The officer is waving a sword, though such weapons were quickly dropped early on in the war as they were largely useless. The signaller is using semaphore, which may seem old-fashioned but had the advantage of not relying on landlines, which were often cut by shelling. Clearly, however, he is not in view of the enemy. The second row has a man throwing what must be a grenade, and as this is small and round it must be something like the No. 15 or the famous No. 5 'Mills bomb', both of which only appeared in 1915, and not any of the early examples that had stick handles.
The set includes two groups of figures, one with a mortar and the other with a machine gun. Like the men, both heavier weapons are greatly simplified, and really do not meet today's standards. However our guess is the mortar is meant to be the Stokes mortar, although a massively poor model of it, and in any case this weapon only actually saw service from 1916, by which time this uniform had disappeared. The machine gun is also much simplified, but is probably meant to be the Vickers, which certainly was in use right from the start of the war. However the problem here is neither of the crewmen are actually touching, let along firing, the weapon. For both groups the figures and equipment fit their bases quite poorly, and leave much to be desired, although Airfix should at least be commended for including heavier weapons.
The figures in this set depict the men as they were dressed during the very early part of the war. As such they match the Airfix German infantry set, but not that of the French, which is a strange decision. As is often the case with figures of this vintage, these are considerably simplified models in both kit and equipment, but for the most part the sculpting is nicely done though detail is not particularly sharp and not entirely accurate either. Some figures, such as the man running with rifle across chest, lean forward too much, and some have ridiculously small bases for no apparent reason, but the anatomy is good. Flash is present in about average quantities for a set of this age (although this varies greatly between production runs), but apart from that there is little excess plastic to be trimmed. A good set for its day, it can still be of some use today (although HaT have now made a smaller but more accurate set), though it does not compare well with the best current production.