The Boers were well used to conflict. Since the early 19th century they had been steadily pushing into the interior of southern Africa, fighting and displacing the indigenous peoples as they went. Numerous wars with these peoples, and the scattered nature of their society made most of them self reliant and expert with both rifle and horse. When war came with Britain in 1899, the Boers enjoyed considerable success, invading the British colonies and defeating the forces sent against them. They quickly laid siege to towns whose names would go down in history - Mafeking, Ladysmith and Kimberley - and the outnumbered and out-manoeuvred British forces fell back and called for reinforcement. In time the British army adapted to the new warfare of the Boers, and massive resources were put in place to finally defeat them, but the Boers had delivered a shock to the army, and the social impact was enormous as many Britons started questioning the moral justification for foreign interventions and empire itself.
The two Boer republics, the Transvaal and the Orange Free State, had no army. Their only armed forces were a handful of police and some artillery, so when military action was called for it was the citizens that were called up to form commandos. When called to fight, most Boers were expected to provide their own clothing, weapons, horse and at least some supplies. As a result there was no uniform and little uniformity of weaponry. The states had bought many Mauser rifles, an excellent weapon, but plenty of other models were also used, and by the end of 1900 most Mausers had disappeared from the battlefield as no ammunition was available. Men fought in their everyday dress, and when that wore out they wore what they could make or find. By the later part of the war with Britain most weapons, ammunition and clothing was obtained by capturing British stocks, yet by 1902 the remaining Boers were often in little more than rags.
So, the Boers were an unconventional force that did not fight in tight formations or smart uniforms, making them an ideal subject for the Strelets format. The figures in this set have an enormous variety of clothing, some with bandoliers of various descriptions, some with bags or canteens, but all look reasonable compared to the many photographs of civilian fashion and common wear at the time. A couple have low-slung pistol belts, making them look more like American cowboys than African farmers, but in general we thought all clothing and equipment was reasonable.
As we have said, weaponry was very diverse, and what would count as a typical weapon changed over the course of the period. However most of these figures are armed with rifles, which is perfectly correct. The standard of sculpting is not sufficient to positively identify any of these, which is perhaps just as well considering the changing trends. A few have revolvers or pistols of one sort or another, and a couple are even handling sticks of dynamite. The rifle was always the weapon of choice, but on occasions a pistol might have been seen. Much less likely is the knife, which was certainly a common enough implement but very rarely used in combat as suggested by a couple of figures in this set. Indeed the Boers had no training in close quarter combat, and when facing a trained professional soldier with a bayonet a knife would be little use.
The poses are for the most part excellent. The men are firing their weapons, many while crouching or lying down. There are a good many prone figures, which is good as the Boer’s favoured tactic was to pour fire on an opponent from cover or at least while offering the least target. The kneeling figure in the third row about to light some dynamite with his cigar is a nice touch, and the woman is an interesting addition. Women did not fight in the commando, but were often left to fend for themselves while the men were away, so many knew how to use a gun and on occasion found the need to do so. As we have said, the Boers avoided hand-to-hand fighting with good reason, so the first two figures in row six would be rare on the battlefield. However the flag bearer next to them would have no place in the actual fighting - flags were sometimes carried in the very early part of the war, but would naturally be kept away from the firing line, since they would otherwise merely be a target for enemy fire. Strelets are much too fond of including flags in many sets without any thought for whether they are appropriate.
The sculpting level of these figures is about average for this company. There is a definite chunky feel to them, and small items such as buttons on clothing are often represented as a circular impression on the surface. Generally detail is reasonable but as we have said not good enough to identify small items such as firearms. The proportions of the figures speak for themselves in our pictures (some of the kneeling figures would be giants when they stood up), but one very odd problem figure is not easy to see above. The fourth figure in row nine is crawling along the ground, but has been given the most enormous head - at least 50% larger than anyone else.
For the most part these are well designed and thought-out figures, although it is a pity the avoidable mistake of the flag-bearer spoils what would otherwise have been a perfect accuracy score. Although the figures have no flash the sculpting is not in the premier league, but for the most part this set represents its unconventional subject very well, with nearly every pose being useful.
Note The final figure is of a soldier from the Streltsi of 17th century Russia. Though he is unrelated to the subject of this set, he is one of a series of 'bonus' figures which when combined will create a set of this unit for the Great Northern War. See Streltsi Bonus Figures feature for details.