Civilians suffered in World War II like no other. Of course civilians had always suffered when they were caught in the fighting or in the way of an army, but World War II saw widespread bombing of densely populated areas, vast number of deaths caused by famine and disease, and not least the deliberate destruction of some populations. It has been estimated that around 50 million civilian deaths were attributable to the war worldwide, but for many of the rest there were shortages, the loss of loved ones and the possibility of a violent death or injury at almost any time. Whole cities could be severely damaged such as Hamburg and Dresden, and populations in strategic locations could be systematically besieged and attacked such as at Leningrad and Malta, while several countries were wholly or partly occupied, spawning resistance, and therefore repressive retaliation, on a massive scale. So a large part of the story of World War II is the story of the civilians who lived and died during those terrible years.
The dozen poses in this set are all quite static – no one seems to be walking or running, just standing (or sitting), apart perhaps from the last figure in our top row. This gives them the appearance of waiting for a bus or tram, especially as several are carrying luggage. Were you to wish to create a street scene, or perhaps a scene where civilians are caught in some military operation, then you would probably want a lot more action than we have here, so we thought these poses were quite limited.
While some of these figures are simply average civilians waiting around, there are some more interesting choices too. The third figure in the top row seems to depict a newspaper seller, which is a nice idea, and of course in war the dissemination of news was a vital part of the ‘Home Front’, wherever you were. This role was often fulfilled by youths, and this figure is noticeably shorter than the men in this set. The fourth figure is clearly surrendering, so you might imagine him either as a captured partisan or as a civilian rounded up for some other reason. Next we have a worker with a spade, perhaps repairing bomb damage, and the one slightly active pose, of a man holding his hat for some reason.
The second row begins with a nice figure well wrapped up and sitting on a box, followed by something of a mystery. This man wears a long robe and holds something (a book?), making us think he may be some sort of religious person, but he is certainly not typical of the average Western European. Then we have a dead man (naturally all too common), and three women. The first wears a long coat and a side cap, making her look quite military, although there were civilian organisations that took a military-looking form of uniform, particularly in Germany. Her hair is very long and untied, which was not the fashion at the time, so we found her unconvincing. Next is a woman waving. She seems to be dressed in more peasant costume, although would not look out of place on the streets of a city too. She seems to hold a bunch of flowers, which again is an interesting and surprising choice for a pose. We wondered if she was intended to be watching a military parade, ready to throw flowers at the passing troops. The third woman is another warmly wrapped against the cold and carries a baby in her arms.
As the header on the set tells us, this set explicitly depicts Western Europeans during the 1939-45 period. The look of such people during those years was partly dictated by the availability of clothing; clothing was rationed in many countries, and regulations were brought in to ensure clothing took the minimum amount of fabric, and lasted as long as possible, forcing a simple, utilitarian style. Of course pre-war clothing could also be repaired and made to last, but the general look was simple and functional. Three quarters of the poses in this set are of men, who’s fashion barely changed at this time anyway. These are mostly dressed for outdoors, so they wear coats and hats. A couple are bare-headed, but this would be unusual when outside at the time. One wears a suit and tie, again standard garb for a long period. Apart from the mystery man in the long robe we thought all the male clothing here was accurate. Apart from the military-looking woman, the other two wear a coat and headscarf, and are again simple but authentic. They could also work well as peasants or other country folk, whereas the smarter men mostly have more the look of the city about them.
As so often the quality of the sculpting is evident from our picture. Detail is poor and areas like faces are extremely basic. There are many flat areas on some surfaces, making the clothing look unnatural, and in general the surface of the figures is often damaged with blobs or pits that seem to be largely random. Not apparent from our photographs, but very evident when you have them in your hand, is how thin they are front-to-back. From the front they seem normal, but the back is always quite flat, which looks poor and also makes the figure a lot thinner than it should be – almost semi-flat in some cases. Since hardly anyone is holding a tool or apparently doing anything, the general appearance of the poses looks ok although the man with the spade is quite flat. There is a very rough line where the moulds meet, and a fair amount of flash, but this is almost all at the back, so not evident in our images. We also found that the quality varied between the same pose, and online forums suggest some copies of the set can be considerably poorer than ours, so unfortunately we have to say the dreaded phrase – quality varies, so check before you buy if possible.
We have talked a bit about what this set could be used for. It has the feel of some of the railway figures made by Airfix, Bachmann or Hornby, which are intended to be passengers waiting to travel. Well that also happened during World War II of course, but anyone looking to add some partisans, resistance or other civilian contribution to the war will find little here of interest, and few of these would be convincing as refugees either. Although we found nothing inaccurate in the costume, the lack of anything much happening and the poor sculpting count strongly against this set, which is a pity as it has some nice ideas as well as some that were difficult to understand.