When Britain declared war in 1939 she had what remained of her empire behind her, and while the Dominions (Australia, Canada, Newfoundland, New Zealand and South Africa) were under no obligation to follow the British lead, all did so. All were initially ill-prepared for the task ahead, but in time the Commonwealth contributed enormously to the war effort, both in material and manpower. Some parts such as Hong Kong and Malaya were temporarily captured, and others such as India and Burma were either attacked or threatened, but many territories were able to contribute to the fight on other fronts, and wherever British troops went into battle, they went with Commonwealth troops by their side.
The uniforms and equipment of the Commonwealth forces were largely the same as those of Great Britain, partly due to the close links between them and partly because logistics would be far easier if all troops had the same or similar needs in terms of ammunition, clothing etc. There were subtle differences between clothing made in some parts of the Commonwealth, but for figures of this scale the differences are undetectable, which means these figures will basically serve for almost any of the forces involved, including those of Britain itself. There are a couple of obvious dating indicators in this set, the first being the ‘Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank’, or PIAT, being used in the second row. This weapon first entered service in late 1942, so too late for most of the campaign in North Africa, but widely used in Europe for the rest of the war. The other dating evidence is the helmets, because three of these poses wear the Mk III British helmet, sometimes described as ‘turtle-shaped’, which made its debut in mid 1944.
All these figures wear the standard battledress as worn by British and Commonwealth troops in Europe, with either the MK III helmet or the classic Mk II. Since they are labelled as Commonwealth troops, the most obvious fit is Canadian forces in North-West Europe after D-Day, but such men would also have been seen in Italy and elsewhere in the Mediterranean, and could equally have come from India, Rhodesia or any of the other territories, although by this stage in the war Australian troops had largely been redeployed to the Pacific. All wear the now ubiquitous pattern 37 webbing, with the long pouches on the front and the small pack worn on the back. The men also have a water battle and entrenching tool, though strangely no sign of a bayonet. A couple also have a pick, although in one case this is strapped to the entrenching tool head case, which makes no sense. The kit burden could have been greater we thought, though nothing here is wrong, but one interesting feature is that the man with the Bren gun has a set of utility pouches, which were essentially pouches similar to the normal ones but commonly worn, as here, above the normal pouches and linked by a belt behind the neck. Since the Bren gun quickly ate ammunition, this is a wise addition, and another of the poses has also supplemented his ammunition supply with a bandolier.
Four of the poses carry rifles, and there is also the previously mentioned Bren light machine gun and the two-man team with the PIAT. That leaves the first man in the second row, who is advancing with a Sten submachine gun that has a skeleton stock. Given that there are only eight poses here, we thought the split of weapons was pretty good, without too much emphasis on high-profile and luxury weapons. The number two for the PIAT has a revolver on his belt, which was not standard issue but certainly did happen.
The poses are all useful and sometimes exceptionally well done. The men firing their rifles speak for themselves, but we were not sure about the last figure in the top row – he seems to be taking a clip from his bandolier, which is an unusual but perfectly valid pose. The running man looks like he is slightly tripping himself up, though we have seen far worse running poses, and the Bren gunner is fine. The PIAT team is outstanding, thanks to a clever alignment on the sprue which allows prone figures to be beautifully realised without any loss of detail as is often the case. The man pulling a round from the ammunition carrier is especially natural, but we can only give a big thumbs up to all of the poses.
Sculpting is very good. Proportions are spot-on and the poses are all natural (and not at all flat), with very good detail such as on the weaponry. Again, careful planning of the sprue means there is no excess material anywhere, though there is an about average amount of flash, which is a shame as Mars have done better with some earlier sets. Nevertheless this set continues the very good quality sculpting found in many of their earlier World War II sets.
A couple of nice little variations help to give this set a more realistic feel. Two of the poses wear a battle jerkin, and the extra bandolier on another has already been mentioned, as has the mix of helmet styles. One variant we were not quite so pleased with is the headgear of the PIAT gunner. Instead of a helmet, he wears either a beret or the fairly similar General Service cap, which was not well liked. It would certainly be possible for this to be worn, but we would have thought that he would have chosen a helmet, both because he would be quite near the enemy if he is ready to fire, and because the helmet could be dipped slightly forward to help protect from any backburn after ignition. In addition, as Canadians, these would be more likely to have netting on their helmets (only some do here), and often a field dressing pack tucked into it too (none here). Nonetheless we can find nothing to complain about in terms of accuracy, and really appreciate the many little details that have been incorporated into these figures. The flash needs some work, but great sculpting and intelligent poses mean this has plenty of appeal for anyone looking to add to their Commonwealth or British armies for the late war period.