Thanks in part to films like Zulu (1964), the British imperial activities in southern Africa, especially against the Zulu nation, are amongst the best known of the colonial wars of the 19th century. The aggression against the Kingdom of Zululand was largely brought about by local British administrators rather than the central government in London, which was hostile to further expansion, but the effect of the attacks was the same either way, and while complacency initially caused some disasters for the British Army, in the end the wealth and technology of the Europeans overcame the Zulus, bringing their dominance in the region to an end. Another reason for the popularity of this campaign is that it was one of the last to feature the iconic British scarlet coat, since within a few years this would be replaced with the more practical but less appealing khaki garb. However, at the time that this set was made, there had been only one previous set of figures depicting these men (from Esci), and while a fine set in itself, there was clearly plenty of room to expand this coverage. A Call to Arms responded by creating this small set, which only has eight poses and is a scaled down copy of their 1/32 scale figures.
As with the Zulus also made by this company, these figures are of the highest quality, beautifully sculpted and looking very natural. The private standing firing is a good example - he is clearly leaning into the shot, making him much more realistic than the stiff upright posture we usually see. The figure thrusting down with his bayonet is also very well done, as such a manoeuvre is very difficult to model without either having mould undercut or large amounts of ugly surplus plastic. Generally we would say that thrusting with the bayonet over the head is not a natural position, but in this case it seems perfectly reasonable, remembering battles such as Rorke's Drift, where the soldiers defended themselves from behind barricades. All the poses are great, and we particularly welcomed the marching figure, something the older Esci set had conspicuously lacked.
The standard uniform has been correctly done here, including the foreign service helmet that for many is an icon of the campaign. The jacket has pointed cuffs, and the men all wear short leggings, so are perfect in all details. The men all have the twin ammunition pouches of the normal 1871 valise equipment set, along with the haversack on the left hip and 'Oliver' water bottle on the right. They also have the bayonet scabbard on the left, but this is not so evident on some poses. Only the marching figure carries the full kit, as you might expect, including the shoulder straps supporting the folded greatcoat or blanket, mess tin and valise. The rifle looks to be the correct Martini-Henry model, although it is a pity that none but the marching man has a sling. Three of the poses are without a bayonet attached, which given the history of the battles of the first invasion we felt was an oversight; it is hard to imagine soldiers at Isandlwana or Rorke's Drift without their bayonet firmly fixed throughout the action.
As we have said, these figures are a joy to behold. The detail is crisp and there is little or no surplus plastic hidden from the mould that would need to be removed. The thoroughly natural stance of each man is what particularly appeals to us, but the overall look is great, although given how well the faces have been done, we would have liked to have seen more expressions of determination and open mouths rather than the entirely placid and calm examples we find here. These figures look to be the work of Bill Farmer, our favourite sculptor of all time, and if so then this is a great example of his work. Unfortunately the mould-making is not quite of the same quality, since most of these figures have a line of flash around much of the seam, but otherwise these are well produced too.
The corresponding Esci set boasts almost twice as many poses, and is a fine set with some interesting officers and other unusual poses, but for quality of figures this excellent set is the top of the pile. Naturally only having eight poses is limiting, and the absence of an officer is particularly keenly felt. Of course these figures can be used for many British colonial episodes in Africa and India during the later part of the 19th Century, and since they were released HaT have made several sets for this campaign too, but for us this remains the definitive set of Zulu War British infantry.