After the unsatisfactory performance of the Army during the Crimean War, the British conducted a number of reviews into what had gone wrong and what could be improved for the future. Some of these related to the vehicles used during the campaign, and amongst the many results of these reviews the British Army adopted, in 1862, a number of specialised vehicles and a new wagon for general conveyance of supplies which with ruthless logic was named the General Service Wagon. It became the standard logistics wagon of the British Army at home and abroad, and over the course of its life this vehicle went through no less than 11 different marks. It was only finally retired in the early 20th century when motorised vehicles took over.
To date this vehicle more precisely we need to decide which mark is being modelled. This vehicle has springs, which were introduced in 1871, but its overall dimensions, the toolbox/seat at the front, and the size of the front and rear wheels all point to this being the Mark IV version, introduced in 1875 and in service until gradually replaced from 1888 by the Mark VII (the Mark V and Mark VI being experimental vehicles made in tiny numbers). The Mark IV had front wheels small enough to achieved underlock, which gave the wagon a terrifically tight turning circle, but at the cost of being liable to overturning if steered too violently with a heavy load. Initially this type had shafts for the team, but later examples were given a central pole and swingletrees, which this HaT model has, so this is the later, and most widely produced, Mark IV. Since it was in service through the late 1870s and the 1880s, it is appropriate for several colonial campaigns, including of course the 1879 war in Zululand as suggested by the box artwork.
We were quite impressed by this wagon kit. The general dimensions and layout is accurate, and the undercarriage is nicely done, including the springs already mentioned. This makes it a better effort than many wagons which ignore that sort of detail, although it too has some inevitable compromises like the missing handrails for the boxseat. The top of the boxseat is a separate piece, as is the canopy, although naturally if the canopy is left off then the metal frame would also be missing. The only fault we could see was the front foot rest, which is at 90 degrees to the side of the wagon when it should be angled upward. We found the kit really easy to put together, and it makes a good satisfying model without any need for gluing, thanks to a moderately firm plastic and good engineering. The team is just two horses, which attach via their traces to swingletrees which attach to the front axle assembly. The central pole is attached to nothing, but in reality would be connected to the horses by chains. The horses, which have a good gentle walking gait, are harnessed with breast collars, which by this time were replacing the old neck collars, so is well done here.
The general service wagon was driven from the front boxseat, and this kit includes a couple of seated figures to fulfil that duty. Before 1881 the driver would belong to the Army Service Corps, and after that date to the Commissariat and Transport Corps. The driver here (right-hand figure) seems to wear the normal uniform of this corps, including the peaked forage cap. However there is a memoir which suggests the corps may have worn the same foreign service helmet as the infantry, in which case the other figure here would fill the role of the driver. Both men have a haversack, and one has an Oliver-pattern water bottle too, but otherwise have no kit or equipment, and no weapons either (a sword bayonet would have been normal). HaT are to be praised for offering alternative drivers, and they are correctly attired. However as drivers they should be holding at least a whip to encourage the team (assuming they are on the move), but this is singularly missing here.
The precision of the wagon kit is very good, and we had no difficulty getting each element to fit correctly and securely. There is no flash, and the figures too are nice and clean. Their sculpting is fair but with soft detail, although we have seen much worse elsewhere. The poses are pretty static, when a raised arm would have been nice, but they do the job adequately. The figures are a bit smaller than the norm, but this is to ensure they can fit on the boxseat and is both normal and does not affect the look at all.
Initially the British only had local ox wagons to supply their needs, but after the first disasters reinforcements sent from Britain included a number of general service wagons. However their tendency to be top-heavy meant they were unsuitable for the simple tracks (at best) found in the Zulu territory, so they probably never got near to the actual area of battle. This kit is provided with a single pair of horses, which is fine for much of the time, although on particularly tricky terrain two or three pairs might be harnessed. Nevertheless for the 15 or so years that this type of wagon was in use it gave very useful service and such a model as this is to be welcomed. The product is a pretty good and very satisfying kit with no more than the usual compromises and very little wrong in terms of accuracy. Those wanting to depict a wider view of the actions of the British Army during this period will find much to enjoy in this pleasing set.