O I do like a gift shop by the seaside … Outside this gift shop were the usual wire baskets full of plastic tat and seaside flim-flam.
£1 per pack of average 19 soldiers, a free plastic castle tower and bizarre flag choice. What more could you want?
The figures are manufactured in China, imported or packed by PMS.
Although these are supposed to be modern American infantry, their slightly distorted moulding gives them a space marine 1930s/1950s look, suitable for paint conversion.
They are remarkably spindly, very thin pressings or mouldings, a bit of flash to clean up, almost semi-round or semi flat but fun all the same. The usual minimal basing to save plastic …
What attracted my eye amongst the seaside plastic gifts were the echoes of my other favourite pound store figures of different scales seen here, 54mm ish versus these smaller 30 to 40mm-ish figures, currently available in Poundland bags or buckets (£1 per 100!)
A seaside gift shop was the source of 6 boxes of these figures at 50p a box. The flimsy boxes have a curious ‘military’ land mine or Lewis Gun magazine look to them.
They are China copies of BMC US Marines from WW2 with a few of their Japanese lying down figures thrown in.
These figures will probably not end up khaki or green; I shall see what they look like in more colourful Imagi-nations garb. Redcoats? Blue coats? Army Red, Army Blue. With all the haversack, entrenching tools and ammunition pouches they could make interesting steampunked 19th century figures.
At the time of buying I had no idea whose figures they were or how old they were.
Like many pound store figures, they are of Chinese manufacture.
Subsequent web research shows these Dan Hai Military Assault figures are China copies of US Marines made by the US firm of BMC for their Iwo Jima set, a playset not available in the shops in the UK.
The original figures were produced for BMC Toys, founded by Bill McMaster in 1991. Bill passed away in 2014 but the line is to be produced again in the USA by Victorybuy.com
I sometimes wonder whether ‘pirate’ or pound store copy figures do the original manufacturers out of sales or a living?
To be fair, many of them are fairly distorted compared to the originals and some of these originals are no longer available such as the Matchbox figures (and for many years Airfix). It’s almost like buying a jumble of second hand figures.
I think pound store figures are pitched at a different ‘pocket money’ market from those who will spend the amount that the venerable Airfix figures now cost for example, new or vintage.
A useful set of figures and overall £3 well spent for 6 boxes at 50p each. This amounted to 144 figures for £3, on average 24 figures a box and each costing around tuppence (2p). A high street coffee is sometimes more expensive than this whole haul!
Trying to to find interesting 54mm civilian figures is always a challenge. Apart from an unusual set ordered online from China, it usually involves looking out for figures with playsets or vehicles. An expensive way to acquire a few figures!
Britains and other companies used to make civilian and railway figures in 54mm lead but few in plastic, the occasional keeper figure or farm worker.
It was always frustrating as a child to have a zoo or farm or a parade set out but no visitors to watch; it usually resulted in lots of troops parading (H.G. Wells Floor Games style) endlessly through the zoo along with assorted military staff feeding the animals.
Evn today, Edinburgh Zoo has a penguin called Nils Olaf “commissioned” into the Norwegian Royal Guard and occasionally visited and paraded by his fellow (human) comrades in their magnificent full dress uniform.
This was sort of true of British Zoos in wartime – there were special rates for servicemen (and lady friends) in uniform, entertainments in WW1 for injured servicemen. I have 1939’propaganda’ press pictures of servicemen enjoying elephant rides at Belle Vue Zoo Manchester. In the first few weeks of being closed to the public on ARP grounds in September 1939, London Zoo made arrangements for servicemen to walk round for the animals to look at. ‘The Zoo’ also made their canteen over to the RAF as the big houses around became RAF Regent’s Park full of training aircrew.
Britain’s and other lead toy soldier manufacturers made plenty of civilians and farm workers in the more pacifist aftermath of WW1. Plastic manufacturers haven’t followed suit and painted railway figures in this 54mm /1:32 scale are often quite expensive.
Failing the mounting of a full scale military parade through your zoo, Wild West town etc. all day and everyday, some normal civilians are useful for floor games, sandpit games or wargames.
These feature sets came from a zoo gift shop with two zebra striped jeeps, some brilliant wooden watch towers and rope ways (of which more anon) , a couple of odd sized animals and these interesting modern civilians.
Something similar to the girl child in the photos has recently been repainted and reused in a Slinkachu type way on the front cover of an art photography book Micro Worlds about the recent group of artists / photographers playing with scale for satiric, unsettling or comic effect. An interesting book but one which contains some slightly disturbing dystopian or to some tasteless items from a range of photographers.
Police and firefighters are now available in poundstore tubes. Back in the 1980s there were Britain’s Deetail nurses, doctors and construction workers, not forgetting the Britain’s farm workers from lead to Herald plastic and a modern farm worker range still around in toy shops today.
In future blogposts I will feature more civilian figures to be used for game scenarios from the Chinese online set to the useful USA manufactured Toob “heritage” plastic figures roughly in 54mm, also purchased online.
Plastic Warrior website also feature an excellent set of Mexican Wild West civilians or peasants.
A large part of my childhood was spent on my knees.
No, this is not as pious or religious as it would have sounded in Victorian times. I spent a lot of time crawling around on the floor, lawn and flowerbeds in epic battles with tiny men.
When I first saw John Boorman’s WW2 childhood autobiography film Hope and Glory, I immediately identified with the opening scene when war is declared over the radio on that first Sunday of the war. The young boy / Boorman is at lawn and flowerbed level, playing with a tiny Britain’s style metal knight and an odd wizard figure (a filmic nod to Boorman’s Excalibur movie?) as the Sunday lawn mowers stop and the radios are switched on for Chamberlain’s speech. It’s that playing with real plants and pretend characters, the play with scales, which says something about the make-believe between acting, film making and playing with colourful toy soldiers (which remains the heart of our hobby).
From tiny Airfix HO/OO (or 1:72/76) which were really too tiny for outdoor use (many of them went ‘missing in action’ and perished in the pile of builder’s sand in the garden that passed for our sandpit or sand table) to the much more practical 54mm plastic figures (or 1:32) that could stay out at night, throughout the week and resume action next weekend or the next spare teatime or evening.
I can recall parts of my childhood garden in tiny texture and colour detail inch by inch. More than I can the house, my schooldays or many people.
If I obeyed the rules, Knights, Soldiers, Cowboys were welcome.
Simple rules: Keep them clear from blocking paths, not left out on any lawn that was to be mown (death by flymow didn’t just happen to tortoises in the 1970s) and above all, not to damage any plants.
Other than this, I pretty much had free rein to invade the flowerbeds, rockeries and wilder more overgrown areas of our thin uphill sloping back garden.
Rocks, twigs and stones, collected but not broken off, were all useful for making tiny camps and fortifications.
Flowerbeds were forests and jungles. Lawns were seas between flowerbeds and rockery cliffs. Or open fields, airstrips … Whatever game life your current figures and imagination breathed into them.
Oddly it’s a habit that has never gone away. Following my late dad’s playful instructions, you should always post a three man patrol out in the garden equipped with a radio (radioman were often scarce plastic figures) or signalman, depending on the period. I still do.
The radio or signalman is so that they can contact back to base and summon up air strikes, rescue and reinforcements depending on period. Ideally you should have another patrol elsewhere within flag, beacon or radio range either indoor or outdoor to pick up this intelligence and reconnaissance info.
Don’t forget to change patrols over regularly otherwise they get sleepy and inefficient. Rest in billets required!
Alongside the radio man, ideally you should have some kind of patrol leader or officer with binoculars. They can then observe all possible troop and wildlife movements, hostile natives, cats, snails etc. This was probably a tiny toy soldier precursor of today’s BBC Spring Watch or the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch?
When I am away travelling, I still have a tiny wooden box with a three man garden patrol that often goes with me, just to keep me in touch with the (tiniest) folks at home.
What is it about garden wargames?
Is is it the texture and smell of real mud and wet that makes this garden patrol and Yarden / garden gaming thing an attractive memory and occasional current pastime?
Is it the heady effects of the free burst of Vitamin D from the sun on your skin?
Is it the not quite having to grow up and have a ‘sensible’ garden?
Is that the same attraction of the more complicated process of running a garden railway or creating a model village with its dwarf plants, deadly ponds and the interplay with scale and reality?
Is it that Borrowers tiny people thing who are really alive and tweeting when you are not looking?
Who knows, but despite the older I get and the creakier the knees (maybe knee pads would convince people I really was sensibly gardening), the attraction and the wonder still lurks out there – under a bush, behind a stone – playing at toy soldiers down at ground level in the mud.
Garden or Yarden Rules
You can pretty much use any game rules in the garden, scaled up to your figure size. I use scaled up period versions of my Close Little Wars rules (my version of Donald Featherstone’s Close Wars appendix to his 1962 War Games):