More Dumb Soldiers in the Garden

Wellsian illustration for RLS poem The Dumb Soldier  by Jessie Wilcox-Smith

Being some illustrations of ‘The Dumb Soldier’ poem by Robert Louis Stevenson (RLS) from  A Child’s Garden of Verses (1885), as featured in our recent garden games post:

I was fascinated by the discovery by Tony (of the interesting  Tin Soldiering On blog) of this type of crude wartime or postwar hollowcast figure, the plastic pound store warriors of their day, buried in the garden of the house  he grew up in whilst digging the garden

He is about 54mm (2″) scale, I’m not sure where he has come from,  my parents moved into the house in about 1946 shortly after it was built and I have lived here all my life and can’t remember ever owning him as a child so he is a bit of a mystery, but he will stand guard on my painting tray from now on … it ties in with the age of the house which was built just after the war,  my mother and father moved in on his demob in 1946 I think . Tony, Tin Soldiering On blog

So I was curious to see the same type of figure unearthed and turn up for sale on an online site and bought this “Dumb soldier” to go with several others that have turned up in joblots.

54mm-ish WW2 or post war lead hollow cast, discovered in Bristol by Dave Hough, now in my collection. The pound store plastics of their day. Looks like it’s been buried a while ….

They are very similar in style to the crude moulded figures that I produced from vintage metal moulds.

The Dumb Soldier Illustrated

First is a three page spread by British illustrator Hilda Boswell (1903 – 1976) in watercolours, from her illustrated version of a Child’s Garden of Verses,  published in 1963. The first two pages are a double page spread, broken down to page by page to see more details.

Archaeologists of the future might see this toy soldier burial as some kind of  strange ritual practice. (In my experience anything Archaeologists do not understand is linked to strange ‘ritual’ practice).




Her “Dumb Soldier” looks much like the 1960s Herald Plastic Guardsman I grew up with, first introduced in the early 1950s as plastics steadily took over from lead figures for children. So this Herald figure could easily have been the model.

One of my Britain’s Herald Guardsman (1950s-1970s) 

The other illustration in my collection is from the late Brian Wildsmith (1930-2016), a well-known British illustrator.

I was amazed and pleased to see that his  1960s illustrated version of A Child’s Garden of Verses is  back / still in print (Blackwells, 2017). So you can own a copy too!

‘The Dumb Soldier’ poem from my old bashed family copy of RLS Child’s Garden of Verses with illustration by the late Brian Wildsmith.

Lost or deliberately buried in the garden?

My late Dad as a wartime child was given some ‘lost’ metal figures including a coronation coach dredged up from his father’s employer’s  garden pond, presumably unwanted by the previous, possibly careless child owners. Long lost again many years beforei was born,  I often thought of these treasures whilst launching amphibious assaults across our garden pond and then sometimes having to root around in the pond bottom mud for the heavier casualties.

I lost plenty enough small Airfix figures in the pile of builders sand we called a sandpit. Digging one into the lawn, however good his trench or fire pit, would have led to pretty quick decapitation by 1970s hovermower.


B.P.S BlogPostscript

I was amazed and pleased to see that Wildsmith’s 1960s illustrated version of A Child’s Garden of Verses is back / still in print (Blackwells, 2017). So you can own a copy too!

Blogposted by Mark, Man of TIN, 30th August 2017


The Washing of The Spears



Not the famous book about the Zulu Wars and a ritual after battle but the next stage of my Poundland Mission accomplished.

Having acquired four new tubs of Poundland’s finest 36mm figures with my last four old round pound coins, like most plastic figures, it pays back in time and paint later  to give them a quick detergent wash and scrub.

This gets rid of any mould releasant grease or spray that may be on these plastic figures, even though they are a harder plastic than the Airfix figures, which also  suggested a quick wash and a gentle scrub /  brush in detergent before painting.

The Drying of the Spears 

The Drying of The Spears – This ritual always feels something slightly agricultural or cookery based, spreading the washed figures out to dry on a suitable spare towel. They have a satisfying  rattle …

Hence the rituals of Washing of the Spears, and the Drying of the Spears, the next stages in preparing these odd “penny dreadful” figures for conversion into Generican native warriors.

Will they be Zulu-like ? Will they be desert warriors like my last trial set?

Some of my  Imagi-Native Pound Store Plastic warriors so far …

Hmm …What sort of hostile Imagi-Natives?

North and South Generica have a wide range of habitats and associated hostile tribes, as does North and South Farica, all my own Imagi-Nations. These will add to the young Bronte family’s  North and South Pacific Imagi-Nations of Gondal (N) and Gaaldine (S) along with the West African based kingdoms or colonies of Glasstown and Angria, slowly being explored on my Man of TIN blog.


What sort of hostile native to make, ready to defend their lands or spread their own empire? Ladybird Soldiers book c. 1974/5

Will they be warlike Jumblies with heads of green and hands of blue and a fundamentally flawed navy and amphibious capability? I’m reading a biography of Edward Lear at the moment as a bit of melancholic yet still lighter relief  from the intense dark Victorian Gothic of the Brontes.

Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve …

For they’ve been to the Lakes, and the Torrible Zone,

And the hills of the Chankly Bore”


More Washing of The Spears (and Rifles)

There is an interesting series of blog posts at Megablitz and More by veteran blogger Tim Gow on preparing and painting plastic figures.

It is always fascinating to see how different people do similar tasks differently or similarly to your own way of doing things.

Blogposted by Mark, Man of TIN on Pound Store Plastic Warriors blog, 28 October 2017.


Dumb Soldiers: The Past and Future of Garden Wargames?

My Garden War (Games) Correspondent – great 80mm Prepainted Papo ranger figure (with aquarium castle in distance) 2016 

Knee pads out, the summer is on its way. The sun is shining. I can look back towards the garden games of last year and plan those for this year.

I have just bought a new set of “Moss Green”  Kneelo knee pads from garden suppliers  Burgon and Ball. At £15,  these really are the business (or the bees knees?)

I tested these out today in the sunshine on a duel game in my ground level sand table (also known as the sandpit) using Gerard Du Gre’s Duelling rules Lunge, Cut and Stop Thrust  reproduced in ‘Wargaming in Bed’ –  my favourite simple ideas chapter of Donald Featherstone’s Solo Wargaming (recently reprinted by John Curry). More about these duelling games in another post.

80mm Pirates of The Caribbean female action figure  (£1 bag charity shop bag find)  versus Papo peg-leg pirate duelling in the sand pit – more in a future blogpost. Flamingo score points markers and palm trees – £1 bag stores cocktail sticks 

I was delighted to see an article on Garden Wargaming by Conrad Kinch in the most recent edition of Miniature Wargames 408, April 2017 Issue. It was enough to persuade me to buy the magazine.

The lack of coverage of Garden Wargaming is one thing I have been thinking about over the past year, especially  as it turns again towards warmer weather.

Lovely to hear from fellow blogger Alan the ‘Tradgardmastre’ on my comments page about a recent Garden Wargames post

I really enjoyed the garden wargames in the last post (14 September 2016)

Many a plastic fellow was lost in the trenches of my garden in the 1960s,many of whom had come free in Kellogg’s packets.

We had two tiers to our back garden separated by steep steps flanked on each side by a rockery. The bottom tier was where the trenches lay. The plastic soldiers would sometimes ascend the rockery and get lost amongst the summer snow ( white cascading plant) covering much of the rockery.

Comment from Alan, Tradgardmastre blog 

Alan wins my “Best Garden Wargames Pun 2017” award for registering a blog page name for future posts about Garden Wargames called  “By the Sward Divided“.

In keeping with the pound store plastic theme, this award medal for Alan should be shiny gold plastic and inscribed “Made in China”.

If you don’t instantly get the pun, there was a colourful but clunky BBC TV drama produced in Britain in the 1980s  called “By The Sword Divided” about the English Civil War. This was around the time (and possibly the reason why) I started collecting Peter Laing’s 15mm  English Civil War figures.

One of my  outdoor three man patrols – Pirated BMC seaside pound store 54mm US marines

We must all have those early memories of ‘Lost Legions’ in the garden rockery and sandpit.

You must also be of a certain age to remember the free plastic figures in cereal packets that Alan mentions. Most of my cereal box figures handed down by family members were red guards and bandsmen, still in use in my 54mm games.

Alan’s comments about trenches and lost figures also remind me of an interesting poem in The Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson, author of the Yallobelly Times (described in Stevenson At Play) and other gaming inspired bits of writing.

The Dumb Soldier Lost and Found 

I was reminded of the lost and found figure on Tony’s Tin Soldiering On blogpost, a homecast lead figure

I have in my collection a equally battered and soil stained WW2 figure of this type found and sold by someone in the Bristol area.

One of RLS Robert Louis Stevenson’ poems is about a lost soldier (or a one man version of my three man patrol thing), a poem called The Dumb Soldier

The Dumb Soldier

When the grass was closely mown,
Walking on the lawn alone,
In the turf a hole I found
And hid a soldier underground.

Spring and daisies came apace;
Grasses hide my hiding place;
Grasses run like a green sea
O’er the lawn up to my knee.

Under grass alone he lies,
Looking up with leaden eyes,
Scarlet coat and pointed gun,
To the stars and to the sun.

When the grass is ripe like grain,
When the scythe is stoned again,
When the lawn is shaven clear,
Then my hole shall reappear.

I shall find him, never fear,
I shall find my grenadier;
But for all that’s gone and come,
I shall find my soldier dumb.

He has lived, a little thing,
In the grassy woods of spring;
Done, if he could tell me true,
Just as I should like to do.

He has seen the starry hours
And the springing of the flowers;
And the fairy things that pass
In the forests of the grass.

In the silence he has heard
Talking bee and ladybird,
And the butterfly has flown
O’er him as he lay alone.

Not a word will he disclose,
Not a word of all he knows.
I must lay him on the shelf,
And make up the tale myself.

RLS Robert Louis Stevenson, from A Child’s Garden of Verses

Maybe these figures were lost during childhood games or  maybe this RLS poem encouraged children to try this hide and seek mission. From which deep cover they never returned until recently …

I have only ever been lucky enough to  find modern plastic figures on the beach:

Why So Little Garden War Games Coverage?

I am quite puzzled why there are so few “garden wargames” blogs or blogposts out there and posted a thread about this on Mike Lewis’  Little Wars Revisited 54mm figure gaming forum

The various responses suggested it may be because of:

1. the indifferent and unpredicatable weather

2. the lack of garden space or being overlooked. Would I crawl round at ground level where the neighbours can see? Or less overlooked in the back garden?

3. What Elvis McGonagall called  “He fights them on the beaches / He fights them on the seas / He fights them on the carpet / Despite his creaky knees” in his Soldiering On poem.

4. 54mm is a marginal scale in gaming anyway, therefore less coverage.

5. Cat poo.

5. Gaming  in the local park has its associated problems.

The rebirth of H.G. Wells type gaming was celebrated or covered in a recent Miniature Wargames magazine  article “Little Wars Commemorated” (Issue 402)

I wonder if Garden Railroaders or Garden Railway enthusiasts would get the same reaction? They even have their own magazines including Garden Rail published by the same group as Miniature Wargames.

John Ruddles’ wargamers garden – image taken courtesy from Wargaming Miscellany / Vintage Wargaming blogs.

The Future Solution? 🙂

We are currently redesigning our small garden for all the family and the local wildlife, not forgetting garden games. For now it will be knee pads on.

Maybe as we all get older and our collective wargamer’s knee problems develop with age, we can adapt the idea of those “raised bed gardens” for the aged or disabled gardener into chair height islands.

Boats and planes could be mounted on stands to travel amongst the ‘islands’.

Could this be the future for Garden Wargames and ageing garden wargamers?


The perfect way to build in a John Ruddle style Wargames garden at accessible height?

Tell your neighbours, if you must, that it’s a disabled accessible model village. That covers the “shame or chutzpah?” issue of being overlooked or literally looked down on by the neighbours, raised in the garden wargames questions and answers on the 54mm forum Little Wars Revisited.

Plenty of ideas on how to make your own raised beds in your garden / yarden:

The alternative: mess tables and Astroturf. The Australian Colliectors of Toy  Soldiers (ACOTS) seem to do this mess table thing outside well for the impressive games shown on Quantrills Toy Soldiers blogsite:

More from the (garden) war (games) correspondent over the next few months till rain and cold stop play again.

Blogposted by Mark, Man of TIN blog, 23 April 2017. Happy St George’s Day!

Ambush at Bottom Step … Papo 80mm prepainted cowboys. This bandy leg pose also helps them sit on horses.