Toy Soldiers is an intriguing and funny little film, only six minutes long, made in Canada in 1999 (based around a toy soldier poem or anecdote by Al Rae), all about a young Al’s desire to own a certain rare cereal box toy soldier Teutonic Knight to complete his collection.
Synopsis – “A young boy, desperate to complete his set of toy soldiers, betrays a friend to get what he wants.” Creative team – Writer/producer: Catherine May Director: Jackie May
The figures are familiar Timpo figures, displayed on egg box plinths
Union American Civil War, Waterloo British, Indian Chief, Arab Warrior, Confederate Civil War, American War of Independnce British, Eighth Army, Waterloo Scots Piper, Waterloo Prussian …
and to complete the set the long sought Teutonic Knight who lived at the top of a Lego stand at the house of Brian, young Al’s rival collector who has a complete set.
These Timpo figures were familiar figures from my 1970s childhood, bought in Action Packs and recently reissued by Toyway (now shut).
Glasgow born poet writer and film actor Al Rae (who narrates the film and plays himself as an adult) now lives in Canada and is now known as Lara Rae, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lara_Rae “Lara Rae (born 1963 in Glasgow, Scotlan), formerly known as Al Rae, is a Canadian comedian, best known as the longtime artistic director of the Winnipeg Comedy Festival and as a performer on the CBC Radio One comedy series The Debaters…”
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):