Monday, May 18, 2020

Fort Greenbrier snapshot



This is a photo my uncle took when he was stationed in Maryland at Fort Greenbrier in 1955. I'm looking for others, but his attic's a mess.



More to come.

Soldier on!
Mannie

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Walkerloo!


Where art, and toy soldiering, intersect.

Christopher Walker is an artist who resides in France.  He is also the field-marshal of an army of his own making; and that army is at war with the giant corporations who flood the market, the airwaves, and the imaginations of children with cheap, plastic, homogenized, corporate advertisements posing as toys.

It is an epic battle.



I think that the very best place to start an exploration of Chris Walker and his wonderful soldiers is with this video of the epic Battle of Walkerloo.



Also check out Walker's website here, it is as entertaining as it is informative.



Okay, it's time to take a look.

The box is a graphic beauty with a colorful Union Jack motif.



Unlike nearly every toy soldier today, these are not made in China, where questionable labor practices and human rights violations are rampant. Also note that they are manufactured in an environmentally conscious manner.



The set contains soldiers of British and French forces of 1815.


One of the cool things about these soldiers is that when you are finished with the battle, you can take their plastic stands off and the soldiers store flat in the box.



Here's a quote from Walker's website for a little background:

Toys are a great way of getting children interested in history, able to spark interest and imagination. Playing and arranging my soldiers brings up all kinds of questions - who are they? why those crazy clothes? why were they fighting in the first place? Historical toys provide a way to find out about war, one of humanity's most calamitous creations.

So far I've made toy soldiers from 10 different regiments who fought at the battle of Waterloo. For each regiment I've drawn and painted groups of soldiers in realistic animated actions and different ranks to give units vitality.

- Christopher Walker


Field musicians stir the spirits of the 42nd Royal Highland Regiment, "The Black Watch."



The Highlanders are supported by the King's German Legion, 2nd Light Battalion.


 At nearly five-inches in height, these steadfast little men are easy for little hands to grapple with as they maneuver across tabletop or bedroom floor battlegrounds. And Walker very much has children in mind.

I have always loved drawing soldiers – at the back of the classroom, after watching war films and when I didn’t know what else to draw. Much later when my nephew’s birthday came up and I was looking round for a present, I found some cartoon drawings I had done years before of French Tirailleurs. I decided to mount them on card and send him them. He loved them, and I thought others might too, so I started drawing more and developing my style, getting very excited about all the regiments I could depict! After 18 months drawing and painting, we (my wife and I) started looking for a company that could produce them. Not easy. We eventually found a company in France who specialise in making board games and puzzles and so had all the machines and skills necessary for printing, gluing on both sides and die-cutting thick card. I was very concerned to get enough detail in the cutting tool outline, I think they did a great job making the cutting tools from my drawings. I wanted to make them in Europe, where I live, and where you have certain guarantees about materials and the manufacturers working conditions. 


I also wanted to make a product with as much recycled and recyclable material as possible. One thing it proved impossible to make out of card was the stands (a narrow slit is very difficult to cut and remove) so we went for a practical plastic stand, made in England.

- Christopher Walker




Depictions of violence was less of an issue during my free-wheeling childhood, but it seems to be today, and that is an appropriate concern of parents regarding children's toys and entertainment.  Along those lines, Walker includes this message on the cover of the box:



Here's our wounded guy...I don't think that he's going to make it. But the ranks are quickly closed by his comrades of the French 13th Light Infantry Voltigeurs.


This reminds me of an anecdote that I think is funny; it's from my days of being a park ranger at Antietam National Battlefield.

One day I was greeting visitors at the front counter of the visitor center, and a mom with two small children approached me...she seemed uneasy.

She had a question for me.  " I see that your film starts in ten minutes.  Is it too graphic for kids?"

I replied: "Well ma'am, it's a movie about the single bloodiest day in American history, so you can draw your own conclusions."

She seemed annoyed with me.




Regular readers of this blog know that I'm a big fan of artillery, and this cannon did not disappoint.


Walker's big guns are engineered to fire rubber bands, as the introductory video demonstrates.



Nuts and a bolt make for easy, and precise, assembly of the gun, as well as making it particularly robust.

Mounted soldiers were included in this set, including this wonderful, helmeted, and soon to be wounded...


5th Regiment, Lancer of the Line.





It's not often that I can say that I like everything about a toy soldier product, so that makes these soldiers exceptional...I do like everything about them.  They represent a consciousness of social and environmental justice in the labor and material used, they are compact, robustly-built, historically accurate, affordable, and they have a delightful element of whimsey about them.  And, when one purchases these soldiers, one is supporting an actual working artist, and the importance of that cannot be overstated.

 A perfect combination, and a great way to...


Soldier on!

Mannie

Thursday, April 9, 2020

The Marines have landed!

Just arrived to my quarantine bunker this morning - the relatively new BMC entry - the Iwo Jima Marine platoon.


Regular readers of this blog know that I haven't been a fan of BMC soldier figures.  The animation, detail, anatomy, and casting are usually pretty disappointing...Exhibit A, from their Alamo set:


Crazy-Chops McGoofy.
"I rest my case, your honor."


But wait, look at this.  The very prestigious and high-end miniature soldier company King and Country has had a hand in these new Marine castings.


And the results couldn't be more different for BMC.  These jarheads are pretty spectacular.


The animation and anatomy are superb, they actually seem to be in motion. Detail is outstanding and the casting is very clean.  Moulded in a pleasing, and appropriate, olive drab, these soft-plastic grunts are welcome reinforcements to the toy soldier table.


Sporting binoculars and packing a .45 the platoon leader directs his men off the beach.



Prone Browing automatic rifle-guy is reaching for another magazine to lay down covering fire as bazooka-guy makes his way closer to the enemy pillbox.



Bazooka-guy draws a bead.  This figure is unique to this group as it is a two-piece.  The bazooka is separate from the guy.  He's a great figure, but I do wish that they had cast a loader to go with him.



Satchmo McStealthy is unobserved as he makes his way ever closer to the enemy strongpoint.  He's thinking: "Did I bring enough grenades?"


This beautifully sculpted prone rifleman is covering the advance of...



Zippy the Zippo-man, using his flamethrower to  light up an enemy bunker...
do you smell burning plastic?



Running-guy is making quite a target of himself. He should really go into a crouch if he wants to make it off the beach.



Kneeling rifleman.  Classic. The is a really nice pose, the anatomy and animation are very believable; and riflemen are always a much-needed resource on the toy soldier table.



Radioman.  This one resonates with me as I was a radioman in the US Navy.  What I really like about this figure is that, unlike every other radioman figure I've ever seen, on this one the antenna is much more accurate in its length.  When you're calling for naval gunfire support, it won't do any good if they can't get your signal.

"...over."



Gordon the grenade hurler.  I love the posture of this one; he's really putting his all into this throw, and the movement of the rifle sling is fabulous.



Assault boat coxswain, or beachmaster.  It's always nice to have Navy representation.  This may just be a cheap ploy by BMC to get you to purchase their LCVP (Higgins boat) model.  If that's the case, they were successful as I just ordered two of them. this afternoon.





My favorite gyrene of the whole platoon; standing BAR-guy.  This is a very powerful sculpt, The posture of him bracing against the robust recoil of this weapon is very believable.




This set has  34 Marines in twelve different poses.  My on beef is with some of the redundancy; for instance, you get three radiomen, three platoon leaders, and three, beach masters, when, really, you only need one each.  I wish some of those duplicates could have been riflemen.  

Otherwise, I'm very happy with this offering, and I think BMC is to be commended for this watershed turnaround in the quality of their product.

These Devil-Dogs will be a force to be reckoned with when they hit the beach on my toy soldier table.

Gung-ho!

Soldier on!

Mannie

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

A tale of two Marx halftracks

Soon, I'll be doing some posts on the wonderful playsets of the Louis Marx toy company.  Mr. Marx had a knack for assembling different elements - soldiers, people, terrain, buildings, forts, rockets, animals, characters, weapons and vehicles that created an entire worlds for a child to enjoy.




Profiled here, are two vehicles from two of those famous playsets. Both are Army halftracks, one from the Marx Army Training Center playset, and the other from the various Marx Battleground playsets.  And as you will see, they are very different, one from the other.


The Army Training Center Halftrack is at the top and the Battleground halftrack is at the bottom,...there is quite a difference in size and level of detail.


First, we'll look at the training center model.  It came with 40mm soldiers which are about two inches high, almost all later Marx figures were 54mm which made the Training Center guys considerably smaller, but, nonetheless, a pretty good fit for the halftrack.


This halftrack is moulded in hard plastic which was also different from later Marx sets, in which the vehicles were all moulded in softer plastic, which made them much more durable, as hard plastic breaks easily.


As a matter of fact it is difficult to find these Training Center halftracks that still have the windshield frame intact, they're quite fragile and easily broken.  I'm lucky in that I've managed to collect two of them in perfect condition.  Broken ones can sometimes be found for less than fifteen dollars, unbroken ones, however, can be quite expensive. Just one little piece of plastic makes all the difference.


Marx did a really good job of capturing the sturdy boxiness of this famous WWII vehicle.



A second set of wheels is concealed behind the tracks and allows the vehicle to glide smoothly along the floor of your tabletop or bedroom floor battlefield.


Now we will start our comparison of the Training Center halftrack to the Battleground halftrack.

The Marx designers paid great attention to detail, and it's odd to me that the vehicles, materials, and size of the soldiers were so very different from each other.  Training Ground had large, hard-plastic vehicles, and small soldiers with little detail.  Battleground had small, soft-plastic vehicles, and larger soldiers with very good detail.  This is a puzzle to me.




Training Center on left, Battleground on right.


Here is a detailed 54mm Battleground soldier with the Battleground halftrack. the soldier is way too big for the vehicle!


Here is the same soldier compared to the Training Center halftrack.  He's still just a little too large for it, nonethelesss, the size is much more realistic.


Here's the side-by-side comparison of the Battleground figure with the 
Training Center figure.  
Quite a difference, isn't there?


The smaller Training Center soldier is a much better fit for the Battleground vehicle.




Compare the highly-detailed face of the Battleground soldier on the left with the Training Center soldier on the right.  The difference is pretty startling.


Despite this, the Marx Army Training Center playset is still a very cool playset and one that I will be profiling in a later post.





This is the first of my Marx WWII playset posts.  I will be doing more over the coming year, and I hope that you don't mind the change of pace from my usual toy Civil War soldier posts.


The Louis Marx company isn't around anymore and these fabulous and fun playsets are no longer being made; but that doesn't mean that you need to miss out on the tun that I had when I was your age.  There are still playsets being made for you today, although none of them are as imaginative or as affordable as the Marx sets.  But as we go along we'll talk about ways that you can use your own imagination to design and assemble your own playsets.  Does that sound good to you?

Okay, until next time...

Soldier on!

Mannie