When the British Empire annexed the Punjab in 1849 it found itself with the troublesome peoples of southern Afghanistan as its near neighbours. These various tribes frequently raided within the Punjab itself, and over the next half century and more dozens of punitive expeditions were mounted. Even the most successful only succeeded in stopping raids for a short time, and by the last decade of the 19th century the situation was no different. As is usual with such empires, the British generally used mostly native Indian troops for these expeditions, but often included some European troops, which are the subject of this set.
By the 1890s improvements in weaponry meant soldiers could generally keep each other at bay by rifle fire alone, and the various Afghan tribes also had access to such weapons, which suited their preferred tactic of sniping from higher ground. Consequently hand-to-hand fighting was very rare, yet three of the poses in this set are doing just that. The rest of the poses are more mundane but realistic, although there is little evidence of the use of cover which these troops were urged to utilise. All are in battle poses, so there is no marching figure, which is a shame.
The basic uniform has largely been represented correctly, with the men wearing the foreign-service helmet with puggaree wrapped round the crown, tunic and trousers with puttees round the lower legs. However there is no sign of the helmet curtains, spine pads and other devices sometimes issued to protect the men from the weather. The webbing for this period should be the Slade-Wallace, although some older sets may have been seen earlier in the decade. However the actual webbing is quite a mess on these figures. Some do indeed have something approximating to the Slade-Wallace pattern, although the pouches are rather small. Others have just a waistbelt, and some have a haversack, either instead of or as well as the basic belts. The first three figures in our top row have just a bandolier, suggesting they are mounted infantry or dismounted cavalry. In a couple of cases a man has straps round the front that simply disappear round the back. A particular surprise is no one has a canteen, no one has a valise and many have no bayonet scabbard. The officer has just a waistbelt and a sword carried by a shoulder strap, an increasingly unlikely arrangement on the North-West Frontier. In short, the webbing is incomplete and very confused. Usually we like some variety in such things as this often reflects the reality, but here it is just poorly done.
The sculpting is really far from impressive, with all the figures having a very two-dimensional flat look. The overall shape is often quite irregular, making an item look fine from one angle but very odd from another. For example the helmets are generally shown as long and thin (to match the head perhaps), with a rear peak that extends much too far down the neck, almost touching the shoulders. Detail is pretty indistinct and as we have already mentioned some straps simply disappear half way round the body. The revolver in the officer’s hand could not even be recognised as a revolver were it not for its location, and the rifles are too poorly done to be identified. In places the limbs merge with the weapon, and hands are often completely indistinguishable. The first issue of this set had very little flash, but later batches such as that pictured above had considerably more, so as usual the level of excess plastic will vary between sets.
So with some inelegant and not particularly well chosen poses, a surprisingly wide variety of non-uniform webbing and a really poor sculpting job this set has little to commend it. At the time of initial release no one else had produced a set dedicated to these men (the Esci set was for an earlier period), but with this poor effort that particular gap in the market was yet to be filled.