Those foreigners who found themselves in Peking during the early months of 1900 faced an increasingly alarming situation as reports came in of ever more murders of foreigners provoked by the rise of the Boxer movement. With the imperial government apparently doing little to stem this tide the various foreign legations in Peking requested that guards by sent to them from their ships off the nearby coast. With no troops immediately available the French sent around 75 armed sailors as marines, which were split between the defence of the legations (45 men) and the Peitang Cathedral (30 men). Both groups were therefore heavily involved in the fierce fighting of the next few weeks, with the garrison at the cathedral being particularly hard pressed in what all agree was a heroic action alongside some Italian sailors. A further 151 French sailors also participated in Admiral Seymour’s ill-fated relief expedition.
By the end of the 19th century most navies wore a uniform of largely similar style, with the peakless cap and the sailor’s collar being the most recognisable elements. French sailors conformed to this pattern but also sported two unusual items: a red pompon on top of the cap and a strap across the crown. All this is correctly included on these figures, which are therefore quite accurate. All the figures wear short gaiters, which were issued to sailors when serving on land, although here all the men have their trousers outside these rather than tucked in. In addition, while all the men have the twin cartridge pouch belt that was standard issue some are missing the supporting straps over the shoulders, but this can easily be added during painting. Some photographs of the time shows sailors wearing brimmed hats rather than caps, which is a sensible choice given the remorseless Chinese summer, but which was worn during the siege is not clear. The rifles cannot be identified but look reasonable, while the officer’s uniform too is without problems.
While there were sorties much of the work of French sailors during the campaign was manning the various parts of the perimeter, firing through loopholes in the walls, although there was some hand-to-hand combat on occasions. The poses in this set are a pretty good reflection of that, with several firing poses being very appropriate here. The first man in the top row, apparently bayoneting, is somewhat clumsy as this pose always is if done in only one piece, but otherwise the men look fairly natural. The inclusion of a wounded man using his rifle as a crutch is an unusual but pleasing choice.
The sculpting is fairly good, with a reasonable amount of detail, although areas such as the rifles tend to be less good. In particular some of the bayonets are no more than spikes protruding from the muzzle of the rifle. One past problem with many RedBox sets was the quantity of flash, but happily with this set there is almost no flash at all. Also we thought the poses were not as flat as some previous sets, although we did wonder at why several poses have such tiny bases. While all the figures do successfully stand by themselves we see no benefit from making some bases so small that the figure will topple with little encouragement.
All the troops carry no more kit than their ammo belts and bayonet scabbards, which again matches well with their static defensive role in Peking. In general then we were pleased to see the improvement in the quality of the mould and thought these figures will go well with the other Boxer Rebellion sets currently available, depicting another important element in the story of those few hectic weeks in 1900.