Put yourself in the boots of a British cavalry officer at the end of 1914. The world is a rapidly changing place, with the social order you know so well coming under threat from socialism and other 'subversive' forces. Warfare is changing too. Perhaps your father and his father before him were both cavalry officers, but their wars had also been adventures - the prospect of glory had always been there. Now everything is different. Vast armies are facing each other from static and increasingly sophisticated trenches, armed with ever more murderous rifles and machine guns. You can’t charge that. Balloons and aeroplanes are starting to take over the traditional cavalry role of reconnaissance, and some cavalrymen are being used as mounted infantry or worse yet, dismounted entirely. Far from being over by Christmas, the war shows every sign of settling down into a long drawn-out slogging match, and what role is there for the cavalry, with no breakthroughs to exploit?
Such a gloomy outlook would have been well-founded, for Britain’s cavalry, despite their proud heritage, would have little to do in France. After the initial war of movement the trench system meant cavalry was used for mundane duties behind the lines and kept in reserve, ready to exploit a breakthrough that was to be years in coming. This set depicts such men as they appeared in the early part of the Great War, wearing standard service dress and armed principally with rifles and revolvers. Each man wears the smart stiffened peaked cap and has the regulation M1903 90-round bandolier round his body, with breeches and puttees on the lower leg apart from the officer, who has long boots instead. All this is accurate, as is the Sam Browne belt of the officer, although there is no sign of the canteen that the men would always have carried - merely their haversack. Also missing is the lanyard all cavalry wore on their left shoulder, although the Strelets chunky style probably means such fine details are not possible. It was a requirement that the men wore their caps with the chinstrap down when mounted, but many of these figures are flouting this rule.
Most of the men are handling rifles (most likely the short SMLE) or revolvers, which were their principal weapons. All would have been provided with a sword, and some even had lances, but there was virtually no opportunity to use such archaic weapons on the Western Front, so the one man who has drawn his sword is more likely to be on parade than facing an enemy. With no bladed weapons drawn in anger, many of the poses here could easily be of men on patrol or out of the battle line, which is perfectly appropriate given their situation. Those who are firing from the saddle would be a rarity, given the obvious vulnerability of a man on horseback when facing infantry, especially when entrenched. Still if these figures are to see any action then a few such poses are perhaps inevitable and no bad thing even if they are pretty unlikely. As so often, the poses are pretty flat and uninspiring, but there is nothing particularly terrible about any of them.
The horse poses however include a number that are highly unnatural, although at least the sculptor has not attempted to include any at the gallop. Much of the equipment they carry, while often hard to make out with any certainty, looks to be reasonable, but there are problems. Every horse has a sword on the left side of the saddle, which is fine although they are much too short here. Also the hilt will have to be carved away for the man who has drawn his, which is not the easiest of tasks. It became common for a second M1903 bandolier to be slung around the horse's neck, but in every case here the sculptor has given this item only eight pouches when there should be nine. For some reason only half the horses have the boot for the rifle, which is also not particularly well proportioned. The bridle is something of an indistinct mess, but each animal has a halter rope as they should. However in every case this only extends round one side or the other of the animal's neck, and does not approach the halter itself, which suggests the sculptor did not understand the purpose of this item. Finally, each horse is pictured above with a small pouch on the nose. This is a very crude form of respirator, and is inappropriate for most of the first half of the war. Luckily Strelets have made this item as a separate piece, and to make these horses suitable for the period a small peg on the nose needs to be removed, which is easily done. These are the same horses as are found in the late war set, but they leave much to be desired.
The standard Strelets coarse style means details are either exaggerated or missing, and these figures are just the same, although they are amongst the better examples this company have produced recently. There are some quite nice faces, although again quality varies here, but items such as the rifles are really not good. Some of the horses tend to lean on their bases, but for the most part the fit between man and animal is surprisingly good, and there is no flash to speak of, although the finish is not always as polished as we would like.
Much to their disappointment, such men as these saw little action in France, at least while mounted on a horse. That limits the utility of this set, although there is always the possibility of gaming a variety of 'what-if' scenarios where the war remained fluid and gave cavalry at least some role to play. Given the usual Strelets limitations we thought the men were quite nicely done with few accuracy concerns, but the horses are once again a weakness in the set, with some poor poses and a variety of issues regarding their kit, which only goes to show once again that sculptors need to understand their subject rather than slavishly copy drawings. This is an interesting and unusual subject, and this set has its positive characteristics, but it could still have been done better.