As the British came to dominate India in the 18th and 19th centuries, the country was run by the Honourable East India Company, which divided its military forces into three presidencies, Bengal, Bombay and Madras. After the Great Mutiny of 1857 the British Government took over control, but retained the three-way split, and at that date the Army of Bengal had 19 cavalry regiments. Between 1864 and 1900 15 of those 19 regiments were converted into lancers, creating the famous Bengal Lancers which this set depicts; a body of cavalry that was widely admired by friend and foe, and participated in several of Britain’s colonial campaigns as well as serving in and around India itself.
Each of the regiments had a considerable amount of say in their uniform and equipment, and made changes as and when it pleased them, so the half century up to the outbreak of World War I is a mass of different uniforms and standards, making these figures impossible to date with certainty. However during the early years of direct rule from London the regiments seem to have mostly worn the alkalak, a long tunic with a wide trimmed front that is not shown on these models. Instead all wear the kurta, which replaced the alkalak over a long period, and for our purposes differed mainly in having a simpler buttoned opening down to the waist. This is the form most often taken when someone pictures the typical Bengal Lancer (such as the 1/12th scale Airfix model) and is appropriate for the later years of the 19th and early 20th century, though exactly when varies greatly between regiments as we have said.
On their heads all these models wear a lungi (also called a ‘safa’ but technically not quite the same as a turban), which is wrapped around a pointed cap called a kulla. Although named for Bengal, by no means all the troopers were actually Bengali, and while their main uniform was common to the whole regiment, the form of headdress varied between squadrons, denoting the religious or tribal background of those men (squadrons were deliberately made up of men with the same characteristics to avoid problems). The kulla and lungi modelled here are very typical however.
The rest of the costume is also correct for the period, with a cummerbund round the waist and short boots and puttees on the legs (gradually replacing riding boots as the century progressed). There is a wealth of photographs and illustrations of these men during the late colonial period, but naturally many focus on the gorgeous full-dress uniforms, and on the officers, rather than the rank-and-file in campaign dress. A large number of these show a belt over the left shoulder, but these men have one over the right. This seems to be a simple brace belt for the waist belt, as surprisingly none of these men have the haversack we would have expected on the left hip. The men all have twin ammunition pouches on the waist belt, which is reasonable.
As can be seen above, this is another HaT set where there are options to be considered. The first man with upright lance is simple enough, and the second has a ring hand to hold a separate lance. Figures three and four are quite similar and both can take one of the optional separate right arms holding a lance, carbine and sword (naturally the man without a carbine by his side would be best for the separate carbine arm). Each sprue also contains one of the pictured ammunition belts, so this can be added to a figure if desired. The arms fit on the shoulder pegs well, and there is little sign of an enlarged shoulder to accommodate this, although the fit varies depending on the angle at which you place the arm. The sculpting of the men is pretty good, and HaT have wisely avoided adding any of the lace or other trim to the uniforms so the customer can paint any that they want. We found no flash on our set, and thought the figures very nicely done.
Although there are only four bodies, HaT have expanded the pose possibilities with the separate arms. The complete figure with the lance level has his right arm in a very unnatural position, and for some reason the separate lance arm is holding the lance far too low down, which also looks odd, but otherwise the poses are good. The horse poses range from OK to quite poor – what the horse with three hooves on the ground and the fourth held high in the air is doing we cannot guess. None of the horses seem to be moving much, so customers looking to depict a charge will be disappointed, but there are plenty of circumstances where these standing and walking animals would be very appropriate. The sculpting of the horses is not great but OK in terms of anatomy (though with big eyes), and all have been provided with pegs front and back of the saddle onto which the rolled cape and cloak can be attached as shown (either can be fitted front or back), which is good. In addition the set includes ammunition pouches for placing round the horse’s neck should you wish. The saddles look good, but lack the carbine bucket as this has been sculpted with the man for some reason – once man and beast are put together the carbine is not in the correct position as a result.
With a wealth of possibilities for painting these figures in either full dress or even khaki, these should be popular with modellers. The sculpting of the men is good, and the uniform typical of the later 19th and early 20th century, when these men saw much action at home and abroad. You may have to put in some work on the shoulders of the men with separate arms, and you will need to add pennons to the lances too, while in our view the horses could have been better, but with no significant accuracy mistakes this is a quite pleasing set that is the best so far made on the subject.