Hurry up and wait. It is a common phrase used by soldiers throughout history no doubt, as they stand around ready for further orders, with little apparently happening. Of course the common soldier has no view of the wider situation, but the boredom of waiting will sometimes be tinged with either excitement or fear if action seems likely, but perhaps more often with dread if the day promises nothing more exciting than a long march. Whatever the situation, soldiers waiting around and not at attention is a common occurrence, and sets such as this have become more common recently, generally from Strelets. This time the impatient troops at ease are part of Napoleon’s army, his line infantry.
The most obvious feature of these men is that they all wear a greatcoat, which naturally covers most of the uniform. Greatcoats were widely issued by 1805, although they had existed beforehand either for sentries or as private purchases. All those here are double-breasted and look to be typical, although several styles were to be found during the period. What dates these men more precisely is their headgear, for the majority wear the shako, which first saw service with ordinary line infantry in 1806. Most here are covered, which was very common, but a few are uncovered, revealing badges of different designs as well as the cockade and pompon. This look would be valid until the end of the Napoleonic Wars, but two of the poses are much more tightly dateable as instead of a shako they wear the pokalem, a style of fatigue cap which was only introduced from 1812. While little of the legs are visible, all seem to wear the normal gaiters.
The equipment of these men further narrows the subject matter. All have the cartridge pouch on the right hip held by a cross belt over the left shoulder, but all also have a belt over the right shoulder holding a combined sabre and bayonet frog. At this date only grenadiers and voltigeurs (light troops) wore this kit, which matches the set’s subtitle of ‘flanking companies’. The majority of a battalion was made up of fusiliers in centre companies, so these figures do not depict such men, which seems a strange choice to us. The only other item of equipment is a knapsack on each man, but here this is closed with two straps when the real thing usually had three. Some variation here would be acceptable, but to have them all as non-regulation is a mistake. Finally, no one has any form of water bottle, which were not issued but were obviously widely carried by the men, who had to provide their own.
That covers the bulk of the figures in this set (the first two rows), but the command figures in the third row deserve further attention. The first, the drummer, is dressed like the men, but has no kit apart from the strap to carry the drum. We would expect him to also have knapsack and water carrier, but were surprised to see that his drum belt has an extension reaching the drum even though it sits on the ground. It is hard to understand what the sculptor was thinking when he did this, but it is wrong. Second is the flag-bearer, and again the sculptor seems to be making it up as he went along. This man has the greatcoat and a belt over his left shoulder with which to support the flag, which is fine. However he also has a belt over his right shoulder which supports, well, absolutely nothing. Why would he be wearing a belt with nothing, for no reason? Perhaps the sculptor forgot to finish the job, but it looks pretty silly. The third man is an officer with sword belt over his shoulder, but here we see he has pinned back the skirts of his greatcoat. As far as we know this was never done during the Napoleonic period, and the coat was not provided with the means to do it. This seems to be something the sculptor is confusing with French infantry of a later date, so wrong here. Finally we have the very senior officer, perhaps even a marshal of France, in his splendid uniform. He looks great, although he has a belt over his right shoulder which we can only imagine supports his sword, yet the sword was normally carried from the waist belt instead. Had it been sculpted as a sash that would have made much more sense.
So there are problems with accuracy, and more to come. Flank company soldiers usually transferred their veste epaulettes onto their greatcoat, yet no one here has these, which is much too unusual to be acceptable here. Even the officer has no epaulettes, an important mark of his rank and not one to be omitted.
There are problems too with the sculpting. Generally the sculpting looks reasonable, and has none of the chunky style of early Strelets sets. The detail is adequate but not great, though many will find it acceptable. One area often poorly done is the muskets, but in this set these are nicely detailed. The faces are OK, but some of the hands are quite basic (especially the drummer’s). The sword and bayonet scabbards are much too short, and unfortunately this is one of the Strelets sets where the men's arms are often also much too short. There is considerable inconsistency even between these figures, so the left arm of the last figure in row two is fine, reaching mid-thigh as it should do, but the same arm of the figure at the start of that row is much shorter, yet the right arm of the same figure is of correct length, so thoroughly unbalanced! One figure is missing the straps by which his knapsack should be held, and the drum is a very poor effort indeed. Not only is it quite misshapen, but it has a sort of diagonal pattern which we have to assume is a very lazy attempt to show the tensioning ropes, but looks terrible.
The ideas behind all the poses are great. Men standing around holding their musket in relaxed pose, and not doing very much; exactly what you would expect to see of such men. The senior officer is particularly nice, standing in a very authoritative manner and looking very much like he is in charge here. However one pose is again the victim of the poor sculpting, as the man reaching into his cartridge pouch (fifth figure, top row) has somehow managed to detach it from the belt, which is far behind the pouch, yet there is nothing keeping the pouch up. A good pose not properly thought through by the sculptor.
The flag is unfurled, and looks to be about the right size for most of the period, although as it is limp it is hard to judge. The all-important eagle however is present, thankfully. On the face of it these are quite nice figures, but the devil is in the detail, and the various accuracy mistakes combined with some frankly sloppy sculpting will make the perfectionist wince. If we are to expect a sister set of fusiliers then we can only hope that this less-than-impressive collection is improved upon.