It is a common misconception that the French Foreign Legion spent much of their time defending forts deep in the desert, and the box artwork for this and other sets seems to reinforce this, but in fact the typical operation involved a column marching for days into some sparsely-populated region where they might hope to come across and defeat some opposition before facing the long march back to base. Long endurance marches were something for which the Legion was famed, and the men could find themselves carrying packs of 35kg or more, although their ability to do so was a source of pride for the legionnaires. Needless to say when the march ended for the day it was a great relief, although there was still the task of setting up the overnight camp to be done before any thought of rest could be entertained.
From the looks of this lot the day’s tasks are well and truly completed, and most here are in a very relaxed mood. Three men are still standing and holding their rifles, so are presumably the sentries on duty at the time, but the rest of the men are smoking, eating or drinking. The man in the top row lying on his back and playing the accordion is a highlight, and another nice touch is the third man in the bottom row, who is emptying his boot of sand presumably. The last man in that row is sitting with a dog, which he would hardly have brought with him on the patrol, so presumably must be a local animal they have befriended. The cooking pot suspended under the tripod is a nice touch, and perhaps the figure we have pictured above it matches this, as he seems like he is holding a ladle. We also liked the pairing in the bottom row of a man pouring out coffee for one of the sentries, but basically all the poses are really nice with no duds at all in our view.
The dating of this set matches the others in the Strelets range so far, and reflects what many consider the most iconic age of the Legion. The men almost all wear the capote greatcoat (so are in the field, not in barracks), and this has no rear vent, which was a style introduced from 1897. They all also wear anklets rather than the earlier spats, which again matches this date. Their kepis with cloth covers would gradually be superseded by colonial helmets over the following ten years or so, and the modern khaki uniform would also become the norm, so we are talking roughly from 1897 to c.1910 for these men, which is the classic look of the legionnaire. All aspects of the uniform look good to us apart from the fact that no man wears the waist sash that would always be outside the coat. A few of the poses have discarded their coat, and these too look correct in their shirtsleeves. All those with belts on have the correct ‘Y’ straps also introduced towards the end of the 19th century along with the Lebel rifle, and the usual three pouches – including one at the back – are all properly done. Clearly everyone here has discarded their heavy packs, which is understandable, but only one man still wears his haversack, and not one man wears his water bottle or bidon. The first man in the second row is drinking from his, but we would certainly have expected many at least to still have this item about their person, even if it had been temporarily removed to be refilled.
The sculpting is really very good indeed; the pale plastic does not make it easy to see, but these are very nicely defined figures with great detail and great proportions. The sculptor has done really well to produce a lot of realistic poses that do not seem at all flat, yet there is no unwanted plastic anywhere. While this is easier with fairly sedate poses, it is still a notable accomplishment. Even the dog being petted in the bottom row is well done, and the faces, particularly those with facial hair, are outstanding. Many of the seams are very clean, but there are areas with noticeable bits of flash, which is irritating on such nice sculpts, but nothing more. The cooking pot warrants special attention because it comes separate from the tripod, which itself is rather narrow we thought. The box tells you to stick the pot up under the tripod, but there is no real surface to glue here. We found it best to drill a hole in the top of the tripod and insert the top of the chain into that.
While not everyone likes non-combat poses, we thought there were a lot of good ideas here and the sculpting was excellent. Missing packs and haversacks is understandable, but less sure about the missing water bottles, and certainly not pleased to see the missing cummerbund. That apart there are no accuracy issues, and although the bits of flash can be a bit obtrusive, this is still a set with a lot going for it.