The origin of the word 'Tommy' as a label for the British soldier is uncertain and much debated. By 1815 it was used as an example name in British army pocketbooks, but probably dates back much earlier. Whatever the origin it was a much-used term by all sides during World War II to describe the common British infantryman, and this figure set from Valiant - the first by them in 1/72 plastic - depicts the 'Tommy' as he appeared in the last year of that conflict, from the landings at Normandy to final victory in Europe.
The first product from any new manufacturer is always keenly examined as an indication of what might follow, and the first impressions of this set are positive. There are 14 poses which have clearly been geared to maximise the variety of weapons on display. The booklet that comes with the figures explains that they are designed with a view to creating a battalion for the Rapid Fire wargame rules, and therefore the figures include all the weapons such an infantry unit would require. However this does mean there are few poses of riflemen, and in particular there are none actually firing them. Three of the four advancing poses, which include the most numerous, are all very good and indeed all the poses are nicely done. The first two figures in the second row have a separate right arm to allow a choice of weapons. The standing figure can be carrying a Bren gun or ammunition as well as the rifle shown, and the second figure can either fire the PIAT as pictured or a Bren gun. Some nice poses and some flexibility, but some important ones are missing.
All the figures wear the standard British battledress and 1937 pattern web equipment. The battledress has been fairly well done but it lacks the field dressing pocket on the right thigh and the large map pocket has been given a squareish closing flap when this should be more pointed. By the D-Day landings many infantrymen had been supplied with the new Mark III helmet, but all the figures in this set appear to have the older Mark II (covered in netting and scrim, which is good) that remained in use throughout the war. The kit is quite light, with most having only the usual ammunition pouches, entrenching tool and water bottle. The set includes a number of separate haversacks (sometimes called 'small packs') as optional extras, which is a welcome touch (these can be carried at the hip or on the back). The man with the PIAT or Bren has a pistol, which would be very rare, but while two of the figures with Sten guns have been given the correct ammunition pouches two others (the officer and radio man in the second row) are missing them.
While there is nothing to date these figures to the declared period in the uniform the weaponry is more specific. Apart from the rifles there are Sten and Bren guns, plus the PIAT anti-tank gun already mentioned. Heavier fire power is provided by two mortars, the first of which is the two inch mortar held by the second figure in the third row. This is a simple but largely accurate model, showing the weapon in the common configuration without any sophisticated aiming device (aiming was by eye and experience). The second mortar is the three inch and is a separate model as shown. Again this is a good model, although some compromises have, as usual, been made, such as the absence of the sight. Finally there is a Vickers .303 Mark I heavy machine gun, a remarkable weapon that served the British army from 1912 to 1968! Here it is served by a gunner and is well modelled including its water cooling system.
The sculpting of these figures is very crisp and clear and the proportions are nicely done but the scale is a problem. While the box claims 1/72 scale these figures average 26mm in height, which scales up to 1.87 metres - much too tall for 1945. The weapons and equipment are equally over-sized, and the figures have a slightly chunky feel which reminds us of metal figures rather than the elegant plastic examples we usually see. The result is that these do not mix very well with figures from other manufacturers as you can see from our comparison page. With virtually no flash and only a small amount of excess plastic these are well produced models, but their unusual style limits their usefulness for many.
Apart from the choice of arms for some figures the set includes an array of extra heads as shown. These heads wear an uncamouflaged Mk II helmet, an officer's peaked cap, a beret and no hat at all. The instructions suggest drilling out a suitable hole in the figure to insert the head and neck, but this sounds like a very difficult task to us so we would suggest you consider cutting both heads at the neck and simply gluing in place - since the figures are made in a hard plastic glue produces a very firm hold.
None of the figures have a bayonet attached, and on many there is little sign of the scabbard too. The officer has slung his Sten gun around his body, but the sling has not been modelled, leaving the gun hanging in mid air. Also the water bottle tends to move between the (correct) right hip and the left, presumably for the convenience of the sculptor. The three most numerous poses have been given an extra ammunition bandolier over their right shoulder, which while not that uncommon is not justified on all the major figures in the set.
With a very nice sculpting job these figures look good although they are not without their accuracy problems, albeit quite minor ones. Lacking poses like firing rifles and throwing grenades is a shame, but the inclusion of so many weapons will delight some, particularly wargamers. It is the oversized nature of these figures which is their main drawback, but by themselves they look very good and are a promising first product from this company.