When war broke out in 1914 the British Army was small by the standards of its European neighbours, and had an Empire to police. However it was also very modern, partly thanks to lessons learned from the difficult Boer War, and so took the field in France and Belgium in a modern, well-thought-out uniform and with good weapons. The German Kaiser was allegedly quoted at the time as calling it a 'contemptible little army', but the men earned the respect even of their enemies in the early battles. However it soon became apparent that this was to be a war of vast numbers, and like the rest of the armies that of the British would change enormously as it expanded and adapted to the conditions of the Western Front. For very many years the only set depicting these early war soldiers was the venerable offering from Airfix, but now it has a rival and comrade in this set of the 'Old Contemptibles' from HaT.
The high number of poses in the Airfix set was always going to be hard to match, and with this set HaT have stuck to their common approach of delivering just eight, but all in standard and useful positions. So basically we have men firing and advancing, plus a man on the march and an officer. All the soldier poses are utilitarian but perfectly usable for all that, and in a small set this is what most people want. The officer pose did not meet with our complete approval however, as we wondered how many officers would stand still in the middle of a battle and fire their revolver as calmly as this man. Given the range and accuracy of rifles in 1914, individual officers adding to the fire with their short-range revolvers would make precious little difference, so a pose showing him leading (i.e. advancing or shouting) rather than just firing would have found more favour here.
The Airfix set had problems with over-simplification, leading to accuracy issues, but this HaT set is far better, as you would expect. The men all wear the standard 1902 pattern service dress which was appropriate for the whole war (the simplified version would be barely any different at this scale). The tunic has the correct breast and skirt pockets, and all the men wear trousers and puttees over short boots, which is fine. What particularly marks them out as 'early' is the smart 1905 peaked cap, with its stiffened crown and peak, which is how these men fought the first year or so of the war. Like the rest of the uniform, this has been correctly done here.
As he approached the oncoming enemy, the first British soldier wore the regulation 1908-pattern webbing, and that is what these men wear. All the components are here, including the two sets of five ammunition pouches, the water bottle on the right hip and the bayonet on the left. Alongside the bayonet is the haft (handle) for the entrenching tool, with the head of this tool correctly bagged and in all cases attached under the water bottle on the right, although it could also have been placed below the small of the back. Each man had a full pack, but this was not carried in action and so is correctly missing here. Instead it was normal for the haversack, or small pack, to be moved from the left hip to high on the back, which helped balance the ammunition pouches, but unusually all these men still have their haversack on the hip, and so have their backs clear. In short then the men are in 'battle order', though a more unusual version of it. All the kit looks good apart from the ammunition pouches on the one figure where they are clearly visible - the marching man - where they can be seen to be in an incorrect arrangement (the lower row should be further round the body than the upper row, unlike here). Of course none of the men have a gas mask, respirator or steel helmet at this stage of the war.
The officer wears a jacket with large external pockets, shirt, tie, breeches and boots, which is reasonable, though officially only mounted officers were supposed to wear boots - the rest should have worn puttees. He has a Sam Browne belt and revolver holster plus another haversack-type item, but no other kit. He has had the good sense to leave his sword behind, but is still conspicuous, though it was only in January 1915 that orders were issued for officers to wear the same kit as the ranks to make them less obvious targets.
The sculpting is not bad but the detail is not crisp or sharp and in places it is fairly vague. So for example it is not possible to see how the ammunition pouches were closed (this changed during these months) and the rifles exhibit very little definition. The general proportions are OK but they don't have the elegance of the old Airfix set or many other products being made today. As we say, nothing terrible, but not as pleasing to the eye as some. On our sample there was no flash, and the careful choice of poses means there is no unwanted plastic anywhere, yet the figures do not seem especially flat. The material used is the same as other recent HaT sets, which is quite soft and rubbery.
Two further items of detail to note. First, all the men wear a moustache. Now until 1916 moustaches were indeed compulsory in the British Army, yet in fact this particular regulation was widely ignored, so it is misleading to suggest everyone wore a moustache like this. Of course you can trim off any that you do not want, though with this soft plastic that is not an easy task. Second, everyone wears the cap strap around their chin. We could find no photos or references to this practice, but then again there are no genuine photos or film of these men in action, so while the practice seems logical and reasonable we could not absolutely confirm or deny whether it happened in reality.
While these are good sculpts rather than great, they are virtually entirely accurate (our complaints being very small ones) and the poses are useful (even the officer, though we would have chosen something else). So this is a decent set of figures that portray these men during the opening months of the war, before and during the establishment of the trench systems that would come to define the conflict, and so arguably for many these troops saw the most interesting part of the whole conflict.