The most recent Old Toy Soldier Auctions, U.S.A., featuring items from the late dealer-collector K. Warren Mitchell and Bob Bailey’s prewar Britains collection realized a hefty $385,000. Altogether some 600 old toy soldier lots and an equal number of new toy soldier items came across the auction block with no buy-ins.
Among the highlights were a number of very rare Britains display sets. The top lot among these was a U.S. Army Air Corps Display set, issued only 1940 to 1941, which sold for $4,900. Close behind was an exceptionally rare Britains Canadian Army Display Set, which comprised the Royal Canadian Regiment and Lord Strathcona’s Horse. This set sold for $4,100. Both sets were in their original display boxes.
During the Tirah campaign along the Northwest frontier of India, Pathan tribesmen seized the heights at Dargai from which they could block the British advance. After several attempts by various British and Gurkha units to dislodge the Pathans had failed, a Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders was ordered to assault the heights.
The battalion commander Lieutenant Colonel Henry Mathias gave his famous order. “The general says this hill must be taken at all costs. The Gordons will take it.”
Up the slope went the Gordons with wild cheers, led by their pipers playing “Cock o’ the North.” Many of the Gordons went down, among them piper George Findlater, blood spurting from wounds in both legs. Undaunted, Piper Findlater crawled to a nearby rock, hoisted his pipes and went on playing. The attack succeeded and, afterward, Piper Findlater was awarded the Victoria Cross for his heroism on October 20, 1897. Below are two artistic renderings of the incident.
The final stages of the Gordons' attack at Dargai. For the sake of effect the artist has also shown Piper Findlater, together with Lance Corporal (Piper) Milne, who was shot through the chest, others depicted include men of the 1st/2nd Gurkha Rifles, 2nd Derbys and 3rd Sikhs.
Lieutenant Colonel Mathias leads the 1st Gordon Highlanders' attack on Dargai. The piper in the foreground is Piper George Findlater who was shot through both ankles but continued to play. He is in approximately the correct position but is incorrectly shown wearing a lance corporal's stripe.
My old friend Soren Brunoe, the distinguished Danish model maker, commemorated this event with a miniature figure representation of the moment when Findlater propped himself up against a rock on Dargai slope and piped his comrades on to victory. This splendid figure which is a valued part of my collection is shown below.
The addition of a scenic prop can create small diorama or vignette out of a pair of striking but lonely figures in a case. To cite an example, I have in my collection two Somerset Ltd Indian Army Bikanir Camel Corps figures, featuring an officer and an enlisted trooper mounted on two of the most beautifully sculpted toy soldier camels I have ever seen.
I placed the two figures against a white background and added a Britains palm tree. I then used my trusty old Pentax 35mm camera and flash to photograph the vignette from different angles. The result may be seen in the following photos.
Among my favorite Hollywood films are the three John Ford cavalry westerns released in 1948, 1949 and 1950—“Fort Apache,” “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” and “Rio Grande,” all of which featured John Wayne and Victor McLaglen. Therefore, it’s understandable that when I came across two Minimen 75mm figures of John Wayne as an ageing Captain Nathan Brittles and Victor McLaglen as the brawling, hard-drinking Sergeant Quincannon at a toy soldier show I pounded on them.
The figures represent Wayne and McLaglen as they appeared in the second of cavalry trilogy, “She Wore A Yellow Ribbon,” in which Wayne plays a cavalry officer on the verge of retirement, who leads his troops in one last battle against the Cheyenne Indians, driving off their pony herd and averting a full-scale Indian war.
In the pair of figures illustrated below, Wayne is shown hatless in casual campaign garb, while a smiling Victor McLaglen (second of two photos) can be seen (side view) clutching a whiskey flask. For me, the figures recall the many enjoyable hours spent watching the cavalry films, as well as reenacting them with my Ralph Bussler “John Ford cavalrymen” and my Beton plastic Indians.
While on the subject of Napoleonic military types, I must mention three figures delicately assembled and exquisitely painted by the late Marc Caudill, whose work I celebrated in an earlier article.
These figures, shown below, were obtained from Ray Haradin’s “Toys of Yesteryear” and were originally part of the late Christopher Hammond’s collection. A personal friend of mine, Chris was a collector of impeccable taste, and his collection included figures by Berdou,Des Fontaines, Vanot and Courtenay.
A fierce but poorly-discipline cavalry unit, which the French first encountered during Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign and then recruited for service in the Imperial Guard, was the Mamelukes. Armed with pistols, sabers, carbines and lances, these exotically garbed soldiers specialized in the hell-for-leather cavalry charge such as the one made at Austerlitz (see two illustrations below).