Another curious case of colonial piles.

Once again, I have been afflicted with colonial piles. However, this time the presentation is different, and there is no lasting cure. My new colonial piles consist of plastic and metal miniatures for gaming the Zulu and Mahdist wars. The first pile is a couple of boxes of Italeri 1/72 Arab Warriors. While these are in fact the venerable plastic Esci figures from 1987, they are great for cheaply bulking out various native armies from the Sudan to the Northwest Frontier, provided you don’t look too closely.

The second pile is all Newline Designs 20mm metal and is a bit of a mix. For the Sudan, there is a pack of British Lancers, while the rest are for the Zulu War. Those packs are ready-made “Men Who Would Be King” units and consist of two packs of British and two of Zulus. The British are made up of one unit of imperial regulars and some mounted Frontier Light Horse. The Zulus are made up of one unit in ceremonial dress and one unit without. They have a somewhat toy soldier look about them, not dissimilar to the 28mm Rapier Miniatures figures I bought sometime ago.

Hopefully, this will prove to be a more enduring start to venturing into colonials. However, it will take me quite a while to get usable forces together due to my glacial painting speed, and that is even if I paint them in a basic toy soldier style. So I think paper colonials will be getting a few more outings yet.

Major Burnside’s Blunder

Information had been received in Cairo suggesting that a large force of Mahdists under Sheikh Aboud had been gathering deep in the desert near the hitherto lost temple of Ra. Accordingly, a small force under Major Barnaby Burnside was sent to investigate and disperse what was believed to be only a small incursion. Major Burnside was, as usual, accompanied by his faithful hound Tiffin and the intrepid reporter Percival “Nibs” Penman of the World Illustrated News. The field force consisted of “A” and “B” Companies of the Royal North Surrey Regiment, E Company of the Lennox Highlanders, and a detachment of the 23rd “White” Hussars.

The hussars, carrying Mahdist spears as improvised lances, were sent to scout ahead of the column. They had just come into sight of the lost temple when there was a crack of rifle shots from the hill to their right as previously concealed Mahdists revealed themselves and immediately attacked. Despite casualties, the hussars remained unshaken, wheeled to the right, and attempted to screen the arrival of the infantry. Major Burnside quickly arrived with “A” Company and ordered them into line facing the oncoming horde.

No sooner than A Company had deployed, another previously hidden force of Mahdists rose from the cover of the hillside and launched themselves in a headlong charge towards the White Hussars. In turn, they counter-charged the approaching host. Fortunately, “B” Company arrived in the nick of time and quickly formed up to left of “A” Company.

“A” Company fired a volley at the Dervish horde to its front, but apparently the company hadn’t adjusted their rifle sights and fired high. The horde closed in for the kill but was repulsed, with both attackers and defenders suffering heavy casualties. Meanwhile, the hussars, expertly using their improvised lances, drove the Madhists before them. Cold steel and cool nerves had won the initial engagements.

As Major Burnside and “Nibs” looked towards the oasis and temple, they spotted yet another Dervish unit previously hidden by the swaying palms. However, they did not panic as they could hear the drone of bagpipes as the Lennox Highlanders arrived. “A” Company took the opportunity to retire from the firing line and were quickly replaced by the highlanders. “B” Company redeployed to face the new threat and fired a deadly volley. The White Hussars, having broken the enemy to their front, wheeled left and hit the new Madhist force in the flank. It all proved too much for the Mahdists, and they broke and fled to the safety of the temple ruins.

Sheikh Aboud, despite the heavy losses, had faith that victory would be his. He had cunningly sent two units of Dervishes to flank the infidels. These had moved swiftly, using the terrain to go unnoticed. Every sand dune and donga had been their ally, and now they appeared behind the British line. Both units seemingly rose from the sands of the desert and charged the unsuspecting British. As soon as they were observed, “B” Company opened fire on the closest unit to them, but their volley failed to slow the Dervish host. Burnside and “Nibs,” with Tiffin following close behind, quickly found safety with the Highlanders, whose volley finally eliminated the enemy force in front of them.

“A” Company rapidly about-faced and attempted to stop the dervishes charging them. But once again, their sights were set too high, and the volley missed. Both units of Mahdists struck home on their respective targets, and “A” Company was virtually destroyed in the ensuing melee. “B” Company fared no better and was reduced to less than half strength. The Lennox Highlanders about-faced, readied themselves, took aim, and sent a death dealing volley into the Dervishes that had done for “A” Company. The survivors of the destroyed companies rallied around the rock steady men of the Lennox Regiment and fought on.

The White Hussars broke off their pursuit of the Mahdists skulking amid the ruins of the temple and launched a death or glory charge against the horde that threatened their comrades. The charge hit home and inflicted some casualties, but the hussars were too few and were pulled from their saddles to die on the points of Dervish spears.

The Mahdists, sensing victory was within their grasp once again, charged. Units that had previously been mauled by the British lions and had become reluctant to fight now joined the onslaught. Sheikh Aboud even sent his rifle armed personal guard to support the attack in the hope of finally wiping out the unbelievers. This renewed attack was repulsed by the men of Lennox, however, the survivors from the North Surreys succumbed to Dervish spears. Tiffin even helped the desperate defenders and successfully brought down one of the attacking Dervishes.

The Dervish hordes once again rallied and repeatedly attacked, while the rifle fire from Sheikh Aboud’s guard whittled down the highlanders until the “die hards” of the Lennox Highlanders were no more. Major Burnside and Percival “Nibs” Penman, who were mounted, made their escape, along with Tiffin the dog, with the victorious Dervishes in hot pursuit. Nibs, having made his escape, wrote his report and wired it to his publisher. His account of Major Burnside’s blunder horrified readers of the morning newspaper. Major Barnaby Burnside rode off to face a court-martial for his part in the loss of so many of Queen Victoria’s finest soldiers.

The game was hastily put together one idle afternoon and played using the solo rules from “Men Who Would Be Kings.” It had been quite some time since I played a game using the rules, so I just kept to the basics, and as it was a scratch game, I used the skirmish kings variant of half sized units. Using the variant does seem to make units brittle and combat results much more brutal, particularly for smaller units like the British.

Mr. Babbage, the dice-driven AI, plays a good game and keeps players guessing about where the next attack will land. I didn’t use the commander ratings or the points system for developing field forces. This might have made the Mahdists force too strong. However, the battle hung in the balance until the very end, and I had great fun watching it play out. As a side note, all the British units are from fiction. Do you know their origin?

A mostly dead hobby? 

It may seem that my blog and hobby are mostly dead. However, as Miracle Max in “The Princess Bride” said, “There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive”. So, while I haven’t been doing much hobby wise since my last post, it is, at least, still slightly alive. In any event, the spring and summer months are for campaigning in the garden and it is only in autumn and winter that I turn my attention to more sedentary pursuits.

My readings on colonial warfare have been furthered with the acquisition of “Battle in Africa 1879-1914” by Howard Whitehouse. This truly excellent little book was published in 1987 by Field Books and packs an amazing amount of information in its 48 pages. As the title suggests, it provides a general overview of warfare from the Zulu War, through the “scramble for Africa”, and ending at the start of WWI. The book details the logistics, weaponry, and tactics of both the imperial powers and their colonial and native adversaries. It is also beautifully illustrated throughout with drawings by renowned artist Peter Dennis.

More colonials!

Another buy, though not directly related to wargaming but running parallel to it, was “From Medieval Manuscript to Modern Practice the Longsword Techniques of Fiore dei Liberi” by Guy Windsor. It has been many years since I wielded a sword, but I still take a more than passing interest in the history and techniques of swordsmanship. One idle night on the internet, I came across this hardback book for well below its usual asking price, so I took the opportunity and bought it. 

Italian longsword action.

“From Medieval Manuscript to Modern Practice” has at its core “The Flower of Battle”, a fencing manual by the late 14th to early 15th Italian fencing master Fiore. Using that as a basis, Guy Windsor, presents a well researched and systematic exposition of longsword fencing in the Italian style as it was taught by Fiore. Unlike my older fencing manuals, and as a sign of the age in which we live, the book contains links to practical demonstrations online and that makes it very useful. Thus, “From Medieval Manuscript to Modern Practice” is a welcome addition to my small collection of swordsmanship manuals.

Rapier Miniatures Reconnoitred

A couple of months ago, I put in a trial order with Rapier Miniatures for a sizeable sample from their Zulu War range. They turned up reasonably quickly despite the erratic postal service due to Covid.

Miniature goodness!

The service from Rapier Miniatures was first class and the figures arrived well packed. I am quite happy with them as they are crisp, well posed and detailed. They are just good, solid, dependable miniatures and, at around $2.30 a foot figure and $5.70 a mounted figure, they are very reasonably priced. A big plus is that they can be bought individually, but Rapier does also offer packs.

A few samples of Rapier Miniatures.

I bought more than enough miniatures for a British company/unit according to the “The Men Who Would Be Kings” rules. I ordered 12 advancing privates, a bugler, an officer on foot and one mounted, and a small dog. Sadly, I still have yet to decide how to go about painting them and the other items I have in hand. Making that decision is the most difficult part of actually applying the brush and paint to them.

Zulu War British.

Do you like Kipling?

If your answer is “I don’t know I’ve never “kippled”, then perhaps you should give it a try. I have been into Kipling since childhood and heartily recommend it. With all my reading about colonial warfare, I decided I needed a decent collection of Rudyard Kipling’s “Barack-Room Ballads”. Searching around on the internet, I came across a new, pristine, old stock, copy of “Kipling’s Soldiers” from 1993.

Kipling’s military ballads illustrated.

The book is a wonderful collection of Kipling’s military themed poetry and is liberally sprinkled with 19th century photos of soldiers. The book’s 24 colour plates by renowned military artist Bryan Fosten depicting the lives and times of Victorian soldiers make it a true gem. The paintings alone make the volume a worthwhile guide to uniforms of the period. However, the real strength and pleasure of the book are Kipling’s ballads, which give voice to the experiences and conditions of Queen Victoria’s soldiers. Experiences that are universal for professional soldiers, from antiquity to the modern age.

Colonial Piles

Colonial piles is not some affliction that one suffers in a far flung tropical outpost of the empire but rather an assortment of second hand books I have rapidly acquired over the past month or so.  It all started with me innocently watching my worn old copy of the movie “Zulu Dawn” and idly pondering the recently reinvigorated Jacklex range of colonials on their new website. That prompted my interest and led to me buying a couple of books on the Zulu War and then everything just snowballed from there.

Colonial Pile No. 1
Colonial Pile No. 2

As an odd bit of synchronicity, the shiny British Camel Corp chaps on the mountain of books (presumably seeking the hordes of the Mahdi), were a gift from John during a visit for an enjoyable meal. The figures are 54mm Armies in Plastic toy soldiers that John had splendidly painted. We also had a fun colonial game utilising some old paper flats and a colonial variant of the One Hour Wargames rules. It was the first outing for the paper flats for about 12 years, since the last time I was last bitten by the colonial bug.

Splendid chaps bound for Khartoum.

The bulk of the books are on the Zulu War, that being what originally pulled me down the rabbit hole. It has long been of interest to me, mostly because there are two great films set during it and I had a copy of Cy Endfield’s book “Zulu Dawn” in my formative years. The Sudan Wars also constitute a good proportion of the books; while the North West Frontier is in a very poor third place (I will try and remedy that). Of course there are plenty of other colonial campaigns that are of interest but I will have to stop somewhere. However, I now have plenty of reading material to entertain me over the summer days and provoke dreams of colonial adventures!

The start of a new pile!

NSW Colonial 15 Pounder Field Gun

A couple of months ago my wonderful wife and I made a rare flying visit to Hobart. We stayed in Hobart overnight and then made a very leisurely journey home, stopping at many of the small towns on the way back to see what we could see. One of the towns we stopped at was Ross, in the Tasmanian Midlands. Ross is an old garrison town, with a world renowned carved stone bridge. Many an illustrious British regiment had troops stationed there to guard convicts and hunt down bushrangers.

While looking around Ross, I took the opportunity to revisit the war memorial and an impressive old breech loading 15 pounder field gun that has been there ever since I can remember.  I recall the gun as being painted grey but in 2017 she was refurbished. I don’t know how accurate the restoration was but the Ross field gun is a mighty fine piece of ordnance.

Ross Gun Muzzle

Ross Gun Left

The plaques underneath the gun read:

“B. L. 15 Pounder Mark 1 No. 788 Anglo-Boer War. 1899-1902”

“This gun is one of six delivered to New South Wales circa 1898. Used by Australian Troops in their first action outside Australia. Presented to Ross township.

Range 6,000 yards – 5,490 metres;

Calibre 3″ – 76.2 mm;

Weight of ammunition 14 pounds – 6.4 Kg.

Documented by The Artillery Historical Trust of Tasmania, Northern Branch, 10th Nov. 1996.”

Ross Gun Breech

Ross Gun Right

The website of the Tasmanian Wool Centre in Ross has a comprehensive history of the 15 pounder that is really quite interesting reading and can be reached via

The Wool Centre tells the fascinating history of wool growing in Tasmania; it also has an excellent a local history museum attached and is well worth a visit if you are ever in Ross.

“Gone all Countrified”

home view

Another Christmas and New Year has come and gone since my last blog post and I have “upped stumps” and moved house. The experience of moving isn’t one I want to repeat for a very long time, if ever. However, it’s done and we are settled in to our new home in the country. We aren’t at all far from a sizable town but the aspect is decidedly rural. It is a real pleasure to watch the local livestock grazing and to look up and see an eagle fly over or to hear singing larks rise from the surrounding fields.

My toy soldier / wargaming collections survived the move without any major losses. The only casualties were a box of Vikings that I dropped from a small height. Thankfully they will mostly just need some weapons reattached and some retouching of the paint work. Only one chap was a write off, as he broke at the ankles.  Admittedly I could repair the damage but I never liked that figure anyway. He will in time be reincarnated via the casting pot.

One aspect I did enjoy about packing up my collection was rediscovering projects and miniatures that had been buried deep in storage. There were many exclamations of “ooh”,” ah”, and “I had forgotten about that!” Sadly a lot that stuff has once again been put into deep storage but there is the future prospect of a bunker / man cave where they can be stored more readily to hand or even displayed. However the journey of rediscovery has prompted much rethinking about where I want to head with gaming and collecting, along with thoughts about past inspirations.

I have made a few gaming related purchases both before and after the move. Before moving I acquired some pre painted miniatures from the long defunct Havok Skirmish game and a couple of Plast Craft Games sci-fi buildings. After our big move, I took advantage of some pre-Christmas sales and bought two rule books from Osprey and more moulds from Prince August. However most of my campaigning over the summer involves doing jobs around the house and the application of various edged weaponry to tame a heavily weed infested and over grown garden.

Unfortunately the two Osprey rule books were water damaged in transit. I contacted Osprey and they are kindly sending replacement copies. The books were the Dan Mersey rule sets “Dragon Rampant” and “Lion Rampant”. I have played the medieval set “Lion Rampant” before but didn’t own a copy of the rules. However I enjoyed the game enough to warrant buying a copy to put on my shelf. “Dragon rampant” is new to me but it seems like they will be a fun set of rules to play. I’m not sure when I will get around to reading or playing either of them as I still haven’t done anything with the “The Men Who Would Be King” rules I bought months ago.


karn battle form

The Havok miniatures I bought were unopened “new’ old stock consisting of 3 boxes of Pteravore Razors and a boxed Karn Battle Form. I have added these to my Havok Skirmish collection that I originally acquired more than twenty years ago. As I am intending to do some generic sci-fi gaming down the track, I am attempting to build on the stuff I already have.

I have also been on the hunt for suitable sci-fi terrain. To that end, I bought the trading post and house pod to use with the Havok figures. The Plast Craft Games sci-fi buildings are pre-coloured and cut, so I only need to assemble them at some point.

My new moulds from the pre-Christmas Prince August sale are fairly diverse.  I bought an additional horse mould and mould two of the “Great Britain: 1st Foot Guards” from their Napoleonic range.  I also acquired an eighteenth century cavalry trooper and trumpeter from the PA French regiments range of moulds and a Prussian infantry mould from their Seven Years War series. Lastly but not least, I bought  the Black Watch highland regiment mould set from PA’s 54mm Traditional Toy Soldiers On Parade.

pa mixed moulds

Prince August had another sale after Christmas, so I’m now waiting for even more moulds to add to my ever growing collection. I occasionally think I am turning into the toy soldier collector / wargamer equivalent of a “prepper”, just hoarding in case of a doomsday scenario.  I did do some 40mm casting before we moved but the figures were destined to be given as a birthday gift. However if civilization should be destroyed tomorrow I will still be able to play with toy soldiers…eventually!


In the post-Christmas sales I picked up a ready-made cardboard house ornament in a local craft shop for five dollars. The model house with a little work and some basic painting will prove suitable for gaming in a wide range of periods. Although it is a bit big for 40mm figures it will work well with 54mm toy soldiers. I have, however simply added it to my stash of gaming stuff for the time being.

I will continue to stockpile casting and gaming stuff when the opportunity presents itself. Hopefully sometime soon I will return to painting and gaming with renewed enthusiasm. In the meantime my new home and the garden demand my full attention.


Upgraded equipment and yet another new mould.

In the past I have used a camping stove to melt metal for casting. However, they do have some safety issues with exploding gas canisters. My wonderful wife, concerned about my safety, urged me to buy an electric hotplate. So I recently bought a cheap double hot plate from Kmart. A quick test has revealed that it will melt casting metal, although more slowly than the gas stove. Better to be safe than sorry.

Electric Hot Plate

The new mould is a recent purchase on German EBay.  It was made by a company called Scad that produced seemingly random moulds of semi round figures depicting various troops of the Napoleonic and Franco-Prussian Wars.  Unfortunately the moulds are no longer produced and the company seems to be long gone. Fortunately, it is still possible to pick up second hand moulds from time to time.

Scad Dragoon Mould

The Scad mould is a French dragoon of Napoleon III from the Franco-Prussian War and will provide me with some more 40mm cavalry for the conduct of little wars. My small collection of Scad moulds is mostly a mix of 1st and 2nd Empire French. The moulds produce nicely detailed castings which paint up handsomely in a toy soldier style but can readily be painted in a more realistic fashion. Consequently, I am always on the lookout for more.

Anglo-Zulu Wargaming

Some months ago Jacksarge gave me a copy of “A Wargamer’s Guide to the Anglo-Zulu War” by Daniel Mersey for my birthday. I finally managed to get around to reading it recently. The book itself has been well reviewed around the Internet, so I will keep my own thoughts on it brief. Daniel Mersey, will need no introduction as I’m sure his output is fairly well known by now in the wargaming community.

Anglo Zulu War Guide

The book is divided into seven chapters; the first chapter gives a brief outline of the war and serves as an introduction to the subject. The second chapter summarises the armies, organisation and equipment of the Zulus and the British imperial forces in turn. So while the section isn’t greatly detailed it does provide all the elementary information needed to start putting armies together and includes basic painting guides.

Chapter three discusses the key battles of the war with the exception of Intombi. Even more oddly, Ulundi the climactic battle that saw Zulu power broken isn’t addressed. Each brief description is followed by useful suggestions on how to game the battles. The fourth chapter discusses what factors impact on wargaming the overall campaign in a playable and balanced fashion, including the pros and cons of recycling Zulus (the old bugbear).

Chapter five is all about choosing the right set of rules for you to game the war with. A list of rules is provided along with a handy synopsis for each rule set and some discussion of their strengths and weaknesses. The sixth chapter is basically a list of miniatures along with brief descriptions of each range. Neither section is exhaustive in its compilation.

Chapter seven gives outlines of scenarios inspired by actual events from the Zulu war. This particularly useful section discusses the forces, table set up, victory conditions and rules considerations for each scenario. The book also features in its centre 8 colour pages of miniatures in action.  Finally, tacked on the end is an appendix of further reading.

“A Wargamer’s Guide to the Anglo-Zulu War” packs a lot of useful information and concepts into what is quite a compact book. It is definitely a solid introduction into gaming the Anglo-Zulu War and is a worthwhile addition to the colonial gamer’s bookshelf. Overall I found the book an easy but informative read and something of an inspiration.

Indeed now that I’ve completed reading it, I have been enjoying contemplating how I would game the Zulu War and what figures I might use. I have over the years started to venture down the path of gaming the war but have never made it very far. So in my own stash I have British imperial infantry well covered. Somewhere hiding away is a box of 15mm Stone Mountain miniatures, some 28mm Black Tree (I think) and some 30mm zinnfiguren. I also have one 25mm Irregular Miniatures Zulu acquired in the now dim past.

Out of the Zinnbrigade moulds I have, I could easily create a passable imperial force in 40mm but Zulus would be a problem. Unless I could cast my own, I would have to totally rely on the 40mm colonial range from Irregular Miniatures. That is an expensive proposition even at the low prices that Irregular charge. The only thing I can be sure of is that I would want the shiny steadfast toy soldier look in whatever size / scale I chose. In any event it would be a long term project but I can make use of Junior General paper figures in the short term, so I could have the odd game and keep the dream alive. Especially as Daniel Mersey’s “The Men Who Would Be Kings” colonial rules have just turned up on my doorstep.