Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Go West, Young Man

Yesterday marked a pleasant break from my usual weekday routine in the form of a day trip to County Galway.

Mum is from the south of the county, and I spent many happy summers in the area as a child. Both Dad and I happened to be free for the day, so we decided we’d make the journey west for a change of scene.

Along the way, I was able to cajole my travelling companion into a whistle stop visit to the battlefield of Aughrim in east Galway.

Fought on 12 July 1691, Aughrim was the climactic battle of the Williamite War in Ireland; and was actually a considerably bloodier and more decisive affair than the better known engagement at the Boyne in County Meath almost exactly a year earlier. Defeat at Aughrim that day spelled the effective military end of the Jacobite cause in Ireland.
Yours truly looking thoughtful at Aughrim

This little much I knew prior to my arrival. Our timing, unfortunately, was against us, and the interpretive centre at the village of Aughrim was closed for the off-peak season. Despite a series of numbered battlefield stands and map boards dotted around, I had no proper reference material with me and have never read about the battle in any kind of detail. To my chagrin, I could only amble about and snap off some standard issue tourist shots.

But there was something incredibly evocative about the little village and its monuments on a damp autumn afternoon. I hope to make a return visit, this time having done my homework properly.

Later, in Galway city, I was able to tick off something that had been on the to-do list for a while, with a visit to the Collegiate Church of St Nicholas in the city centre. I’d been aware for some time that a set of colours belonging to the Connaught Rangers had been laid up in the church, and I wanted to see them first hand.

Galway city has a close association with the Connaught Rangers – the former Renmore Barracks (today operated by the Defence Forces as Dún Ui Maoilíosa) on the city’s outskirts serving as the unit’s depot until independence and the disbandment of the British Army’s southern Irish regiments in 1922.
Sovereign's Colour
Regimental Colour

I found the colours easily enough inside the beautiful church (which itself dates back to the fourteenth century), along with a host of other military memorials and plaques relating both to the Connaught Rangers and to individual personnel.

Although almost certainly nineteenth century (the regiment’s final colours were laid up in Windsor Castle in 1922), I’m unsure as to when exactly the colours date to. They display the Connaught Rangers’ battle honours from the Peninsular War, which would suggest a date after 1814, and a plaque elsewhere in the church seemed to imply that they were carried during the Crimean War. I couldn’t tell either in person or from my photos whether a King or Queen’s Crown is depicted on the flags, which would narrow it down.

At any rate, two fascinating artefacts of Irish military history.

‘A moth-eaten rag on a worm-eaten pole,

It does not look likely to stir a man’s Sole,

‘Tis the deeds that were done ‘neath the moth-eaten rag,

When the pole was a staff, and the rag was a flag.’

- General Sir Edward Hamley (1824-93)


Friday, October 4, 2013

The Guns of August

I’ve always experienced mixed emotions when it comes to contemplating military modelling of a larger and more detailed variety than wargaming miniatures.

On the one hand, the level of skill, precision and realism on display by modellers at this end of the game is in my opinion nothing short of artistry. Just look at the likes of what was on display at this year’s Euro Militaire. If you have an interest in military history and modelling, it’s very hard not to (a) be simply entranced, and (b) want to emulate.

The flip side of the coin stems from exactly the same reasons. The standard seems simply so high as to be totally unachievable. Gorgeous to drool at online or in magazines, but not a realistic goal for Ordinary Joe Hobbyist.

Be that as it may, I’ve decided to try my hand at a couple of larger scale pieces (and possibly armour kits in the long term). I’ve dabbled in bigger scales before, with varying degrees of satisfaction (not to mention completion!). Now, a trip last May to the Irish Model Soldier Society’s annual show and a subsequent decision to join the club have encouraged me to have another go.

First up on the table, and quite appropriate as we stand on the cusp of the First World War centenaries that begin in 2014, are two 54mm figures from the outbreak of that conflict.
Above is Andrea Miniature’s S3-FO1 Infantryman (Prussia). I’ve always been fascinated by the early First World War uniform of the ordinary German infantryman; topped off by the iconic spiked Pickelhaube. You can see at a glance why the headgear in particular was a dream come true for Allied cartoonists and propagandists, with its instant connotations of barbarism and belligerence. It crops up time and again in contemporary posters and drawings like the US example below (courtesy of Wikipedia).

I have a distinct childhood memory of watching the 1979 film version of The Riddle of the Sands on TV some rainy Sunday afternoon, and being struck by several scenes featuring German soldiers (very much the bad guys of the piece) wearing the Pickelhaube. Inevitably, someone’s uploaded the entire film on YouTube.
Anyway, this figure is for me instantly reminiscent of the early months of the conflict, and of German infantry surging forward in battles like Mons and the Marne (though, to be boringly pedantic, a gas mask container on the figure’s back suggests a date of 1915 onwards).

This isn’t my first Andrea figure – I recall clumsily slopping paint as a teenager on to a Napoleonic kit representing a certain fair-haired 95th Rifles officer at Badajoz. Returning to the brand after an interval of several years, I was able to see why the Spanish company remains a popular choice for white metal 54mm kits.

The kit (purchased from Historex Agents in the UK) arrived in perfect condition, complete with both a painting and uniform guide.  Clean up and assembly was quite straightforward, although I’m somewhat sceptical about the durability of the superglue I’ve used to attach the figure to its metal base – pinning and drilling aren’t yet part of my skillset. A small amount of filling and our man will be ready for primer.

Next is a British figure from a (relatively) new company, Tommy’s War, which concentrates on 54mm resin British and Commonwealth subjects from the 1914-18 period. Having tried (but sadly not gotten as far as finishing) one or two kits from this manufacturer already, I was already aware of the accuracy and character of these figures, and this offering ( TW54003) was no exception.

Representing a bombardier of the Royal Horse Artillery in 1914, the sculpt positively drips with period flavour. Hands perched on hips as though about to bawl out some unfortunate gunner out of sight, this moustachioed NCO is instantly recognisable as a seasoned Old Contemptible of the original BEF. It’s easy to imagine him holding court in the mess of some pre-war garrison like the Curragh or Aldershot.

Though I’m still slightly unsure of myself when it comes to working with resin as opposed to metal or hard plastic, the kit really couldn’t be simpler. There are only four components: torso and legs, head and arms. I’m looking forward to getting this one assembled and prepped.
One of the finest hours for the Royal Horse Artillery during the early part of the First World War came at Néry on 1 September 1914. Here, ‘L’ Battery RHA mounted a determined defence against encroaching German cavalry, with the crew of one 13-pounder gun continuing to load and fire after most of the battery’s other guns had been knocked out early in the engagement. Three Victoria Crosses were earned during the action, and the surviving gun is still preserved in the Imperial War Museum in London. It’s on the gun line at Néry that I envisage depicting this old sweat.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

RML 2575

First up is something utterly non-military, but absolutely iconic: the classic London Routemaster.
This is a somewhat elderly 1/72 scale kit I picked up for a song a few months ago in the Dublin Model Shop on Blessington Street here in Dublin, a spot that’s always worth a browse. To go by a relatively quick Google, the manufacturer appears long since defunct.

I actually don’t have any real interest in transport – this military history nonsense is more than enough to be getting on with. Dad, however, is a lifelong bus enthusiast and preservationist. Amongst the preserved vehicles owned by his fellow enthusiasts and he is RML 2575. In 2005, this original Routemaster made the unlikely transition from a working life spent chugging through the streets of Chelsea and Putney on the 22 route to a peaceful retirement in rural County Dublin.

I couldn’t resist the chance to have a go at modelling the bus, and so, armed with reference photos taken by the man himself, I’ve set about trying to recreate it in scale. My skills being what they are, the finished product certainly won’t be award-winning, but it should make for an original gift.

For an inexperienced kit modeller, assembly was far from user-friendly or intuitive. Lots of fiddly, niggly parts afforded me ample opportunity to practice my swearing. In particular, I couldn’t seem to get the main components of the bodywork to fit flush together, so a session of determined sanding and filling with Games Workshop Liquid Green Stuff was called for. There are still some fairly obvious gaps in the assembled model, but I can live with them.
Given the obvious overall red colour of the real thing, and lacking an airbrush, my original plan was to cut a painting corner or two by using Army Painter red colour primer to coat the bus. The spray didn’t quite provide the desired effect, though…

To be fair, I’ve used the spray paints from Army Painter before and have been more than happy, so I’ll chalk that particular watery can up to a bad batch or to having sat on the shelf in the shop that bit too long.

There was nothing for it but to brush apply the first of what will be a number of very thinned down coats of Vallejo AV957 Flat Red. This is how my mini Routemaster is starting to look now, with its big brother framed behind.

As you can see, I’ve baulked at the prospect of masking each individual plastic glass section (as well, indeed, as painting and detailing the interior of the bus). Instead, I intend to finish it up ‘wargame’ style, with the glass detail painted in later.

Breaking Radio Silence

Can it really be almost ten months since my last (and so far only) post? Talk about promising starts…

Oh, well!

The next few entries are mainly intended to blow the cobwebs off the blog, but I do have some progress to report on a very, very mixed bag of projects. I also want to experiment a little bit with uploading photos and videos.