Above is a pic of Lt. Colonel James Galbraith, Regimental Colour in hand, alongside Bobbie the regimental dog and some of the other "Last Eleven" survivors of the 66th (Berkshire) Regiment, making their last stand in one of the walled gardens just South of Khig village, a few miles West of the Afghan town of Maiwand.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Some Afghan & British CONVERSIONS

A few years ago I did a bunch of conversions of British, Indian and Afghan figures.  I enjoyed the process a lot and the figures turned out pretty well, providing me with some very particular and at the time hard-to-find troop-types and characters, most of which were based on historical individuals and troop types related to the July 1880 battle of Maiwand.

Over the last couple of years, while researching the October 1879 battle of Charasiab, I came up with a few new ideas for figure conversions, most of which were directly related to the battle, but a couple inspired by a piece of literary fiction.  But all my available Hobby time was spent working on the terrain, army lists, and scenario details for the Charasiab game.

Having play-tested the game a few times and played it through almost to the very end at the Colonial Barracks V convention, I was finally able to get around to actually doing these long-postponed figure conversions, and I'm happy to say I think they've all turned out pretty good.

The "literary fiction" driven conversions are a pair of DRUMMER-BOYS who I did my best to turn into Jakin and Piggy Lew, the lead characters in Rudyard Kipling's short story, "The Drums of the Fore and Aft" (CLICK HERE TO READ A FREE ONLINE COPY).

The Drums of the Fore and Aft has been one of my favorite short-stories since first reading it as a 9 or 10 year-old boy.  A few years later I read about it again -- I believe in the early 1980s -- in an article on the Second Afghan War battle of Ahmed Khel.  The article said the fictional battle that serves as the climactic finale of the Kipling story, was actually based on the behavior of the 59th Regt. of Foot during the battle, at which the relatively young and inexperienced 59th Regt. had nearly broken when attacked by the Afghans.

Rereading the story a couple of decades later, I realized the fictional version contains elements from at least three real Second Afghan War battles:

-the 59th wavering, giving ground and almost breaking at Ahmed Khel, being "saved" by their fellow regiments -- particularly the 2nd Sikhs and 3rd Gurkhas;

-the 66th (Berkshires) breaking and running for real at Maiwand;

-Major George Stewart White dispatching two companies of the 92nd Highlanders from his right-flank attack to aid Brigadier Baker in the center at Charasiab.

These three moments from the three different battles can all be found in Drums of the Fore and Aft, but of course they do not include the single greatest moment from the story -- the moment when drummer-boys Akin & Lew, alone on the battlefield after their band and the rest of the entire regiment has broken and run in the face of the enemy, pick up a fife and a drum and -- emboldened by a sip from an abandoned canteen full of rum -- march straight at the Afghan army while fifing and drumming, "The British Grenadier."

I won't give away the ending, in case anyone reading this has never read the story -- which may be unlikely, but still... better safe than sorry!

The connection between the Kipling story and real Second Afghan War history came to my mind a a couple of years ago while searching for figures online, when I somehow discovered a pair of beautifully-sculpted miniatures from the Spartan Games "Dystopian Legions" range, labelled "Musician, Kingdom of Britannia."

The two drummer-boy figures (despite being titled "Musician" the box actually includes 2 different minis) had a ton of character, and luckily for my historically-inclined self, only a touch of dystopian Steampunk style.

I decided to use the two drummer-boys as key figures in a game inspired by the battle at the end of the Kipling story, which features a small brigade of Gurkha, Highlander, and British Infantry battalions, a unit of Bengal Lancer, and a battery of Indian screw-guns, taking the field against an entrenched regular army, obviously based on that of c.1880 Afghanistan, supplemented by masses of Tribesmen and Ghazi fanatics.

There was only one catch: in the story, and in the handful of visual artworks it's inspired over the past hundred-plus years, one boy plays a drum and the other a fife.  But the two "Britannia" boy musicians both come with drums.  Hmmm.  What to do, what to do.  Of course, it would be simple enough to field two drummer-boys for a battle inspired by a story the name of which literally is, The DRUMS of the Fore and Aft, and yet... it seemed a bit lame to me.  So I went and looked for 28mm fifers, who could perhaps provide a solution to my "instrument" problem.  The "Dystopian Legions" drummer-boy figures are actually closer to 32mm in size, so I focused my search on larger 28mm fifers.

I lucked out with Eureka's SYW range, finding a couple of possibilities, an Austrian and a Prussian fifer, and ordering both from Eureka USA, who shipped them to me faster than any company ever shipped figures to me before.

Carving away the big drum was a chore, but in the end I think the conversion turned out pretty well.  Not perfect, but still nice enough for everyone who looks at the figure to know he's meant to be a boy in uniform playing a fife.

In order to match the look of the above painting of Jakin and Lew, from the story which I really like, I replaced one of their heads -- which was adorned with a slightly fanciful peaked forage cap -- with a bare head from my spare parts collection.  Luckily for me, though not sculpted to be a boy of 12 or 13, the bare head sculpt looks pretty youthful, so I think it worked as well.



In a more purely historical mode, my research into the battle of Charasiab left me wanting to field a figure of the Afghan Amir, Yaqub Khan, seated in General Roberts' camp, with a 92nd Highlander "honor guard" AKA: jailer.

The day before the battle the Amir rode into General Roberts' camp, claiming -- despite evidence to the contrary -- to be an ally of the British Empire.  Yaqub Khan remained there as a "guest" AKA: prisoner of the General throughout the battle, during which the Afghan army was under the direct command of his Uncle, Sardar Nek Muhammad, who had visited the British camp to confer with him just the day before.

If I wanted to include some really whacky "Military Possibilities" in my Charasiab scenario, I could allow for Yaqub Khan and his entourage to attempt to sabotage the British HQ from within and signal the Tribesmen in the nearby high ground to attack it and set him free... or I could simply use him as another historically-interesting detail on the table-top.

I almost used a Wargames Foundry FPW Napoleon III figure, seated on a bench, with his head in his hands, and I may yet do a version with that figure, but I settled on using a Prussian General instead, an older senior commander sitting in a chair, smoking a pipe.  I removed his head and his hand with the pipe in it, and replaced them with a spare Afghan regular army head wearing the same style fur cap as Yaqub Khan himself wears in several photographs from the time (in fact the Prussian General's uniform is a good match for that of the Afghan Amir!) and replaced the hand with an open one from a Foundry Darkest Africa Explorer, into which I then glued an appropriate style sword I had cut from another figure, using it as a sheathed blade which the seated Amir is holding between his legs, in the same fashion which he does so in several photos.

I used the typical Xacto blades, fine files, clippers and tweezers, and "Slo-Zap" longer-drying super-glue, which allows 20-30 seconds before setting, making it possible to adjust the final position of a piee before it locks in place forever.  Though I still use less-expensive Krazy-Glue for some hobby jobs, I am a big fan of Slo-Zap.

Here's some pics of both the real Yaqub Khan and my humble miniature version:

And finally, with his Highland honor guard/prison guards...

I also did a couple of more modest conversions, an Afghan regular army Orderly from Yaqub Khan's entourage, and a Herati Turcoman regular army Drummer.  The Orderly was made with an Afghan fur cap head and an Afghan regular artillery crewman body, the Drummer from a Mutineer Miniatures drummer from the Mutineers command pack and a spare Turcoman head...

Last but far from least, what must be the most sublimely ridiculous conversion I've ever done, for which I ordered 4 new figures, each earmarked to contribute a portion of their little metal self.  The objetive was to recreate a figure in an illustration from the war, sketched while the British were first occupying Kabul after winning the battle of Charasiab, and held court martials and executions for Afghans thought to have participated in the massacre of Cavagnari and his escort.  In addition, the occassional visiting tribesman or Ghazi would launch attacks on British and Indian troops on the streets of the city, and if not killed during the course of the action, would then be executed.

This cover illustration of THE GRAPHIC shows two such ill-fated Afghans being "Led to Execution at Kabul," by soldiers of the 92nd Highlanders, as their officer looks on, standing beside what presumably is a British Army chaplain, dressed in black, with a walking stick in one hand and an open pocket-watch ticking down the last minutes of the two Afghan prisoners' lives, as seen here below:

Since discovering this image a few years ago, I've wanted to recreate it with figures.  I bought a handful of old Perry-sculpted Wargames Foundry NWF marching Highlanders, and I already had the perfect Highlander officer courtesy the Perry Miniatures Sudan range Black Watch officer standing in almost the identical pose to that of the officer in the picture.  All that remained -- aside from the Afghan prisoners, who I was confident I could recreate with some Foundry marching Indian matchlock figures -- was the Chaplain.

I looked around online for Victorian and/or Old West civilian figures to use, but most all of the ones with walking sticks held them in their right hands, and for some reason most all the ones with pocket watches held them in their left hands.  Finally I got my hands on a collection of those old Foundry Victorian and Old West civlians which I thought could work -- one for the body, one for the hat, one for the left arm with the walking stick... but there was still one problem: they were all too small.  Placed beside the Perry Highland officer, they were physically inferior, which just didn't work with the whole point and feel of the image, at least for me.

Then I somehow came across the Chronoscope range from Reaper Miniatures.

After searching through their many single figures, which include lots of Old West and some Victorian and early 20th Century gangster characters, I settled on the aforementioned FOUR FIGURES that I thought I could use to cobble together the Chaplain, and I think it actually worked out well.  Not perfect, but pretty good.

Here's a few pics of the conversion process:

Here's the final result, using the HAT from one figure, the HEAD from a second, the BODY and WALKING STICK from a third, and the ARMS from a fourth -- with an additional bit of scratchbuilt pocket-watch added at the very end:

After a long break from doing figire conversions, I'm glad I was able to pull this new batch off, especially the "Fore & Aft" Drummer-Boys, the "Guest"/Prisoner Amir, and of course, perhaps my ultimate Second Afghan War conversion of all time (despite not being in uniform), the "Execution Chaplain," as shown above.

Hopefully I'll get them all painted -- be me or someone who's a better painter -- in the near future!


  1. Great story - I had not read that one before - thank you.

    Your conversions are brilliant.

  2. Great work MG and as inspirational as always.


  3. Thanks very much for the positive comments guys, happy you liked the new conversions -- and glad to have introduced you to the story, Pat!

  4. Mag Guru,

    This looks like another great project. Awesome conversion work on those minis!!!! I look forward to seeing this project completed and playing in this battle! Thanks for sharing the story, I had not read nor heard of this story previously. I immediately saved it and have started reading it. What a hoot. Those are some rambunctious drummer boys. They slightly remind me of my own 2 wild boys.... Lol,


  5. Thanks for the comment, JB! Happy to hear the story made you think of your own boys. It is certainly one of my all-time favorites. Hope some day I get to meet your sons. I need to figure out how to work the drummer boys and their MORALE EFFECT into the scenario without making it too crazy. I'll start thinking more about that stuff after the figures are painted and ready for use on the table, hopefully in the near future...

  6. The parson is a dead ringer for Clint Eastwood :0)
    Lovely work

  7. Thanks very much, Nobby! Always a happy surprise to find a new comment on an old post!

    1. A pleasure.
      A chap has to search the past for his inspiration for the future :)
      ps I'm very fond of the dog Bobbie as well.

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