Monday 5 February 2024

The Defenders of Lorraine

Off to a rather slow start to 2024 here at Boadle Towers. I had finished two 1870 French line regiments and started to do a flag when I was brought to halt by some virus, bug, flu, Covid or whatever the heck it was. That knocked me out for about three weeks, so I've only just finished the flag (see below) and got round to photography. Even then I didn't quite summon the energy to properly compose shots of all the Lorraine village stuff being defended by the new French. That will have to wait, but in the meantime here's the figures and the flag. And a small offer, if my approach to doing the flags would be of help to anyone else doing 1870.

By the way, please note that my email address has changed, though the old one will still find me for the moment. The updated address is now on the profile page. 

Here's the 32nd Line marching boldly towards the invaders. France had some 102 line regiments dressed identically except for a too-small-to-read regimental number on the kepi band. The uniform (almost) reflects the french tricolour and in painting these I focussed on producing bright, clear colours. In particular when you paint the piping on the kepi it's possible to end up with something untidy and "muddy", which I was determined to avoid.

Another characteristic was the mountain of field kit which the French soldier carried piled up on his back. This approach had come about from campaigning victoriously around the world in the decades before 1870: from the Sahara to the Baltic, from Mexico to China. Every soldier carried the means to shelter himself and to cook his rations. The Prussians had never needed to give a thought to this, reckoning to just pile into the nearest barn, which actually worked better when campaigning in well-populated areas, which was the case in 1864, 1866 and 1870-71. The Perry figures show all the proper kit very nicely; it's just a little bit fiddly to paint. This unit has got a "cantiniere" from the metal command pack. The job of these ladies was to provide the soldiers with tots of brandy from the barrel they carried, although there are many tales of them helping the wounded under fire, bringing up ammunition and so forth. They were dressed in a feminised version of their regiment's uniform.

With the plastic figures of the two packs you can create units doing one of three things: marching, charging and firing line. Here the 77th are blazing away with their long-range "Chassepot" rifles. In the open, a firing line would mostly be prone at this time, but when there's a little bit of cover, such as the walls around a village, you would have seen the men both standing and kneeling. The poses in the plastic packs do allow a dynamic mix.

I mount my figures on what some would regard as unfashionably ( or unfeasibly) small bases: 45mm x 40mm for six figures. This is for two reasons. Firstly it's more realistic. Soldiers in close order throughout the 18th and 19th centuries formed up elbow to elbow, so less than two feet per file. At our scale, even the 15mm width I give them is quite loose, but many gamers use 20mm frontage, or even more with open areas on each base, never mind sabot bases and other whatever. Each to their own of course, but I try to avoid "overbasing" because it's unrealistic. Secondly, without going into the obvious arithmetic the smaller your bases for a given size of unit the larger area your tabletop represents, and I want to do big battles.

I planned to do a flag which could be printed off for multiple line units, so my method was to start with an image of an 1812-pattern flag, the pattern of which was broadly copied for the Second Empire colours. I scanned it into the PC, blew it up to almost A4 size, printed it off and then overpainted the whole thing to equate specifically to the 1853-pattern flag carried by the 32nd Regiment. (This flag was captured when Metz surrendered and photographed later on, so we can be certain of its historical appearance.) The colours are on the dark side and I used buff for where the gold will end up. So here's what that looked like (complete with my workings-out). Now there's a lot I could say about the slightly differing patterns of flag used by French line infantry in 1870, but I'll spare you. My approach was to do one single, 100% accurate flag and then just fudge the details for the other regiments. The size of script used for the list of battle honours (different for every single unit and not always even known) is such that when reduced they won't really be legible, hence will do for any unit!

The painted flag was then re-scanned and sized to suit 28mm figures, the colours brightened a bit and the flag copied to produce a printout sheet of six flags. I then painted metallic gold over the appropriate areas and wrapped the flag around the pole using dilute PVA. You want the flag to be sufficiently soaked to bend freely into soft folds, without actually falling apart. Once dry I highlight the areas of red, blue and white which would catch the light. Finally I give the whole thing a coat of PVA, partly for strength and partly because I figure the flags were of silk and would have a slight sheen to them. 

So that's my method of doing flags. If you think this printout might be of help to you in doing French line flags for 1870, please email me (note new address on profile page) and I will send it over as a Word document. You can then print off a set of flags to the size you prefer and finish them to your taste.


  1. Wonderful painting. The 77th looks fantastic with it's mix of kneeling and standing figures.

  2. Lovely units as always John and really interesting to see how you approached doing the flags:). We had the bad cold or whatever before Xmas which did last about 3 weeks or so, now we have Covid:(! Hope you feel better soon.

  3. They look superb John, as do the flags - excellent work all around.

  4. These look superb John, you have done a cracking job with these. I notice you have left the large metal canteen a silver colour ( as seen in the second photo on the last figure at the end ) which I much prefer.I know you are highly knowledgeable about the uniforms and equipment of the French army. I seen this figures elsewhere and the large metal back pot has been painted blue as if it was in a cover. I have never seen a real example of this but just wondered if both options were valid ? What do you think?

  5. Thanks very much, chaps, appreciated as always.

    Martin, the water bottles usually had a cloth cover (which was made from old greatcoats, so was blue-grey), but the mess tins and large cooking vessels didn't. There was a practical reason for this distinction. When the water bottle was filled by dunking it in a stream or whatever, the covering was soaked and the consequent evaporation served to keep the contents cool for longer. This was irrelevant for the mess tins and cooking vessels, and I've never seen any evidence of them having any sort of cloth covers. By the way, although metal they wouldn't be anything like a bright metal on campaign, but quite grimy and blackened from the camp fire.

  6. Thanks John that is a very comprehensive answer and much appreciated. Anyone can paint their own figures how they like. I have no problem with that but I do like to get the figures as historically accurate as possible.
    I had not realised until I saw your figures that officers had such distinctive collars , something I shall have to look into further.

  7. You have done a beautiful job on these John....

  8. Thanks, Martin and Mark.

    The officers' collar was distinctive only in that you could see it when all were wearing regulation campaign dress. All ranks wore a tunic with yellow collar and piping in peacetime, differentiated only by badges of rank. When the infantry marched off to war, the rank and file left the tunic at their depot and wore the greatcoat. (Officially just the plain waistcoat was worn beneath this, though in some cases it was the tunic or the earlier 1860 "basquine" short jacket.) The officers, however, had no special field dress prescribed, other than to replace the metallic, fringed epaulettes with rank strips on the cuff. So the peacetime tunic, with all the yellow distinctions, was standard. Some wore the rank and file greatcoat over it, some a similar "officer version", also in blue-grey. All would have the metallic rank stripes on the cuff. Incidentally the rolled coat thing that you see on the Perry officers could be a blue-grey greatcoat, or could be a garment designated the "caban modele 1860". This was a dufflecoat sort of thing in blue-black cloth with a red lining. Some officers wore it rolled up with the red lining outermost for maximum distinction!

  9. I'm coming to this late having been touring the former French Indochina earlier this year.

    Wonderful job on these, the flag is excellent, and I agree about the closer order just looks better too!

  10. Cheers, Kym. Just finished painting some French artillery, so a new post is due soon.