As a young lad I had collected Airfix, mostly WW2 vehicles and figures. I had set them up as a sort of moving diorama, but had never been aware that there was such a thing as wargaming.
My experience of making the Trooping of the Colour diorama has introduced me to painting, which I had really enjoyed.
Having read “Charge, or how to Play Wargames” I now wanted to have a go. But how to start? I returned to the garrison library and found a couple of books on wargaming and all suggested Airfix as the most suitable and certainly the least expensive way to start.
A search of local toy shops confirmed that Airfix were the only cheap figures available, and the highlanders in particular seemed most suitable. I knew nothing about the Napoleonic Wars but my research had convinced me that it was colourful and one of the most popular periods for wargaming.
In 1969 there were only two suitable boxes available, the Highlanders and the French Cuirassiers
HighlandersSo my British infantry would all be highlanders. This did not strike me as unusual or strange at that time. I bought enough boxes to make up units of 20 figures of each pose, except for the kneeling, wounded and dead ones. I even has one unit of the figure bayoneting someone lying on the ground
The cuirassiers were a better selection. I could use all of them in each box, apart from the one holding his horse and sheltering behind the dead horse.
French Foot Artillery
In 1971 Airfix released French artillery. I had already bought a couple of Hinton Hunt French artillery crews, to counter my British Horse Artillery from the same manufacturer. But I could now expand my artillery although I was not very impressed with the strange looking limber.
There was great excitement in wargaming circles when Airfix released the French Infantry in 1972. My wargame collection expanded to include not only French infantry, but also French allies. By now I had bought the two Funken books, and I had painting instructions of all of the major powers and many of the minor ones
In the same year Airfix released British hussars. This prompted my first ever conversion, a simple change of head. All of the spare French infantry donated their heads to convert British to French hussars.
British InfantryAlso released in 1972, and welcomed with the same joy as the French infantry. Once more I could use the spare heads to provide British foot artillery
British Horse Artillery
Another set released in 1972. Not as useful to me, because I already had Hinton Hunt horse artillery. But I did convert some to French horse artillery by using spare British hussar heads.
French Grenadiers of the Imperial Guard
It was 1975 before these were released. By then I had moved on to metal figures, mostly Miniature Figurines. But that did not stop me buying sufficient boxes to produce eight units of 20 figures each.
It is hard now to understand the great excitement which greeted each new Airfix release. As far as I knew they were the only 20mm plastic figures available in the UK, and they were a fraction of the price of Hinton Hunt or Miniature Figurines. In addition they were easy to convert with a sharp knife and some glue. In Wargamers Newsletter there would be articles on major conversions, but I was never up for that. I found that I could paint figures to a reasonable “wargame standard”. But I was never very good at any sort of DIY, and that included anything more complicated than replacing heads on plastic figures.
The only real downside to the soft plastic Airfix figures was that they would flex, and the paint would peel off. This was particularly true of thin weapons and ankles. But repair was easy, just another coat of paint. And I spent most nights painting anyway, so this was no great problem.