A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Hooptedoodle #10 - Grandpère et La Samaritaine

You will gather that the arrival of more snow has given me another idle day. Today's ramble is a little bit about my grandfather, but also a request for some clues to something I have wondered about for years.

My family has always been a little complicated. When I was a kid, I was aware that my maternal grandparents had separated before WW2, and that my grandfather lived with his new family in Paris. He was English, but from 1928 until he retired around 1968 he lived and worked in Paris. I only met him a few times - for about 4 years, from the age of about 11, my cousin and I used to go to stay with him during the Summer, at Neuilly-sur-Seine, and he made a huge impression on me.

He was enormously well-read, a great Fabian, and was opinionated and articulate in equal measure - which makes him sound a little forbidding, but in fact he was also very personable, humorous (as long as he was not the butt of the joke!), and a marvellous raconteur. Sitting down at 7 for a 3-hour dinner was a new experience for two 11-year-olds from Liverpool. I have always regretted that his early death (from lung cancer - he was a lifelong addict to Black & White and Markovitch cigarettes) meant that my own children never got to meet him, because he was an absolute treasure.

There is some point to this story. Grandpère was a great Napoleonic fan, and one day he arranged for us to visit the Musée de l'Armée at Les Invalides outside of public opening hours, on an early Sunday morning - I think that one of the curators was a personal friend. Of course, it was all too much for my childish attention span - I have a confused recollection of countless numbers of tattered flags, and of rows and rows of glass cases with life-size mannequins in uniform, though I do remember very clearly being overawed by the sheer size of a mounted dragoon, and entranced by the Vauban room with its little models of fortress towns. When our heads were obviously spinning, my grandfather sat us on the steps next to Napoleon's tomb, and worked his way around the friezes on the wall, describing (because he knew his stuff) the great battles of this Emperor who was within a few metres of where we sat.

I was never the same again. It was one of those episodes which, on recall, make you wish you had a "replay" button handy so that you could run them again. I have been to the Musée de l'Armée a few times in later life, but it seemed smaller and less bewildering than my first experience - this may simply be because of faulty recollection, but I suspect we may have been taken to places which are off-limits to normal day visitors.

On a couple of occasions after that, my cousin and I received gifts from Paris which were models of Napoleonic soldiers. They were beautifully painted - like nothing I had ever seen - though of course I didn't really understand what they represented. I recall that I had a line infantry fusilier, and my cousin had a most impressive infantry sapeur with a fine beard and a big apron. One of my figures had a small accident when his plume got broken off, and I stuck it back on with clear Durofix. I knew little of model soldiers (still true!), and over the years, of course, they disappeared, along with most of the other priceless jewels of childhood. Of recent years, I have often wondered what they might have been - i.e. who was the maker. I have had a good poke around on the internet - especially in eBay - to look for something similar, but never found anything, so if anyone has any ideas, I'd be pleased to know them.

I cannot show pictures, obviously, because they are long gone. They were 54mm figures - very elegant - cast in a hard plastic which was a very slightly creamy white. They were very finely painted, in glossy, toy-soldier style - I remember being very struck by the detailing of piping and cockades and shako cords. The white parts of the uniforms were unpainted - the white plastic showed through. They had small rectangular bases, which were painted an earth brown shade, and they were mounted on small wooden blocks, bearing a stuck-on label (presumably paper or card), which was printed in black with a dull gold background, giving details of the unit, the year and so on.

I never knew the maker - it would have meant nothing to me, anyway. It has been suggested that they might have been Starlux, though I have not seen Starlux figures mounted on blocks in this way. They must have been purchased new around 1958-61, I would guess, and almost certainly from the toy department at La Samaritaine - now closed, alas, but still fondly remembered as a very fine working definition of Heaven for small boys of all ages.

It really doesn't matter, of course, but, in an idle sort of way which is appropriate to being snowed in again, I'd be pleased to shine a little light into the past.


  1. The cream colour suggests possibly SEGOM a French company who made cellulose-acetate plastic figures, both 54mm kits and 30mm wargame figures as well as tin figures. SEGOM = Société d' Édition Générale d' Objets Moulés.

    I don't know if they ever sold them assembled and painted but they may have or someone may have assembled kits and painted them for your grandfather.

    I used to make some of their 18th & 17thC kits during my teens and had 100 or so of their wargame figures of whom only a handful remain. One melted bits of sprue in acetone to make a paste to glue them together or convert them. Haven't found any pictures of their 54mm Napoleonics alas so these may not be them at all.

    My grandfather was a modest collector of Britain's. I have only fleeting memories of him and alas an aunt sold his collection to an antique dealer.


  2. Ross - thanks for that - I remember the 30mm SEGOMs - I had a very casual-looking eagle-bearer in my spares box for years - figures had long legs and small heads - like the illustrations out of 1950s magazine ads.

    These figures we were sent were one-piece mouldings, definitely, and all in marching positions. I would bet they were pretty much mainstream retail issue - the French are/were very good at that sort of stuff - I recall that around the same time there was a super series of celebrities of the French Revolution - approx 54mm, unpainted, bronze bendy plastic - turns out they were free with jars of instant coffee. Never got stuff like that with British coffee!


  3. Hello there Tony,

    A delightful memory! Your grandfather sounds like quite a man.

    Best Regards,


  4. Stokes - thanks - certainly the ladies liked him, by all accounts!

    Ross - by jove, sir - SEGOM was a damn good shout - I'll do a brief supplementary post...