Tirailleurs from the French Colonial Empire

French tirailleurs made from aluminium by toy maker Quiralu

All of the European colonial powers raised regiments of black African soldiers and white officers, but only France equals Britain in the variety and volume of toys that depict their colonial soldiers.

In my collection I have some excellent figures of tirailleurs – meaning “skirmishers” the French equivalent of “askari” – fromthe the North and West African colonies of France’s colonial empire.

I particularly like the aluminium figures made by French toy maker Quiralu and the solid-cast figures designed by the talented Swedish toy soldier designer Holgar Eriksson and sold by Comet, Authenticast and Swedish African Engineers (SAE).

French tirailleur by toy maker Authenticast


French tirailleur with long trousers by toy maker Quiralu


French tirailleur by unknown toy maker, possibly Cherilea


The 60mm tall plastic figure to the right displays the key characteristics that distinguish a toy soldier of the French tirailleurs from his askari counterparts in the King’s African Rifles – or the regiments of other colonial powers.   He carries his rifle on the right shoulder in the French style, rather than the left shoulder which would be more typical of a soldier from the British Empire – and like many of the figures on this page, he wears a red cummerbund.  The broad red fez, which can also be seen on the Del Prado figure below, is typical of the uniform of a tirailleur from the French West African colony of Senegal – very different from the pillar box-like British version.

Del Prado

Terailleur Senegalese circa 1940 by modern model maker Del Prado

The manufacturer of this plastic soldier is unknown.  It was attributed to Cherilea  when I brought it on Ebay in 2014 – partly because it shares the 60mm scale of many of Cherilea’s figures – but this attribution is far from certain.

On the other hand, what is certain is that this is one of the rarest toy soldiers in my collection, as it is the only one of its kind that I have ever seen – and it is also the most expensive toy soldier I have ever brought.  This confounds people who view my collection as they assume that the oldest lead toy soldiers must automatically be the rarest and most valuable not a play-worn plastic figure made in the 1950s or 1960s.