Dervishes and Arabs by Britains

Toy soldier collectors looking for opponents for their King’s African Rifles will almost certainly want figures to represent the Mad Mullah’s Dervishes (holy men).

Bedouin Arab by Britains

Bedouin Arab by Britains

There are a number of options and a mix is probably best as the brave and fanatical Dervishes knew no uniform.

My preference is Britains hollowcast Bedouin Arabs, which are common as they were produced in large numbers and different colours from 1913 to 1960. The Bedouin Arab figures could also serve as Arab slave traders who plagued the east coast of Africa and were a target of KAR patrols until well into the Twentieth Century.

Britains Abyssinian Tribesman can also serve as a dervish warrior or a slave trader.  This figure is a re-working of the Arab figure but bare-headed and with a fixed arm, and scarcer as it was produced in smaller numbers than its parent.

Abyssinian Tribesman by toy maker Britains

Britains Arab Warriors from the excellent “Deetail” series made in the 1970s are an alternative option for the collector looking for dervishes to oppose his King’s African Rifles.

Arab Warriors by Britains Deetail

Another unusual alternative to Dervishes and Arab slave traders is the African witch doctor made by Lone*Star (below) which represents the KAR’s early years undertaking punitive expeditions and small campaigns to pacify African tribes raised to rebellion by witch doctors, shamans and tribal chieftains.

African witch doctor by toy maker Lone*Star


Toy Soldiers by Authenticast

French tirailleur by toy maker Authenticast

Authenticast was a product name used from the 1930s to the 1950s by the American toy maker Comet, to market a range of metal military toys and soldiers made using a centrifugal casting process that allowed more detail than earlier methods.

Authenticast toy soldiers are descendants of Comet’s earlier “Brigadiers” series and were made by a subsidiary of the Comet company set up in Ireland after the Second World War to take advantage of post-war economic regeneration initiatives.

The original moulds for Authenticast toy soldiers were made by talented Swedish designer Holger Eriksson, who may also have designed some of Comet’s earlier “Brigadiers” series; his initials “HE” and the country of origin “Eire” can often be found inscribed on the characteristic cross-shaped base of these figures.

Authenticast ceased production in 1953 after a fire destroyed the Irish factory.  Some of the moulds were taken over by a company called Swedish African Engineers (SAE) who manufactured toy soldiers in South Africa in the 1950s and 1960s.

French tirailleur by toy maker Authenticast

The 1/32 (54mm) scale French tirailleur made by Authenticast is a superb figure, made as a toy over fifty years ago but superior in design and manufacture to many modern models.

Black infantryman in Khaki Tropical Dress by toy maker Authenticast

The word “tirailleur” meaning “skirmisher” has been used in the French army since Napoleonic times as a designation for light infantry.  In the 19th and 20th Centuries the term was particularly used for native infantry recruited in the French colonial territories of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Senegal and Indochina. The black infantrymen (above and below left) in what looks like British field dress for the Second World War could represent askari from the KAR, although it is more likely that they were originally sold as West African Troopers.

There are other Authenticast figures that would enhance a KAR collection.  The Australian infantryman wearing a slouch hat could easily be a white British KAR officer.

Australian infantryman by toy maker Authenticast

Black infantryman in light tropical dress by toy maker Authenticast

The beret-wearing infantrymen (below) could be from any number of British regiments – I like to think of him as being from the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, which fought alongside the KAR in the East Africa Campaign of the First World War.  The soldier in a peaked cap could be from the army of the Republic of Ireland, but this does not explain why he is wearing tropical shorts.

Infantryman in beret and shorts by toy maker Authenticast

Soldier in peaked cap and shorts by toy maker Authenticast

Indian Soldier by toy maker Authenticast

The excellent figure of an Indian soldier could easily be from Britain’s imperial Indian Army which fought alongside the KAR before and during the First World War. Together I find these Authenticast figures, with their purposeful strides, strongly reminiscent of the famous Second World War recruiting poster showing the British Empire fighting together.

Uniforms of the KAR

The uniform of the King’s African Rifles was relatively consistent throughout the life of the regiment, although there were variations between battalions and over time.

KAR circa 1912 by modern model maker Beau Geste

The uniform in the diagram below is from an askari of the 2nd (Nyasaland) Battalion before the First World War – around 1912.

This askari wears a dark blue jersey and puttees, reflecting the regiment’s colonial policing role, with khaki drill shorts and the black fez inherited by the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the KAR from their predecessor regiment, the Central African Rifles; the other battalions wore red fezes.

This askari is not wearing the khaki fez cover with neck flap and fold-down peak that was normally issued for undress or field service, as shown in the modern models by Beau Geste, above right.

The uniform shows the askari’s leather Slade Wallace load-carrying equipment and Martini Enfield rifle with socket bayonet, both of which are Boer War vintage.

Askari, 2nd (Nyasaland) Bn. KAR, 1912

The second uniform, below right, is from an askari of the 4th (Uganda) Battalion in 1917.

He wears a khaki drill uniform with blue puttees and the khaki pillbox cap that replaced the fez in field dress during the First World War – the fez was retained for dress uniform.  Unusually, this askari is wearing boots – most would still have gone barefoot in this period.

He is carrying the 1903 bandolier equipment that was standard issue for the KAR for most of the war, consisting of bandolier pouches attached to the waist belt and canvas supporting straps.  He also carries additional ammunition in a non-standard cloth webbing bandolier.  His rifle is a Lee Enfield 0.303 SMLE with bayonet.

Askari, 4th (Uganda) Bn. KAR, 1917

KAR Askari of the First World War by South African toy maker SAE

The toy soldiers to the left wear pillbox caps, bandolier equipment and puttees – similar to the KAR uniform of 1917.  At first I thought these figures were intended to represent Gurkhas – but they look more African than Asian and there is no sign of the Gurkha’s famous khukri knife.  They were probably made by a company called Swedish African Engineers (SAE) who manufactured toy soldiers in South Africa in the 1950s and 1960s, to represent the KAR of the First World War.

KAR circa 1917 by modern model maker Dorset Soldiers

The models by modern maker Dorset Soldiers to the right and the vintage cigarette cards, below, show dress uniform on the eve of the Second World War.

Cigarette card from United Tobacco Companies Ltd. Warriors of all Nations series 1937

The fez was retained for dress uniform for the whole of the life of the KAR but the Australian-style slouch hat replaced the pillbox cap for undress and field wear for askari and the solar topee for British officers early in the Second World War.

Boots were introduced as standard for askari at the same time.

Cigarette cards from Godfrey Phillips Ltd. Soldiers of the King series 1939 (left) and Players Military Uniforms of the British Overseas Empire collection 1938 (right) – click on the picture for details of the medal worn by the soldier on the right

KAR by vintage toy soldier maker Lone*Star

The askari uniform below right is from the 5th (Uganda) Battalion in 1945.

He wears the standard field dress for African and Middle Eastern operations at the end of the Second World War, with drill shirt and trousers tucked into webbing gaiters worn with black ankle boots – very like the Lone*Star toy soldier to the left.

His slouch hat has a brown leather hatband and the left brim is fixed to the crown, so as not to interfere with his rifle when aiming.  The blue unit flash and badge are attached to the turned up brim of the hat.

Askari, 5th (Uganda) Bn. KAR, 1945

The final uniform, below left, is from an askari of an unknown battalion in 1956.  His drill shirt and trousers are worn with short woollen puttees, black ankle boots and 1944 pattern webbing. On his head he wears a soft bush hat, alternatively he might have worn a slouch hat or rifle-green beret for undress wear or on campaign.

He carries the 7.62mm SLR L1 rifle with bayonet which most KAR battalions received in the late-1950s.

Askari, Unknown Battalion, 1956

The uniform images on this page are copyright and used with the permission of Uniforms of the World.

Soldier of the KAR, Ceremonial Dress – Painting by J. Gilson from The Royal Logistics Corps Museum

KAR by Cherilea

The Cherilea toy company was formed in 1947 in Burnley, Lancashire, by the former chief designer of well-known hollowcast soldier maker Johillco, Wilfred Cherrington, and his less well-known partner, a Mr. Leaver: the company name was an amalgamation of their surnames.

The company initially specialised in die-cast military toys but increasing post-war demand for toys and metal shortages forced a switch over to plastic production in the late 1950s.

King’s African Rifles by toy maker Cherilea

Cherilea toy soldiers are characterised by their individual style.  Their set of six 60mm plastic figures of the King’s African Rifles are parodies rather than accurate depictions of the troops.  Therefore, it is interesting that the weapons they are carrying are portrayed with sufficient accuracy to identify one almost certainly as a Thompson sub-machine gun (above left) and another as a Bren gun (right).  The British used the Bren light machine gun from 1937 until the 1980s, but the Thompson “tommy gun” was only brought from America in 1940 and removed from service shortly after the Second World War ended in 1945.  This neatly dates the period these soldiers represent to the Second World War.

Remaining KAR Figures by toy maker Cherilea

The remaining figures of the Cherilea set carry rifles.  These are almost certainly intended to be Lee Enfield 0.303 SMLEs which were in service with the KAR in various marks from the First World War until most battalions received 7.62mm L1 Self Loading Rifles (SLRs) in the late-1950s.

Despite their slightly grotesque appearance, the Cherilea figures have more character and interest than many of the plastic toy soldiers that followed them in the 1960s and 1970s.

Click here for more about Uniforms of the KAR.


KAR by Lineol

King’s African Rifles by toy maker Lineol; note – right hand missing

The figure to the right is made of ‘composition’ – a mixture of sawdust, casein, kaolin and glue moulded around a wire frame – almost certainly by German manufacturer Lineol (judging by similar figures in Andrew Rose’s book “Toy Soldiers”) sometime between the appearance of the Britains KAR figure in 1925 and the rise of Hitler in 1933.

At 70mm tall, this figure is larger than the 1/32 (54mm) scale which is the standard for most old toy soldiers and modern military models.

Being of German manufacture, this could be one of von Lettow-Vorbeck’s askari from the First World War Schutztruppe of German East Africa, but most photographs show them wearing long trousers tucked into puttees below the knee, whereas this figure has characteristically-British short trousers and the same style webbing and bayonet belt as the Britains figure, so I am confident he represents the KAR.

KAR by Comet

King’s African Rifles by Comet

American manufacturer Comet sold a box set of King’s African Rifles slightly smaller than the standard 1/32 (54mm) scale, as part of their “Brigadiers” series which first appeared in 1940 and I presume continued into the 1950s, until they were superceded by the later Authenticast toy soldiers, although I know very little about the Comet company.

With their long trousers, green puttees and blue-grey fezzes, these figures look more like their opponents from the Schutztruppe of German East Africa than askari of the King’s African Rifles, although I am assured by Norman Joplin, the editor of Old Toy Soldier magazine, that they were sold as KAR.

from gettyimages

KAR Askari, East Africa (Kenya), 1916

In the era these figures represent, between 1902 and 1920, most KAR battalions wore a red fez, although the 1st and 2nd battalions from Nyasaland (modern Malawi) wore black.

Dark blue puttees were worn before and after the First World War, but replaced with khaki during the war itself.  Long trousers may have been worn in malaria zones.

Any of these variations may be what Comet had in mind – or it might simply be that their designer in far-off America got the details wrong!

Click here for more about Uniforms of the KAR.

Arguably, another Comet figure – sold as Egyptian Infantry – is a closer likeness for the KAR.

Egyptian Infantry by Comet

North African Zouave by Comet

KAR by Britains

The famous London toy maker Britains introduced their 1/32 (54mm) scale, hollowcast lead figure of the King’s African Rifles in 1925 in an eight-figure box set, number 225.

Britains Set 225 – King’s African Rifles

The set continued in Britains’ catalogue until lead shortages in the Second World War stopped production in 1941.  It returned in 1946 until 1959 and had a final flourish in 1966 as a seven-figure set, number 9162.

Variation in Britains KAR figure 1925-1966

The longevity of this toy soldier reflects the KAR’s fame right until the end of the colonial era in the 1960s.  The Britains figure is still the best-known and most common toy soldier of the KAR.

The basic Britains figure remained the same throughout its forty years of production, although there were many variations in their colour and finish, and in the box art of their packaging.

3rd (East Africa) Battalion KAR – showing the likeness of Britains figure to contemporary photographs

The figure is a good likeness of a KAR askari from the period between the establishment of the regiment in 1902 and 1920.  He wears a khaki tunic, shorts, a tall red fez and dark blue puttees – and carries a Lee Enfield 0.303 SMLE rifle. 

The only significant anomaly is the design of the figure’s webbing, which from the front looks British, but the Y-shaped strap at the rear is not accurate for British webbing of this era.

Britains KAR from the rear

Some collectors speculate that this is because the figure was originally intended to be an askari from the Schutztruppe of German East Africa; however, there is no evidence that this is the case nor did Britains mass-produce these figures as anything other than KAR askari.

A small number of Britains KAR sets have been found with an unarmed African effendi (warrant officer) and askari with rifles but without bayonets.  These were probably special paintings made on demand for sale at Hamleys – the famous London toy store.

Special paintings of the KAR figure in blue and white were also sold as Egyptian Infantry and a single set with an officer wearing a peaked cap has been found painted in olive-green and labelled as Portuguese East African Native Infantry, but it is not known whether this is a special painting or Britains’ prototype for a set they did not subsequently produce on a commercial scale.

Britains Standard KAR (left) and Special Painting with Warrant Officer (right)

Click here for more about Uniforms of the KAR.