On Army Manoeuvres - part 2

09 January 2023
In part two we take a look at three more makers of miniature militaria...
On Army Manoeuvres - part 2 Images

Bullock Toys is one of those names that is known but to a few collectors. If you are into the military sphere, then you may well have come across the company; but if you’re not...

Not a huge amount is known about Bullock Toys. The company seems to have focussed on the military side, more precisely that of working guns and cannon, with an occasional foray into other fields, such as farming equipment (a trailer is known, for example). As far as is known, it also produced the odd toy gun, too.

Based in Bournemouth, its operations began post-World War Two (in 1948) but it was acquired by MSR around 1951, and thereafter was known by both MSR and Bullock nomenclature. The enterprise’s model cannon were interesting in that they were designed to be taken apart and reassembled. They were also extremely realistic, with much attention having been paid to detail and dimensions. Their mechanisms were also works of art: here were toy cannon that used a lanyard to discharge the weapon, in much the same way as a real field gun operated. As for colour, in general Bullock guns stand out because of the more realistic shade of olive drab that was adopted to paint them.

And what’s out there? An anti-tank gun is present and correct and is kept company by a good anti-aircraft gun that swivels and elevates. The faithful and versatile British 25 pounder seems to have been modelled by just about every company going – and Bullock was no exception. However, there is no traversing ring (or wheel) for the gun, which was something of a feature on the full size original. Also modelled is an impressive fixed base long range howitzer or Coastal Gun; like all Bullock models, it has the ability to throw a wooden shell a prodigious distance.

You’ll need a little patience to collect everything: whilst many remain in good condition, many have also been in the wars...

On guard

When small is all, Kemlow /Sentry Box military vehicles really tick the box. It was Charles Kempster and William Lowe who donated part of their surnames to the company, which was established in 1946.

The Sentry Box range is quite restricted, comprising as it does a Bedford truck, an armoured car (essentially the Saracen), a Centurion tank, an Antar tank transporter and a 25 pounder field gun. That’s it: all the models are not difficult to find, even with their distinctive sentry box shaped packaging (although you’ll struggle to find the long box for the tank transporter, it has to be said).

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Reminiscent of the early Lesney output (Sentry Box military toys were presumably active in the early 1950s), with their metal wheels and simplistic castings, this small range still impresses all these years on. Neat touches are the tiny, hand-painted divisional logos; the attention to detail on the tank transporter; and the opening rear cat flap on the Bedford truck.

Whilst Kemlow is arguably better known for its huge railway and trackside-oriented output, the military series isn’t confined to the above-mentioned small scale models. There was a Bedford army lorry, gun and limber in a bigger (Dinky equivalent) scale that is worth hunting down; and there’s a curiosity in the shape of a fixed base, diecast rocket launcher that features a spring loaded cannon which projects a plastic missile skywards. Sadly, the rocket is often missing today.  Collectors of the arcane will want an example of Kemlow’s somewhat crudely fashioned Armoured Car that tows a small (non-operational) cannon (this pairing was available in bare metal as well as various camouflage guises, including a black speckled, base green finish); and there’s a Quad in this range, as well as a distinct copy of the Dinky Armoured Car (ref 670), easily detected by the lack of a baseplate.

All in all, the Kemlow/Sentry Box range makes for a fascinating sideline to any military collection – or indeed, can be a focus themselves, thanks to the differing scales and degrees of quality inherent in the range.

The old favourite

Who doesn‘t love Dinky Toys? Dinky’s very first military series, which dates from just before WW2, can still be found without too much problem. Items including a reconnaissance car, staff car, anti-aircraft gun, searchlight lorry, light and medium tanks, together with the all-important cooker and limber, light tractor, trailer, covered truck and 18 pounder field gun look wonderful when assembled and belong to an era that was just beginning to get to grips with the changing face of warfare: in the Mechanised Army set, all the aforementioned are displayed on a tiered stand within a drop front box. A very desirable set to own, metal fatigue has claimed some, although judicious substitution is not out of the question.

Dinky didn’t remain with that series, though, moving on to manufacture more recent military models during the 1950s and 1960s. These robust vehicles must have served many a child in the garden or the sandpit, for they were made in huge quantity and were inexpensive. Basic, compared to the likes of Corgi’s glazed output, perhaps, but longer lasting, it has to be said. Whilst the quad and limber and field gun were the mainstays for any miniature battle, Dinky also manufactured all the popular stuff, including lorries, a command vehicle, a jeep, water tanker, scout car, long range gun and ambulance, to name but a handful. Of course, the Centurion tank also got a look in. Indeed, rare would have been the toybox without one or more of these models during the 1960s.

In time, as these vehicles started to look dated, so Dinky went back to the drawing board. Toys like the Chieftain and Leopard tanks, along with the 155mm Mobile Gun, were all introduced to a marketplace that required action – and so these were fitted with operating gun barrels, partly to the detriment of the model itself. But this, Dinky would have argued, was progress - and it differentiated its production from that of its main rival.

Today, all the early and mid last century output is easy to find and acquiring good condition models is not difficult. But these models exert a terrific nostalgic pull – so be warned!