The Army of Georland

The Army of Georland

Saturday, 30 November 2013

More about the army of Georland

The main source of information on George Alfred Keef’s army and collection is of course the 60 or so pages of the History of the Army of George 1. There are however other sources, in particular two notes made by his widow Alice and his son Patrick Keef on the history of the collection, and the collected letters of George Alfred Keef while abroad on military service to mother Phoebe, his aunt Mary, and his brothers Arthur and Herbert.

The original collection were lead toy soldiers of the Franco Prussian War. These French and German figures (including Prussians, Bavarians and Wurtemburgers) were altered and repainted to represent British Regiments. Each figure was marked on the base with its regiment. These figures in the original collection were demi rondes, rather than flats. The original foot figures seem to have been 30mm from foot to eye. The cavalry figures had separate riders and horses.

Artillery were real miniature guns which could be loaded with gunpowder, wad, and lead shot, and actually fired by match. The artillery dominate some of the narratives of battles in the History and it is not hard to see why as they were fairly lethal (although it is difficult to acquire supplies of gunpowder today with no questions asked). A number of the surviving figures show damage consistent with suffering this artillery fire.(others have tried this at different times - see this Vintage Wargaming ink to Franz Stollberg.

There is also a pontoon train, with wagons, horses, pontoon boats which will actually float in water, and wooden sections to make the decking. There are also two wooden forts, one of which was designated as Windsor Castle.

A number of the figures are flats. These seem to be of German troops and were incorporated into that part of the collection deemed “the enemy”. These seem to be slightly smaller than the demi rondes, being more like 25mm measured foot to eye.

The Franco Prussian War took place from 1870-71, a couple of years before the battles documented in the History started – the first, the battle of Prebat, being dated 22nd February 1873. Though it is not clearly stated this helps suggest the dates given in the History are the actual dates of the games when the battles were fought.

The History dates the army back to around 1860 and suggests it was first acquired for George’s older brothers Arthur and Herbert, who together with their friend J Arrowsmith initially used them to recreate historical battles from the Napoleonic and Crimean Wars. It looks as though George was behind the development of the make believe world of Georland to provide a setting for much increased wargaming activity, boosted no doubt by the reinforcements coming from the Franco Prussian troops.

The History (Second Epoch) refers to the army occupying a little more attention from November 1872 due to numerous desertions, mainly to the colours of G Collard (presumably another friend, along with Jack Arrowsmith). The Journal then mentions the raising of 4 Prussian infantry regiments in November, 4 more infantry regiments in December, 8th February the 9th Cuirassiers, and on 22nd February a newly raised Cavalry regiment, the 3rd Dragoons, was present. This seems likely to be the point at which the Franco Prussian War figures joined the army - clearly the original figures on its formation in the early 1860s must have been of different subjects.

The Franco Prussian War being so recent also provided some background to Georland and the History, including the enemy’s alliance with Prussia and the arrival of their expeditionary force in November 1873. The Prussian generals are not mainly fictional characters but bases on actual Prussian generals from the Franco Prussian and in some cases Napoleonic Wars.

There is a slight mystery over the sepia photograph of the army on the parade, used to illustrate this blog. There is a reference to a full parade of the army being held in 1940 by Patrick Keef, and it could be that this photograph records this occasion, though conceivably it could have been earlier. It is accompanied by two diagrams, indicating the unit names for all these figures and the organisation of the army. This shows the 1st and 2nd Army Corps and a Guards Division, totalling 45,000 men.

In February 1874 the History refers to a change in recording numbers in the narrative, previously given in hundreds, to actual numbers (i.e. a number of troops originally given as 10 would now be shown as 1,000). This suggests to me that a scale of 1:100 was being used, and without trying to count all the figures in the photograph it seems reasonable that there may be 450 figures shown as they represent the 45,000 figure given in the army organisation chart.

The final page of the History provides a chronology of all the battles and a list of all the Georland units present at each one. Together with the photograph, drawing and chart, this may provide the basis for further investigation of the structure of the army.

George Keef took the greater part of his army with him on his postings to Burma and the North West Frontier and his letters contain further information, including instructions to his brothers on the movement of units and for example ordering the firing of a 21 gun salute on the occasion of his mother’s birthday. In Rangoon George Keef shared a bungalow with the Regimental Surgeon and they kept the army set up on the floor on a large canvas map. In India the army was kept on shelves in a series of tins on a chalked map of India.

There is a list dated 1st March 1878 showing the station of the various units of the Georland Army, in locations including India, Chatham, Liverpool and Edgehill. The letters also tell us that in January 1878 George bought a Kriegspiel set, minus rules, from a Colonel returning to England, and asked a copy of Baring’s English translation of the rules to be ordered and sent out to him.

The History is silent on the rules used for the games with figures, although as stated above we do know of the use of gunpowder firing cannon.

Further research into the George Keef letters may provide more insights and information in due course.


  1. Yet more fascinating facts,thanks for sharing them.Gunpowder guns sounds lethal to lead,H G Well's cannon (spring powered) were damaging enough ! I am surprised there are not more damaged figures in the collection.
    It would be good to see photos of the forts and pontoon bridge etc.I wondered if they ever were floated in outdoor games/
    I do hope there are clues to the rules to be discovered...

  2. I realise that comments won't be published, but wondered if it would be possible to get a bit more info on the likely source and maker of the figures - obviously tin soldiers go back at least as far as Hans Christian Andersen (1805-75)! - do we know who made Franco Prussian troops in this size - do the earliest forms of George's armies predate such soldiers? - what else might he have used?

  3. I reckon there's a whole lot more than 450 figures in that photograph. I'd probably suggest that the intended figure scale was 1:50, which would indicate 900 figures, but I don't really think there is that many. But I shouldn't be surprised if there is somewhere between 700 and 800, and probably nearer the latter number.

    The organisation suggests 1000-man foot battalions, 600-man cavalry regiments and 150-man gun batteries, each gun representing 6 pieces. The 45,000-strong army with 25 batteries - 150 guns - is a good and realistic ratio of ordnance to soldiers.

    But the units vary in size, especially the infantry battalions. Just looking at the 2 battalions each of 22nd, 25th and 31st Foot, it appears that 22nd has 26 or 28 figures in 2 battalions; 25th has about 33 total; and the two battalions of 31st total 40 figures.

    At 1:50 scale we get what seems to me a very realistic variation in regimental States, varying from 6-700 strong battalions, to one over establishment at 1,150 (23 figures).

    Estimating the average figure size per battalion by extrapolating from those 3 regiments, 31 x 17 figures gives us 527 infantry. Assuming 12 figures per cavalry (I think there are more or less in some units) 16 units x 12 figures = 192 cavalry. And supposing each gun comprises 3 crew (it seems so from the photo) gives us 75 gunners. Totalling: 527 + 192 + 75 = 794 figures.

    Not bad! and that's not counting the specialist troops of the bridging train, the sappers and pioneers and what have you. So it appears that we can't be too far short of 900 figures after all for the whole army!

  4. I've added a little to the post since you read it about the Franco Prussian War figures which seem to have been acquired in late 1872/early 1873. Certainly Allgeyer seems to be a possible manufacturer.

    I've found a Heyde pontoon set in an old Vectis auction listing: the drivers in this set look very like the picture of an artillery driver from the collection which I have seen. This is Heyde No3 (43-48mm) size - the figures in the collection seem to vary in scale so this is just possible; it is dated c 1890 but this is the period of the models, rather than the date of manufacture, which is given as prior to 1945. It may be worth perring at the parade photograph a bit harder.

    Foy - not sure what you mean about comments not being published - I think this was when I was asking for people to give an email address, which obviously I wouldn't then put on the web.

  5. I've also added a link to Vintage Wargaming about the later explosive exploits of Franz Stollberg at