The story of the Georland Army came to light through its appearance on the BBC's Antiques Roadshow first broadcast on 8th September 2013.
Antiques Roadshow 8th September 2013
Series 36: Eastbourne Bandstand 2: Lead soldiers collection
These are notes from the Antiques Roadshow segment rather than a verbatim transcript.
OK is Oliver Keef
GL is the Antiques Roadshow Expert Graham Lay
The soldiers have been in the family since my Grandfather (George Keef) collected them in the 1870s.
He was born in 1858 and was the youngest of three brothers. They were a Liverpool family.
He was the odd one out because he was mad keen on the army ever since he could get off his mother’s knee. As he was obviously too young to join the army he had an army of his own of lead soldiers.
The photographs are pictures of George when he was serving in South Africa with the Duns[?] Field Force.
He served all over – his service started in Burma and he did two tours there, and a lot of the rest of time was in India on the North West Frontier.
He took the army with him – what we don’t know is how much because certain parts were left with his brothers in Liverpool.
They sent instructions to each other by letter.
They were not fighting any particular battles from real life – it was all in his make believe Georland of which he George (Emperor George) ruled with a rod of iron and his two brothers were promoted to be generals – bearing in mind he was the youngest of three sons and as far as we know they obeyed his instructions – such as firing a 21 gun salute on his mother’s birthday – with these cannons, yes.
If you look at this one it looks as if it’s actually been fired.
Certainly that one has. I can tell you from experience, I have fired them, that will disappear over there, that will disappear in two bits, and they are rather lethal.
How long ago was he playing with these then?
Well he would have started I think when he was about 14 or 15, because that would have been …
A bit before that, because he got a competitive commission in the army in the Royal Scots Fusiliers in 1878.
The thing that puzzles me – it’s understood as far as I know that wargaming as a past time started at the beginning of the twentieth century. Now here we have some possible proof that wargaming started, maybe even with your grandfather, 25 years earlier than that.
You’re correct, because in his letters home he does mention that he took the bulk of his army out on his first posting to Rangoon, where he shared a bungalow with the Regimental Surgeon, who was a bachelor, and indeed they wargamed, they laid out on the floor of the living room an enormous canvas heap and that was it.
Well I think what is wonderful is not just having your grandfather George’s model soldiers, with which he played wargames with his brothers and other friends, you’ve got the fascinating book which describes how the wargames took place, you’ve also got (and this is what amazes me) these fantastic photographs of your grandfather so we can see the man himself who actually played with these (I think) wonderful little objects, and you’ve got how many hundreds?
I would think we’ve got around a thousand, I haven’t counted them.
Actually very early figures, together with book, together with the photographs, and presumably a lot of other ephemera, I would think we’d be looking in terms of £3-5,000. It’s a great little collection and thank you so much for bringing it along.