John Greenwood, who was born in Yorkshire in 1893, was one of the true pioneers
of model soldier making. A founder member of the British Model Soldier Society
he is credited with popularising both the 54mm and 20mm scales of figures and
alongside Charles Stadden probably did more than anyone to create the modern
hobby of military modelling. Greenwood was also an enthusiastic wargamer. He
was one of the original 44 subscribers to Jack Scrubys seminal wargame
magazine The War Game Digest when it was launched in March 1957 and an important
figure in the development of wargaming in Britain.
John Greenwood served in the Manchester Regiment during The Great War and saw
active service in France and at Gallipoli. After he was demobbed he worked as
a commercial traveller. His rounds brought him into contact with a number of
other model soldier collectors who centred themselves on Morrells, a shop in
Burlington Arcade, London that would later become famous as Hummels House of
Miniatures. In 1935 this group of eighteen enthusiasts met at The Rendezvous
Restaurant in Soho and formed the BMSS.
Greenwood seems to have begun experimenting with casting figures after a friend
asked him to design a chess set around this time. He began making 40mm model
soldiers shortly afterwards, but in the 1940s when serving as captain
in the Wellington (Shropshire) Home Guard he changed over to working
in 54mm scale making identification models of German troops for the armed forces.
Shortly after the end of the war Greenwood changed scales again this time opting
for 20mm or three-quarter inch scale, a size of figure that could be used in
the huge dioramas for which he would become famous. A number of these
including the Battle of Flers and D-Day - were displayed in the United Services
Museum in Pall Mall, London and proved an inspiration to many gamers and designers
including Jack Alexander. Other notable Greenwood and Ball dioramas included
The Battle of Crecy - commissioned by West Point Military Academy- and another
D-Day which was housed at the Allied Museum in Arromanches.
Greenwoods early 20mm figures were sand-cast in pliable metal that allowed
them to be individually animated. Weapons and accoutrement were then soldered
into position and the figures painted by Katherine Ball (hence the later company
name of Greenwood and Ball) and her team of four female painters.
Greenwood and Ball models were collectors items and as George Gush notes
in "A Guide To Wargaming", too expensive for the wargamer. A Wall
Models catalogue from the late-1960s offers foot figures at 30 shillings (£1.50)
a staggeringly high sum by the standards of the day.
In 1959 possibly inspired by his enthusiasm for wargaming - Greenwood
launched a cheaper range of unpainted 20mm figures that fitted in alongside
Airfixs new output, which had first appeared the year before. According
to Jack Alexander, who new Greenwood, these figures were small, measuring 20mm
from the soles of the feet to the top of the headgear. Greenwood did not cast
on straps or webbing reasoning that these would stand out from the figure too
far to be in scale. "He said" Jack explains, "that if you painted
them on the paint would be the right thickness". The cavalry figures featured
a novel addition. They had strips of wire soldered to the bottoms of their boots
so that they would stand up when dismounted.
Jack Scruby in the US produced this range, much expanded by Greenwood, under
licence. Scruby also commissioned Greenwood to make a range of 30mm Napoleonic
figures for him. Both ranges are still available from Mike Taber at Historifigs.
John Greenwood sold his business to Bill Pearce of The Garrison in 1966.He
died at Ayton near Scarborough in 1971.