Greenwood & Ball
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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 Scruby’s 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.

Greenwood’s 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 collector’s 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 Airfix’s 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.

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