By Tom Ryan
Just what did the Western and Eastern Fronts of World War 1 and 2 look like? What kind of tanks and guns were employed and what kind of damage did they inflict?
For the answers to these and other questions in relation to militaria of both wars and, indeed, the Zulu wars in Africa, just study the militaria models exhibition of Terry Kearney of Parnell Street, Thurles.
We visited Terry’s ‘military museum’ so to speak recently when we met Thurles-born Terry and his charming wife, Caroline, nee Cleary of Sean Treacy Avenue, Thurles, the daughter of Philomena (Phil) and the late Thomas (Tolly) Cleary.
How long has Terry been involved in the world of model making? “I have been doing this since I was living in Mitchel Street in Thurles in 1960. I have lived in Thurles all my life and I can remember as a boy going up to Kilroy’s shop in The Mall after school and buying my box of soldiers. It was a great hobby then. It’s a wonderful, relaxing hobby.”
Terry said: “It’s mostly tanks and aeroplanes I build and simulated war zones, including the trenches of the Western and Eastern Front of World War 1. There is very little known about the Eastern Front as the films about the war deal mostly with the Western Front, including the famous movie ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’. On the Western Front you have the Germans, the French, the Americans and the British. The French uniform changed dramatically in 1916 because the 1914 uniform was developed basically from the French Foreign Legion, and was totally inadequate. So they developed this coconut-shaped helmet which was used by all forces, French, Italian, Belgian and by the Americans until the Americans changed to the British helmet (Mark 2).”
Terry first points to his “Zulu Dawn Village”, complete with figures of British troops and Zulu warriors – just like in the movie, “Zulu Dawn”. “The house here is of airboard but the figures can be bought commercially,” said Terry who has about 2,000 various types of figures from many nations.
“All the tanks you see here are handmade. I have the German 88mm field gun, originally an anti-aircraft gun used by the Germans in the early part of World War 2 and it was used in the Spanish Civil War and I have the tractor that pulls it as well. The gun was used in all theatres of war, including North Africa and the European Fronts, also the Russian Front. I have also a self-propelled gun used by the Germans in all theatres of war in World War 2. Most of the self-propelled guns were later issue weapons because the Germans captured French and Allied tanks and artillery and the German Mark 1, 2 and 3 were converted mostly to self-propelled guns. All these here are made of cardboard. I use mostly either airboard or cardboard for my models. And the cardboard is found in plastic containers, ice cream containers, disinfectant containers.
The plastic is strong and you can cut it or carve it with a Stanley knife or modelling knives,” said Terry who is bringing a whole new meaning to the art of re-cycling.
Now he points to a German Ferdinand tank of hard plastic which, he said, was used mostly on the Russian Front. It was one of the latest issues and the last tank to be produced before the end of World War 2 by the German Army. “About 100 of them were produced. I made this from ordinary water pipe and cardboard.” He is now pointing to a Tiger tank and then to the American Buffalo amphibious troops landing craft which was used mostly in the Pacific during World War 2 to ferry troops from ships to the beaches.
Indeed, all of us who have seen war movies have seen these amphibians in action dispatching US Marines onto the sands of Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal. They were used by the Americans and the British and each carried about 15 troops. “I made the landing craft completely from cardboard, including the tracks, and the wheels from buttons,” said Terry who is a member of the Martial Arts Club in Thurles and also participates in the activities of both Thurles and Holycross / Ballycahill Drama Groups. And he is no stranger to the art of kickboxing either.
Looking at the American M15 tank, which is made from cardboard, Terry then points to a bombed out Belgian house made of airboard and matches and realistically shows the damage that can be inflicted by heavy weaponry.
It strikes us that it all rather resembles a set for a war movie. “Exactly,” said Terry, adding that all the rubble is from plaster of paris. “Most of the bases are from hardwall plaster.” Terry who has also been writing screenplays for some years, which are edited by Caroline, is keenly interested in cinema. He and writer Dennis Jordan of the Thurles Writers’ Group are members of the Irish Film Institute in Dublin.
Terry now shows us the British Mark 1, one of the first tanks to be used in 1916 in the Battle of the Somme. “Many people from Thurles were in the British Army during World War 1; this tank, including tracks, guns and emplacements is made from cardboard. This type tank was captured by the Germans who used it as well.” He now points to a German AV7 tank which was the only tank produced by the German Army and used mostly in 1917 in World War 1.
We are now looking at a replica of the battle of Monte Casino in which a friend of the column, the late Seamus Caulfield of Stradavoher, Thurles, fought with the British Army and enthusiastic Thurles Sarsfields GAA Club fan, Seamus, was also in the Battle of Anzio.
“Now, here we have American and British Army emplacements, British machine gun and mortar teams, American Infantry and a Support Group here – the figures were bought commercially. I always use the real base for my work as I don’t paint on it, so as to make it as real as possible. The most important secret in model making is weathering whereby the theme looks worn or rusted or kind of scratched.”
“All the tanks and guns and vehicles I make are based on photographs I have. The bamboo trees here are made from wire flex. Here we have a Jagdpanther tank and the Tiger tank used by the German Army from 1942 onwards. Over here you can see a Panzer Mark 1V with the horse-drawn figures. It was used in World War 1 and 2, especially in Russia in the snow. We also see a horse-drawn canteen for the German Army of World War 1.”
“I have all the figures from ancient Rome, the American Civil War, the Korean War and many people from Thurles would know about that war in which Thurles men served. My modelling is ongoing. What started me modelling was watching the old television series ‘Combat’ and ‘The Gallant Men’. A lot of research goes into making every model and I do a rough detailed sketch of say a Tiger tank, with its eight personnel. I also research the insignia of various forces. It is very hard to get the SS insignia.”
Terry Kearney is not alone in his model-making and collecting. He believes there are hundreds around Ireland engaged with this fascinating hobby. Some model folks are taken up with fantasy figures from knights to demons rather than militaria.
“I have a model of an old cemetery with a gothic scene which was originally for a ‘Dracula’ scene which I wanted to do for a film. But I turned it into a German emplacement.”
Terry collects models as well as making them and he has featured in a number of competitions, including with the Gathering Model Club in Limerick, who have a modelling show every October.