Caledonian Highlanders: creating a unique regiment of Imperial Guard

Shane Palmer
Caledonian Highlander piper

Deep Scottish Love

I’m fascinated with redcoats and the mystical Caledonian Highlands.

The bold, rich redcoats just spoke to me as a kid. A family friend’s home-made redcoat was one of my most treasured childhood items. (I was given an “extended borrow.” It never got returned. Sorry).

Until I bought a kilt in Edinburgh.

Scotland is magic. During a tour through the Highlands in 2013 brother Adam & I both felt an instant connection to the land (and the whisky). We both felt the pull of our heritage through Mum’s side of the family.

Early in the journey, we toured the battlefield at Culloden, and felt the tragedy of the thousands of Scots led down an ultimately tragic and foolhardy path by Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Stood in that marshy field, getting whipped to pieces by the howling wind & hailstone; it wasn’t hard to imagine the lives of the Highlanders. A stoic and resolute people with a great ‘fuck you’ attitude; who are always prone to a good internal squabble.

Shane Palmer at John O'Groats, Scotland
Here I am at John O’Groats, on the northern tip of the British mainland. It was a beautiful summer’s day! This tartan became the model for the 920th kilts, with it’s blues, greens, reds and whites.

Dipping the toe

After repainting and adding some new pieces to my old Dark Angels 5th Company, my interest in Warhammer 40,000 was well and truly rekindled.

And after dabbling in the warband / skirmish sized game Kill Team, the only option was to extend into a small force of another childhood love – the Imperial Guard!

Don’t get me wrong, Space Marines are great. They’re easy to play with, look brilliant on the table or shelf, and the lore is fantastic to sink into.

But in the extreme, grimdark sci-fi universe of 40k, I’m fascinated by the everyman. The regular bloke, given a simple rifle, and told to shoot that giant, terrifying bug that’s running towards him. Or the honest NCO, who sees the brass above her shot to pieces by the enemy. And so it falls to her to galvanise the troops and stop the hordes of Orks.

But in starting a small (initially) band of Guard, I wanted to do something different.

Games Workshop seems focused on delivering countless new launches of Stormcast Eternals or endless reams of Space Marines. This is fine – it’s their IP. However, some of the more colourful and niche factions get ignored or forgotten.

I always loved the original, metal Praetorian Guard from the ’90s. It was the perfect blend of gorgeous historical militaria with brilliantly over-the-top 40k, and it worked.

Praetorian Guard Box - credit Larry Vela
This box blew my young mind – through the window at Mind Games in Melbourne.
(Image credit – Larry Vela)

But I didn’t want Praetorians. They’ve been done.

Something unique

I travelled once again to Scotland while touring my play Echoes of Villers-Bretonneux to the Edinburgh Fringe in 2019. And while while flyering on the Royal Mile, I had a daily exposure to wonderful tartan and beautiful bagpipes. Thus I decided we needed to see better Scottish representation on the battlefield.

And so the Caledonian Highlanders were born.

Caledonian kit-bashing

The first infantry platoon was created by kit bashing Victrix 28mm British Napoleonic Highlanders with spare Cadian bitz. (Rob Johnson very generously donated these. “I don’t wanna paint any more damn lasguns“). The Victrix sculp matches perfectly with the GW parts. The size of the Highland Bonnet’s in particular matches nicely with the Epic Scale GW arms, hands and weaponry. It’s big, bold and eye-catching.

I wanted the tartan to match the kilt I had brought back from Edinburgh in 2013. This first attempts look good, but down the line I knew it could get even better. Especially after experimenting further with thinned acrylic paints.

I’m thrilled with the overall look, feel and result of the first platoon. It was the best thing I’ve ever painted! (To date!)

The detail of the Victrix sculpt is excellent. For all the grief Games Workshop get (some justifiably), their mini sculpts are at the head of the pack. But Victrix is certainly up there!

The grumpy, weathered faces, bushy brows and mutton-chops and intricate details of the redcoats are brilliant.

Caledonian Highlander Platoon
Originally conceived as ‘just a Kill Team’ – the 1st Platoon would soon need a wee bit of extra support

The first platoon took about a month to paint. I’m incredibly slow when starting a new project. And my mind is buzzing in the wee hours umming & ahhing about what to do next. But as soon as I’ve got the look, I’m good to roll on with the rest!

Although is just one squad every really enough?

Imperial Guard don’t waltz about with Boltguns, Power Armour or Demonic Fury. Their strength comes in numbers; and the 920th Caledonian Highlanders would need to call in some heavy support

Moving on up

The first platoon, Scions and Heavy Weapons teams were done. But I knew the Caledonian tartan could be improved. I wanted to get it closer to the original source material.

Starting with a base of GW Macragge Blue, I shaded the recessed with a Nuln oil wash. Next came a mix of Caliban Green with the blue, thinning to a 50-50 mix with water. This would create the cross pattern of the tartan, or the sett. Then, I’d paint the centre connecting squares of the sett with a thinned Caliban green. To finish, I ran a thin red thread of Evil Sunz Scarlet three times horizontally. And then it’s three vertical threads of White Scar.

This method worked well enough initially. But I couldn’t shake a nagging feeling that we should see more of the tartan. I wanted more pop.

A lot of historical tartans I’d seen – particularly Napoleonics – had much brighter sett to work off. Thus they stand out more on the table.

It could be better…

Keeping the same Macragge Blue base, I switched the sett to just Caliban Green. It didn’t need the extra blue in the mix. You just lose to much of the detail that way. For the connecting squares of the sett, I switched to the lighter Warpstone Glow, watered down to a 50-50 mix.

This instantly paid dividends. We could now see the tartan properly!

To highlight even further, I experimented with a thinned contrast line of Corvus Black. This helped to ‘lock-in’ the green cross-over of the sett from the blue base.

Work in progress Caledonian Highlander
Experimenting with a lighter green in the sett, and a dark grey contrast line.

Already buzzing with the early results, next I dusted off the old kilt out of the wardrobe. I realised it had a threaded pattern of white and red. Both threads run vertically and horizontally, in an offset square to each other.

So, having a crack at this, I began with the Evil Sunz Scarlet. Thinned to a 50-50 water mix, the red runs through the blue centres of the base. Next I did the same with the White Scar, but running through the green.

It worked.

This technique brought another heavy weapons team to life. It was an excellent tester for the next step; the remaining 40-odd infantry in the Victrix box…







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