Heroes of the Highlands – leading the 920th Caledonian Highlanders

Shane Palmer

Good soldiers need good leadership. Heroes to set an example. Master tacticians to craft winning strategies. Veteran Guardsmen to lead the way.

Characters are the most colourful parts of an army, and usually some of the best miniatures to paint.

I wanted to retain the aesthetic of the infantry for the heroes of the Caledonian Highlanders, while also highlighting the characteristics that make them pop.

Naturally, there would be some conversions to do.

Commander-in-Chief: Colonel MacIntosh

There must be a boss. One singular stoic, perpetually grumpy and ideally ginger Highlander to call the shots and coordinate the 920th.

And up stepped Colonel Hamish MacIntosh.

Unlike their Space Marine or Ork counterparts, the leaders in an Imperial Guard army aren’t the the biggest & strongest. Heroes don’t always need to swing a big axe.

They are needed for their brains and iron will.

And for Colonel MacIntosh, he didn’t need a ranged weapon. Just his trusty cane and ceremonial sword.

Trews fer youse!

Working with the Victrix Highlander sprue, I noticed early on that the officer models didn’t have kilts. While they had slighter fancier redcoats and the same bonnets as the infantry, instead of kilts they sported a pair of trousers.

The grey trousers of the Napoleonic era didn’t fit into the aesthetic of the 920th for me. So instead my officers would don a striking pair of tartan trews.

Traditionally worn by soldiers in the Lowland Scottish regiments, trews eventually made their way into the Highland uniforms.

The tartan style is similar to the kilts, with the white threads running vertically, and the red wrapping horizontally.

I felt MacIntosh needed to be slightly above the rest of the infantry, directing the troops and firing off orders. A wee pebble that fit his base perfectly for this.

Caledonian Highlander Heroes Colonel MacIntosh
“You, Guardsman, shoot those Greenskins – yes over there!”

Not One Step Back: Commissar McGovan

I’ve always had a thing for Commissars. Riffing heavily on the Soviet комиссáр (Komissar), their job is to inspire glory and instil discipline; all in the name of the Emperor!

Commissars are some of the most striking figures in the Astra Militarium. Anti-heroes clad in black cloaks with red and gold trims, viciously high-peaked caps, are known to take on affectations of the regiments they’re attached too.

Naturally I needed one.

Sticking with the upcycled theme of the army, I continued the challenge of kit-bashing to fit the Highland theme.

The Victrix plastic sprue has 10 torsos/legs each. 8 are kilted and two have trousers. These are perfect for officers, or a Commissar!

The core unique selling point of a Commissar is the black. Dreadful yet inspiring, and touching on pre-WW1 themes of uniform, the buttons, epaulettes and sash from the Victrix kit were a great starting point.

Cut & File. And Again…

For the weapons, I carefully cut and stuck a GW Cadian Bolt-pistol and chainsword onto the Victrix arms. The arms look a tiny bit thin, however the fat cuffs and golden epaulettes tie it all in together nicely.

Angling the Bolt-pistol was a challenge. I wanted a dynamic, leading the troops through the rubble look. At his side / hip didn’t quite fit, or looked too passive. So up next to the ear it would be.

And after a lot of careful angling, I managed to find the right spot.

Caledonian Highlander Heroes Commissar McGovan
Stand and fight men!

The cap is a spare from the Cadian command sprue. It fits the bill nicely, especially with the black, red and gold of the Ecclesiarchy.

The cloak was a challenge. I wanted something flapping in the wind, but still anchored to the Highlander aesthetic. It had to look slightly better than what the troops have, but not look out of place in a windy, rugged landscape.

And in came the Warhammer FB Chaos Marauder sprue!

The Marauder kit is awesome. With more bits than you could throw an Norse axe at, it’s highly modular and resourceful.

Thus I started to precisely cut and file (read: hack and dig) the Champions’ cloak to fit the Commissar’s back shape.

Commissar McGovan’s neck would need some protection from the elements.

Starting with a spare Ork shoulder pad, I cut and hacked the piece. It needed to fit with the straightened top of the cloak, while sitting just on top of McGovan’s shoulders.

Painting was pretty straight-forward. Strong and glossy black was key – with sharp red and gold highlights and accents.

Finally the tartan trews tied McGovan in with the 920th Highlanders!

The Bold and Brave: Colour Sergeant MacLachlan

Caledonian Highlander Heroes Standard Bearer
Colour Sergeant Machlachlan

One of the great sights of Napoleonic armies is the stunning array of colour.

A single force can have a dozen or more different colours of uniform, all fighting under the same banner.

And speaking of banners, the standards of the era became a focal and sacred centre of each regiment.

Not all heroes have to blast their way through the enemy. Some lead the way and inspire those around them by their mere presence, or by remaining stoic and calm in the fury of battle,

Starting with the Imperial Guard Command Sprue, I was immediately in luck: one of the two standards in the kit was already sculpted with a diagonal cross. Perfect for the St Andrews Saltire- the flag of Scotland.

Work in progress Caledonian Highlander
Lots of thin layers of blue

Already racing ahead without needing to sculpt or freehand the design too much, the golden eagle in the centre helps bring the Caledonian Highlanders into the 41st millennium!

Blue, white and silver flying!

To paint the blue & white of the saltire & field, I used the same wet palette technique I’d used for the Dark Angels Captain – particularly the cloth robes.

I wanted the same smooth, flowing effect with the fabric of the standard, so slowly built up layers of thinned blue, working from dark to light, and emphasising the curves and creases of the flag.

The white was much trickier. I over-did the brown wash – looking to contrast the folds and creases – and completely lost all of the white.

Luckily, I was able to just build more thinned layers off antique white on the highlights, and saved the look.

The freehand text was a bit of a break-through for me. I’ve never had the patience or precision to really freehand any text that I’m happy with. But after experimenting with the wet-palette of the colours, I tried the same with the lettering, and voilà: smooth and flowing text; almost like ink from a pen.

(Reading glasses, good desk light and a decent detail brush help as well. Lesson learned!)

Heroes of the Warp: Psyker Gregory Gallagher

Caledonian Highlander Heroes Psyker Gregory Gallagher

Not all heroes wear capes…

But some do, and fire warp-lightning out their arse fingers!

There’s always a bit of magic in the Highlands. The winds, the mist & fog, and old Celtic Druidism bubbling away in the background.

In the world of 40k, the Imperium has a strained relationship with Warp-sensitive individuals.

Some as seen as witches or unstable heretics. Others are are taught how to develop and control their powers to serve the Imperium, and drafted into active service – as Sanctioned Psykers.

Not all heroes need to be bold officers, setting the example of the perfect soldier. Sometimes you have to look to the alternate option.

Psyker Gregory Gallagher Warp Lightning
DIY Lightning – dried plant roots & twist ties!

A Psyker would be a perfect blend of Highland culture; both old and new.

Part priest, mentor and warrior, Gregory Gallagher is the link between the past, present and the unknown for the regiment.

Dipping once again into the Chaos Marauder sprue, I dug out an excellent part-shaved head, with a fantastic braided beard. This was perfect for my Psyker.

Fiery red-hair? Check.

Celtic braided beard? Check.

Now just add a little spark

Next I needed a force staff for the Psyker to channel his warp-abilities through. Luckily the Tempestus Scions Command Rod worked perfectly here, with a spare winged skull standard top attached on the end.

To imbue it with warp-energy, I gave the inlay of the staff with a blue glow. This was built up with a number of thin, watered down blue layers, working from dark blue up to off-white.

The warp-lightning was an unexpected breakthrough. I’d read that dried plant roots, with a coat of PVA made for fantastic twisted lightning.

While this looked great initially, these were incredibly flimsy, and probably too thin. They snapped and broke off just after taking the photo to the right.

As a stop gap, and to add a bit more strength to the lightning, I dabbled with some twist ties.

These turned out to be wonderfully posable!

The plastic coating this easy to model and alter, and the inner wire holds it’s shape.

Ace from Afar: Dead-Eye McDouglas

“I am a stone. I do not move. Very slowly, I put snow in my mouth. Then he won’t see my breath. I take my time, I let him come closer. I have only one bullet, I aim at his eye. Very gently, my finger presses on the trigger. I do not tremble. I have no fear.”

Enemy at the Gates
Sniper Dead-Eye McDouglas

Enemy at the Gates was one of the seminal war films for me as a kid. The incredible and harrowing game of cat & mouse between Vassili Zaitsev and Major König during the siege of Stalingrad is truly breath-taking.

It was also when I started to notice the gripping effect of the individual within something much larger. Especially in storytelling.

We’re drawn to the narratives of exceptional figures. Heroes we can identify with, barrack for and live out some portion of their success.

An entire army, well it’s not quite the same.

And as soon as I came across a spare set of Cadian sniper arms – with fitted cloak – I knew the 920th needed a sharpshooter.

Thus Dead-Eye McDouglas was conscripted.

The conversion job was very minimal for McDouglas. The GW arms and cloak fitted very smoothly onto the Victrix body.

Work in progress Caledonian Sniper
Death from afar!

Firing from the hip

Initially I couldn’t get the shoulders to fit and bring the rifle up to be aiming and firing. So instead I decided McDouglas would hold his trusty rifle at the hip; an homage to Vassili in the train yard.

In a similar vibe to the Scions, McDouglas wouldn’t be sneaking about the ruins of non-compliant worlds with a great big bonnet on. He’s one of the elites, and this needed the tam-o-shanter cap.

Making this was remarkably easy. With a spare GW Scions beret on hand, a tiny round pebble from my basing mix fit perfectly, and with a splash of red paint slotted in as the pom-pom on top!

Clad in a redcoat and kilt, McDouglas isn’t exactly camouflaged. However, I like to think he can to blend into the surrounding rubble with his cloak and nous, a bit like the Elven-cloaks of the hobbits.

Side view of Dead-Eye McDouglas
McDouglas’ tartan was a short-lived experiment. I found the style I wanted with the running Heavy Weapons team.

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