Re: How old where you when you bought your first set of soldiers?
As a child born and raised in Oaxaca, Mexico, I was limited in what I could get by way of toy soldiers. In the mid-1960’s when I was 10 or 11, sets of plastic flats (Revolutionary War, Romans, and Knights) ordered for $1.98 from the back of comic books had to be mailed to a US address and hand-carried by friends or family when they came to visit. And, in the local market, I found sets of WWII-type flats, plus the odd Revell-Lodela kit of a truck or tank.
My collection was very eclectic. I put the 1/35 scale squatting Revell man in the seat of a jeep that measured 5 by 8 inches (12 x 20 cm)! I had a Big Bertha gun -- really an oversized US 105 mm howitzer I think – that fired some kind of pellet. I had 54mm tan soldiers and a 35mm green officer who was out of step with them. I bought him from a sidewalk vendor who was cleverly selling each soldier separately. I only had money for one.
When I went to boarding school in the US in 1965, I sold off all my toys. But soon I discovered the 5 and 10 cent store in Rome, Georgia. They had 1/72 Vikings (Giant?) and “Romans” – sort of generic ancients with round shields.
Then in Atlanta at Kresge’s store, for the first time, I discovered Airfix. The first I got was the old Afrika Korps, and for some reason I thought I should get the Bedouin to fight them. Later I found the Infantry Combat Group and painted them tan, then finally the old 8th Army. The vehicles were mostly Minitanks though I did find some Giant vehicles and figures (maybe) and other playsets that were sort of to scale. The 2½ ton trucks were so big that I later converted them to 10-ton Lancias.
My senior year (Christmas 1968) my parents sent us money from Mexico to buy our own presents. I found Avalon Hill's "Afrika Korps" in a strip mall. Plus the movie Tobruk had just come out. I was hooked. For a long time after, anything related to WWII was North Africa for me.