Girl Soldier: The Death or Glory Girls

Continuing to keep an eye out for anything relating to the Soldier Girls postcard series, something popped up recently for auction which, though not the same, bared many similarities. It was a postcard with a listing which included the associated words; “Ellam?, Political, Comic Postcard, 1900s, Suffragette, Votes, Women” and was titled “Our Future Army”.

The postcard shares many similarities with the Girl Soldier series. Beautifully illustrated, it features a lady wearing an authentic Full Dress British cavalry uniform from around the year 1900.

The composition is much the same too; a plain (albeit dark) background with a single soldier standing in a relaxed pose. There’s no artist signature on the card however. Although the auction listing queried Ellam’s name as artist, I’m not convinced it’s William H. Ellam’s style, which veered more towards the cartoon.

Right: a female Life Guard by Ellam and Left: a 17th Lancer by an unknown artist

On the back, there are even less clues. No publisher information of any sort, so apparently not an Ellanbee (Landecker and Brown) publication. The only indication is “Series 531”, suggesting even more of these ladies were produced. I wonder if this postcard was even an ‘official’ publication.

The series title Our Future Army is open to interpretation. When titled Soldier Girls, we can assume that series was intended to be patronising / amusing; a play on the established concept of “soldier boys”. Being so similar, was Our Future Army intended to be comic also? Again, the auction listing suggests so. Is it a snide warning of a shockingly feminised future? Or, presuming this was produced around the same time as the campaigning for women’s suffrage, could it possibly even be a celebratory invocation of a future of gender equality?

As with the other “Solder Girls”, our lady lancer is a confident and relaxed individual. I’d say that there seems nothing overtly patronising, amusing or incongruous about the image to modern eyes; just a woman in uniform (although the Troop Sergeant Major may have something to say about that extravagant hair-do).

The Uniform:

N.B. Much detailed information on this uniform, as so often, has come courtesy of the fabulous Uniformology website:

The illustration is of an officer of the The 17th (Duke of Cambridge’s Own) Lancers. She wears the distinctive lancer’s cap with the ribbed cloth on the top (called a trencher) being white for the 17th regiment. The extravagant drooping white feather plume is swan.

An earlier version of a Czapka of the 17th Lancers circa 1854 (The Royal Lancers & Nottinghamshire Yeomanry Museum)

The tunic’s dark blue, as are the overalls which feature double white stripes. Two rows of brass buttons and a white plastron are on the front of the tunic. The piping seen around the tunic edge is in the same white facing colour. There’s a gold lace shoulder belt with silver picker plate and boss (though I can’t make out the chains). Gold cap lines are passing under the gold shoulder cords (although I can’t make out a brass button which would have had the famous ‘Death or Glory Boys’ skull and crossbones upon it – or should that be Death or Glory Girls?). With no silver rank markings visible, I’m calling this lady a 2nd Lieutenant.

From the design of the 3 bar hilt, it appears she’s holding an 1822 pattern Light Cavalry Sword, though I’m not certain the sword knot should be white. The white gauntlet gloves here were worn both mounted and, as in this case, dismounted.

All in all, I’d say it’s pretty darn accurate! I wonder why the illustrators of Soldier Girls and Our Future Army would go to such lengths to accurately reproduce uniforms like this if the intention was to create a postcard solely for comic amusement? The listing description suggests something of this modern ambiguity; in some way “political” yet at the same time “comic”, albeit including the term “Suffragette”, though positively or derisively I’m not entirely sure from the illustration.

Whatever the intention, this 21st-century collector likes it. It’s a skilful and accurate illustration of a 17th Lancer’s uniform c.1900 and is also (to my eyes) a realistic and respectful portrayal of a woman wearing it. And so, Our Future Army takes its place in the slowly growing gallery of my “Soldier Girls” collection.

Postscript July 2021: I’ve recently discovered an image of another of these “Our Future Army” ladies. The image is of a trooper of the Royal Horse Guards, ‘The Blues’.

I’ve not seen it for sale and so is not in my collection – yet!

PPS – And another from this series with the lady seemingly smoking, carrying a crop or cane, and wearing some sort of informal dress uniform? Anything more is difficult to say.

12 thoughts on “Girl Soldier: The Death or Glory Girls

  1. I agree that the tone and intention are hard to judge or pin down.

    Are they merely comic – women as soldiers or doing what men do? Obvioulsy unthinkable at the time.

    Are they cheeky and a little erotic, fetishist or titillating? (This might be a modern hindsight view) The thigh high boots of the cavalry , the swelling breast and the shapely ankle of the Gordon’s, the bare knees under the ‘skirt’ (kilt) worn in a way no woman could wear a skirt at the time … all from the days supposedly when a flash or glimpse of ankle was deemed erotic.

    The expressions on faces vary, so making them difficult to judge, haughty for the cavalry etc.

    We think of postcards now as messages being sent but there was also the aspect of collecting the series, sharing the album but also of enjoying the private album. Postcards of ladies were available in all states of dress, comic and erotic.

    I wonder if there is also a sub current of dances going on that would lead to a subcurrnt of sales – the Lancers, the Gordon’s …

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There meaning is certainly opaque to modern eyes. Trying to understand, much less accept, the cultural attitudes of past generations is difficult for us after more than a century (viz. Black Lives Matter and statues). The meaning for the original recipients changes over the centuries. What was either saucy, comic or serious then, might not seem like that now.

      Perhaps one thing that hasn’t changed is the concept of obsessive collectors! 🙂

      What has interested me about these particular postcards is their fierce dedication to uniform accuracy yet with a surprisingly low level of any eroticism. I’m surprised that, even in that chaste era, the illustrators didn’t add a dash more coqeuttish or flirtatious posing.

      One thing I didn’t mention was that “Our Future Army” bears a similar title to the “Women of the Future” series I posted on recently. They seem to share a concept reflecting an adjustment to the new idea of women adopting “men’s” jobs and dress, etc. Voting rights today, what on earth tomorrow – the medical profession, the legal profession, the army?!

      Oh, and notably there’s no title for this postcard. An extremely detailed representation of the 17th but without even a word telling us that! Again, curious.

      I like the idea of the dances a lot. I bet there were some.


      1. I agree that we are looking at past attitudes or nuances from a different future. Humour, satire and comedy often don’t transmit their meanings well down the centuries.
        Your reference to Black Lives Matter and the statues debate is quite apposite. Things change their meaning.
        The postcards remain attractive, spirited and stylishly done, as you say far too surprisingly accurate to be mere titillation dressed or undressed up in ImagiNations uniforms or ones that generically bare or bear any resemblance to real ones.
        If these cards survive hundreds or thousands of years long enough to lose their immediate contact of it was only a hundred years ago, future generations used to having frontline female combat troops and medics, female fighter pilots etc will assume that these postcards may have been real. Imagine finding depictions of female warriors in uniform on Egyptian hieroglyphs and wall paintings, Roman statues etc and how we would regard these as historic fact, not mild satire or titillating comedy.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes, that’s an interesting thought. What might have began as something deliberately absurd and unbelievable ends up not just being entirely acceptable (in our era) but becomes taken for actual reality (in the future). An ironic narrative arc for Ellam’s Soldier Girls series.


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