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 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.

FEMbruary: The Other ‘Empress Catherine’

I’ve been making swift progress with my FEMbruary submission. In the first FEMbruary challenge back in 2018, I chose Bad Squiddo’s 28mm figure of Catherine the Great. One of the most remarkable rulers in history, most people are familiar with her name, the monarch being the subject of recent TV miniseries in the UK (2019) and Russia (2014-19). While Catherine II of Russia is famous, less familiar is Catherine I, mostly because she only reigned for three years after Peter I’s (her husband’s) death.

Catherine I, Empress of Russia by Augustine Fauchery, hand-coloured lithograph, 1830s NPG D34625 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Born of very humble beginnings as Marta Helena Skowrońska, she was nonetheless to become a remarkable and very capable empress. In a happy marriage, the “energetic, compassionate, charming, and always cheerful” Catherine proved to be the perfect partner to support and manage the tempestuous emperor Peter. With no successor named by the dying Peter, popular Catherine took power with the support of Peter’s best friend, Prince Menshikov, and the Guards Regiments.

I was interested to discover there was an equestrian portrait of Catherine I in a Guards uniform riding a grey charger, closely resembling (perhaps not coincidentally) the later painting of Catherine II by Eriksen which had inspired my 2018 figure. So, it seems that the Bad Squiddo figure could stand for either Empress Catherine?

I am very unfamiliar ground painting 18th dresses but thankfully the fashion of the early 18th century was for plainer designs:

“In the beginning of the (18th) century…a plain style was preferred, without too many ornaments. This style was strongly influenced by Françoise d’Aubigné, the wife of King Louis XIV.” How did women dress in the 18th century?

This seems to be born out in contemporary portraits and it made things much easier for me. My Strelets 1/72 scale figure wears a dress which I’ve painted in a similar shade to her portrait by Jean-Marc Nattier. A red sash and an ermine-lined velvet cloak is all that’s missing. I may brush on a little satin varnish to imitate silk.

The above painting most probably was the inspiration for Strelets’ sculptor too. The dress design being remarkably similar and there’s even a tiara on her head closely resembling the one she wore (making some allowance for the complications of sculpting such a thing in 20mm scale)!

Catherine’s opulent tiara; an abundance of large pearls, gold, possibly diamonds, together with some pretty hefty rubies in there too!

The other two FEMbruary ladies at court are also nearly completed. This charming figure is using her richly decorated fan and gazing into the distance:

The other lady has a small dog at her feet which she is reaching down to pet. I thought that it looked a little like a King Charles Spaniel (a breed, incidentally, particularly popular with the 1st Duke of Marlborough), so I painted it in that fashion. This is the figure for whom I had to resort to some serious flash removal. To conceal her disfigurement, half of her face I’ve hidden under the locks of her hair.

So, these three courtly women are nearly completed but not quite! There’s more to come – the Empress Catherine is reaching her hand out in front of her and I’m also painting something which will make sense of this gesture and complete the scene more fully. So, ‘stay tuned’!

Great Aunt’s Glider: Women’s Day 2019

Thought I’d post on International Women’s Day by featuring an image that I came across a few years ago of my late Great Aunt. Hilda passed away suddenly in hospital a few years ago at the age of 99. Found in her pocket at the time was a ticket for another solo trip away on holiday, which perhaps gives an idea of just how astonishingly active, vigorously alert and fiercely independent she was right up to the very end of her long life.

After the early death of her husband, she lived alone for many years until her death in late 2014 and when we took steps to clear her house, the photo shown below was discovered.

A small cross has been etched on the photo right in front of a lady sitting far left.

I now believe it shows Hilda with other employees at Boulton-Paul Aircraft Ltd in front of a large glider, possibly an Airspeed AS.51 Horsa, of the kind employed in Operations Overlord and Market Garden. From the diagram below, the similarity to the aircraft seen in Hilda’s photo is clear.

My mother informed me at the time that she knew Great Aunt Hilda was an inspector at a war time glider factory, and was sending the original photo to the Royal Air Force museum in London who had no photos of Melton Mowbray’s aircraft war work and were very pleased to add this to the collection.

Hilda’s side of my family are from Melton Mowbray. I found the following account from Melton resident Ray Lucas, a schoolboy during the war;

When I started work, I went to the Boulton and Paul works in the town [Melton Mowbray] as an apprentice carpenter. We were making the front end of Horsa gliders like the ones used in the D-Day landings. (From “A Boy in Melton Mowbray” by actexplorer).

Paratroops leaving a Horsa glider. By Official British Government Photographer – This is photograph TR 1046 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6881959

It’s easy to overlook the huge and varied contribution of women to the war effort in WWII, from military roles (see my FEMbruary WRNS), to Land Girls (see Man of Tin’s FEMbruary figures) and munition or aircraft factory workers or inspectors like Hilda.

From this old photo, Hilda appears to be the only one looking away from the birdie, adjusting her shoe! Fiercely independent, at her funeral, Hilda was rightly described by my mother as a ‘proper lady’. On International Women’s Day this blog pays tribute to her, and others like her, who contributed so much to the war effort in the Second World War.


‘WW2 People’s War is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar

FEMbruary 2019: Soviet Sniper Sisters in the Snow

For my final submission for FEMbruary, I’ve been tackling Bad Squiddo Games’ WWII female snipers. Bad Squiddo do an amazing range of soviet soldier women including all-women infantry squads with rifles or SMGs, scouts, medics, tank riders, heavy machine gun teams, mortar teams and even flame throwers.

My second FEMbruary 2019 submission – a female soviet sniper squad!

Bad Squiddo also do sniper teams like mine, including other non-winter duos. Coincidentally, Mark at Man of Tin blog has been tackling Bad Squiddo’s female soviet command set for FEMbruary too, whilst also setting himself a FEMbruary challenge read that resonates perfectly with my sniper women figures – The Unwomanly Face of War, an oral history of Russian women in WW2.

The two figures fit well together, with one lady calling out and pointing, while her comrade stands poised ready to act on her advice.

Svetlana the Spotter:

Individually, I like this figure’s face with her hair falling out from under her fur hat. She holds a pair of binoculars by which she has clearly identified a target. I painted the eyeglass parts for these in silver, in a rare use of bright colour.

Over her shoulder is a sub-machine gun, which I’ll tentatively identify as a PPSh-41 (aka “pepesha”) with a drum magazine.

Lyudmila the Sniper:

Lyudmila is depicted holding her weapon as if in readiness to select a target. The rifle could be anything under that wrapping so I’ll randomly call it a Tokarev SVT-40 (aka the “Sveta”), which I know the female soviet sniper Lyudmila Pavlichenko once used.

Lyudmila Pavlichenko was the most successful female sniper in history. Her memoirs entitled “Lady Death” have been very recently published in English for the first time by Greenhill Books. A well-educated lady who later became an historian, Pavlichenko was eventually withdrawn from combat because of her growing status. She was subsequently fêted by the allies (touring both the US and Great Britain) as well as being honoured by her mother country.

Lyudmila’s SVT-40 rifle appears to be smothered by some covering which may have acted as some sort of sound suppressor, or at the very least I would have thought, camouflage.

These two sculpts are so good that even a guy not at all used to painting WWII figures, never mind female snipers in 28mm metal, finds himself terribly tempted to build up my collection of these soviet women even more. As I’ve already got a huge army of unpainted figures – I don’t need more temptation, dammit!

And with those completed figures, I bow out out of FEMbruary 2019. I must say that I’m very pleased with my submission of figures; the locally made M.J. Mode 54mm Wrens and these fabulously sculpted Bad Squiddo snipers. Imperial Rebel Ork and Man of Tin have been busy also and I urge you to keep an eye out for more updates on Alex at Leadballoony blog for his and other submissions!

Making a stand for FEMbruary: The Wrens

My FEMbruary submission, the M.J. Mode Wrens which I painted recently, looked like they would appreciate some kind of bespoke stand to group them all together. So, I found a convenient wooden base which I’ve painted and varnished up. I’ve also added a little metal engraved plaque (£1.50) from eBay which finishes off the group nicely, I think.


FEMbruary Challenge 2019 – Update

Meanwhile, Mark at Man of Tin blog has been kicking on with his own FEMbruary ladies; some Soviet female sniper command figures, and a terrific group of Land Girls, believable female miniatures all courtesy of Bad Squiddo Games. Also, Alex at Leadballoony blog has created the magnificent but ill-fated Seros the Red, Thrice Cursed of Khaine!

FEMbruary – à la Mode

Finishing off my group of FEMbruary Wrens that I’ve been painting up, I peeled one off a bottle top and realised that although one of the figures I checked had no clear markings on its base, the others certainly did! So, suitably embarrassed, I can now declare that my ladies are products of M.J. Mode of Leicester. Which is where I live. In fact, it turns out that the man who made them – Jim Johnston – did so in the exact same village as mine! Indeed, his first figures, Douglas Miniatures, were:

“… quite literally a “cottage industry”, with Johnston sculpting the figures in his own kitchen in Glenfield…” (Vintage 20mil website)

Curiously, a kitchen in Glenfield is exactly where, many decades later, I’ve been painting his Wrens figures! Posted from an eBay seller in Margate, these ladies have made their way home.

Much information on M.J. Mode I discovered over on the excellent Vintage 20Mil website which features an fabuous piece written about the history of Douglas Miniatures.

Douglas Miniatures logo

According to Vintage 20mil;

Insurance salesman John D “Jim” Johnston began making 54mm model soldiers for his own pleasure around 1965. In 1967 he met wargame enthusiast and rule writer Trevor Halsall in the Apex Craft Shop in Leicester. Together the two men founded the Leicester Wargame and Model Soldier Society.

One of my M.J. Mode Wrens, gloss varnished and awaiting something to stand on.

By 1977, MJ Mode (the M stood for Marie, the name of Johnston’s French wife)… concentrated on producing 54mm figures and “traditional” toy soldiers — some of the latter painted by Marie. The company also made a range of larger 25mm figures. Mounted on rectangular bases these were roughly the same build as modern Garrison figures. We believe the range was confined to Napoleonics…

This Wren appears to be glancing distractedly off to the side.

…As well as making his own figures, Johnston also cast figures for a number of other manufacturers in scales from 1/300th to 120mm and made replacement parts for Dinky toys for a local company. One customer was John Tunstill, owner of the famous Soldiers shop in Kennington, south London, whose range of “traditional” toy soldiers was cast by Johnston and transported to London by Sean Wenlock once a week in a pair of old ammunition boxes…

…”Jim was a lovely man,” Tunstill recalls, “but whenever we asked him to make a new figure for us he would always hum and hah about how difficult it was going to be. He had a strong northern accent and we used to try and arrange things so that at some point he’d say, “I’ll haf ta cast a plaster master” then we’d all cheer!”

MJ Mode thrived until 1986 when Johnston was struck by another heart attack and died. He was just 48.

This Wren is a real blonde bombshell – well, at any rate she loads torpedo bombshells on to submarines.

Jim was not very much older than I am now when he died, which is a sobering thought. Hopefully, he (if not his painter wife Marie) would have approved of my amateurish paint-job. It’s not my usual painting style, (I’ve painted – not shaded – the faces for example) and I’ve been adjusting, repainting and playing about with the results as I’ve gone along. But I’m cutting myself some considerable slack in this attempt and think they look pleasing enough painted in their glossy varnish – from a distance!

I’ve added very subtle shading and highlighting to their uniforms and the “HMS” in the centre of their caps are simply three gold dots. I particularly enjoyed how my shabby painting of the faces led to individual personalities. One looks suspiciously to her left, another has Mick Jagger-like lips (something she’d probably thank me for). Different coloured hair further adds to their individuality.

I suppose this FEMbruary submission has become also a Jim Johnston tribute. Thanks to Vintage 20mil, I now feel a real connection with these lovely old figures, unidentified as they initially were and bought on a whim from eBay. I’m not quite done with them as I’d like to base them too, an idea that I’m working on and hopefully will share in a future post.

M.J. Mode; made – and painted – in Glenfield, UK!


The FEMbruary Challenge 2019

Realistically proportioned, proud and smartly dressed, I think these ladies make a worthy addition to the FEMbruary challenge but already, Imperial Rebel Ork has smashed the ball out of the park with this incredible submission – (warning – not for those with a fear of chainsaws, zombies or Volkswagon Beetles).

FEMbruary 2019: Sailor Girls

It’s FEMbruary! This is a great idea is from Alex over at Leadballoony who managed to inspire many of us miniature figure painters last year to consider attempting female versions. Some wonderful creations abounded. For my part last year, at the suggestion of Mark from Man of Tin Blog, I attempted a figure from the wonderful Bad Squiddo Games; Catherine the Great of Russia.

2018s FEMbruary figure – Bad Squiddo’s Catherine the Great.

Alex is leading from the front once again with his 2019 call for Fembruary figures! And I’m answering that call again with a group of seven 54mm-scale metal ladies marching in uniform. These are Wrens, that is to say members of the Women’s Royal Naval Service. I guess they are WWII-era naval personnel judging by their headgear.

Wartime necessity gradually eroding those old, strict gender roles… The WRNS were first established in WWI and disbanded soon after its end., but WWII brought them back.

Purchased for a very reasonable bid on eBay, these female naval personnel are from an unknown manufacturer – can anyone advise (Man of Tin Mark – any ideas, fella)?!

The figures were purchased on eBay unpainted. They are about 54mm high and made of metal.

I’ve glued them into bottle tops with a bit of blu-tack as extra support. I’ve already sprayed them with black acrylic as a primer, so everything’s ready for painting.

Navy girls awaiting navy paint – my Wrens on the march.

The key challenge is that the style of these figures really cry out for a classic Britains-esque paint job which, as some of you may know, is not at all my usual style. I think I’ll stick, more or less, with a version of my usual approach and just see what I’m happy with.

Not the kind of thing I tend to do on Suburban Militarism, but that’s one of the things that makes them, and FEMbruary, so worthwhile. I’ll be painting some more figures from Bad Squiddo too this month which I will reveal soon.

Meanwhile, Man of Tin blog has hit the ground running with his inaugeral 2019 post on his plans for FEMbruary. Bad Squiddo Land Girls, female Russian snipers and a little choice reading material for starters.

You can also keep up to date with FEMbruary and its participants via Leadballoony’s blog post here!