Girl Soldier: Women of the Future!

I’ve recently been reviewing a website which covers the collectable postcards of French printer/publisher Albert Bergeret. Bergeret was a former soldier serving between the years of 1879 and 1884. Developing his knowledge in modern printing techniques, he launched his own series of popular postcards and established a thriving company in a career that lasted until he died in 1932. Early on, he covered contemporary subjects such as the disastrous Andrée’s Arctic balloon expedition and the controversial Dreyfus Affair.

‘Zoavettes’: “In the distance the enemy advances, but we know how to stop it!

One of the series in particular caught my eye however, as it seemed to chime with my previous Girl Soldier series of posts on the imaginary depiction of women soldiers. As a former soldier, I wonder how much Bergeret himself was directly involved in this series.

A French NCO holds a ticket for lodgings. She wears a kepi, full pack and a dark, braided sleeveless jacket.

The series in question imagined what “women of the future” would look like in a series titled Les Femmes de l’avenir.

#9. 2nd lieutenant

Presumably, this series was intended to be quaintly amusing, in the same manner that Ellam’s Girl Soldier series of postcards were. Today, some of these ‘future women’s roles’ now sound amusing only by dint of their being so commonplace to modern ears – females as a doctor, a lawyer, an artist, a student, a mayor?! Oh là là!

A female doctor? Sacré bleu!

As predictors of future fashion they are amusingly inaccurate, and yet as prophets of social change are curiously prescient at the same time. The series of trade cards envisaged military roles for women to include:

  • A Zouave
  • An NCO
  • A general
  • A marine
  • A drummer
  • A ‘garde champêtre’ (a sort of French local police)
  • A master of arms

Unlike the original Girl Soldier series of illustrations which I posted on, the ladies’ dress owe little to real military uniforms and seem to borrow much from pantomime and fancy dress. The shapely costumes and bare arms may have been an early 20th Century appeal to the erotic (‘the right to bare arms’, perhaps?!). That said, if we are to accept literally that these are ‘women of the future’ then, I suppose a degree of fantasy and creative license can be granted on that basis. Bergeret clearly imagined that sleeves would become very unpopular and that swords and bicorne hats would be back in vogue…

A Marine

Bergeret also produced a separate two-card only series also on the topic of female soldiers, called “Zouavettes”:

Salut! These Zouvettes here make reference here to the visit of Edward 7th to France in 1903, a popular Francophile whose efforts led in part to the Entente Cordiale.

As with the Girl Soldier series of postcards, however patronising these images might have been intended to have been received by the public, there must have also been a degree of unintentional empowerment and liberation inherent in the sight of women fulfilling these roles. And after all, many roles such as these for women really were the future!

The Female Dragoon: A Farewell to FEMbruary 2020

While painting 20mm British Horse figures for my War of the Spanish Succession armies, I’ve been enjoying the submissions from other participants in the 2020 FEMbruary challenge. With a nod to this, Mark at Man of Tin blog posted about a page he’d found on a copy of an 1893 edition of “The Girls Own Paper”.

This article is most certainly ‘of its time’ yet it contains many inspiring and fascinating stories about “Women Soldiers”, much of which I was familiar (Hannah Snell of the Carnatic Wars, and the Dahomey Amazons) but one account in particular caught my eye. The article mentioned Christian Kavanagh (aka Welsh, Davies and ‘Mother Ross’) who had led a “strange and decidedly romantic career“.

1706 illustration of ‘Kit Kavanagh’ – Public Domain

This “cross-dressing” lady had joined the British Army in 1691, in pursuit of her reluctantly enlisted husband. After fighting in the Battle of Landen and wounded in the ankle, Christian (or Kit) was released from capture and joined the Royal North British Dragoons (Scots Greys). After serving for many years she was said to have been wounded at the Battle of Schellenberg and later found her husband among the French prisoners after the Battle of Blenheim. With her husband now in a relationship with a Dutch lady, they remained simply regimental comrades until Kit was badly wounded at the Battle of Ramillies.

It’s possible that this ended her military career, although Wikipedia have her searching for her husband’s body at the Battle of Malplaquet. It is said that when her gender was discovered by a surgeon, she was nonetheless given a military pension by Lord Hay and ended her days as a Chelsea Pensioner, presented to and honoured by Queen Anne, and eventually buried with full military honours.

Her tale was recounted at the time to author Daniel Defoe and subsequently published as “The Life and Adventures of Mrs Christian Davies“.

As with many old tales, this story has been no doubt subjected to embellishment and myth, but the core of the tale must undoubtedly be true and many similar tales of surreptitious female enlistment into armies exist across different nations and eras (for and example, see my post on Heroic Female Soldiers of Serbia). Even today, the tale of Christian Kavanagh continues to inspire new tales such as this ‘delightful and fun’ work of fiction based on her life, “The Double Life of Mistress Kit Kavanagh” by Marina Fiorato.

The War of Louis Quatorze blog posted on this same story appropriately last February.

All this chimed nicely with my latest venture painting a Marlburian horse regiment. Admittedly, they’re a regiment of horse not dragoons, but when I do paint some, then perhaps I’ll add a feminine touch to the face of one figures so that my own Trooper Davies can secretly take her place in my army too?

“An Audience with Empress Catherine” #FEMbruary 2020

I have now completed my submission for the 3rd Annual FEMbruary Challenge! I posted on my FEMbruary figures recently and promised that I’d share something which ‘would complete the scene more fully’. Well, I went a little further than planned…

Entirely coincidentally, Catherine the first is the 2nd Russian empress called Catherine that I’ve painted for a FEMbruary challenge, Catherine the second (the Great) being painted back in 2018:

I had some real trouble with basing. At first, I just glued the figures to pennies with modelling clay as usual without thinking of what Catherine and the ladies of court might be standing on. Then I spent time, filing down the clay and adding some PVA glue to smooth the surface. Next I painted a tiled floor which looked great apart from being hopelessly uneven!

So I scrapped that and went back to the drawing board. I found some cheap HO scale mosaic card floors which I though might look the business in some kind of a stately garden.

Adding some hedges and flowers, the palace garden idea took shape. My Capability Brown talents in full flow, I made a gravel path alongside a hedge. Helpfully, my Strelets Roman Senate set also came with a roman statue which I added to my design. I wasn’t sure how to paint a marble statue but a little cream colouring with satin varnish seems to have worked well enough?

Aside from the statuary, there are the two court ladies I presented previously; one a lady glancing with a fan and the other patting her lap dog.

A woman of the nobility observes the general’s greeting.
“There’s a good boy!” – said Catherine to General Repnin…

The other characters that I was planning to introduce are also from Strelets’ “Court and Army of Peter I” set. The Russian general is bending to kiss the hand of Empress Catherine, a fact correctly identified by a commentator on my last post.

There’s also some guards from the same set, veterans of the Great Northern War, which I’ve painted up to watch over her imperial highness. I know the early Strelets figures aren’t to everyone’s taste, but I do love the expressions on these guys.

Finally, you may have noticed the large house in the background. This is courtesy of Paperboys on Campaign 18th Century buildings book, which I had purchased recently anyway with a view to placing some of them on the wargaming table, their scale apparently being far more suitable to my 20mm figures than the 28mm they’re originally designed for.

The building is unfinished but I only needed the rear facing the garden. It’s far too small for any of the grand St. Petersburg palaces of course, but perhaps it will stand for a wing or even a little ‘out-building’ in the grounds of one?

And with that, like a genuflecting general, I bow graciously out of FEMbruary. Don’t forget to check out the other varied and fabulous work being created across the blogosphere for Alex at Leadballoony’s FEMbruary by checking out his original post here –

A sample of these glorious creations include;

My young daughter shows she’s a FEMbruary supporter by helpfully adding a sky effect in the background of my photo!

Court Appearances: FEMbruary 2020

FEMbruary has been declared! For the 3rd year, I’m formally throwing my hat into the ring for FEMbruary 2020. Begun in 2018, this cracking idea by Alex at Leadballoony blog invited modellers to share their work on female miniatures or otherwise join in as “part of an ongoing conversation about how women are presented within our hobby”. In previous years, Suburban Militarism has submitted:

Catherine the Great by Bad Squiddo Games

This year, I’m turning to my preferred 1/72 scale. The figures I’ve chosen are from Strelets’ “Court and Army of Peter the 1st” ‘big box’ set which I’ve had for a little while now in my far-too-large pile of unpainted items. It features soldiers and guards from Tsar Peter I’s newly formed professional Russian army, and also contains a number of unusual and entertaining court figures, including Peter the Great himself.

For FEMbruary, I’ve taken from this set three aristocratic ladies in fine dresses, one of whom is the Empress, Peter’s wife. I’ve already glued them on pennies and PSR’s description of each is below:


“Empress Catherine I (1684-1727) – Peter’s second wife, whom he married in 1707 and was named Empress but only really had power after his death. The marriage was a very happy one.”


“Court lady – In ‘German’ or western dress, with a large wig as required by Peter.”


“Court lady – As above, but this one pets a small dog at her skirts.”


Much of the court personalities from this set will of course fit the era for my new War of the Spanish Succession project. As such, they could as Plastic Soldier Review state; “work equally well at the court of Louis XIV or any other monarch, so the potential is quite considerable. However a top quality paint job is about the only hope for these otherwise rather unsatisfying figures.” Gulp! The pressure is on to meet that challenge, and I hardly need confess that I’ve not painted 18th Century ladies dresses before, never mind a dog…

The figures seem to show those early Strelets characteristics of imagination and fun, with a distinctive sculpting style which divides opinion. In the main, I haven’t found flash to be a particular issue with Strelets figures but these courtly ladies underwent some serious plastic surgery with my scalpel. In the case of the lady and dog, her face quite literally went ‘under the knife’!

Always up for a challenge, I’ll share my progress, good or bad, in due course. In the mean time, do pop over to Leadballoony’s blog for more on other FEMbruary figures and participants!