I confess that ‘Easter Bunnies’ is not the kind of title that I thought I’d be using at Suburban Militarism blog, but I realised that Easter was a perfect opportunity to paint a couple of critters which I recently received as a freebie with some other figures from Bad Squiddo Games.
These two tiny rabbits at 28mm scale are part of a range of animals provided by Bad Squiddo including such things as slugs, snails, guinea pigs, pigeons, rats, horses, pigs, tortoises and kittens. Also, the more exotic are catered for such as lions, giant chameleons, moose and even tardigrades!
I’m fairly sure they are the first bunnies I’ve painted at any scale and I really enjoyed doing them! They’ve joined a modest Easter display in the household.
I’ve based the little guys on a 2 pence piece and scattered some spring grass and flowers around.
This year, I thought I’d daringly attempt a Scottish regiment based on an example of the Highland Light Infantry.
Hard boiled egg at the ready, I set to work with some acrylic paints to recreate the Highland Light Lunch Infantry uniform of 1908; scarlet doublet with buff facings.
The tartan trews were created by mixing the base colour and then adding red and white lines. This is the Mackenzie tartan. This is a regimental tartan and has also been known as “MacLeod and Seaforth” from MacLeod’s Highlanders (a predecessor to the Highland Light Infantry) and the Seaforth Highlanders.
The ultimate fate of this ‘Scotch egg’ is to charge downhill to his doom but at least he’ll look smart whilst on his way.
I’ve had fun painting these Naval ladies, featuring a great topic and nice sculpting as usual from Bad Squiddo. A Wren signaller like these in the Royal Navy during WWII would be expected to master the Aldis Lamp, the Semaphore and signal flags and, of course, Morse code. These five Wrens from the Second World War have been assigned the following signalling duties.
Message taking / transcription #1
I gave this lady a pair of leather gloves. I don’t know why. She looked like her fingers could get perishing cold taking down those messages received via Aldis Lamp or on semaphore flags.
“Neat handwriting, accurate spelling, good mnemonics and integrity. All were key attributes when it came to selection for The Communications Branch. Good handwriting meant messages were relaid accurately. Spelling went hand in hand with this. The ability to memorise lots of information was crucial and integrity was key due to the sensitive nature of the information communicated.”
Aldis Lamp operator
For the Aldis Lamp’s bright light, I added a large dollop of gloss varnish to create something of a glow. The Aldis Lamp was a means of communication using the flashing of a light beam to imitate Morse Code to the observer. The lamp’s design was named after Arthur Cyril Webb Aldis who patented a small hand-held version of the signal lamps previously used and which featured an improved shutter to better direct the beam to the recipient and away from the prying eyes of enemy U-boats.
Signal lamps are still in use today even it seems, on rare occasions, the venerable old Aldis Lamp. Yachting Monthly reported back in 2017 of a National Coastwatch Institute (NCI) watchkeeper averting a possible yacht grounding off The Lizard in Cornwall by using an old Aldis Lamp kept at the station and signalling to the vessel to urgently alter its course.
Another means of signalling which is still in use today. Hand-held flag semaphore was widely used in the 19th century and is still used at sea. The positions of the flags indicate letters of the alphabet or numbers. I’ve just learnt that the semaphore flag colour combination of yellow and red are only ever used at sea. So perhaps I need to rebase this girl as being on deck instead! Umm, perhaps she’s in training?
I think the letter she’s communicating is ‘W’. Perhaps Bad Squiddo can go on to produce three more WRNS figures with positions spelling out the ‘R’, ‘N’, and ‘S’ too? Just a suggestion.
Of course, sending the message is one thing, receiving it another entirely. The use of a traditional Royal Navy telescope would assist, the Wren needing all of her observation and memory skills to accurately relay the messages.
Message taking / transcription 2
Finally, another message taker frantically writing down the information. The previously mentioned spelling and handwriting skills would be at a premium here. “Stink the Bismark?!!…”
Uncharacteristically, I’d quite forgotten that it’s actually FEMbruary, that month celebrating with great respect all things to do with female miniatures, shunning the demeaning and downright dodgy.
Genius Fembruary originator, Alex at Leadballoony, has got a whole big heap of all sorts going on this year and so regrets that he won’t be running a review and round-up as in previous years, but that doesn’t mean no Fembruary – not at all. Alex suggests that maybe it’s time for Fembruary to just exist free of a formal organiser and encourages us figure painters to still go forth and “paint some fantastic female figures from your collections and tag them as Fembruary!” And so I shall.
Once again, I have once again turned to Bad Squiddo’s fabulous range of believable female miniatures – always perfect for some Fembruary figures. I’m also returning to WWII with some sailor girls from the WRNS.
At the peak of it’s service during WWII there were 74,000 women in the WRNS (universally known as the Wrens) involved in over 200 different jobs. Their wide range of duties included driving/motorcycle despatch; admin/clerical work; radar plotters; wireless telegraphists; bomb making; weapons analysts; electrical work; harbour transport; catering; range assessing; flying transport planes and providing weather forecasts. Over 300 Wrens were killed in wartime service.
The set shows five WRNS taking part in signalling duties.
The team of signallers include a Wren using a signalling lamp, another using semaphore flags, another interpreting signals with a telescope and two other ratings furiously scribbling down the messages.
My last group of marching Wrens painted back in 2019. I had discovered them as unidentified 54mm figures on eBay from a seller in Kent but later found that they were made in the late 70s or early 80s by MJ Mode, a manufacturer that – entirely coincidentally – I later discovered had its operations based in exactly the same suburb as I was then living in!
With half of February already gone, I need to get started as soon as possible. Thankfully some others have been more on the ball than I. I heartily recommend that for other Fembruary female figures you check the bloggers below.
A fabulously painted and magically magnificent Shamaness
Branchwych – a woman of the woods with a seriously sharp-looking scythe.
Also, Rantings from under the WargamesTable blog brings us:
Faith and Deceit: Agatha Fox the spy in rain mac and Sister Maria aka ‘the nun with a gun’ – so that’s how you solve a problem like Maria!
Gnome on the Range: Two more Fembruary femmes with the delightfully named Blink Berenwicket the gnome and a fabulously diffident-looking female ranger.
That wizard of the diorama Imperial Rebel Orc and Alex himself at Leadballoony have indicated the possibility of some other Fembruary creations, so I’m watching out for those. And the ever entertaining and creative Mark at Man of Tin – is he Fembruarying this year, I wonder?
Happy New Year, everyone! Over the festive period (which includes my birthday) I’ve happily accrued some more figures for the hobby which I thought I’d share. These have included some more 54mm yeomanry figures from Tradition in Sweden, namely yeomanry representing the counties of Essex and Norfolk (and if they turn out looking anything like the cover pictures, I’ll be happy).
In addition, further extending my 54mm Yeomanry Project, I’ve even managed to source a rare figure from the now defunct Border Miniatures, which was duly ‘put away for Christmas’ for me. It’s a figure of the Westmoreland and Cumberland Yeomanry but, uniquely in my collection, it’s mounted! Both horse and rider are included, so a 54mm horse will be a first for me. That’s a lot of equine.
Border Miniatures issued another Westmorland and Cumberland Yeomanry figure (this time standing) which I’ve had in my collection for a while and is still awaiting painting. In fact, I posted on this manufacturer back in March of this year. I’m thinking that this mounted yeomanry figure will make for an fittingly eye catching coda to the project when, eventually, I’ve exhausted the rest of my unpainted 54mm yeomanry figures.
All the way from Germany, meanwhile, I ordered some more troops for the Army of Advent. In what will probably be the last major purchase for my festive force, the box contains a heavy cavalry regiment. For now, they will be stowed away ready for the another Christmas crafting season.
I’ve also received a package from the ever excellent Bad Squiddo Games containing some figures I intend to use for next year’s FEMbruary. I won’t reveal what they are in advance but simply wanted to show off these excellent little freebie rabbit figures that BSG supremo Annie very kindly included!
Finally, my mother came up trumps with something for these figures to stand on – grass tufts!
“If my husband can be a merchant navy officer, I’m going to be a soldier.” Adelaide Hall.
Seems most appropriate during Black History Month to post two figures I’ve painted of Adelaide Hall, successful singer and businesswoman. As one of the world’s first jazz singers, through her improvised wordless rhythm vocalising she pioneered scat singing and enjoyed a career that spanned eight decades.
Adelaide Hall was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1901. Her family tree included a lineage to the Shinnecock Indians of Long Island. From 1921, Hall quickly developed a very successful stage career in the US, making a strong reputation appearing in all-black performer shows of the time. As a sought-after and successful singer, Hall made enough money to move to affluent Westchester County in New York where she received some racial threats and hostility from some white residents but also had support from her many fans.
In 1935, Hall moved with her husband to the more racially integrated Paris where they set up a jazz club and toured extensively. In 1938, she moved again to London where she would remain until her death in 1993. Her move continued her success and in 1941 she replaced Gracie Fields as Britain’s highest paid entertainer.
In London, she also opened clubs. A club that she owned in Britain was bombed by the Luftwaffe and she later reopened another on Regent Street. The arrangement worked well for, if work ever went quiet, she could always perform a show in own club. Her move to London just preceded the Second World War in which she would play her part in the war by entertaining troops as a member of ENSA (Entertainments National Service Association). It is this point in her career that Bad Squiddo’s figures represent.
“The first big wartime variety concert organised by ENSA was broadcast by the BBC to the Empire and local networks from RAF Hendon in north London on 17 October 1939. Among the entertainers appearing on the bill were Adelaide Hall, The Western Brothers and Mantovani. A Newsreel of this concert showing Adelaide Hall singing We’re Going to Hang out the Washing on the Siegfried Line accompanied by Mantovani and His Orchestra exists.”Wikipedia
Unfortunately, ‘hanging washing out to dry’ was about the only thing the Siegfried Line was useful for as the Wehrmacht moved swiftly into France and Belgium in the Battle of France. The ENSA members operated as part of the armed forces.
As such Adelaide Hall was enlisted as an officer and entitled to a uniform, as she related in an interview to presenter Sue Lawley on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs in 1991;
SL: And you wore a uniform?
Adelaide Hall: Yes, and they made me a Lieutenant.
SL: Did that mean the boys had to salute you?
Adelaide Hall: Oh, yes! And I had my own jeep (laughs) and driver. My pianist was with me… [It was] a beautiful uniform, I loved it and I couldn’t stand the collar – very stiff for me, but you get used to anything, I suppose.
While painting, I got a feel for my subject and her music by listening to BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs broadcasts. She was recorded twice, once in December 1972 and again nearly 20 years later in January 1991. By the time of the last recording, Adelaide was in her 80s. A 6-minute extract only of her December 1972 broadcast remains:
Adelaide Hall was very well-respected in the industry and played with many top musicians and artists including Fats Waller, Josephine Baker, Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington. Since her death, Adelaide Hall and her accomplishments have not been forgotten such as being acknowledged in Vogue’s list of ‘7 Remarkable Black Women Who Shaped British History’ and the award of a Black Plaque at Abbey Road Studios where she once recorded with Duke Ellington.
“I had a lovely uniform made by Madame Adele of Grosvenor Street and it was smart. Oh, you should have seen me in it! With the Sam Browne (belt) and a lovely cap, and the greeny-beige shirt and tie.”
“I went through Germany twice – and I must say that I enjoyed it. I was a bit on edge, but I persevered. I said, if my husband can be a merchant navy officer, I’m going to be a soldier.”
There’s increasingly a great range of entries encompassing all kinds of painting styles, interests, genres and figure manufacturers, so why not pop over and take a look at the kind of female characters being painted in the hobby nowadays?
Oh, and my humble offering of five female SOE agents brought home the “Most Thought-Provoking Entry” category – my first success in the FEMbruary challenge! Click below to read more about these phenomenally brave agents from WWII:
“I would give anything to get my hands on that limping Canadian (sic) bitch.“
Reputedly Klaus Barbie, Lyon’s Gestapo chief.
Born: Baltimore, United States, 1906.
SOE Rank: Second Lieutenant.
AKA: ‘Artemis’, The Limping Lady’, ‘Marie of Lyon’, ‘Cuthbert’ (her leg’s pseudonym).
Died: Rockville, United States, 1982.
The most highly decorated female civilian during World War II, Virginia Hall was born in 1906 to a wealthy family in Baltimore. As so often with these female SOE agents, Hall was not in any way an average person. She wanted adventure, recognising herself as a “capricious and cantankerous” personality. She once went to school wearing a bracelet made of live snakes. She also enjoyed hunting, and it was while hunting birds that she accidentally shot herself in the foot. Her left leg was amputated below the knee after gangrene set in. Hall’s resilience and determination was forged in her painful recovery and in her learning to use a wooden leg.
Hall was living in Europe when war broke out and she drove ambulances for the French until the country was overrun. She then went on to become one of the first British SOE agents sent to France in 1941. It became apparent that she was a natural at the art of spying and subterfuge. Her caution was a great asset. She declined to attend a meeting of SOE agents in Marseille, sensing some danger. The French police raided the meeting and captured a dozen agents.
“Virginia Hall, to a certain extent, was invisible… she was able to play on the chauvinism of the Gestapo at the time. None of the Germans early in the war necessarily thought that a woman was capable of being a spy…“The Germans came to realize that they were after a limping lady,” said her biographer Sonia Purnell. Hall constantly changed her appearance. “She could be four different women in the space of an afternoon, with four different code names,” said Purnell. The man in hot pursuit was none other than the Gestapo’s infamous Klaus Barbie, known as “the Butcher of Lyon” for the thousands in France tortured and killed by his forces. Barbie ordered “wanted” posters of Hall that featured a drawing of her above the words “The Enemy’s Most Dangerous Spy — We Must Find And Destroy Her!”‘A Woman Of No Importance’ Finally Gets Her Due by Greg Myre, NPR.
As the net closed in, Virginia Hall escaped to Spain by crossing the Pyrenees which was an incredibly arduous journey for anybody (over 50 mountainous miles in the heavy snows of winter), never mind someone dragging a wooden leg. The British SOE refused to sanction a return to France, fearing it would be fatal for her, such was her reputation with the Nazis. Hall was nonetheless determined to return and instead went to the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) for a role with them and was sent back to France. She went to extraordinary lengths to remain undetected, knowing the risks her return entailed.
“She got some makeup artist to teach her how to draw wrinkles on her face,” she said. “She also got a fierce, a rather sort of scary London dentist to grind down her lovely, white American teeth so that she looked like a French milkmaid.”
Her tour of duty in France in 1944 and 1945 was a great success in which she avoided detection and established a thriving network of up to 1,500 members of the Maquis in three battalions, one of whom, a French-American soldier, she went on to marry. After the war, she worked for the CIA but was apparently unhappy at what were effectively senior bureaucratic desk jobs. Furthermore, as a disabled woman, it is unlikely that she received the same treatment as male colleagues would have been at that time.
The US President Harry Truman was unable to get her to agree to a public ceremony to receive her US Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) honour. She was also awarded the British MBE and the French Croix de Guerre. Hall was implacably against any exposure or public recognition and slipped into obscurity after retirement. Belatedly, 40 years after her death in 1982 in Maryland, she is finally being recognised with a number of books and movies being made about her life. In 2016, a CIA field agent training facility was named the Virginia Hall Expeditionary Center.
That’s my final figure for the month of FEMbruary – an idea by Alex at Lead Balloony’s blog. You can check out other submissions for this challenge by going to the comments section of his original post and keeping an eye out for his final round up post due at the end of the challenge.
And a final reminder of my five female SOE agents…
Continuing Leadballoony’s fabulous Fembruary challenge, Number 4 in my SOE spy series is Noor Inayat Khan. With this Bad Squiddo Games figure, we have a lady trying to get somewhere in a hurry with a suspiciously heavy-looking briefcase…
Noor Inayat Khan’s musician father was a teacher of Sufism and came from a family of Indian Muslims with hereditary nobility (his great-great-grandfather was Tipu Sultan, ruler of Mysore). Her mother, Ora Ray Baker, was an American. Noor studied music at the Paris Conservatory but went on to became a writer being a regular contributor to children’s magazines and to French radio. In 1939, her book, Twenty Jataka Tales was published, inspired by traditional Buddhist tales. At the outbreak of war, Noor escaped from Paris and on arriving in the UK joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) as a wireless operator. Seeking a greater challenge she secured a commission and was later recruited to the Special Operations Executive in 1943.
Some of those who trained her had doubts about her suitability for what was undoubtedly a very dangerous task ahead. Her finishing training report read:
“Not overburdened with brains but has worked hard and shown keenness, apart from some dislike of the security side of the course. She has an unstable and temperamental personality and it is very doubtful whether she is really suited to work in the field.” Next to this comment, Maurice Buckmaster, the head of F Section, had written in the margin “Nonsense” and that “We don’t want them overburdened with brains.”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noor_Inayat_Khan
It’s a little difficult over 70 years on not to wonder whether a degree of scorn for her gender, if not her race (“physically unsuited… she would not easily disappear into a crowd”), may have influenced some of that opinion. That Noor was a trained harpist who studied at the Paris conservatory, was a published writer and won a commission as an officer seems to contradict the ‘no brains’ assessment. There was another aspect may have also compromised her assessor’s faith in her ability to do the job. Noor’s upbringing made her committed to non-violence and she was apparently distinctly uncomfortable with weapon training (“Pretty scared of weapons but tries hard to get over it.”).
Her brother Vilayat recalled attempting to stop his sister going on this hazardous mission:
“You see, Nora and I had been brought up with the policy of Gandhi’s nonviolence, and at the outbreak of war we discussed what we would do”, said Vilayat, who had followed his father and become a Sufi mystic. “She said, ‘Well, I must do something, but I don’t want to kill anyone.’ So I said, ‘Well, if we are going to join the war, we have to involve ourselves in the most dangerous positions, which would mean no killing.’ Then, when we eventually go to England, I volunteered for minesweeping and she volunteered for SOE, and so I have always had a feeling of guilt because of what I said that day.“
Questioned closely by a sceptical SOE as to whether she had the confidence to go ahead with this incredibly dangerous assignment, Noor was apparently shocked that there was any doubt and insisted adamantly that she wanted to go, being fully competent for the work.
In June 1943, Noor (working under the codename of ‘Madeleine’) was flown to France to become the first female radio operator for a resistance network in Paris called ‘Prosper’. Members of the network were arrested shortly after she arrived but she insisted on staying on to remain in France and spent the summer moving from place to place, trying to send messages back to London while avoiding capture. In 1943, an operator’s life expectancy was six weeks. She had to move location very frequently to avoid detection and would have carried her bulky transmitter in a suitcase, as we can see with Bad Squiddo’s figure here.
Noor was betrayed to the Germans by the sister of another French agent and arrested by the Gestapo. Interrogated at their HQ in Paris, she attempted escape twice with other agents but was recaptured in the vicinity. After refusing to sign a declaration renouncing future escape attempts, she was taken to Germany. Hans Kieffer, the former head of the SS in Paris, testified after the war that she did not give the Gestapo a single piece of information, but lied consistently. She was held at the same location for ten months, classified as “highly dangerous” and kept in appalling circumstances (shackled in chains most of the time) until she was transferred to Dachau concentration camp with three other captured female agents. There they were all executed.
Noor Inayat Khan was posthumously awarded the George Cross and by the French with a Croix de Guerre with silver star. Noor is the first woman of South Asian descent to have a blue plaque honouring her in London. The plaque was unveiled at a virtual ceremony on the 28th August 2020.
Noor Inayat Khan might not have had the bravado of Nancy Wake, or the recklessness of Krystyna Skarbek, but in my opinion she was nonetheless possessed of a rare implacable bravery that led her to ultimately sacrifice herself in the most lonely and terrifying circumstances for a cause she believed in.
One more SOE lady to go in this FEMbruary series which I’ll hopefully share soon.
The third of my SOE FEMbruary female figures is a Polish agent by the name of Krystyna Skarbek. Krystyna Skarbek was said to be Churchill’s favourite spy and to have inspired an Ian (James Bond) Fleming character. My first two SOE figures in this Fembruary challenge was Nancy Wake and Annie Norman.
Krystyna, a Polish Countess, arrived in Britain in 1939 from Poland where, after being initially overlooked, she was eventually accepted as an agent into the SOE. After being sent to occupied Poland, she soon organised a system of couriers between Poland and Hungary, skiing into her Nazi-occupied homeland across the Carpathian Mountains in winter. A report from this time described her as “absolutely fearless”. Though shot at, chased, captured and escaped she succeeded in creating an escape line across the mountains through which she aided the passage of several hundred Polish pilots who would later go on to play a decisive role in the Battle of Britain.
She was eventually arrested by the Gestapo in Budapest, but by faking tuberculosis (by biting her tongue to simulate coughing up blood) she escaped and was taken to Romania in the boot of a diplomatic car, later to serve in Cairo, Egypt.
In 1944, she was dropped in France under the name Pauline Armand to be a courier for the Southern France resistance. She then made her way to the Italian border where groups of Poles reluctantly pressed into German service were garrisoned at frontier posts overlooking the winding Alpine passes. Her job was to persuade them to change sides and hand over their arms. In late 1944, she personally negotiated the release of three SOE officers with the Gestapo, even though there was a price on her head too. A clever mixture of bribery and threats of post-war retribution secured their release hours before their execution was due.
Skarbek, living in London, was in reduced circumstances after the war despite her wartime achievements. She had to scrape a living as a shop assistant, a hat-check girl in Harrods, a waitress and a toilet cleaner on passenger ships. Tragically, in 1952 she was stabbed to death at the hands of a jealous man whose attentions she had spurned. The murderer confessed and was hanged later that year.
The idea of the figure of Krystyna appearing in skiing gear is an appropriate choice by Bad Squiddo, given her exploits in the Carpathian mountains! Keeping things appropriately low key for someone avoiding attention and detection, I’ve given her a simple blue scarf and plain white pullover.
My Fembruary SOE Agent number 2 is Annie Norman, the lady behind Bad Squiddo Games and producer of these fab little WWII agents. Of course, it’s another nicely sculpted figure by Rob Macfarlane.
The blue spotty dress design was borrowed directly from the figure painted by John Morris on the website which looked really nice but which was horrible to reproduce. Full respect to John Morris, and his fine job with the polka dots! Mine are a little more unevenly spaced, and it won’t win any print design competitions, but for my first polka dot dress paint job – well, it’ll do!
Painting Annie Agent’s glasses was interesting. The last pair I had to paint was at 20mm scale where a couple dots for eyes was about sufficient.
So, at 28mm I had to reveal a little more behind the lenses.
Finally, any good SOE agent is well-trained with a firearm for any high-tension moment when self-preservation becomes paramount.