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!

“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!

Crimean Personalities: La Cantinière

Another one from the Crimean Personalities series.

As I’ve indicated before, none of the French “Last Assault on Sevastopol” figures are named individuals as in other sets, but it is possible to positively identify at least one more of them from some Roger Fenton photographs. And here she is below:-

Fenton’s image of a cantinière during the Crimean campaign.

The photograph shows a ‘vivandiere‘, or equally a ‘cantiniere‘, a woman attached to a French infantry regiment. They primarily provided food and drink, organised washing, ran the canteens and tended to the infirm or wounded.

These ladies were formally enrolled into the army, they were subject to its discipline and rules, and were assigned next to the musicians in the Order of Battle, parading whenever necessary with their attached regiments in uniforms which closely echoed the men’s.

Fenton’s cantinière tends to a wounded, or possibly just profoundly drunk, Zouave…

Though traditionally called vivandières, during the time of the Revolutionary Wars it seems such women became known as cantinières (i.e. those serving wine in canteens). With the restoration of the Bourbon Monarchy, the army was instructed to eliminate the title of cantinière and officially restore the more traditional vivandière. Regardless, the troops themselves simply continued to use cantinière, however.

During the time of the French 2nd Empire, the cantinière had become a romantic icon of the French Army and Napoleon III doubled their numbers in time for the Crimean War with at least one assigned to each regiment.

So it was no surprise that Roger Fenton should encounter one and indeed seek to capture some images of these remarkable female soldiers.

Another view by Fenton of the same cantinière.
© National Army Museum .

Strelets figure certainly bears some resemblance to the lady in the photograph. They have reproduced the cane in the photograph as being a riding crop, but the addition of some brass paint makes it a little more cane-like again. For the colours, I’ve simply chosen something appropriate to match a French infantryman. The eyes however appear to have been sculpted – and painted – into a squint or wink!

I was planning to hold back on this figure until next FEMbruary, but with that challenge being so far off it seemed wrong not to paint her at the same time as the rest of her Crimean French compatriots.

Of course, the proliferation of French cantinières were not the only female presence on campaign in the Crimea. Roger Fenton took other images of women including the formidable Mrs Fanny Duberley, a popular wife of a captain in the 8th Hussars. She kept a very entertaining journal of her experiences which can be read online here. Another modeller, Tony at Tin Soldiering On blog, recently created his own brilliant version of this spirited lady (see links below) by altering an old mounted Airfix Maid Marion figure. Brilliant!

http://tonystoysoldiers.blogspot.com/2018/11/interfering-with-mrs-duberly.html

http://tonystoysoldiers.blogspot.com/2018/11/mrs-duberly-on-parade.html

As for me, jut one last post still to come on my own Crimean personalities…

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!

#FEMbruary Challenge Complete: Catherine the Great!

My contribution to the FEMbruary challenge, a 28mm metal figure of Catherine the II of Russia is now finished! Here is the great lady herself astride her grey; Brilliant.

catherine-the-great-10.jpg

In a previous post, I observed how this Bad Squiddo figure was cleverly based upon an original portrait of the empress painted by a Swede named Vigilius Eriksen. You can observe below just how my figure compares with it’s original inspiration:

I’ve based her on a kind of rough track, complete with grasses and flowers, on her way to suggest to her husband Peter III that he should maybe consider abdicating in favour of her. Something about the sharpness of her glittering sword lends further weight to her suggestion…

Catherine the Great (11)

I used a shade of blue for her sash appropriately called “Royal Blue”, which I think looks the business.

catherine-the-great-13.jpg

Getting her face ‘satisfactory’ was an interesting challenge what with me not being used to painting female faces. It’s always easier to create an acceptable looking face when it’s covered over with a luxuriant moustache or bushy beard! That’s one terrific thing about FEMbruary – guiding me into neglected territory. I’m pleased to say that – no doubt thanks more to the sculptor than the painter – I think the face looks suitably feminine.

catherine-the-great-15.jpg

Catherine the Great (12)

Catherine’s long hair can be seen to cascade down her back, tied with a black bow.

Catherine the Great (8)

Catherine the Great (7)

And after that admittedly modest submission, and with the end of February fast approaching, I bow out of #FEMbruary. If FEMbruary in some way encourages more women into the hobby; encourages more appropriate female miniatures to be manufactured; or just enables us bloke modellers to reconsider female figures and their portrayal more carefully, then all to the good.

I urge visitors to check out the realistic female miniatures on Annie Norman’s splendid Bad Squiddo Games site and also check out some of the other participants terrific work: