Girl Soldier: The Grenadears

What I believe to be the final card in the 120+ years old Girl Soldier postcard series finally came up for auction recently and to my delight I was the only bidder! I’d be keeping an eye out for it for a few years so there is some satisfaction to complete the set of six in total.

The final postcard I’ve been searching for represents a soldier of The Grenadier Guards, which artist Ellam puckishly calls The Grenadears.

It’s an obvious choice of regiment, Ellam’s other Soldier Girls were from either particularly famous regiments or regiments of the elite Household Division. They include:

  • The 2nd Dragoons (Royal Scots Greys)
  • The Royal Horse Guards (The Blues)
  • The Life Guards
  • A Corporal of The Gordon Highlanders
  • The 12th (Prince of Wales’s) Lancers

Once again, this card is a portrayal of a confident young lady, back ramrod straight and looking up with hand on hip. Ellam drops the usual subtle clues as to her gender, these chiefly being her figure, a feminine eye and perhaps a few loose curls of hair under that bearskin.

Ellam’s other Soldier Girls had particularly accurately-depicted uniforms, so is this the case with our Guardswoman too?

Beginning with the rank markings on the arm, I can identify this Girl Soldier as being a Colour Sergeant. I include below a photographic example of these markings which closely matches the illustration by Ellam. It includes the four symbols of the home nations, the royal crown, and even the outline of the crossed sabres at the base can be vaguely discerned. Only the flagpole and tassels are missing. My copy of volume 1 of Simkin’s Soldiers (The British Army in 1890) by Col. PS Walton describes the Colour Sergeant’s markings from this era as “three gold lace chevrons edged blue on a scarlet ground with a colour badge of regimental design superimposed.”

On the collar can be seen a flaming grenade insignia, which is correct for the Grenadier Guards. The collar, cuffs, tunic front and shoulder straps are all correctly edged white but do appear almost black instead of dark blue on the postcard, but we might accord Ellam some printing issues discretion here.

Line drawing of a Sergeant’s tunic. Grenadier Guards.

I initially thought that the insignias on the collar and shoulder straps were supposed to be coloured white but for Sergeants they were indeed gold, so again Ellam is spot on. Certainly the trousers are more clearly a dark blue and they have the red stripe ending in a pair of black boots.

For the Guards regiments, a distinctive feature is the spacing of the buttons representing their place in the order of precedence (the Coldstream Guards had buttons spaced in pairs and the Scots Guards in threes, for example). The Grenadier Guards, as premier regiment, therefore had singly spaced buttons, so again we can see this is reproduced on the postcard for the regiment. Coincidentally, Simkin’s Soldiers has a photograph of a Colour-Sergeant of the Grenadier Guards.

On the bearskin, the Grenadier Guards have a white plume situated on the left hand side. As this lady has her left side facing away from us, we can only assume it’s there, so again there’s no problem there with Ellam’s depiction.

The white leather Slade-Wallace equipment drawn here was replaced by 1908 Pattern webbing. It is understood that this card series was produced approximately 1890-1900, so this equipment reflects that era. Apparently, “full equipment was worn for parades and outside barracks while a single pouch sufficed for guards and ceremonial within” (Walton). The single pouch can be seen in the Colour-Sergeant’s photograph above.

White gloves seem generally to have been worn by ranks of Sergeant and above in Review Order, which Ellam has indeed reproduced here. The wearing of white gloves by a sergeant can be seen with the man on the right in the Simkin plate below.

I’m presuming that the rifle our female Grenadier Guard holds is a .303 Lee-Metford (adopted in 1888) or possibly even its replacement the Lee-Enfield, which came into service around 1895. Here Ellam has the wooden stock ending a little too short from the barrel end for either, but would make it closer to being the Lee-Metford design.

A very reasonable Ellam representation of white leather Slade-Wallace equipment worn by the Grenadier Guards late 19th century.
A highlander’s Slade Wallace equipment as painted by Harry Payne – Anne S. K. Brown Military Collection, Public Domain.

So, there is once again no doubt as to Ellam’s dedication to regimental uniform accuracy for his cartoon series of female soldiers. This leaves me once again wondering why an apparently patronisingly ‘comic’ postcard was dedicated to such faithful uniform reproduction. Was such accuracy down to Ellam’s own interest in military uniforms or did he deliberately seek out expert advice, perhaps even from one of the great British army uniform artists of the day such as Richard Simkin, Harry Payne or Fred Stansell? I am left with speculation.

I won’t repeat here all the themes and questions I’d raised about Ellam’s depiction of these women as soldiers and why it was that ‘Ellanbee’ (publishers Landeker and Brown of London) chose this as a marketable theme, a theme copied by at least one other postcard manufacturer. Instead, with this final post on Ellanbee’s c.1900 Girl Soldier series, I’ll point anyone interested to my previous posts in this series:

Adelaide Hall

“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.

Unknown author – The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 6 September 1934, page 20, CC BY-SA 4.0.

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.”

Adelaide Hall

“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.”

Adelaide Hall

The Finale of FEMbruary IV

As promised by Alex at Leadballoony blog, the roundup of entries for 2021s FEMbruary Challenge IV was posted on International Women’s Day, yesterday – Bravo Alex! It’s been another successful year’s challenge.

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:

(#Fembruary2021) SOE Sisters V: Virginia Hall

I would give anything to get my hands on that limping Canadian (sic) bitch.

Reputedly Klaus Barbie, Lyon’s Gestapo chief.

Virginia Hall

  • 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.

Bad Squiddo have cleverly sculpted Virginia Hall adjusting her prosthetic limb.
Hall carries a STEN gun over her left shoulder.

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.

Image result for virginia hall

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.

Virginia Hall of Special Operations Branch receiving the Distinguished Service Cross from General Donovan, September 1945. By CIA People – Making an Impact: Virginia Hall. The People of the CIA. CIA Official Website, Public Domain.

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…

(#Fembruary2021) SOE Sisters IV: Noor Inayat Khan

Noor Inayat Khan

  • Born: Moscow, Russia, 1914.
  • SOE Rank: Assistant Section Officer.
  • AKA: ‘Nora Baker’, ‘Madeleine’, ‘Nurse’, ‘Jeanne-Marie Renier’.
  • Died: Dachau Concentration Camp, Bavaria, 1944.

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.”

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.

(#Fembruary2021) SOE Sisters III: Krystyna Skarbek

Very brave, very attractive, but a loner and a law unto herself

Vera Atkins on Krystyna Skarbek

Krystyna Skarbek

  • Born: Warsaw, Poland, 1908.
  • SOE Rank: Captain.
  • AKA: ‘Christine Granville’, ‘Pauline Armand’, ‘Krystyna Gettlich’, ‘Krystyna Giżycka’.
  • Died: London, England, 1952.

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.

Krystyna Skarbek (Christine Granville) in FANY uniform by Anonymous, Scan of identity paper dated 11 mai 1945.

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.

POSTSCRIPT: With great timing, Mark at Man of Tin blog found a BBC Radio programme about her life (first broadcast in 2016) being broadcast again tomorrow, 20th February 2021. The programme is part of the “Great Lives” series –

The fabulous first Man of Tin submission for FEMbruary 2021 can be found here –

(#Fembruary 2021) SOE Sisters II: Annie Norman

Annie Norman

  • Born: UK.
  • SOE Rank: Bad Squiddo Games Supremo.

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.

Crimean Russian admiral with spectacles.

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.

More SOE Fembruary ladies to come…

SOE Sisters No.1: Nancy Wake (#Fembruary2021)

I don’t see why we women should just wave our men a proud goodbye and then knit them balaclavas.

Nancy Wake

Nancy Wake

  • Born: Wellington, New Zealand, 1912.
  • SOE Rank: Captain.
  • AKA: ‘Hélène’, ‘The White Mouse’.
  • Died: London, England, 2011.

It’s Fembruary and my first SOE agent is now operating under cover in France! One of five female WWII agents courtesy of Bad Squiddo Games, Nancy Wake was once described as;

“…a real Australian bombshell. Tremendous vitality, flashing eyes. Everything she did, she did well.” Training reports record that she was “a very good and fast shot” and possessed excellent fieldcraft. She was noted to “put the men to shame by her cheerful spirit and strength of character.”

Something of her independent spirit can be gleaned from how she ran away from home at the age of only 16. Living in France at the outset of WWII, she and her husband aided allied airmen to escape from France after 1940 until she eventually had to escape herself (something she was very good at – the Germans calling her ‘the white mouse’ because she kept slipping out of sight). Sadly, her French husband was captured, tortured and executed, a fact she only discovered at the end of the war. Her survival technique included her natural brazen self-confidence, Nancy later saying;

“A little powder and a little drink on the way, and I’d pass their (German) posts and wink and say, ‘Do you want to search me?’ God, what a flirtatious little bastard I was.”

The sculptor seems to have captured that nerve and poise with this pose. Nancy is attractively dressed and nonchalantly strolling on her way while casually examining her fingernails, but her hidden steel and deadliness is nicely represented by a dagger tucked away just out of sight by her side.

Alongside the Maquis, she certainly took part in a number of firefights and battles with the Germans, later confessing to reluctantly having to kill a sentry with her bare hands, in a manner she’d been trained repeatedly to use by the SOE.

Nancy survived the war and was decorated lavishly by a grateful UK, France, New Zealand, Australia and USA. She emigrated to Australia with her next husband, an RAF officer, where she unsuccessfully stood as a Liberal candidate in elections there.  After her 2nd husband died in 1997, Nancy returned to the UK where she lived at the Stafford Hotel in Piccadilly, London. Here she ‘would usually be found in the hotel bar, sipping her first gin and tonic of the day and telling war stories‘. She ended her days living at a home for disabled ex-servicemen and women until she passed away at the ripe old age of 98 in 2011.

So ends my humble salute to Nancy Wake of the Special Operations Executive. I have purchased some cheap plinths for my ladies which I will probably pop them on to them for a final post. In the meantime, my next instalment of these SOE sisters is hopefully coming soon!

Nancy Wake in uniform.

FEMbruary 2021

It’s that time of the year again that many of us figure painters, makers and bloggers look forward to. Fembruary has been declared by Alex at Lead Balloony blog. I’ve not missed a Fembruary yet and there’s no way I want to miss out this year.

My previous Fembruary submissions:

So I’ve been taking a look at my figures as usual to find something which could satisfy the core aims of Alex’s great idea which is namely to paint and post some female miniatures in the ‘name of fair representation in the hobby’. In his blog post, he goes on to say “Given that this is intended as an encouragement to think about inclusion in the hobby then it makes sense if your entries are kick-ass ladies, and not the product of some socially awkward mini-sculptor’s sexy fantasies…” A final round-up is in early March (in time for International Women’s Day, on the 8th March).

For more details on Fembruary, see the Lead Balloony post and you could do a lot worse than check out his son’s very impressive Amazon quartet while your at it.

Nancy Wake in First Aid Nursing Yeomanry uniform, 1945, Public Domain,

If it’s kick-ass ladies that Alex wants to see, then my selection should more than fit the bill. This year I couldn’t resist Bad Squiddo’s wonderful new range of WWII female SOE agents. All of them, with one exception, are based on real life heroic agents who served the cryptically named Special Operations Executive. The characters include:

  • Krystyna Skarbek
  • Nancy Wake
  • Virginia Hall
  • Noor Inayat Khan
  • Annie Norman

The first four are based on real WWII SOE agents, the last one is Bad Squiddo supremo herself, Annie Norman, aka “Gestapo’s Most Wanted”. Annie might, of course, even be a genuine agent too but I’m not allowed to talk about that…

Krystyna Skarbek, SOE agent, Public Domain

I’ve also had my eye on another female figure from Bad Squiddo but it’s doubtful I will get time to paint that before Fembruary’s deadline, so (like a good SOE agent) I’m keeping that very ‘hush-hush’ for now.

Man of Tin blog has submitted some lovely Fembruary work in recent years – are you in again this year, Mark?

I’ve been painting figures again this week, so more news on that to follow.

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.