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“.
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.
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?
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:-
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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…
…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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’ve happy to say that I’ve recently come in the possession of another postcard from the “Girl Soldier” series by “Ellanbee” (the trading name for Landeker and Brown of London). The illustrator for the “Girl Soldier” series was comic postcard artist William Henry Ellam (1858–1935) and this series I believe to have been created around 1900.
This poised and dignified lady is of the 2nd Dragoons, also known as the Royal Scots Greys. So far in the cards that I’ve discovered, she’s the only character to have drawn her sword, holding the blade in her white leather gauntlet gloves in a relaxed manner.
The artist, Willam Ellam, has once more notably paid close attention to his military subject. The white pouch belt indicates the lady is a private. Her weapon could well pass for being the Other Ranks 1882 short pattern sword and scabbard.
The scarlet tunic with blue facings lined with gold are correct for this regiment, as are the pantaloons of blue cloth with a yellow stripe tucked into black ‘butcher’ boots (identifiable by the V notch) which she would have worn for mounted duties.
As a concession to some clue as to her gender, a few loose blond curls appear from underneath her bearskin. The gilt grenade holder and white plume on the bearskin appear to be correctly depicted. The bearskin she wears would have been shorter than for the officers and made of hair from the male bear rather than the female.
As with other cards in the series, I like the portrayal of this woman by Ellam. I’ve stated before that the original intention will have almost certainly been to create a comic image. Yet to a modern eye, it now lacks any overt sense of being absurd. Instead, suggestion of an ‘hourglass’ corset aside, it appears as a quite natural and even empowering view of a woman in the military. Ellam has drawn a lady entirely comfortable in her uniform and with her chosen profession; she is calm, confident, and with the discernible touch of haughtiness that comes with the prestige of belonging to a famous heavy cavalry regiment.
So far in this series, I’ve unearthed a Life Guard, a Royal Horse Guard of ‘the Blues’, a private of the 12th lancers, and a soldier of the Gordon Highlanders.
Only one card that I know of now eludes me; what appears to be a Sergeant Major of the “Grenadears”.
I wonder how many others, if any, were produced in this series and if so, from which regiments.
For more on this series you may wish to visit my original “Girl Soldier” post from 2017 where I discuss this series of postcards and compare it to a series of trade card illustrations depicting historically uniformed female soldiers issued by “Collectables of Spalding”. Likewise, on International Women’s Day this year, I compared this series to another postcard set of female soldiers by a female artist Winifred Wimbush.
It’s International Women’s Day and it seems to be making a greater impact this year, following on as it does from the #MeToo phenomenon. I thought it might be an appropriate occasion for another post on artistic depictions of women in the military.
About a year ago, I posted on the topic of depictions of women in late 19th century military uniforms. In that post, I examined attitudes towards women at this time seen through the lens of their depiction in military uniforms. In particular, I showcased a cigarette card series and also a postcard series from the early 1900s by Ellanbee called “Girl Soldier”. These images were interesting because, despite being a ‘comic’ series, they (doubtless unintentionally) provided a vaguely realistic and empowering image of women in military uniforms at a time when they were not even allowed to vote.
I’ve been looking at expanding my modest Girl Soldier postcard collection and in the course of my largely fruitless research I recently discovered another series of postcards on a very similar theme called “A Call to Arms!”
At first sight, “A Call to Arms” closely follows the Girl Soldier theme; young women dressed in the smart full-dress uniforms of famous British army regiments of the day. However, we soon see there are significant differences.
Firstly, the series adorns its images with seductive phrases: “Won’t you take me?“, “Say when you’ll have me”, “I’m ready when you want me”, etc. They are very deliberately sexualised and seductive.
Secondly, the uniforms are not accurately depicted as with Ellam’s Girl Soldier series. The “A Call to Arms” uniforms are a mere simulacra, mimicking the uniforms yet compromised by retaining the kind of impractical dress a lady in the era of King George V would be expected to have.That Life Guard doesn’t have genuine jackboots; she as a dress dyed black where the boots should be. It all feels a little like she’s modelling a new fashion collection inspired by military uniforms.
Only the soldiers of the Scottish regiments retain a close affinity to the real articles, thanks to the kilt’s similarity to a knee-length skirt. Yet, there is more than enough detail in all her illustrations to suggest that Winifred Wimbush spent some considerable time researching the real uniforms.
It is interesting to compare the Call to Arms lancer below (of the 17th Lancer Regiment) with the Ellanbee Girl Soldier lancer (of the 12th Lancers).
Immediately noticeable is that the Call to Arms lancer wears a long skirt with a split up the side, whereas the Ellanbee Lancer of the 12th wears genuine riding breeches. The lady of the 17th has high heels; the lady of the 12th has riding boots with spurs. There’s also a difference in stance; contrast the self-confident lancer of the 12th with her far more shy and demure fellow lancer.
What is perhaps surprising, given the slightly saucy presentation, is that the artist for “A Call to Arms” was a woman. Winifred Wimbush (1884-1958) was the daughter of Henry B Wimbush, a landscape painter, illustrator and a renowned postcard artist. A website dedicated to her father, Henry, admitted that “very little is known about Winifred or her painting” but nonetheless provided a decent short biography on her. It says:
Winifred, Henry’s eldest daughter was the only one of his children that followed him into a career as a professional artist.
This picture the ‘Flower Girl’ which appeared as the frontispiece in ‘The Channel Islands’ by Edith Carey published in 1902, was painted by Henry and it is reported that Winifred was the model. She would have been around 16 years of age when the picture was painted and this may have encouraged her interest in fashion along with her talent as an artist.
Winifred painted 9 different sets of postcards that were published by Raphael Tuck. Several of the sets were loosely ‘propaganda’ cards for the 1st World War and would probably have been published between 1914 -1916.
And these propaganda postcards were entitled “A Call to Arms”.
Series 8772, 3, 4 were published as Oilette’s and generally showed regimental uniforms, often worn by girls and bearing the heading A call to arms. The border showed the red, white and blue of the union flag.
There’s no doubting that Winifred Wimbush was a talented artist. Her drawings are excellent. Her women are realistically proportioned and stylishly, elegantly painted. By contrast, Henry Ellam’s pleasing illustrations do seem a little more cartoonish compared to Wimbush’s artwork.
However, “A Call to Arms” does place women firmly in the submissive role that was expected of ladies in Britain at that time. They are, even in khaki greatcoats, not warriors but akin to passive models or sexually available seductresses. No doubt, as propaganda, they were painted to specifications provided to Wimbush by Tuck’s postcards and for a very specific purpose. Ellam’s confident female soldiers were supposed to be absurd and ridiculous; Wimbush’s coquettish soldiers were intended to provide succour for frightened men far from their loved ones on the front line. Neither series took the concept of women as resourceful and brave soldiers seriously despite, as my recent post on Serbian women soldiers proved, women most definitely being so at the time.
Perhaps, on International Women’s Day, I should end on a more positive note. Contradicting and challenging Ellam’s lampooned ‘girls’ and Wimbush’s submissive women from 100 years ago; women soldiers of the Life Guards now allowed within the mounted band. Currently, they are only allowed in the regiment as musicians but it’s surely only a matter of time until Ellam’s female lifeguard fully becomes a reality.
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.
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…
I used a shade of blue for her sash appropriately called “Royal Blue”, which I think looks the business.
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’s long hair can be seen to cascade down her back, tied with a black bow.
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:
I’m pleased to say that it appears that my previous post on the heroic female soldiers of Serbia has been particularly well-timed. Not only does it coincide with the 100th anniversary of the first piece of legislation extending voting rights to women in the UK, but it also coincides with #FEMbruary.
It was my friend from the Imperial Rebel Orc blog who drew my attention to FEMbruary – a painting challenge for this month intended to “celebrate females and highlight the dismal fact that our hobby is so male dominated“. The idea for the FEMbruary painting challenge has apparently originated with Lead Balloony.com. Well done, sir! A fine suggestion. https://leadballoony.com/2018/01/29/more-eru-kin-and-the-fembruary-challenge
Suburban Militarism occasionally posts on topics related to women’s often overlooked role in conflict, military art and military history. Furthermore, this blog loves a communal challenge, and so I’ve ‘signed up’ to FEMbruary – a time for painting some female miniatures that celebrate, not demean, women. There was just a small matter of finding an appropriate female figure to paint, though. Not only are there not enough females in the hobby, there’s not enough female figures which are realistically proportioned and non-sexualised. Step forward, Bad Squiddo and the Dice Bag Lady!
Guided by the ever-knowledgeable Mark from Man of Tin blog, I checked out Bad Squiddo – a site dedicated to believable female miniatures! Quickly through the post came a perfectly sculpted figure together with a rather lovely Darjeeling tea bag to boot. My chosen FEMbruary figure from Bad Squiddo is one of the most powerful rulers of the 18th century; Catherine the Great of Russia!
Born as Princess Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst, this German lady came to power after her ineffectual husband, Peter III, was assassinated. She proved to be an astonishingly successful ruler for Russia, reigning from 1762 to 1796. Catherine combined intelligence, shrewdness, an appreciation for the arts, knowledge of Enlightenment principles, and an autocratic ruthlessness whenever required. Like many other powerful autocrats, Catherine fed both her ego and her libido; she didn’t stint on palatial opulence and also enjoyed a long list of lovers.
She was also keenly aware of the need to dress to impress, or should that be Empress? Her magnificent dresses brought western fashions to the Russian court. In a subtle demonstration of her power, and to cement her relationship with army, some of these were military uniform inspired dresses and explicitly mimicked military fashions and colours of the day.
For the Bad Squiddo figure, Catherine the Great eschews the fine dresses of court and appears in full military uniform, on a white charger with sword drawn.
Catherine is wearing the full uniform of the Russian Life Guards. The Bad Squiddo figure (above) cleverly takes the Vigilius Eriksen portrait (below) as its inspiration.
The Eriksen portrait of her formed part of an enormous collection of paintings which Catherine acquired with the stupendous wealth that she enjoyed;
Among many portraits of the empress is Vigilius Eriksen’s Equestrian Portrait of Catherine II. She is on her horse Brilliant (Russian for “Diamond”) on the summer’s day in 1762 when she set out from St Petersburg to demand the abdication of her weak, stupid and unpopular husband, Peter III. Her backers included her lover, Count Grigory Orlov, and one of his successors, Prince Grigory Potemkin. Her sword is drawn, and she would clearly be happy to use it on her husband. Peter caved in, but within days had been murdered by his wife’s supporters. She claimed he had died of one of “his habitual haemorrhoidal attacks, together with a violent colic”. The Guardian
The lady who wore that uniform, sword drawn and “happy to use it on her husband”, intended it to indicate to all of Russia that a more dynamic and stronger sort of ruler was about to take power. Catherine the Great was a supremely successful leader, subject to the same trappings of power as male leaders (opulence, sex, etc.). Autocrats and despots are hardly loveable. But this ruthless lady was very charismatic, with personal qualities and achievements that were extremely impressive. What’s more, she looks splendid in a Guards uniform to boot!
And with that grey horse, Brilliante, it’s time for me to get painting horses again.