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!

L’infanterie de Marine

This is one last group from the new Strelets French Foreign Legion figures I’ve been tackling, but I’ve decided to paint them as something a little different.

The “French Foreign Legion XXth Century” box includes figures engaged in action rather than the marching and mounted figures seen in my recent posts. Some of these figures wear the sun or pith helmet rather than the classic kepi and it is the figures wearing the pith helmets which I’ve been concentrating on.

Oh, darn it… forgotten to paint those bayonets!

In trawling the internet, I managed to find a single illustration of the French colonial marines wearing the double-breasted coat (known as the capote) together with the pith helmet. I have since struggled to re-find it again and so have no idea where it originated but given the anchor badge on the helmet it clearly was intended to be a marine. I suppose it is entirely possible that the French marines wore the famous capote, but marines in this uniform do not appear frequently on the internet.

So, looking so similar to my French Foreign Legion figures, I set about recreating that uniform with the blue trousers and anchor cap badge. I’ve added a little straggly grass to give a marshy, far-east impression, perfect for veterans of the Tonkin Campaign in the 1880s.

The capture of Sơn Tây, 16 December 1883
by an unknown illustrator. L’Illustration, Public Domain.

Interestingly, the marines, wearing light trousers, are clearly wearing the capote.
The Bắc Lệ ambush, 23 June 1884 which led to the Sino-French War. Troops from the French Marine battallion return fire.
By Jean-François-Alphonse Lecomte (1850-1919), Public Domain.

I was first inspired to create some French colonial marines after seeing 28mm khaki-wearing later versions of these troops on Atomic Floozy’s splended blog.

I thought the kneeling figures were quite effective:

Standing and firing figures:

And when the fighting becomes hand-to-hand, the other end of the rifle becomes useful…:

En guard! Yes, I know, I’ve forgotten to paint those bayonets…

All in all, I am quite pleased with my small force of French marines and I’ll be sticking with the infantry of France for my next paint too…

French Personalities of the Crimean War

Having been very much enjoying painting Strelets characters from their Crimean War Big Box range, I thought it was time to turn my attention the French officer corps. These figures came from their “Last Assault on Sevastopol” box which, in addition to the two dozen officers, also supplied other sprues of French Zouaves, light and line infantry.

Unlike their “Heavy Brigade” set, “Last Assault…” did not come with a detailed list of named individuals. I believe most of the figures are intended to be generic officers therefore although, as Plastic Soldier Review suggests, a handful are undoubtedly intended to be specific personalities. Pioneering photographer Roger Fenton took a good number of photographs of members of the French army including anything from senior commanders to common soldiers, and even a female vivandière (a version of which Strelets also modelled for the Heavy Brigade set).

To begin, the two identifiable French personalities:-


General Aimable Pélissier

Of course, no set claiming to be about the French assault on Sevastopol could be without its commander in chief and one character provided by Strelets seems to fit the bill. The sash and physique suggests that my figure (above) is intended to be General Pélissier (below):

Marshal Pelissier by Roger Fenton, 1855.

Below, my painted figure certainly bares comparison with Pelissier as depicted in Fenton’s image.

Now I look at him, the black and white photograph suggests a brighter colour than the light blue I have painted around his waist, perhaps yellow. Furthermore, le pantalon rouge looks more distinctly le pantalon bleu! Never mind, the white hair and dark moustache have been reproduced well enough.

Pélissier was sent by Napoleon III to the Crimea to replace the existing commander Marshal Canrobert, who was judged too cautious. A more vigorous approach to the siege of Sevastopol eventually reaped its reward with the French storming and taking the Malakoff Tower in September 1855, leading to the evacuation of south Sevastopol by the Russians.

After the Crimean War, Pélissier was showered with awards from home and abroad including the title ‘1st Duc de Malakoff’ in recognition of the Sevastopol assault. The figure wears a number of awards and medals on his chest, the large silver cross being I believe a Légion d’honneur star (or plaque). Strelets have shown Pelissier holding what I believe is a piece of paper or map.

Another Fenton portrait of General Pelissier.

General Pierre François Bosquet

According to Plastic Soldier Review;

“We can’t identify any particular individuals (although doubtless some will have chosen some for themselves), but the first figure in the fourth row looks to be taken from a famous photograph of General Bosquet, and indeed several figures seem inspired by such photographs, which is a very reasonable source to us.”

They are referring to this figure pointing a finger with his hand tucked behind his back.

Fenton actually took a number of photographs of Bosquet, including the one below. General Bosquet seems to have been quite a theatrical character, keen to be photographed in his trademark authoritative pointing pose!

Pierre François Bosquet was an artillery officer who spent 20 years as a soldier in Algeria, during which time he variously commanded Algerian tirailleurs and later some line infantry, rising to the rank of General of Division. Serving in the Crimean War from the very early stages, his division led the French attack at the opening encounter at the Alma.

It was Bosquet who uttered the now famous line when observing the Charge of the Light Brigade;

C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre: c’est de la folie!

(It is magnificent, but it is not war: it is madness!)

Bosquet’s arrival with troops during the battle of Inkerman secured the Allied victory. Seemingly ever present in the forefront of all the action, at Sevastopol Bosquet personally led his troops both on the June attack to capture the Mamelon fort and also the great attack on the Malakov in September, during which he received a severe wound. He survived the war but ill-health led to his untimely death just five years later.


The rest of Strelets’ figures though full of character do not appear to be based directly on any of Fenton’s photographic subjects, so I’m simply presenting them below, in no particular order:

Bugler and Drummer

Two satisfying musicians with lots of colour to them, a bugler and drummer of the French army, 1855.


French Officers and Staff

This figure I liked a lot for his casual stance with hands tucked into his waistband and a face of utter nonchalance:


This next roguish officer seems to be enjoying a glass of something refreshing. I realised when painting this that I have never painted glass before. So, I’ve simply added to silver a little blueish hue, assuming that this old soak has just drained it of a fine ’48 Bordeaux. I like their idea of having his overcoat draped over his shoulders.


If it’s not alcohol that helps my French officers through the rigours of the Crimean campaign, it’s tobacco. Here, a nicely campaign-weary officer contemplates another tough day in the trenches over a long pipe. Hand tucked into his waistband, I fancy he might be enjoying a smoke, post-evening meal.


What I thought was one of the least promising figures has turned out nicely, I am particularly pleased with his greying beard and surprisingly interesting face, glancing askew.


Next, another nice pose with a shoulder cape and hands clasped behind his back. This chap was a victim of an accidental assault by my wife after I carelessly left him on the dining room table. He has come through okay after corrective painting and hasty re-gluing, although he appears to be keeping a wary eye out for any further outrages.


This is another figure which looked less promising thanks to the face being along the line of the flash from the mould. A little paint has improved my assessment of a convincing pose for a man leading an assault.


Finally, below is an officer of the Chasseurs d’Afrique, a regiment which I painted some years ago from Strelets range of Crimean War figures. It’s not one of their best sculpted figures, another victim of the join on the seam, and it’s curious that his sword is drawn whilst on foot, but I like the ‘Chass d’Aff’ and felt it demanded inclusion!

Fenton took some photographs of officers from this regiment, including this one below of a mounted officer in camp.

Captain Thomas of the Chasseurs d’Afrique

And to conclude, some more images from Roger Fenton of the French officer corps in the Crimea:

I’m toying with the idea of one more batch of these French officers, if you can stand it, before finally moving on to something new.

You know, I think General Bosquet could easily have been talking not of the Light Brigade but of my eccentric hobby – “c’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre: c’est de la folie!” Yes, madness, I tell you! Madness!…