Winifred on Women’s Day

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.

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Still on the search for this card…  a ‘Girl Soldier’ by artist Henry Ellam

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!”

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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.

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Guard your heart? This skirted female Life Guard seems to be a lover, not a fighter!

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.

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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.

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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.

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Henry B Wimbush’s Flower Girl – Winifred reportedly was the model.

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.

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1916 photo of Winifred Wimbush aged 32 during the period when she was actively painting postcards.

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, realistic female soldier image, a contemporary one that contradicts and challenges Ellam’s lampooned ‘girls’ and Wimbush’s submissive women from 100 years ago; presenting two 21st century women soldiers of the Life Guards mounted band!

 

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Lifeguard Dragoons (Nappy Cavalry Project Set #23)

The Russian Lifeguard Dragoons are now finished and they can join their sister regiment the Lifeguard Cossacks which I completed back in 2015. These Zvezda figures are very elegantly sculpted and beautifully proportioned. The sculpting is so subtle, however, that painting them effectively has been a real challenge. I will admit to liking a little bit more crispness in my sculpting than I’ve found in this set. But with some effort, the end result is satisfying and the Lifeguard Dragoons can proudly take its place as the 23rd regiment in the project.

Let me state – I am not a fan of pegs and holes when it comes to assembling plastic 1/72 scale figures. Maybe I’m just ham-fisted when it comes to putting these things together, but I’m not feeling confident that they would survive any careless handling. To get the riders on the horses, I found it far simpler to cut off the pegs and just rely on glue instead. After coping with some traumas, I used glue and a little modelling clay on the base of the horses to better secure them to the stands which comes with the set.

Some horses (possibly down to my assembly mistakes) look like they are in the process stumbling head first into the ground!

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Woah! Do we have a faller, here?

Another horse pose I managed to get to stay in place solely thanks to glue alone, the two pegs proving insufficient to keep it upright.

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Glue defies gravity!

Aside from three boxes of standard troopers, I also bought a “Command” set of figures which supplied an officer, a flag bearer and a trumpeter.

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Officer, Lifeguard Dragoons.
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Trumpeter, Lifeguard Dragoons

I foolishly misplaced the sword, sabretache and scabbard for the flag bearer. Instead there’s a hole ready on his thigh to attach the scabbard should I a) locate it, or b) replace it with another substitute. Additionally, I should confess that I wasn’t able to source the correct flag for this regiment and so simply resorted to choosing my own design!

Much as I admire this set I’m pleased I’ve finally got this one under my belt.

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With this set now completed, I’ve painted three Russian regiments in a row; the Astrakhan Cuirassiers, Sumy Hussars and now the Lifeguard Dragoons, all of which were manufactured by Zvezda. As wonderful as Zvezda’s figures are, it is perhaps time for a change of country and manufacturer?

I’m hoping to attempt a set next with some really crisp details but I’m still prevaricating over the next regiment, so expect an announcement soon. Until then; it’s time for the usual pictures and regimental biography…

 


Biography: Lifeguard Dragoons [Russia]

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The Lifeguard Dragoons were established in 1809 from squadrons previously belonging to the Grand Duke Constantine’s Uhlans. Taking their inspiration from Napoleon’s Dragoons of the Imperial Guard, it took its place in the Tsar’s Lifeguard Cavalry Corps alongside regiments of hussars, cossacks, cuirassiers or ‘Lifeguard Horse’.

Whilst they might have lacked some of the prestige or dramatic uniforms of the Hussars or Cuirassiers, they were were undoubtedly well trained, disciplined and considered superior to other Dragoon regiments of the line.

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Present at the battle of Borodino, the Lifeguard Dragoons were under Uvarov’s 1st cavalry corps, together with other Lifeguard regiments (the Lifeguard Cossacks, Lifeguard Uhlans and Lifeguard Hussars). During this 1812 campaign, they would get the chance to meet their inspiration, Napoleon’s Dragoons of the Guard. In one incident, the Lifeguard Dragoons ambushed and destroyed two squadrons of French Guard Dragoons. A force under General Ivan Dorohov, which included Cossacks and two squadrons of Lifeguard Dragoons, attacked French convoys and transports capturing 1,500 prisoners. The French countered with a small force which included 150-250 French Old Guard Dragoons which were then subsequently ambushed and destroyed at Bezovka by two squadrons of the Lifeguard Dragoons. To French General Caulaincourt, this annihilation of 150 dragoons was greeted in Napoleon’s headquarters with more dismay than “the loss of 50 generals.”

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After Napoleon’s ejection from Russia, the long campaign began which would ultimately push the Napoleon all the way back to Paris. In Kulm in 1813 the Lifeguard Dragoons spearheaded the massive cavalry charge against Vandamne’s infantry. The dragoons attacked the front and ran down one regiment whilst other regiments concentrated on the enemy’s flanks. In April 1813 the dragoons were awarded with St. George standards.

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In the great battle of Leipzig in 1813, the French cuirassiers routed them in the cavalry battle fought near Gulden-Gossa’s ponds. The following year, the Lifeguard Dragoons fought in the massed cavalry battle of Fère Champenoise for which they achieved the Russian military awards of 22 St. George trumpets.

Notable Battles: Borodino, Bezovka, Kulm, Leipzig, Fere Champenoise.

 

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Lifeguards on Duty

Tackling painting Zvezda’s Russian Dragoons has certainly been a challenge. In some ways it’s been a simpler task; the uniforms are far less complex than the Hussars I’ve just finished and there’s less of them to paint too (12 rather than 18).

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Russian Dragoon progress (44)

 

However, painting them has been more difficult in other respects. The figures are beautifully sculpted but the detail is so very subtle (occasionally almost non-existent on the chest) that applying paint effectively to the right places to pick out the features proves tricky.

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But we like a challenge here at Suburban Militarism, and after some work I think these figures are rather impressive.

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As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve chosen to paint the prestigious Lifeguard Dragoons, rather than one of the many other regiments of the line.

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This figure’s guidon and right arm are still to be glued into place.

There were as many as 36 different Russian dragoon regiments of the line, some having such exotic (to this Englishman at any rate) names as the Starodub, the Taganrog, the Arzamass, the Kazan and the Zhitomir Dragoons. They looked very similar to each other with their plain dark-green jackets but were distinguished by a wide array of different colour facings.

So far as I can tell, the Lifeguard Dragoons, being a part of the Tsar’s elite Guards cavalry, were the only Dragoon regiment to display a red plastron across the front of their jacket. I decided to paint this regiment so that I could make use of this little extra colour.

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Lifeguard Dragoons Officer
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Officer; rear view

The riders are nearly completed (being a much quicker task than those Soum Hussars!). Now for the horses which I have to report come with their own difficulties unique to this particular set; but more of that in my next update!

The Don

When I was part-way through painting the Zvezda Lifeguard Cossack set, I thought this might well be one set I’d struggle to get to grips with. Now it’s virtually complete, I am feeling much more satisfied. They’re pleasingly colourful troops armed with those unusually long red lances and look good now finally mounted on the horses.

Ah, the horses…

…the horses I’ve tried to depict are of the Don breed, a Russian horse from named after the river that runs through the Steppes. They were commonly employed as horses for the Cossack cavalry being renown for their stamina on campaign. It seems that the Don can be a variety of colours, but their chief characteristic color was chestnut with a brown / gold sheen. Some have black manes, others are chestnut-coloured. So, I’ve been mixing paint, experimenting with shades and checking the internet for examples to compare them to. Not sure whether I’ve ended up with Don horses or maybe I’ve just created a new breed?!

You may notice from the following photos that their bases are looking somewhat white. Although I they are in no way finished, the resemblance to snow isn’t entirely accidental as I’m hoping to produce a suitably wintry scene for these Russian cavalrymen…

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A Cossack Charge!

Getting a bit literary for a little while here at Suburban Militarism. Whilst I was putting the finishing touches to the Cossack Lifeguard figures, I found a poem written about Cossack cavalry by Jessie Pope. Pope was a poet born in my local area, coincidentally. In the early 20th century she wrote a number of pro-war ‘jingoistic’ poems which were in stark contrast to the work of the now more famous soldier-poets such as Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. Indeed, Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum est” was initially dedicated to Pope as a direct retort to her brand of war-glorifying poetry.

Whilst her work might be a poor guide to the reality of horror on the western front in WWI, her poem “A Cossack Charge” makes for a darn good introduction to my developing Zvezda cossack cavalry figures, I like to think…

Cossacks they’re coming!
The eager hoofs are drumming,
On glinting steel the autumn sunlight glances.
The distant mass draws nearer,
The surging line shows clearer
An angry, tossing wave of manes and lances.

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One of the figures carrying a lance. I stupidly lost one of the lances I needed but created a passable copy from a spare Roman cataphract by HaT!

Nearly finished these riders, and so it will soon be on to those cossack horses.

Cossacks of the Tsar

“The Lifeguard Cossacks are going into fight
as if they were coming to a wedding.” – Tsar Alexander

So far, I’ve painted Napoleonic cavalry regiments from the nations of France, Prussia and Great Britain. I couldn’t tackle the final regiments in the project without covering at least one from Russia as well. I’ve got a box of Zvezda’s Russian hussars but I’ve elected to attempt their Lifeguard Cossacks first instead. With their red coats, blue trousers and armed with lances, I suppose it could be said that they closely resemble those Red Lancers that I’ve previously painted (the only other Zvezda set that I’ve tackled). I found a reference to the Lifeguard Cossacks capturing some red lancers during the Russian campaign – that must have been a confusing encounter!

Left: A Cossack. Right: A Red Lancer. Clearly totally and utterly different.
Left: A Cossack. Right: A Red Lancer. Clearly totally and utterly different in every way.

Once again, the Zvezda sculpting looks good and I’m eager to bring these famous Russian life guards of the Tsar to life. The cossacks are light cavalry and most famous for their very great skills in both horsemanship and warfare. They were feared and admired by other nations armies, and by Napoleon in particular who got to see their effectiveness at first hand when they fully contributed to the eventual destruction of his Grand Army.

There were a number of cossack ‘hosts’ that provided troops to the army of the Russian tsar. The most famous regiment was the elite Lifeguard Cossack Regiment and this is what I’ve chosen to depict. I have enough spare figures for another full regiment in the future such as a regiment of Don or Astrahan cossacks.

These photos are just a preview of progress made on them so far. There’s a lot of work, corrections and improvements still to do aplenty!

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