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.
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 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).
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.
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.