Wooden Soldiers and Toy Cannons

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A stylish gun crew … great little moustaches

These stylish guardsman arrived at Christmas in the company of this simple cannon. The cannon is wooden but with attractively simple metal wheels.

They are handmade, possibly using a lathe in places but also curiously and crudely carved on the body.

They look almost well padded or as a comedian like Max Miller would say “like a roll top desk, all front.” Very odd.

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As usual, these wooden figures have quite fragile arms and rifles. Not something to repair – Sign of their veteran play worn status.

Tucked in with the package from the Etsy vintage trader was a little threebie or  freebie in the form of these vintage matching puzzles of jobs and uniforms in bright 1960s / 70s colours.

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Showing the purple pull knob and wire arrangement.

The round little disk base can be seen on illustrations of toy soldiers featured here recently in this poem:

https://manoftinblog.wordpress.com/2018/11/24/a-poor-old-toy-soldiers-home/

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And this sheet music parade of toy soldiers shows this simple base.

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Illustrator Stephen Cartwright’s toy soldiers
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From an Edwardian scrapbook in my collection
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Wikipedia source.

https://manoftinblog.wordpress.com/2016/12/23/nutcracker-toy-soldiers/

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The Unwomanly Face of War – book review

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It’s World Book Day on March 7th and International Women’s Day on March 8th (so unofficially the end of this year’s  painting and modelling challenge #FEMbruary 2019).

To mark these dates I thought that I would review this fascinating military oral history book about Russian women in WW2. It is possibly one of the freshest and most interesting military or social history books that I have read about WW2 for several years since The Taste of War: WW2 and the Battle for Food by Lizzie Collingham (2011).

One of the downsides of reading many WW2 books is having to (skim) read the same material  over and over again in different books, which makes finding new material or insights all the more interesting.

The author Svetlana Alexievich interviewed many Russian servicewomen in the 1970s and 1980s about their war experiences in WW2. She used the same ‘polyphonic’ oral history approach in her other work such as Boys in Zinc (1991) about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which I have not yet read.

The Unwomanly Face of War was published first in Russian in 1985, then translated into English in Moscow in 1988. The book was rejected by several Russian publishers as ‘unsuitable’ history. When this book was first written and the oral histories recorded, Russia was still the old USSR then. Glasnost and Perestroika were still several years away.

Svetlana Alexievich returned to the subject of the book in the early 2002-2004 and added or restored more material, presumably as some forms of Soviet 1980s censorship had changed by then. This is what is featured in this recent translation published by Penguin in 2017 / 2018.

Extracts here https://www.penguin.co.uk/articles/2016/on-the-battle-lost-by-svetlana-alexievich.html

There are some updated or  presumably new sections in the preface – “what the censors threw out”, “from a conversation with a censor” and “what I threw out” – that are interesting to read in light of this self censorship and official censorship of what is suitable national history.

Svetlana Alexievich won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2015 for her well curated “polyphonic” oral histories  on Chernobyl, the Russian war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, the break up of the USSR, children in WW2 and this unusual book on Russian women at war in WW2.

Why am I reading this book?

I began reading this book as part of my 2019 FEMbruary figure challenge to paint or celebrate your believable female gaming or model miniatures.

The recent 28mm Women of WW2 Bad Squiddo Miniatures range by Annie Norman  had not only female soldiers, tank crews and snipers but also a command group of medics and radio operators, which I chose to paint. They are almost complete as of the end of #FEMbruary.

https://manoftinblog.wordpress.com/2019/01/31/fembruary-2019-and-new-bad-squiddo-figures-arrive/

This FEMbruary blogpost also links to some interesting Guardian interviews with Svetlana Alexievich.

Fellow FEMbruary challenge acceptor Marvin at Suburban Militarism chose the Female sniper and spotter pair.

https://suburbanmilitarism.wordpress.com/2019/02/17/fembruary-2019-soviet-sniper-sisters-in-snow/

What makes the book unusual and fascinating is that it is skilfully curated directly from the words of the women themselves, presumably transcribed from tape recordings or letters. Their job roles go beyond the somewhat known – female snipers, the first female fighter pilots – and into the less well known but more stereotypically ‘feminine’ jobs. Surgeon. Nurse. Medical Assistants to infantry or Army Regiments  – armed Combat Medics.

There were plenty of women who worked with or fought with the Partisans. Other women served on the front line as sappers, engineers, mechanics, radio and telegraph engineers.

Even more surprising were the oral histories from women proud of their patriotic service as Laundrywomen.  Mobile bath units. Cooks. Bakers. You forget that someone had to clean and repair uniforms. Cook the bread. Boil the water for soldiers to have a hot bath.

These women are  the equivalent to the unromantic duties of the ATS women in Britain who cooked, cleaned, baked and repaired for the war effort – but often in the war in Russia these jobs took women well into the combat zone and front line.

A quick scan through of the ranks listed after each woman’s name shows everything from Private and Partisan fighter through junior officers (“Lieutenant, Political Commissar of  a Field Laundry Unit” was one of the most unusual) up to high ranking posts such as airforce officers and a rare, almost accidental female Naval Commander post!

The range of jobs listed by the interviewees is fascinating:

Factory Labour Front Worker

Partisan Underground Fighter / Liaison / Medic

Militia Commander

Anti-Aircraft Gunner

Commander MG Platoon

Field Bath and Laundry Unit, Laundress

Searchlight Operator

Construction Unit, Engineer / Sapper / Miner (land mines?)

Art Singer

Armorer

Political Journalist

Rifleman

Radio Operator

Military Journalist

Cook

Logistics / Driver / Traffic Controller

Postal Worker / Communications

Telegrapher / Telephone Operator

Scout

Sniper

Nurse / Nurse Aide / Matron through to Surgeon

Paramedic and Private, Motorised infantry

(Front line) Medical Assistant  to an Army Company or Cavalry Squadron

Airplane Mechanic / Car Mechanic

Pilot / Airforce Captain

Naval Fleet Commander

Crypotographer

Some jobs I had never heard of such as an Aerostat Operator – I had to look this up. Surprsingly such odd or old fashioned sounding jobs are still advertised today! An aerostat (from Greek aer (air) + statos (standing) via French) is a “lighter than air aircraft that gains its lift through the use of a buoyant gas. Aerostats include unpowered balloons and powered airships. Especially with airships, the gasbags are often protected by an outer envelope.” (Wikipedia)

Maybe these aerostat operators are the equivalent of the WAAF girls who handled Barrage Balloons in Britain.  These Aerostat balloons  were known as ‘Pigs’ not just because of their shape but also stubbornly annoying “temperament”. Such balloon girls were immortalised in paint by British war artist Laura Knight. https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/15503

The Unwomanly Face of War sadly has no such illustrations, aside from the striking cover image of Natalya Kravtsova, commander of the 46th Guards Air Regiment, well decorated  ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’. It would have been interesting to have seen wartime photos of these women at work or when they were interviewed in the 1970s and 1980s. However I’m sure a trawl through Soviet wartime art would reveal many Laura Knight style, realist/ Soviet heroic style portrait paintings of Russian servicewomen. Pinterest has many ‘recoloured’ portrait photos of Russian servicewomen, decorated, famous or otherwise.

It is not a pleasant read in parts, dealing plainly with frontline combat, injury and also the atrocities inflicted on Russian civilians.

There is also however friendship, romance, patriotic pride, occasional humour, stoic self sacrifice, postwar denial and a relief at finally being able to tell or record these stories and experiences many years later.

The end of my FEMbruary challenge 2019?

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Bad Squiddo Games website image of 28mm painted Russian Women’s Command figures, sculpted by Alan Marsh .
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My almost finished 28mm Bad Squiddo Games Russian Soviet Command – Officer, Field Telephonist and Armed Medic. Gloss paint and gloss varnish style.

I am not sure what use this book would be to wargamers or tabletop gamers who focus on the Eastern Front in WW2 or what they would make of this book.

As I have no intention of gaming the Eastern Front in 28mm, I bought these Bad Squiddo figures more for diorama or vignette purposes. They could potentially be converted to female troops of other nationalities.

Annie Norman at Bad Squiddo Miniatures has a widening range of varied Soviet / Russian Military Women https://badsquiddogames.com/shop#!/WW2

There is an interview about this range with Annie Norman on the Meeples and Miniatures podcast about this Women of the Red Army range  with Annie’s further book recommendations: https://meeples.wordpress.com/2016/04/06/meeples-miniatures-episode-168-bad-squiddo-games-women-of-the-red-army/

Just as many of the roles undertaken in wartime in Russia were mirrored in some ways in Britain in WW2, there’s a Bad Squiddo British Women of WW2 range. I have also painted some more of Annie Norman’s Land Girls from her Bad Squiddo Women of WW2 range as my challenge for FEMbruary 2019.  https://manoftinblog.wordpress.com/2019/03/02/back-to-the-land-for-fembruary-2019

Blogposted for International Women’s Day (8th) and World Book Day (7th) March 2019 by Mark, Man of TIN blog.

Back to the Land for #FEMbruary 2019

Almost finished my FEMbruary female figure painting challenges for 2019.

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Bad Squiddo 28mm figures of Land Girls at Work (left) and last year’s figures Land Girls at Rest – still  working out how to group and display them. 

The new figures for my 2019 FEMbruary painting challenge are Annie Norman’s excellent WW2 Land Girls series – this year I chose the  Land Girls at Work set, sculpted by Alan Marsh.
https://badsquiddogames.com/shop#!/WW2
A tractor is newly available in 28mm for this Land Girl range.

To match last year’s effort, I kept with my usual  shiny  toy soldier style of painting, right down to the pink cheek dots and glossy acrylic paint. This extends to shiny green bases rather than flock. A restricted gloss palette but a cheerful one!

I like the cartoonish element that comes out with this paint style, it is not quite Jane, slightly more Peter Firmin Noggin the Nog / Ivor the Engine for some reason.

Each figure looks like she has a real character. You can name them with suitable 1940s names in your own time.

Grouped together, I wonder what they are chatting about or thinking?

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Land Girls at Work on a possible display base from a fence post cap.

I am thinking possibly of putting these figures in for my local Spring Flower Show in a couple of weeks time under the rarely competed for adult craft section (with very few male entries). There is a local connection – many  Land Girls were trained and worked in my Southwest UK area on the hundreds of small market gardens that were once around.

To get an idea how this might work, I bought a couple of wooden fence post caps as simple bases and painted them sap green (the dark green colour of land girl jumpers). A few more coats may be required to deepen the colour.

The Land Army lapel reproduction badges come from CJ Medals online http://www.cjmedals.co.uk

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Beautifully animated castings, a joy to paint. Lovely detail like the spud sack.
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The centre figure looking up – for aeroplanes? – is my favourite of the new figures, although the one carrying a load of straw is well animated too.
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Last Year’s 2018 FEMbruary challenge rebased and relaxing in the shade under a tree. The tree is a plastic one from the recently featured 54mm Fantasy Figures set, painted toy soldier gloss to match the figures.

The addition of a hay stook (once the Mexican woman’s broom from Steve Weston’s   Mexican Peasants) and a plastic tree from a recent fantasy figures True Legends set add something to the scene.

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The finer details of eyes, lips  and eyebrows were inked in with paint on finely sharpened cocktail sticks.

I have moved the figures round on the bases several times to get the right arrangement. Still not sure, especially as some of the Land Girl figures could easily intermix between the two rest and work sets.

I have a couple of  54mm Britain’s type Land Girls for repair that gave me ideas for the shiny gloss colour palette.

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These three 54mm hollowcast lead Women’s Land Army tractor drivers are in need of careful repair.

FEMbruary finishing touches?

When Alex at Leadballoony set this year’s challenge,

https://leadballoony.com/2019/01/31/more-scumbos-and-the-fembruary-challenge/
he said he would round it all up by March 8th International Women’s History Day https://www.internationalwomensday.com

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Unfinished Russian WW2 women’s command pack still in the painting table. 

I still have the Bad Squiddo 28mm Russian Women of WW2 Command set to put the finishing touches to. I found these less interesting to paint, well sculpted as they are, as shades of khaki green just aren’t my thing really at the moment. I shall feature them again when finished in the next week or two.

Posted by Mark, Man of TIN on March 2nd 2019.

Churchill’s Last Wartime Secret The 1943 German Raid Airbrushed From History – book review

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With an interest in Skirmish gaming, small games and uneven troop numbers,  I found this book by Adrian Searle an interesting read about one of WW2’s unsolved mysteries, invasion scares and hush ups.

Did the Germans ever mount a raid on the radar stations of the Isle of Wight?

Officially according to U.K. Government Archives, no.

However Adrian Searle explores in detail the similar rumours along the East and South Coast such as Shingle Street as comparison material.

The secret  history and development of British radar is covered in another chapter.

The German  raid on Granville harbour in Northern France in March 1945

Operation Biting –  The British Commando  Raid on Radar stations in Bruneval Northern France February 1942  is given another chapter.

Tracing and evaluating eyewitness accounts (mostly German)  and archive material (absences) takes up the rest of the book.

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Chapter headings

What makes this book interesting from a Games scenario point of view is the detailed inclusion of maps and terrain photographs of a raid that may or may not have happened.

A range of characters from German naval and military personnel, radar technicians, British civilians, Home  Guard, British infantry and  ARP Staff are featured.

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Some of the few but well chosen photographs in the book. 

The kind of detailed maps that game scenario writers love.

Here is Adrian Searle’s preface to whet your appetite.

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Preface page 2 – suitably intrigued? 

Any good wartime history book needs blurb and an intriguing cover montage.

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Atmospheric stock photo library shots of a German amphibious assault. 
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The start of the Bruneval raid chapter …

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This should be an interesting scenario inspiration for future raid and Skirmish games.

Things I learned – the battle of Graveney Marsh 27 September 1940 between a downed German Ju88 bomber crew and a detachment of the 1st Battalion the Royal Irish Rifles. 

The existence of Royal Military Police Vulnerable Points Wing  The Blue Hats to protect key installations like radar sites in 1941 in addition to the RAF regiment. 

I partly blame my interest in this type of wartime book on the following things in no particular order: Dad’s Army, Bletchley Park and Robert Harris’ book Enigma, Went the Day Well? and The Eagle Has Landed films, and the proliferation of elite forces troops like paratroops produced by Airfix that I played with as a child.  

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Recently rebased and varnished 54mm Airfix German paratroops,  preserved from my childhood attempts at painting camouflage.
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An interesting Featherstone first for the History of Wargaming Project publications …

More commando raid type posts to come …

Blogposted by Mark Man of TIN January 2019 

Fantasy Plastic 54mm Warriors for FEMbruary?

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Crossposted from my Pound Store Plastic Warriors blog for FEMbruary

https://poundstoreplasticwarriors.wordpress.com/2019/02/24/fantasy-plastic-warriors/

Meanwhile  the 2019  FEMbruary figures painting challenge carries on:

https://manoftinblog.wordpress.com/2019/01/31/fembruary-2019-and-new-bad-squiddo-figures-arrive/

Arms Reduction at Pound Land

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Once a hundred, now seventy … Previous centurions need not apply. 

Crossposted by Mark Man of TIN from his Pound Store Plastic Warriors blog, 13 February 2019

https://poundstoreplasticwarriors.wordpress.com/2019/02/12/30-percent-less-troops-at-poundland/

Unpacking a happy jumble tin of plastic soldiers

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https://poundstoreplasticwarriors.wordpress.com/2019/02/08/whats-in-this-tin-of-plastic-pound-store-warriors/

Crossposted from Pound Store Plastic Warriors blog by Mark, Man of TIN blog, 8 February 2019.