The Unwomanly Face of War – book review

d7fc9aca-724d-47e6-8b5b-661c6a8127c3

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?

C7D98876-EEA7-4AB6-A1A7-BBF024AECE2F
Bad Squiddo Games website image of 28mm painted Russian Women’s Command figures, sculpted by Alan Marsh .
BCD6BD36-2AEB-4377-A4AA-EC6D871F4973
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.

Advertisements

Fantasy Plastic 54mm Warriors for FEMbruary?

CA42379A-F2FB-4651-9D13-E460C3B9B890

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/

Wargaming Warrior Women on The Raft blog

With FEMbruary in mind, you could do well to visit the interesting blogposts, references and figure lists at The Raft blog section on Wargaming Warrior Women.  I visited this site for the Dahomey Warrior Women section last year https://wargamingraft.wordpress.com/wargaming-warrior-women/

cc9116c8-a7f0-44c9-b0a6-522ea271f73f.png
Some of the interesting Warrior Women articles on this blog (screenshot).

Well worth spending some time reading and browsing here.

Here are some of my last year’s FEMbruary posts which link with The Raft’s history research:

https://manoftinblog.wordpress.com/2018/03/10/dahomey-amazons/

https://wordpress.com/post/poundstoreplasticwarriors.wordpress.com/4016

Blog posted by Mark, Man of TIN on 5th FEMbruary 2019.

FEMbruary 2019 Work in Progress

9A2A2FF7-C084-4407-8F47-98952C50E3E2
After black acrylic primer, blocking in colour begins with light olive and flesh – very animated 28mm Annie Norman’s Bad Squiddo figures Women of WW2 Russian Command.

Over the weekend as FEMbruary 2019 begins, I have undercoated my two sets of believable female miniatures by Annie Norman at Bad Squiddo.

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

I started to block out basic colours onto each set. Finding the right green / khaki shade for Soviet troops should be interesting. They will most likely be gloss finished.

I noticed when comparing the Land Girls set this year with those painted last year that I used mostly  Revell Aquacolor Gloss Acrylics.  I usually now paint in toy soldier style, rather than the more realistic “grungy” khaki and brown wash of modern Wargames figures and “Military Modelling”. A matter of personal taste.

Gloss or not Gloss? Even the wider range of  Matt colours can be glossed at the end with Varnish.

16B2F720-37B8-465B-8038-C162DC7857AA
Last year’s FEMbruary Land Girls at Rest on the left, this year’s work in progress are  Land Girls at Work with bag of spuds on the right. The hay stook on the left is the cut off broom head from a Steve Weston Mexican peasant woman, converted into a Suffragette last year.

Gloss or not gloss?

img_3059
2018 FEMbruary Land Girl figures painted in gloss – not quite finished yet.

One new #FEMbruary / #MARCH challenge that has come up – Will I be able to get both sets of Land Girls finished and box framed ready for the craft section of my local Spring Flower Show in mid March?

It fits the local agricultural / flower show theme. Many Land Girls worked or trained on local farms in  my semi-rural Southwest area of Britain during WW1 and WW2.

It strikes a blow for “boy-craft” in an otherwise mostly female craft section.

Hopefully I can finish  this project on time to a suitable standard (my own!)

Last year I didn’t think my Suffragette conversions were quite ready or suitable for the same event, even though it was the Right to Vote centenary and we had had active suffragette campaign in my home area.

Already Marvin at Suburban Militarism has finished his FEMbruary project, a fine set of 54mm WREN Royal Navy female figures, who turned out to be made in his very own home town!
https://suburbanmilitarism.wordpress.com/2019/02/03/fembruary-a-la-mode/

Meanwhile reading my FEMbruary challenge read – The Unwomanly Face of War, an oral history of Russian women in WW2 – is proving surprisingly interesting and challenging subject matter. Grim in many places, not for the faint hearted but certainly a history that needed to be recorded (written 1985, updated 2017) before this generation of women  passed away.

d7fc9aca-724d-47e6-8b5b-661c6a8127c3

Bad Squiddo figures: https://badsquiddogames.com/shop#!/Bad-Squiddo-Miniatures/c/20887901/offset=0&sort=addedTimeDesc

Blog posted by Mark Man of TIN, 4 February 2019

FEMbruary 2019 and new Bad Squiddo female 28mm figures

d1aa24a4-ec71-4391-aed9-3f12f95a1154
FEMbruary 2019 – some new Land Girls at work from Bad Squiddo – and a free guinea pig.

I bought my first Bad Squiddo figures from Annie Norman last year, some fine 28mm Land Girls at Rest, as part of the FEMbruary challenge 2018.

https://manoftinblog.wordpress.com/2018/02/15/fembruary-3-annie-normans-bad-squiddo-land-girl-picnic-and-a-cuppa/

img_3059
FEMbruary 2018 Bad Squiddo Land Girls at rest – work in progress  on the glossy acrylic painting table last year.

This FEMbruary challenge 2019 I have chosen two packs of Bad Squiddo female figures:

Women of WW2 – Russian Soviet  infantry command figures

Women of WW2 – Land Army Girls at work.

8cd835f3-83cc-4ef8-a401-84f683137184
The quirky packing by Annie and team at Bad Squiddo: postcards, teabag and free guinea pig! Annie Norman has this whole thing about “peegs”.

Unusual and charming figures, these Land Girls will get the gloss acrylic Toy Soldier paintwork style https://badsquiddogames.com/shop#!/Womens-Land-Army-at-work/p/93150439/category=21735085

3aaf58ec-0456-4752-9307-cee5866ed0cd
Close up of the Bad Squiddo WW2 Russian Women Command Group in 28mm.

https://badsquiddogames.com/shop#!/Female-Soviet-Command-Officer-Medic-Radio-3/p/77396868/category=21735085

As I don’t have any 28mm WW2 figures to game with, I will base these Bad Squiddo figures up individually but they  will,  for the time being,  work as great little diorama vignettes.

FEMbruary 2019?

Once more, like 2018,  fantasy gaming blogger Leadballoony has set the FEMbruary 2019 challenge to paint some more believable female miniatures than the usual unbelievable chainmail bikini female fantasy (or male fantasy?) figures.

https://leadballoony.com/2019/01/31/more-scumbos-and-the-fembruary-challenge/

This year, matching book bloggers like Cupcakes and Machetes, https://cupcakesandmachetes.wordpress.com I have chosen a book for FEMbruary as well, to match the Bad Squiddo female Russian figures.

d7fc9aca-724d-47e6-8b5b-661c6a8127c3

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jul/23/unwomanly-face-of-war-svetlana-alexievich-monument-to-courage-soviet-women-war

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/aug/02/unwomanly-face-of-war-svetlana-alexievich-review

https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/295/295606/the-unwomanly-face-of-war/9780141983530.html

The Unwomanly Face of War looks to be a fascinating and suitably challenging read for FEMbruary 2019.

FEMbruary 2018 recap

Last year I featured several of the female figures in my toy soldier collection

https://manoftinblog.wordpress.com/2018/02/11/fembruary-challenge-1-two-queens-and-one-vc/

https://manoftinblog.wordpress.com/2018/02/15/fembruary-post-2-a-few-more-female-figures-and-a-florence/

https://manoftinblog.wordpress.com/2018/02/09/fembruary-hobby-challenge-conversions/

https://manoftinblog.wordpress.com/2018/02/21/fembruary-post-no-4-a-womans-right-to-vote-and-serve-march/

FEMbruary 2018 even extended to my Pound Store Plastic Warriors blog

https://poundstoreplasticwarriors.wordpress.com/2018/02/15/colonial-amazons-women-soldiers-of-dahomey-and-siam

And I marched on (with Marvin at the Suburban Militarism blog pitching in) and on into March and International Women’s Day March 8th …

https://manoftinblog.wordpress.com/2018/03/08/mary-seacole-and-the-crimean-war/

https://manoftinblog.wordpress.com/2018/03/31/marching-for-votes-for-women

IMG_3286
54mm Suffragette Conversions underway,  including Airfix footballer FEMbruary / March 2018

Happy FEMbruary 2019 – It should be fun.
What might you do as your FEMbruary challenge?

Blogposted by Mark, Man of TIN on 31 January / 1st FEMbruary 2019.

Man of TIN Advent Calendar Day 16 – Death to the Invader! sing those female warriors

View story at Medium.com Left over from last #FEMbruary, which was a month of beleivable female miniature painting posts, are these female soldiers in Gilbert and Sullivan’s light comic operetta Princess Ida. “Princess Ida, or Castle Adamant” opened on 5 January 1884 at the Savoy Theatre and ran for 246 performances. It is the only … Continue reading “Man of TIN Advent Calendar Day 16 – Death to the Invader! sing those female warriors”

Left over from last #FEMbruary, which was a month of beleivable female miniature painting posts, are these female soldiers in Gilbert and Sullivan’s light comic operetta Princess Ida.

IMG_0441

“Princess Ida, or Castle Adamant” opened on 5 January 1884 at the Savoy Theatre and ran for 246 performances. It is the only three act Gilbert and Sullivan Opera and the only one with dialogue in blank verse. This is because Gilbert based his libretto on his earlier play The Princess which, in turn, he described as “a perversion” of Tennyson’s poem of the same name.

It was produced between Iolanthe and The Mikado when its creators were at the height of their powers. The score is Sullivan at his best, and some people consider that Gilbert’s libretto contains some of his fun

Prince Hilarion had been married in babyhood to Princess Ida, daughter of King Gama. The Princess, however, has set up a college for women from which all men are barred. Hilarion and his friends infiltrate the castle and ultimately the men, led by Hilarion’s father, King Hildebrand, stage a full-scale invasion. Ida is abandoned by her women and finally surrenders to Hilarion. (GS Archive web source)

Source / copyright: G S Archive website for the lyrics and vintage photographs.

2018 is the hundredth anniversary of the first women gaining the vote in Britain and 2018 is also the year that the military in Britain opened to women the last few gender restricted jobs on frontline duties including special forces roles.

The original stage costumes from 1926 below, looked at close up, are quite gloriously Flash Gordon.

Women soldiers in the 1926 production of Princess Ida (GSArchive website)

What a joke in 1884 to some Victorian men, that women would ever attend university, get a degree or serve in the military, all on equal grounds.

http://gsarchive.net/princess_ida/webop/pi_21.html

There are plenty of modern versions on YouTube to track down and enjoy of this stirring song, popular for obvious reasons with female university students!

Manchester University G&S Society MUGS

https://youtu.be/TqmhukcBXyY

A wide range of female soldier stage costumes are improvised at low cost for this number in different YouTube videos. Some Imagi-Nations and uniforms ideas  there then.

Southampton University version 2003

https://youtu.be/OA-wlnNObRs

Blog Post Script B.P.S.

Following up Ross MacFarlane’s Battle Game of The Month reprint of an article about French Wargames during WW2, in the same series is an interesting article by Jon Peterson about the First Female Gamers (who weren’t called Bronte) https://medium.com/@increment/the-first-female-gamers-c784fbe3ff37

Blogposted by Mark Man of TIN as Advent Calendar Day 16, 16th December 2018

Wargaming Warrior Women blogs on The Raft website

After FEMbruary’s focus on Warrior Women Miniatures, here’s an interesting website called The Raft by cpthandy with a Wargaming Warrior Women section  https://wargamingraft.wordpress.com/tag/warrior-women/

Well worth reading through the blogs on Warrior Women from ancient times through Waterloo

https://wargamingraft.wordpress.com/2015/06/12/the-women-of-waterloo/

Harriet Tubman

https://wargamingraft.wordpress.com/2015/08/28/harriet-tubman-conductor-on-the-underground-railroad/

and Soldaderos

https://wargamingraft.wordpress.com/2016/04/15/soldaderas-2/

to women of the Foreign Legion

https://wargamingraft.wordpress.com/2015/11/20/susan-travers-of-the-french-foreign-legion/

as well as The Raft’s own commissioned sculpts / figures of female archers.

https://wargamingraft.wordpress.com/wargaming-warrior-women/the-raft-miniatures/

Fascinating stuff.

Blogposted by Mark, Man of TIN, 11 March 2018.