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.

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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.

Mary Seacole and the Crimean War

March 8th is International Women’s Day.

Today’s offering, left over from the FEMbruary figure challenge, is Mary Seacole the Jamaican nurse or sutleress who supported British troops during the disastrous Crimean War.

 

Mary Seacole as sculpted in 28mm by Martin Baker,  special  figure at the Other Partizan 2016
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A quick wipeover with brown Acrylic and wipeoff with cloth before it dries brings out the details of the figure (a technique known as “pewtering”)
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Rear view of this figure with  fine clothing details.

Conversion possibilities for other Mary Seacole figures

Whilst Florence Nightingale figures are fairly scarce, Mrs. Seacole figures are even more so.

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

Before I found this smaller 28mm figure I was a bit stumped about where to find a suitable larger figure to convert. I was considering a conversion of a 54mm Queen Victoria figure.

Until I found the 28mm figure, I was considering converting this rather stern looking Queen Victoria 54mm casting from Dorset Soldiers into a suitable Mary Seacole figure.

The other alternative I have found in 54mm is an old bashed Britain’s aged civilian lady sitting down, set 5028,  who arrived oddly repainted in a job lot of scrap figures. She could easily paint up as Mother Seacole.

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A possible conversion figure for Mother Seacole, this seated 54mm  lead civilian woman from Britain’s Ltd.  Already repainted from a job lot, she arrived appropriately with a roughly repainted nurse figure.  Military nurse figures would make a good  future FEMbruary blogpost.

The other figure that looks fit for conversion is a OO HO twenty mm Airfix female figure from their superb Wild West pioneer Waggon Train set, sadly now out of production but available secind hand online. One of the figures has a potential  look of a tiny Mary Seacole.

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The central female civilian from the Airfix Waggon Train set has a Mary Seacole look about her. To her left is a another female  figure from this OO HO 20mm set, a useful gaming figure who crops up in gaming scenarios as the Governor General’s Daughter, Daughter of the Regiment etc (and usually armed with a handy pistol). Not quite painted yet.

 

I had no plans to complete this 28mm Mary Seacole figure in this FEMbruary 2018 challenge as I had enough targets already. She will be painted at some point during the year or next FEMbruary! When I get around to painting this 28mm miniature figure, there are many useful illustrations of her and an interesting story behind her National Portrait Gallery portrait.

https://www.npg.org.uk/learning/digital/history/mary-seacole

To read more about Mary Seacole (1805 -1881) and her British Hotel in the Crimea, a good place to start is her Wikipedia entry

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Seacole

 

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Useful colour and details from her portrait that have been used on the small metal figure.

Mary Seacole’s  gravestone in London has recently been restored. Her autobiography is still in print, a Penguin Classic. There are lots of Mary Seacole book and web resources, many of them aimed at children, thanks to her inclusion and retention with Florence Nightingale and Edith Cavell in the Primary school History curriculum in Britain.

Punch Magazine at the time dubbed her “Our Own Vivandiere“. Daughter of a Scottish soldier and a Caribbean mother, Mary was born in 1805 during the Napoleonic Wars. Mary Seacole topped the Top 100 Black Britons in a recent 2004 poll.

http://www.100greatblackbritons.com/bios/mary_seacole.html

She might not have many tiny metal figures,  however Mary  Seacole now has a fine new 10 foot high statue by sculptor Martin Jennings in London, complete with a cast of the ground of the Crimean battlefield where she had her base.  It is believed to be the first statue in the UK to honour a named black woman.

It is inscribed with words written in 1857 by The Times’ Crimean War correspondent, Sir William Howard Russell: “I trust that England will not forget one who nursed her sick, who sought out her wounded to aid and succour them, and who performed the last offices for some of her illustrious dead.”

Mary Seacole is also celebrated at  the Florence Nightingale Museum in London. She  features on their  website with some interesting contemporay Crimean prints shown.

http://www.florence-nightingale.co.uk/resources/mary-seacole/?v=79cba1185463

http://www.florence-nightingale.co.uk/2017/07/23/museum-poetry-mother-seacole/?v=79cba1185463

More about International Women’s Day

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

and the ‘Celebrate the Ladies Month’ March challenge on the Cupcakes and Machetes  blog, featuring a range of blog links from  reading female authors to others painting more female fantasy miniatures projects.

https://cupcakesandmachetes.wordpress.com/2018/02/28/celebrate-the-ladies-blog-event/

https://cupcakesandmachetes.wordpress.com/2018/03/05/celebrate-the-ladies-weekly-update-1/

Reading more of Emily, Charlotte, Ann (and Branwell) Bronte’s juvenile fictional worlds of GlassTown, Gondal and Angria to look for further gaming scenarios probably counts as my literary contribution to reading female authors.

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I was quite amused searching through for Seacole figures to find this accidental head and shoulders portrait. 🙂

Blogposted by Mark, Man of TIN 8 March 2018 on International Women’s Day 2018.