A success for boycraft at my local village spring flower show!
My 28mm Bad Squiddo Miniatures WW2 Land Girls received ThirdPrize in the Miscellaneous (Adult) Crafts.
I was quietly pleased as it is the first time I’ve entered, having noticed a lack of male competitors in many sections last year. My Land Girls had good stiff competition in their Miscellaneous Crafts Class 96 against serious traditional crafts like stained glass and felt art / making.
I wasn’t sure how a military subject would go down in the craft section of a flower show, so chose something appropriate to the horticultural theme and the local area. I’m sure the local Land Girls came in for dances in our Village Hall, which opened like many after the First World War.
I wasn’t sure how my shiny gloss toy soldier painting style would go down, whether people would expect something more ‘Matt’ and earthy.
The judges wrote on the entry slip “So detailed and a wonderful sentiment. Thank you for entering” as I had personalised it as a tribute to Land Girls who served and trained in the area I live in. That’s good enough for me – one of the judges got what I was trying to do.
To create a context for the women at work, I added some simple brown felt strips over coffee stirrers to be the rows for spuds (potatoes) being planted.
It has been overcast and stormy, not the best weekend of constant light for photography, but I wanted to photograph the figures in case they didn’t survive the hustle and bustle of exhibition outside of a display case.
A previous blog post shows the Land Girls in preparation:
I’m already thinking about what to enter next year … maybe I will enter some quirky Prince August based 54mm home cast traditional toy soldiers? Speaking of Prince August moulds and figures – Happy St Patrick’s Day!
Who knows my ‘Land Girls’ might flush out into the open a few more male crafters for next year? This would be great but also more competition.
Thanks to Marvin at Suburban Militarism blog for his encouragement to enter this mancraft into the flower show.
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.
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.
WhyamIreading 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.
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
Commander MG Platoon
Field Bath and Laundry Unit, Laundress
Construction Unit, Engineer / Sapper / Miner (land mines?)
Logistics / Driver / Traffic Controller
Postal Worker / Communications
Telegrapher / Telephone Operator
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
Some jobs I had never heard of such as an AerostatOperator – 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?
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.