By Rob Morgan
H.G. Wells, when he wrote his legendary wargaming work, didn’t exclude girls and women from the potential of playing those “Little Wars,” so how did about 50 percent of the population slip away from the several genres that make up this hobby? I don’t recall ever coming across a female wargamer in historical gaming. There are plenty out there who role-play and who game in the science fiction and fantasy genres, but I have never met a girl or woman moving her Bonapartist armies or her Roman legions across the table, or her ironclad fleets over the ballroom floor (that’s an allusion to Fletcher Pratt, incidentally). Maybe things will change.
Is the problem the lack of female warriors and military generally? Women have been involved in warfare — front-line warfare, not merely supporting roles — since antiquity. Medieval Warfare issued a special on warrior princesses and heroines not long back, and there are some well known individuals in history. Not just Jeanne d’Arc and Matilda either! If you look at the modern era, in the Great War and the many conflicts referred to as the Russian Civil War these days, there were numerous all-women combat units. A photo of a group of British re-enactors of one of those units is shown here.
In World War II (or the Great Patriotic War), the USSR had thousands of female combatants, from aircrew and tank crews to elite snipers. In earlier wars, of course, women tended to dress up as men in taking up arms, and to do so individually rather than as large organised groups. Partisans and guerrillas were a different kettle of fish, and I suspect that someone is going to be able to point to an armed force of female soldiery that I don’t yet know about. But there’s only one female militia fighter in BUM’s Spanish Civil War Militia set!
Anyway, I looked around in 20mm, and found a few examples of women soldiers. Surprisingly, no manufacturer makes a Soviet female group, though there are individual figures in a few sets — traffic police, pilots, and women officers — but not in combat poses. There are few others. I like the female figures in two of the Red Box sets. Their “gangsters’ provide two 20th century armed women, with a wide range of possibilities. Their “police and citizens” set has a very good woman with a rifle and in a long dress. She’d suit most wars post-1850. Take a look too at the Red Box civilian volunteers from the Boxer Rebellion, two good armed women there, and a couple of suitable, convertible figures in the IMEX Pilgrim pack.
Not much before that period. Few female figures at all, in fact. There’s a good woman in a long dress in the Airfix Wagon Train set. She can have a weapon added to her right hand with little effort and “do” service in wars in the 17th century and beyond.
In the medieval period, well, yes, there’s Joan of Arc in the set of her army by Strelets. She’s mounted, harnessed and bearing a ridiculously small pennon — all in all, not particularly warlike, in my opinion. She has only one companion and that’s the single mounted female Maid Marian in the Airfix Robin Hood set.
That is, until someone adds some female combat troops to their WWII and WWI sets, and to their SCW figures, to their Napoleonic guerrilla forces and to their partisans and rebels of all periods. Certainly, to their 16th century and 30 Years War ranges.
A thought: Who makes a decent baggage train or camp followers (often armed and in combat) in any of the Horse and Musket period wars? I haven’t considered what can be converted, of course, and some figures can do without too much difficulty. Others certainly can’t.
Something of a gap, eh?