Fighting Women

I’m currently reading a new biography of Flora Sandes, the remarkable Englishwoman who went to Serbia, first as a Red Cross volunteer, and then as a soldier in the Serbian army.
Among British women her career was unique, though other Serbian women – mostly strapping young peasant girls, were fighting alongside their men in the national army.

An article in T.P.’s Great Deeds of the Great War, November 21, 1914, suggests that female enlistment may have been more common in Russia. This probably has to be taken with caution, though, since it’s far from clear what T.P’s sources were, and at this early stage of the War rumours were a lot more plentiful than facts and journalists eager to feed their readers’ appetites for news and sensations had few means of checking the accuracy of stories from distant battlefields.

These stories of brave women are repeated all over the scheme of the battlefields. In Russia the girls are helping to dig the trenches, and sometimes they are among the regiments that fight in them. The Daily Call tells us something about their exploits :

Women and girls in large numbers are trying to enter the army under various disguises and pretexts. The Imperial Government is strongly against such feminine militancy, and at once sends female volunteers back to their homes. Nevertheless the attempts continue, and several women have already succeeded in deceiving the military authorities.

The most successful have been the masculine-looking peasant women of the northern provinces. Amongst them is Nadezhda Ornatsky, a thick-set, well-educated peasant woman from the province of Archangel. She posed as a man through the second part of the Manchurian campaign, and was praised for her courage by General Grippenberg. She fought in September in South Poland, and it was not until after the battle of Lublin-Krasnik that her sex was discovered.

A girl named Liuba Uglicki was present at four engagements in East Prussia and West Poland, and has been wounded slightly. She says that during the long-range fighting she had no fear, but had a horror of crossing bayonets with the enemy.

Two daughters of a landed proprietor at Kursk have been arrested on their way to join the colours, one of them posing as “Prince Adrianoff,” and the other as her servant.

A peasant woman who was killed at Cumbinnen had donned her husband’s clothes and impersonated him, as he had shirked the summons. She did not want her family to be shamed.


  1. Roger
    Posted August 22, 2012 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    In Eisenstein\’s October the Tsar\’s palace is depicted being defended- not very effectively- by female troops.

  2. Posted July 22, 2013 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

    In addition to Flora Sandes I found an interesting story about Milunka Savic who enlisted in the Serbian army and earned her country’s highest award for bravery.

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