Friday, October 12, 2012

Spanish Anarchist 'Milicianas': Women in Combat During the Spanish Civil War



Having just finished Antony Beevor's excellent 'The Battle for Spain', and while still working through the very characterful 'A World Aflame' rules from Osprey, I thought I'd paint up some more SCW figures to add to the collection.


In reflecting on Beevor's book I was particularly struck by the important role that women played in the conflict. Many women of Republican Spain took up arms and fought as milicianas on the front lines alongside their male counterparts. This is particularly extraordinary as Spanish culture at the time was very conservative in it's view to women's roles both at home and in their communities. The surge in new political ideologies such as socialism, communism and anarchism, and the subsequent outbreak of civil war all acted as a catalyst to release many women from their previously restrictive positions in Spanish society.



What makes this especially remarkable is that these milicianas did not have any real intellectual template or framework of what a 'women's movement' was, or specifically what feminism meant. Literacy amongst women in Spain was relatively low, and even if all Spanish women could read there was very few books on feminism available in their language. Instead these women fought for a very pragmatic desire to secure down-to-earth yet fundamental changes to their position within Spanish society.


As such the women that fought for Republican Spain took risks that were often far greater than their male counterparts. They knew the fate which awaited them if they were captured by the Nationalists, especially if they were composed of North African troops (there are several instances where milicianas took their own lives rather than be captured). So with the stakes so high, their courage was often very inspirational to their male comrades.


A Scottish volunteer, Tom Clarke, related an incident that occurred during the Battle of Jarama in January 1937:
I remember there was a bit of a retreat. There was a rumour that went around, I can't remember what it was, and we started retreating. We'd gone back a bit, and some of (us) were actually running. And here we came across three women sitting behind a machine gun just past where we were, Spanish women. I saw them looking at us. You know, I don't know if it shamed us or what. But these women stayed there. 
I found this to be an evocative mental image and wanted to create some sort of vignette to try to reflect it. This was actually made pretty straightforward thanks to the excellent range of female Militia figures offered by Empress Miniatures,  with one pack featuring a wonderfully sculpted machine gun team who are crewing a Czech ZB-30 LMG (the precursor to the British Bren).


I wanted to give the impression that the LMG team was deployed in a more urban setting. So, inspired by photos of the city fighting of the period, I cut up some balsa rod to make bricks and boxes, in order to mock up an ad hoc barricade.


The third figure in the LMG group is a kneeling woman firing a revolver. To me this figure seems to be directly inspired by a photo taken by Gerda Taro (photographer and then lover of Robert Capa) of a female 'miliciana' near Madrid.



The figure firing the pistol has a very close resemblance to Taro's photo - very cool.


For a uniform colour, I decided to mainly go with variations of blue which was common with workers' overalls (often called a 'mono') worn by militia units in cities such as Barcelona and Madrid. Several of the figures are wearing red and black side caps and scarves, which indicates them as being part of one of the anarchist workers militias under the FAI (Federacion Anarquista Iberica) and/or CNT (Confederacion Nacional del Trabajo).


Male FAI Group Leader

In time I'll probably add a few more figures to this group to take it up to a full squad. 

Next for this period will be the utra-conservative Catholic monarchist fighters, the Carlist Requetes.

I'll end my post with this very striking photo taken by Juan Guzman of Maria Jinesta, 17, a miliciana in her home city of Barcelona. The photo was shot in the summer of 1936, just a few days into the conflict. I look at her face, which is so full of optimism and pride, and am curious to know of her fate in the following months and years. It would be nice to think that she survived the Civil War and perhaps achieved some of the dreams and aspirations she bravely wished to defend.

Maria Jinesta at the Colen Hotel in Barcelona. Photo by Juan Guzman, 1936. 

46 comments:

  1. Fantastic bit of painting there Curt! Love the figures and the work you did on them plus your excellent research and background write up.Makes me want to paint a few up right now even though I don't have time!

    Christopher

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    1. Thanks Christopher, much appreciated!

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  2. Great models, great history, and the poses to represent the photos is spot on! Would also be curious now on the fate of Miss Maria and if her Optimism was one that she could enjoy post war.

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    1. Thanks, yes, knowing the fate of Republican Spain under Franco I'm sure there was a lot of disillusionment amongst the survivors. One just hopes that some saved a spark of that optimism to look to their own personal futures as the time for Left in Spain until 1975 was pretty grim.

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  3. Great stuff Curt. Just don't tell Miss Jean Brodie - she'd be appalled by the idea of women fighting, and even more appalled that they're fighting against that lovely General Franco ;)

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    1. Its always the tall black boots and the nice brown shirts with Miss Brodie, isn't it. I wonder if anyone has done a character figure of her for 'A Very British Civil War'.

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  4. Grat lookng figs and terrain, backed up by thought provoking text

    ian

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  5. Really interesting post, and great figures and photos. The plot has really been lost, has it not?

    John

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    1. Thanks John. Oh no, there are several things on the table right now, including an update on my WWI greyscale project. You must have patience with those with addled minds. :)

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    2. Curt, I was not talking about your personal plot! But rather the plot of the last century; the Spanish Civil War was the last conflict where people both men and women it appears went to fight a war of liberty and fairness on their own from far off countries. Wars now seem to be fought for profit of the uber-rich and oppression of the rest of us.

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    3. Ah, sorry, I misunderstood (Its all about me, you see.)! Yes, I largely agree, there is a certain romantic 'Camelot' feel to the SCW. The ideals they fought for, especially on the Republican side, seem so out-of-tune to our dispassionate, unwinnable (yet bloody) 'War on Terror'.

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  6. Great post. This is the one Beevor book I haven't read - I've got it in the attic somewhere and must dig it out!

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    1. Thanks Phil. Like most of Beevor's books it can be a bit of a slog but it is well worth it. The unabridged audio version is also excellent btw.

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  7. Very nice post, Curt. The painting of the models is really fine. About the Milicianas, in the end, they were more dangerous for their own comrades than for the enemy, but many of them were very brave and really revolutionary women.

    About María Jinesta, I have found this link: http://www.publico.es/agencias/efe/80167/marina-ginesta-la-memoria-viva-de-una-imagen-simbolica

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    1. Thanks for your comments Juan! In retrospect I'm sure the women were no more dangerous to their own than the political commissars that plagued the Republicans.

      Thanks very much for the link! The translator made a bit of a hash of it but I seemed to understand the core of the interview. I'm very happy to know that she survived the war. Nonetheless, its tragic that so many Spaniards had to flee their homes and families in order to escape prosecution. I found it touching that she valued the photo capturing her reunion with her brother than the one which made her famous.

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    2. In fact, she didn´t know that this photo was so famous until recently.

      The Milicianas were called "The Machineguns" by the Milicianos because they caused them a lot of casualties... transmiting venereal diseases.

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    3. Interesting! I wanted to get a better view of the photo she was holding but the caption covered most of it.

      Casualties of 'Venus', eh? - a common threat in any war. 'Liberation' (especially amongst the youth) can be a two edged sword...

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  8. Great stuff Curt

    One thing that really struck me was the shoes on the senorita with the pistol. How are your figures shod?

    Cheers
    PD

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    1. Thanks Peter. Its funny you mention the shoes. The photographer, Gerda Taro, began her career in the fashion industry in Paris. So her beginning photos in the SCW (like this one) were posed and very mannered - almost like a cover shot for Vogue. She quickly became disillusioned with her photographs and she ended up following the advice of her lover, Robert Capa: 'If you feel your photos are not good enough then you're not close enough'. She followed this advice and her photos became famous at the time. Nonetheless, her desire to be in close proximity to the action cost Taro her life - she was killed on the Brunete front in 1937 at age 26.

      BTW, The casting with the pistol does have the same style shoes!

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    2. Thanks

      Having read through the other comments, I do feel I should have talked about the tragedy of the war or linked it to english lit class. Instead I came off like the creepy old guy with a foot fetish!

      Anyway I enjoyed the back story on the female soldiers and the photog. I also feel like I should dig out the Beever book. The SCW does have some appeal to it.

      Cheers
      PD

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    3. Don't worry Peter, they ARE lovely shoes and you're my favourite creepy old guy. ;P

      Beevor's book is well worth the read. He makes what seems an impenetrably difficult subject a little more approachable.

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  9. That's a great post! Love the pictures, figures, decors and background, very interesting!

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    1. Thanks so much Phil! I really enjoy your blog so I appreciate you visiting and commenting!

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  10. Great bloody work Curt, I've had that last picture for years but never knew the girls name, I too hope she survived!

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    1. Thanks Fran! She did indeed survive, you can check out Juan's link here:

      http://www.publico.es/agencias/efe/80167/marina-ginesta-la-memoria-viva-de-una-imagen-simbolica

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  11. Beautiful figures Curt, this is one period I've always rather fancied and I don't know that much about it either.

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    1. Cheers Ray. Yes, I wanted to try some modern skirmish gaming without following the WWII herd, so the SCW seemed the perfect period for me - it certainly has lots of character and pathos surrounding it (and a lovely place to vacation!).

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  12. Thanks for sharing your background, it is a really interesting slice of history once more. Your research
    And writeup really help bring the figures to life.

    The diarama and painting are excellent too!

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    1. Thanks Phil! I'm delighted you enjoyed the post as I really have a good time writing them up.

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  13. A great little set of figures. Wonderful to see you getting back to technicolour!

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    1. Cheers Scott! Oh, I have some more dreary greyscale coming up soon! Nonetheless, it will be interleaved with some other crazy mini-projects as well (like your steampunk vampires!).

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  14. Excellent painting and a good story. Unfortunately their final fate was gruesome, suffering rape and all type of mistreatment by the Nationalist forces before being shot in most cases when caught in or long after the war. Postwar Spain was a very dark place....

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    1. Thanks so much for the comment, Benito. Yes, I am always very affected by the suffering that many Spaniards endured during the postwar period. I can't imagine how horrible it was (and probably still is) to have fellow countrymen carrying such animosity. It is difficult to 'come clean' after such a bitter history.

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  15. very very nice painting they just look great well done

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  16. Lovely work, Curt. You did a fantastic job on the LMG team and thanks for showing us very unusual figures. Everything I see from Empress looks first rate.
    I agree with your comments on that last, very haunting photo.
    And is it just me, or is the girl with the pistol in the Gerda Taro photo look just like indie diva Annie Clark/St. Vincent, or is that just my inner fanboy speaking?
    Good post.
    Cheers,
    Mike

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    1. Thanks Mike, much appreciated. You're right, that pose and 'look' of the Taro photo is completely on track with something St. Vincent would do (and I was just spinning her album 'Actor' today...) .

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  17. Actor is a good album. If you haven't heard her work w David Byrne on Love This Joint, it's worth checking out.

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  18. Great post and great painting as always dude. It is always entertaining to watch a new period take you over.

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    1. Thanks Greg! I thought this will give us some unique 'Bolt Action' games when you come for a visit.

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  19. Again you manage to do something different..Good read and some fine painted minis

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    1. Thanks Mike! I'm looking forward to seeing some of those lovely Eureka Republican French you scored at Salute painted up. I know you'll do a lovely job on them.

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    2. Finished the first batallion three weeks ago :-) Need to make some pictures soon...

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  20. Cool subject and very neat execution of the minis.

    I shall look for that book; I have enjoyed reading many of Beevor's other works.

    That last photo does indeed make me wonder what happened to the subject.

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  21. Thanks Dave. Yes, Beevor's book is quite well written and he makes a very complex period of history very approachable.

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