Russian women’s battalions could not be left unnoticed by the world. Journalists (such as Bessie Beatty, Rita Dorr and Louise Bryant from America) would interview the women and photograph them to later publish a book.
Rita Dorr said she was quite familiar with female-warriors. She knew about three divisions, one in Moscow and the other two in Petrograd. She spent a lot of time with them sharing a room and food. She waited for them to return from battles and after that she would listen to their stories sitting by their hospital beds.
Orlova was a warrior and Bessie Beatty described her as tall and strong. She was focused on death. She wanted to die for her Motherland. And she did.
A group of volunteers.
Officers (mostly Caucasian people) would often call them on in hope to inspire them for future battles.
Those women sincerely believed Russia was in jeopardy and fighting and dying for it was better than their everyday life they lived. Sometimes it was personal losses which motivated the women to join the battalion.
Bochkareva is the first from the left.
There were 6 nurses, formerly actual doctors, factory workers, servants and peasants, who also came to die for their country.
One of the girls was just 15 years old. Her father and two brothers died fighting at the front and her mother was killed when the hospital she worked in came under fire. The 15-year old could nothing but take a rifle into her hands and join the battalion. She thought she was safe there.
One of the women, named Lina, was just 16. Her wide-opened brown eyes could represent the woman of the war. She didn’t want to kill. She wanted to love.
Joining the battalion, they realized they could die any moment. None of them considered yielding herself prisoner. Each woman had a little bag with something that would allow her to kill herself fast.
Orlova didn’t like to talk much. She was always busy taking care of other people, finding food and bringing hot tea for her comrades and kids who would come over to ask for some food. But her face was concentrated on how to protect her Motherland. It was concentrated on death.
Nina was very funny. She would have made a great comedy actor. She had a bunch of jokes and hilarious stories to tell, unless she was the one to be comforted.
They wanted to exchange her for a general when she was in jail in Austria. She spoke English, French and other languages.
Nina was sometimes seen giving a kiss to her rifle. She loved her country but she liked arms even more because they could bring death to those attempting on its well-being.
When asked if she liked short hair, Nina said she did as a soldier and she didn’t as a woman. Those two notions had nothing in common for her, as well as for the rest of the battalion. Leaving their makeup behind, they left behind their femininity, which nevertheless revealed itself in other things.
The women looked attractive despite their shaven heads and coarse boots. Some of them were just beautiful.
Donald Thompson and a nurse.
Six of those women who challenged the world died and their graves are marked with wooden crosses. Ten women were awarded with the Cross of St. George and 20 received medals. 21 women were seriously wounded and even more were contused.
The battle took place in the forest and lasted for 2 days. They faced the enemy together with 40 male warriors but had to retreat having no reinforcement.
Those returned for the battle (30 people were killed, 70 sustained injuries, and many were taken prisoner).
Recalling the battle, the women said they had no time to be scared. Everything happened too fast.
Maria Skrydlova told about her cousin whose father was German. He joined the army too and she kept thinking what she would do if she faced him. It is difficult for a woman to fight and kill. Maria returned to Petrograd where she was born lame and contused. She was awarded with the Cross of St. George.
Lina was one of those 6 who didn’t make it through the battle… She had 16 wounds and died after several hours of suffering.
In fall, 1917 there were about 5,000 female warriors in Russia. Their physical strength and abilities were like those of all women, regular women. There was nothing special about them. They just had to learn how to fire and kill. They exercised 10 hours a day. Former peasants made up 40% of the battalion.
There was a 94-year old man who brought his daughters to the battalion because he had no sons… They were peasants too. It was hard for them to start shooting. They were still girls and were afraid of arms and shots. However, it took them just one month to become well-trained soldiers.
Their goal was to challenge all deserters and have them fulfill their soldier’s duty. They were ready to sacrifice their life for it. However, instead of well-deserved glory, those women faced disapproval.
Each of those women wanted to return to the front and fight again. They didn’t pay attention to their wounds and said fighting was not the most difficult job they’d done. They thought it to be just more dangerous.
A sailor from Kronstadt and his wife who signed up for the battalion.
Officers didn’t mind having women in their battalions. They just ignored them. They believed women were not able to go through difficulties they would face in a real battle. Once they offered the women to avoid taking on a quick march but they refused. It turned out the women were better prepared for physical activities than the men because they worked hard in the fields and factories all their life.
Once a commander prohibited the women from going to the front but one girl did. She was one of the 37 warriors to survive the battle. She was slightly wounded but managed to evacuate her wounded commander from the battlefield. When she met him in the hospital, he muttered, not knowing it was her who saved his life, “Keep that girl away from the front, she’s too young for it”.
Soldiers by a tea stall in Petrograd, 1917.
The largest women’s battalion was formed in Moscow and included over 2,000 warriors. The Petrograd battalion included about 1,500 women. With those battalions, they wanted to inspire men to go to the front and fight and put in order the disorganized army.
Louise Bryant recalls her first meeting with female-soldiers. It struck her eyes that they all wore different shoes and had no uniform. It turned out it was only the first battalion that was provided with everything they needed while all the rest were on a waiting list.
A Battalion of Death warrior on duty, Petrograd, 1917.
These girls defended the Winter Palace. None of them was killed.
They were ready to die for the revolution but hopes of many of them were broken. They found no understanding on any of the sides.
Those women proved they do can fight. They proved to have enough courage, strength and fortitude for it. Women will remain potential soldiers until the world is 100% safe and perfect. The question is whether women should fight or not.