I am hard at work to finish the first Pandora story, and as I finally got to work on the last act, where the action heats up and things start to go bang! (because kids nowadays want explosions, you see) I have had the dubious pleasure of meeting the Women’s Black Hussars of Death – one of those things that will probably be flagged by critics because they are too pulpy and implausible, but actually were a real thing during the Great War and the Russian Civil War.
Yes, say it aloud… The Women’s Black Hussars of Death.
Why they never taught me this sort of stuff when I was in school?
The Women’s Battalions of Death were all-female units formed in 1917 by volunteers serving on the side of the Russian Provisional Government, after the February Revolution. The woman who had dreamed up this brilliant idea – with the purpose of upholding the revolution and shaming men into action – was Maria ‘Yashka’ Leontevna Botchkareva, by all means a formidable woman.
According to American reporter Bessie Beatty, the total number of women serving in these units was about 5,000 in the fall of 1917, but only the 1st Russian Women’s Battalion of Death and the Perm Battalion were deployed to the front. The rest were considered mostly a propaganda asset – because after all, who would entrust the defence of the revolution to women with guns?
Some times after the formation of the Women’s Battalions of Death, a woman and fighter called Valentina Petrova approached Alexander Kerensky, then Minister of War for the Russian Provisional Government, for permission to organize the Women’s Black Hussars of Death, and a formation sporting the skull and crossbones on its flag with the motto, ‘For the freedom of Russia – the Women’s Battalion of Death’ did operate out of Batu.
I have been unable (during my ultra-fast on the fly research) to find more about these Hussars, but as I was in need of some ruthless fighters for my story, and in consideration of my readers whose knickers would get in a twist at “yet another pulp implausibility” (last time it was Emily Hahn’s monkey, remember guys?), setting up a Second Battallion, Women’s Hussars of Death, complete with steel-eyed, sadistic commander and armored train, was exactly what the doctor ordered.
And as I was at it, I did commit a crime of historical revisionism, pilfering from other sources the look of the Hussars in my story – in particular using this picture of Austrian crown Princess Cecile, in the her uniform as Colonel of the King Ferdinand III Dragoons, and Princess Victoria Louise, Colonel of the Death’s Head Hussars.
There was something unhealthily kinky going on in those days, but it’s OK with me.
I am writing, after all, an adventure story, not a history handbook.