Terrible and wonderful, the steely Amazons went to battle against Bellerophon, and Homer sang them to eternal fame. Boadicea led her woad-dyed hordes upon the unwary Romans at Londinium. Jeanne d’Arc stormed Orleans, a valorous mystic. Christian Davies of the Scots Greys, swaggered her way through the battle of Ramilies. Brandishing her cutlass, Mary Read joined Captain Rackham’s pirate crew. Théroigné de Méricourt led the pike-bearing furies on Versailles . . . their grandchildren, the Communards, rallied round Louise Michel, “the Red Virgin of Montmartre,” while all the bravura of the Polish Amazons was pitted against Tzarist-Russian oppression.
In the American Civil War, Mme. Velasquez posed as Capt. Harry Burford, with mock-moustachios to aid her alibi. At the battle of Mentana, Mme. Blavatsky abandoned astral preoccupations to fight for Garibaldi. In the October Revolution, the Women’s Battalion held the Winter Palace for Kerensky. Only yesterday, in Spain and China, thousands of unknown women fought bravely, bloodily . . . Terrible and wonderful, the Amazonian spirit lives on, manifest alike through ages of troubadours, whalebone or machinery; the clash of spears and sabres merge into the thunders of modern bombardment.
Continue reading Lesley Blanch | Amazons
Lesley Blanch was Features Editor of British Vogue 1937-45. During the Second World War, she was on the front line of women journalists covering a wide range of topics. She covered various aspects of Britain at war for the Ministry of Information, and documented the lives of women in the forces with her friend the photographer Lee Miller.
It is an indisputable fact that occupations and professions breed their own particular type. There are occupational faces, as there are occupational diseases, except in the case of the bored, spoiled, overfed idler, now fortunately rarely seen, save at luxurious hotels in ‘safe’ areas, where the face, and its accompanying malaise, might be described as non-occupational.
The ostler cannot be mistaken for the chauffeur, though doctors and lawyers, like poets and scientists, often pair indistinguishably. But the soldier, the sailor, and the airman are each distinct and apart front each other.
Continue reading Lesley Blanch | W.R.N.S. on the job, November 1941
The Sabres of Paradise was first published in 1960, a hundred years after the story it recounts had ended, after the Russian conquest of the Caucasus was at last complete. Nikita Khrushchev was in the Kremlin. President Kennedy was running for the White House. Soviet power was at its height. The republics of the Caucasus were just another comer of the vast Soviet empire cowed into conformity by the brutalities of Stalin. The episode of Imam Shamyl’s thirty-year resistance to Russian expansion − perhaps the most dramatic story ever to emerge from the Caucasus (where dramatic stories are hardly in short supply) − had receded to its rightful place in ancient history. The days of small bands of mountain guerrillas raiding, hostage-taking, hiding up in the thick Chechen forests were long gone; whole divisions being tied down by such tactics was unthinkable in an age overshadowed by nuclear weapons.
Forty years on, the story looks a little different and a lot more relevant; now − post-Vietnam, post-Afghanistan, post-Soviet Union and post-September 11. Who, in 1960, would have dared predict that the heirs of the Red Army − that vast force which had done so much to shape the geo-politics of the late twentieth century, already humiliated by the Afghan mujahideen − should in 1996 be defeated, run out of its own territory by a band of lightly-armed Chechens which rarely exceeded a few thousand in number?
Continue reading Philip Marsden reviews Lesley Blanch, The Sabres of Paradise