Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, June 8, 2015

The War's Most Famous Female Soldier

The new issue of the Hoover Digest has this interesting tidbit.

Maria Botchkareva, a Russian peasant who fled an abusive family life to join the Imperial Russian Army in 1914, was the war’s most famous female soldier. She was not alone: an estimated 400 to 1,000 women and girls enlisted in the tsar’s army. Botchkareva faced ridicule and sexual harassment, as did other female soldiers, but she proved herself in battle. After the Romanovs fell in March 1917, the Provisional Government allowed her to form the Women’s Battalion of Death, whose heroic example, she hoped, would shame demoralized Russian men into resuming the fight against Germany and Austria. 

After the Bolshevik Revolution, she traveled to America, where she dictated her memoirs and met President Wilson. Returning to her homeland in 1918, she tried to oppose the Bolsheviks but was captured. She was executed by firing squad in 1920. [Hoover Institution Library]


  1. Her battalion actually went into the line in Galicia and fought well taking prisoners. However, rather than live and let live as so many of the Russian units observed, her woman shot at Germans nearing the Russian lines. The men in neighbouring units became so angry that they opened fire on the women who had to hide in a forest where they changed out of uniforms and made their way out of the war zone individually. Some were caught and hanged. Other death battalions never got to the line nor had the resolve that the first battalion did.

  2. Interesting story. Sad end to a brave woman.

  3. Another wmoan who fought was Flora Sandes, who was British but served in the Serbian Army.

  4. Thanks for this great post! She does not look like someone you'd want to tangle with. It's very interesting that the tsar, and later the Provisional Government, allowed women to enlist in combat units; to the best of my knowledge British and American women never had that chance. A sad end indeed for this Russian patriot.

  5. These Russian women so often look like bulldogs...the Germans likely should have lumped them with the Scotts...the bulldogs from hell.

  6. I was also going to mention Flora Sandes, a British nurse who enlisted in the Serbian army during the retreat into Albania, and will also add Roumanian Ecaterina Teodoroiu. According to Wikipedia: "In October 1916, Ecaterina joined the Romanian Army during the first Jiu battle when General Ion Dragalina's 1st Army repulsed the 9th German Army offensive. A Scouts' member, she had initially worked as a nurse but she subsequently decided to become a front-line soldier, being deeply impressed by the patriotism of the wounded and by the death of her brother Nicolae (Sergeant in the Romanian Army). It was an unusual decision for a woman of that epoch, so she was sent to the front rather reluctantly. However, soon she proved her worthiness as a symbol and as a soldier. She was taken prisoner but managed to escape by killing two, or perhaps three German soldiers. In November, she was wounded and hospitalized, but came back to the front where she was soon decorated, advanced in rank to Sublocotenent (Second Lieutenant) and given the command of a 25-man platoon. For her bravery she was awarded the Military Virtue Medal, 1st Class.
    On September 3, 1917 (August 22 Old Style), she was killed in the Muncelu-Varnița area, during the last phase of the Battle of Mărășești (in Vrancea County), where she was hit in the chest by German machine gun fire. According to some accounts, her last words before dying were: "Forward, men, I'm still with you!"