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Another female story conveniently forgotten




Last night I went with a friend to watch young playwright Hailey Mashburn's production of Fire Embers Ash which is currently running at the Baron Court Theatre, London. The all female cast tells the story of a Soviet Union women only flying regiment in WWII.


Who knew that there was such a thing? How had I not heard about them before? Like Churchill, Stalin wasn't too impressed with the idea that women could fight on the front line but becoming increasingly desperate to utilise all factions of Soviet society against the Nazis he agrees in 1941 to an all female flying regiment. They not only got hand me down uniforms but also planes which were both slow and old.


Despite the limitations they set about bombarding the Nazis nightly and became known as the Night Witches by the Germans. They had a rather special way of cutting the engines so that all you could hear on the ground was a slight whoosh then they dropped bombs mercilessly. The planes they used were too small to be picked up on the radar so it was a deadly combination but highly effective.


It was an incredibly dangerous operation for which they were decorated accordingly. In fact they were the most highly decorated flying regiment in Russia. But guess what? When the victory day parade took place they were absent! Why? Because the planes they flew were deemed too slow, or so they said, perhaps there was also another reason, allow me to explain my theory.


My dissertation (all those years ago) was on the role of photography in developing cultural identities post war. One of the pieces of information that I highlighted was the absence of black and brown faces from the victory day parade in front of George VI in England. Thus propagating the lie until recently, that little old Britain had fought alone in the war against the mighty Nazi killing machine. In reality Britain fought with it's empire brothers and sisters.


In what seems like too much of a coincidence to be overlooked, we hear that Russia decided to exclude women in the most decorated regiment from its victory parade. Was it the planes that were too slow or was it that they may have to admit to using women in their defence of The Soviet Union? Did someone say girls? Surely not! We are a fine oiled, fighting machine! That's tantamount to admitting you used the Chipping Sodbury crochet club to make a takeover of Burberry!


Of course I jest but in reality it is not funny. Photography and media in general has been largely responsible for the propaganda of recollection. To say the camera never lies is a statement so tyrannically false and one which today is as relevant as it was then!


I salute you Major Marina Raskova and your regiment of 400 of the bravest women in the world!




The production of Fire Ember Ashes is on at the Baron Court Theatre until the end of the week: https://www.baronscourttheatre.com/fire-embers-ash




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