Yashka and her WWI women battalion of death
weapons of WWI
Yashka got enlisted in the Russian army
World War I lasted from 1914 to 1919 for a period of 5 years. Maria Botchkareva’s country Russia was involved in the war against Germany. For the defense of their country, boys were drafted, trained and sent to the front lines as soldiers. 25-year old then in 1914, a peasant girl Maria Botchkareva or simply Yashka as she was popularly known, yearned to serve her country as a soldier like the boys.
Yashka called into the headquarters of the 25th reserve battalion in Tomsk to enlist but was told women were not permitted to serve. But not long after the Tsar granted her request. She was inducted into the Tsar’s army as a common soldier in November 1914
Life of a soldier isn't a joke
Botchkareva found the soldier’s life and training hard. She spent days warding off mischievous acts and advances of male soldiers, but as weeks wore on as she grew more experienced and capable, she won their respect and confidence. There was a time when she could no longer bear the presence of crawling lice and other vermin on her body. It was caused by her dirtiness because of her refusal to share shower with the men.
She overcome shyness to share shower with male soldiers
She couldn’t obtain shower time privately on her own because army amenities like bath and shower behind front lines are communal and booked by unit. Eventually, she mustered courage and shared shower with male soldiers. In time, impressed with her accomplishments in the battle field, they respected and left her alone. New recruits to the unit were warned and advised by the officers about her sex and not to molest or show disrespect to her.
She saved 50 plus wounded comrades
Yashka was ordered to join the 28th Polotsk regiment to the front In April 1915. In the ensuing carnage, she saw soldiers in her unit killed, dying and wounded. In the dead of night under cover of darkness, the courageous Yashka ventured into the battle field to retrieve the wounded. Before she was herself shot in the leg, she was able to drag to safety over 50 of their wounded warriors
Promoted to corporal
Her wound healed in Kiev, Botchkareva returned to active duty 2 months after, only to engage in another difficult battle. She was wounded once more. Her performance in this attack was done with such valor that a Cross of St. George was recommended to be awarded to her by her commander. However, because of her sex she was given a medal of a lesser degree. Perhaps to patch up ill-feelings, Botchkareva was promoted with the rank of Corporal to lead other soldiers.
Yashka’s memoirs tell of long and icy nights in observation posts and muddy trenches.
Another medal and new promotion
Corporal Botchkareva joined 2 attacks in 1916 and sustained wounds in the leg and lower spine in these assaults, but she recovered, gained back her health and reported to the battle field in December of 1916. Welcomed by her comrades, she was awarded another medal and promoted to senior non-commissioned officer
This time Yashka was a tested veteran. She has seen action in so many attacks. She had undergone days and nights in the trenches. She wrote after the war: “I must have participated in at least 100 excursions into no- man’s land”.
The morale in the Russian army reached to its lowest ebb.
The Russians and their Army were overjoyed over the news that Tsar Nicholas II had abdicated his throne. It was March of 1917. Their happiness was shortlived. Yashka was frustrated. She mistakenly entertained the idea that the Tsar's abdication would inspire the Russian army to fight more effectively for the ouster of the Germans. In vain. The introduction of the “rule by committee” to the army by the new War Minister Aleksandr Kerenskii was a disaster. The lack of war materials and this order brought the morale in the Russian Army to its lowest ebb. The demoralizing athmosphere brought about by the new command prompted Yashka to leave her unit for Petrograd in March to help solve military problems.
Approval for the organization of a women's battalion of death
Yashka conferred with the president of Russia’s law-making body M.V. Rodzianko, the army’s chief of staff General Aleksei Brusilov and Minister of War Aleksandr Kerenskii in Petrograd. Asked by Kerenskii for her plan on how to hold the men in the war, Yashka suggested forming a women’s battalion of death to spur the men into fighting. She thought her suggestion would not be taken seriously by the powers that be, but she was taken aback for her suggestion was approved
A strict disciplinarian
They undergo rigorous training like those of the males for almost 4 weeks. Yashka was a strict disciplinarian. Soldiers committing slight violations like too much giggling were dismissed outright from the service. 1,500 of the women soldiers who petitioned for the formation of the soldier’s committee were dropped from the rolls. During one of the assaults, one of Botchkareva’s lady warriors was caught making love with an opposite sex from another unit. Enraged, she bayoneted the erring Eve.
The call for women volunteer
On the 21stday of May, 1917, she voiced out at the Mariynki theatre an emotional appeal for women volunteers.
… “Our mother is perishing. Our mother is Russia. I want to help save her. I want women whose hearts are crystal, whose souls are pure, whose impulses are lofty. With such women setting an example of self-sacrifice, you men will realize your duty in this grave hour!”
By the end of May 1917, almost 2,000 young women from all walks of life had volunteered to serve their country to take up arms.
Yashka’s women battalion of death with her on the lead was commanded to attack on July 8, 1917. Despite mobs of unruly soldiers who kept harassing officers and her women soldiers alike, her Battalion accomplished an admirable record in combat. It was able to capture trenches, 3 lines of them with nearly 2,000 German soldiers who were taken prisoners.