1.) Tomoe Gozen
One of the 'stars' of Samurai Women 1184-1877, Tomoe Gozen is the most famous (but by no means the only) female Samurai. She was born some time in the 1150s, and died in 1247, as a 91 year-old nun! Numerous sources paint her as a formidable warrior in her younger years , and she is believed to have fought in the Gempei Wars. At the Battle of Azawu, it is thought that she defeated and beheaded Honda no Moroshige of Musashi in single combat.
A renowned war-leader, Boudica is one of history's most famous figures. She has become an important cultural symbol for Britons since the interest in her life and times resurfaced in the Renaissance and during the Victorian era. In the 1st century AD, the Iceni tribe, to whom she belonged, were actually nominally allied to the Romans, who at this point held sway over Britain. But when Boudica's husband, Prasutagus, died the Romans betrayed the arrangement in his will which stipulated that Boudica, her daughters, and the Roman Empire would share his kingdom. Boudica was flogged, and her daughters were raped. In response she led the Iceni and their Trinovante allies on a rebellious rampage which saw Colchester razed, the Legio IX Hispanica overwhelmed and even Londinium evacuated and overrun. She was eventually stopped in her tracks, and forced into suicide (or possibly died of illness shortly after) the Battle of Watling Street. For more info, check out the fantastic Boudicca's Rebellion AD 60-61
3.) Joan of Arc
Joan was also a war-leader who endeavoured to overthrow foreign invaders, succeeded for a short while before being tragically killed. She too has become a national icon of her native land, France. As a teenage peasant girl full of religious fervour, she was convinced that the Archangel Michael, among others, had appeared before her in a vision and convinced her to support Charles VII. Her passion and her innocence won Charles over, and she was sent with the French army to the siege of Orleans, which was lifted after just 9 days, having previously dragged on for 5 months. This and other Joan-inspired victories cemented her status as a legend, although her level of military involvement has been disputed. Either way, Joan's story ended sadly. She was captured by English-Burgundian forces and burned at the stake aged just 19, after being accused of a number of spiritual and corporeal crimes. For more information about the Siege of Orleans and the 100 years war, check out this great Campaign title.
4.) Lydia Litvyak
Lydia had to make the list really, as the top-scoring female fighter pilot in history. The Red Air Force in World War II took some fearful beatings from the Luftwaffe, and was at times desperately short of experienced and able combat pilots. Although Lydia lied about the amount of flight hours she had accumulated pre-war in order to fight, once she was flying operationally, it was clear she was a talented fighter pilot. Flying with an all-female unit, and then joining an all male squadron, Litvyak won praise from all those around her, and by the time she was killed had claimed up to 12 victories whilst flying Yak -1s, mainly Ju-88 bombers and Bf 109 fighters. Her downfall came during the battle of Kursk, which saw possibly the largest air battles in history (in terms of planes engaged) an her assailant is believed to be either Hans-Jörg Merkle or Hans Schleef, both BF 109 pilots. For more on the contribution of women to the Soviet war effort, take a look at this.
5.) Michelle Norris
This entry is a litle more recent. Lance Corporal and medic Michelle Norris has the distinction of being the first woman ever to receive the Military Cross for bravery. Private Norris was serving as a Medical Orderly attached to the 1st Battalion Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment when her Warrior patrol vehicle came under sustained and accurate fire in Al Amara in Iraq, in 2006. The vehicle commander, Ian Page, was badly hit, and Michelle climbed up the side to the vehicle to rescue him. She treated his wounds whilst bullets whistled all around her, one even hitting the radio. After she had finished, she dragged the vehicle commander back into the relative safety of the vehicle, whilst still under heavy fire. The pair were then rescued by a Lynx helicopter, piloted by Lieutenant-Colonel William Chesarek, who won a Distinguished Flying Cross for the action which was awarded at the same time as Norris' Military Cross. For more information about patrol vehicles such as the one this dramatic incident took place in and around, take a ook at the informative NVG 179.
That concludes today's Friday list, but as usual, I want to hear about the ones that I missed out. If you know of any more candidates for the top Women-at-Arms, get in touch and let us know!