2 July 2021

Forgotten Heroes: Little Sisters of Purification


One of the great differences in the hobby between when I started in 1989 and got back into it in 2018 is the internet. Not just in terms of painting tutorials, the community, the ability to reach out for help, the ease of ordering figures and paint, and limitless colour schemes to rip off, but the articles and posts about minis, rules, lore and fluff that I'd either forgotten about or never knew existed.

An example of the latter is female Space Marines. Not the Sisters of Battle, or some made-up fan wank, but an entire Chapter comprised of female Marines that appeared in a playable scenario. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the Little Sisters of Purification. And let's face it, putting "little" in their name is pretty patronising. I know this was the 80s and back then the idea of female 40k players was unthinkable, but seriously, come on.

These power-armoured women were introduced to 40k back in 1988, although "introduced to 40k" is a bit of an overstatement. This isn't a White Dwarf article and it wasn't produced by Games Workshop. It's by Game Designers Workshop, a now-defunct company that published rules for miniature tabletop and role-playing games, and "Sunstroke" appeared in an edition of its magazine Challenge. This was back in the days when Games Workshop either licensed their properties to other companies to produce game scenarios or just gave permission when asked. 

So there is a bit of debate as to how much input GW had on the Little Sisters, their reaction to them and whether they ever endorsed the idea of all-female Space Marine chapters. Even the artwork isn't entirely correct; the Marines don't have backpacks and, while they're obviously wearing Mk.VI armour, it does look a bit off-brand.

Talking of female Marines, a year after the Little Sisters appeared Citadel produced the Death Eagle models: 

Quite a few people noticed that the one on the right seems to have boobage. Anyway, let's get a move on. 

Thanks to an Ebay spree a couple of years ago I have enough Marine bits to make a ton of minis, so it was just a case of going through all the little bags to get the parts for two Beakie marines, one armed with a boltgun and one with a bolt pistol and chainsword. I decided one of them should be bare-headed just to ram home the "THEY'RE GIRLS" aspect, and for that I had to go back to the pit of money that is Ebay to order a Sisters of Battle head. Once I'd put their torsos together I was faced with a choice: leave the power cabling as is to better represent the artwork, or carve it off and use greenstuff to model breasts on the chestplate (well not on the chestplate, I didn't want them looking like they'd stepped out of this scene from Blackadder II).

So I did a bit of research. Female armour that's contoured to breasts is a relatively new thing and by all accounts blame can be squarely placed on people blokes who wanted their female characters to look sexy, hence the D&D staple of female barbarians wearing fur and chainmail bikinis into battle and the sci-fi staple of having women in form-fitting armour. In reality, and there's a good Reddit thread about it here, having armour made to conform to breasts was very rare and doing so pretty much negated the whole point of covering yourself in plate metal, which was to deflect sword strikes. Having two metal protuberances with a flat bit in the centre means a hit on the inside or top of the breast is just going to redirect the bullet/sword/spear/chainsword either straight towards your heart or up towards your neck. 

Also, the scenario states that the Little Sisters used basic Marine power armour and players could just use standard figures. So with that in mind, I (rather thankfully) put the greenstuff to one side and left the torsos alone.

With the minis built I just had to paint them, and fortunately the Sisters have a simple colour scheme: black. To save time I primed them with black car primer, and that was the first problem: the primer dried leaving a rough, bumpy look, which you can see in the photo above. I don't know if I didn't shake it enough or if it's because of the brand, but it's bloody annoying. To make matters worse, the arms didn't have the same issue. 

So it was a case of either stripping the primer off and starting over, and just going with it. I decided to leave it as is because it'll save time and I'm running short of Simple Green. Besides, we all know that 40k is supposed to be gritty, right? (Come on, just go with it). I gave them a once-over with Black mixed with some Dark Prussian Blue to give it a bit of depth and tone as I find plain black to be pretty boring. After than, I highlighted them with Black Grey and Dark Grey, and they were basically done. Once again I apologise for the crappy photos; I can never get the lighting right.

Remember I said I had to go to Ebay to get a female head? It never occurred to me to look for helmet plumes. Duh. So I went back, ordered some, Ebay said they'll be here by June 18, as I write this bit it's June 30 and Ebay's still telling me they'll be here by June 18. So I had to get the greenstuff out again to make the hair (is it a topknot?) coming out of the one Sister's helmet. Ater making my dog-thing I approached the plumes with a feeling of — dare I say it? — confidence. Why I don't know as within five minutes the spare room was alive with the sound of swearing. And then, today, the bloody things turned up. Yay?

I did deviate from the all-black look with some Violet and Purple on their guns and the chainsword just to break up their monotone look, and the topknot to tie the room it all together. And now we're onto the final step: the Little Sisters' emblem:

Oh, great. A mailed fist holding a sword inside the symbol for female. In other words, three things I cannot freehand: lines, circles, and everything else. Is it just me or do the arrows have a touch of Chaos about them? The whole thing looks like it could be off a Slaanesh warband. Anyway, I did my best, and had to do it twice.

This is it, this is my best. Laugh all you want, I won't take it personally. The Little Sisters are based on 30mm Reaper bases with added modelling paste, sprinkled with a bit of sand and painted Olive Grey and drybrushed with Neutral Grey. 

So that's my second Forgotten Heroes entry. After doing the dog-thing I thought the Little Sisters would be a doddle, but the spray-paint screw-up, the non-appearance of the bits I needed, the last-minute fannying about with greenstuff and then the sudden appearance of the bits I needed made these girls into a bit of a chore. On the other hand, reading up on a long-forgotten bit of 40k history is always interesting and I've managed to complete a (albeit late) second entry for another challenge... just in time to dive head-first into Summer Season of Scenery.

My other planned Forgotten Heroes entry is sort-of getting there, but I've had a nightmare painting it. I don't know if I have a dodgy pot of Vallejo paint or if it's the high humidity in my corner of Vermont, but the paint just doesn't want to work. So that one's on hold for now.


  1. They look really good to me, I remember there were two metal "lady" space marines produced waaaay back when, they were much thinner than their mate counterparts and were both bare headed, one with long hair and a bolter the other with a mohawk bolter and sword I (think), but I don't think they were sold in a space marine pack, but were marketed under the "Rogue trader" or "talisman" banners (Dave will know more on this I'm sure).

    I had them both, but I think I passed them on to my Brother in-law, back when he was building a Space marine force. (otherwise I'd take a couple of pic's for you).

    Interesting stuff mate. Cheers Roger.

    1. I vaguely remember those models in White Dwarf but never really had any interest in them at the time. In the Little Sisters' case just love how a different company looked at WH40k and thought, "You know what this game needs? Chicks in armour" LOL! I like the idea and they were fun to make although a lot more effort than should have been necessary.

  2. Great work Matt, I noticed recently that GW were trying to incorporate this idea again recently, my memory on it is a bit vague, as I only gave it a glance, as it wasn't anything I was likely to do.
    Roger is spot on with his description of the two old models, and were released in the early days of Rogue Trader, you could mail order them individually, or hope to find a blister pack with them both in, as you had a random selection from the range in the pack.

    1. After a quick shufty online it seems they were limited edition models, like the drunk Christmas Marines or the Kinky Chaosette.

      I remember those old blister packs of metal minis, and the despair when you found one that had one figure you really wanted and two you already owned :-)

    2. Or a casualty figure!! so you were one short for a full squad 🙄

      The Christmas Marines were cool, I really should have bought that pack at the time!

  3. I wasn't aware of this chapter but GW should revisit it. I know they have the Eschers in Necromunda but female space marines sounds cool and a nice compliment to Sisters of Battle too. Great job converting and painting these up!

    1. Thanks! I've always been back-and-forth on female Marines, to be honest. But discovering the Little Sisters was great, and I always love the batshit insane 40k stuff that was around in the 80s.