The contribution of British women to First World War photography has received little attention in comparison to that of later conflicts. This neglect is mostly due to the prevailing assumption that a war photographer must be a professional photojournalist with access to the battlefield and front line combat. However, such a narrow definition renders a proper appreciation of war photography and its practitioners impossible, particularly with regard to the First World War.
A broader definition is certainly important when considering women’s photography during this period. No professional female photojournalist had access to the battlefield or front line combat between 1914 and 1918. However, in the years since its foundation in 1917, IWM has assembled an extensive collection of professional and amateur photography taken by women for official, commercial or private purposes in the First World War. These photographs offer an important account of the general human experience of the war and a unique feminine perspective.
WOMEN POLICE SERVICE, KNIGHTSBRIDGE, MAY 1916
Christina Broom: Officers of the Women Police Service, led by Inspector Mary Allen (a former suffragette) maintain order at the Women’s War Work exhibition, Knightsbridge, London, May 1916.
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MRS ALBERT BROOM AT THE WOMEN’S WAR WORK EXHIBITION, LONDON, MAY 1916
Mrs Albert Broom, self-proclaimed “Official Photographer to the Guards”, photographed by her daughter as she displays her camera and examples of her photographs at a stand at the Womens War Work Exhibition, Prince’s Skating Rink, Knightsbridge, London, May 1916.
AMERICAN EXPEDITIONARY FORCES ARRIVE IN LONDON, 13 MAY 1918
Christina Broom: Soldiers of the American Expeditionary Forces, recently arrived in London, eat a packed lunch in a park before parading in front of King George V and Queen Mary at Buckingham Palace, London, 13 May 1918.
BUCKINGHAM PALACE ON ARMISTICE DAY, 11 NOVEMBER 1918
Christina Broom: Crowds in front of Buckingham Palace on Armistice Day, 11 November 1918.
RAF PONT DE L’ARCHE, MARCH 1919
Olive Edis: A hairdressing establishment provided for women of Queen Mary’s Auxiliary Army Corps (QMAAC) at RAF Pont de l’Arche, which enjoyed the reputation of being a regular Bond Street establishment, France, March 1919.
THE RUSSIAN ARMY ON THE EASTERN FRONT, 1916
Florence Farmborough: An unknown Russian dead soldier lies on the battlefield, Eastern Front, 1916.
THE RED CROSS ON THE EASTERN FRONT, 1914-1917
Florence Farmborough: Russian nurses asleep underneath a hayrick, Eastern Front, 1915/1916. It is undeniable that the wartime achievements of all the women featured in this article were exceptional for their time. However it is important to recognise the inspiration that they provided for the immediate post-war generation of women. Then, as now, they provided an early demonstration of what women could contribute to war photography and a visual understanding of modern conflict. Rather than allow them to fall into obscurity, we would do well to remember them.