Photo story

We Sent A Photographer To 1919 France. Here Are Her Photos

In 1919, the Women’s Work Committee of the Imperial War Museum commissioned professional portrait photographer Olive Edis to photograph women’s war work in France and Belgium.

As a result of a month long tour she produced 171 prints. Her skill as a portraitist is evident in the intimate yet dignified studies of women working and living in what had very recently been the main theatre of war.

Here are just 10 of the photographs she produced for IWM.

  • A YMCA canteen at Cambrai

    The interior of a YMCA canteen at Cambrai.
    The interior of a YMCA canteen at Cambrai.
    Q 8091

    The interior of a YMCA canteen at Cambrai. The two women in the photograph are named on the original caption as Miss Inskip and Miss Dale.

  • Rabbit-keeping

    Miss Hall photographed with a rabbit at a farm at Grange-le-Comte.
    Miss Hall photographed with a rabbit at a farm at Grange-le-Comte.
    Q 8080

    Miss Hall photographed with a rabbit at a farm at Grange-le-Comte. Maintaining this farm was part of the post war reconstruction work of the Friends' War Victims Relief Committee (FWVRC). The farm later became their headquarters.

  • Engine Repair

    This photograph shows women of the Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps at work in RAF engine repair shops at Pont de l'Arc.
    This photograph shows women of the Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps at work in RAF engine repair shops at Pont de l'Arc.
    Q 8116

    This photograph shows women of the Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps (QMAAC) at work in RAF engine repair shops at Pont de l'Arche. Olive Edis’s photographs of women at work are more serious and intimate than earlier commissions recording women workers.

  • Registrars at work

    Women from the Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps working in the Registrar’s office at the Archbishops Palace in Rouen.
    Women from the Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps working in the Registrar’s office at the Archbishops Palace in Rouen.
    Q 8122

    Women from the Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps (QMAAC) working in the Registrar’s office at the Archbishops Palace in Rouen. Over 57,000 women served with QMAAC, at home and abroad, before it was disbanded on 27 September 1921.

  • Miss Fletcher, VAD

    Miss Fletcher, an administrator with the Voluntary Aid Detachments, in her office at the Hotel Christol, Boulogne.
    Miss Fletcher, an administrator with the Voluntary Aid Detachments, in her office at the Hotel Christol, Boulogne.
    Q 7981

    Miss Fletcher, an administrator with the Voluntary Aid Detachments (VAD), in her office at the Hotel Christol, Boulogne. Images such as this one, which capture something of the character of the sitter, illustrate Olive Edis’s skill as a portrait photographer.

  • At the telephone exchange

    Women from the Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps (QMAAC) operating the telephone exchange at Henriville.
    Women from the Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps (QMAAC) operating the telephone exchange at Henriville.
    Q 7975

    Women from the Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps (QMAAC) operating the telephone exchange at Henriville. Olive Edis was keen to show the range of skills shown by women in work other than the more familiar nursing or medical services.

  • Maintaining war graves

    Gardeners from the Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps tending the graves of the war dead at Etaples.
    Gardeners from the Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps tending the graves of the war dead at Etaples.
    Q 8027

    Gardeners from the Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps (QMAAC) tending the graves of the war dead at Etaples. The wooden crosses would later be replaced by white headstones.

  • First Aid Nursing Yeomanry drivers

    First Aid Nursing Yeomanry drivers with their snow-covered vehicles at Commercy.
    First Aid Nursing Yeomanry drivers with their snow-covered vehicles at Commercy.
    Q 8074

    First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) drivers with their snow-covered vehicles at Commercy. Olive Edis’s month long tour of France began in March and, as shown by this image, the weather remained cold and snowy.

  • The Officers Expeditionary Force Canteen, Le Havre

    The Officers Expeditionary Force Canteen in Le Havre with a member of the Queen Mary's Army Auxiliary Corps behind the counter.
    The Officers Expeditionary Force Canteen in Le Havre with a member of the Queen Mary's Army Auxiliary Corps behind the counter.
    Q 8106

    The well-stocked shelves of the Officers Expeditionary Force Canteen in Le Havre with a member of the Queen Mary's Army Auxiliary Corps (QMAAC) behind the counter.

  • A French Red Cross Canteen, Compiegne

    A French Red Cross Canteen at Compiegne staffed by British women.
    A French Red Cross Canteen at Compiegne staffed by British women.
    Q 8086

    A French Red Cross Canteen at Compiegne staffed by British women.