Firstly, we met at Impressions Gallery at 2pm and used the facilities available at Bradford Library to look at the online archives at the Imperial War Museum in London. We split into three groups and began to each look at either Florence Flanborough’s work, Mairi Chisholm and Elsie Knocker’s work or Olive Edis’ work. We then each picked a picture and began to answer specific questions on this work.
We did this for an hour and half and then began to watch some videos we had found on Mairi and Elsie. These videos featured them having a fun time during the war, and even showed them riding motorcycles, as we had learnt that they had previously, before coming nurses, been professional motorcyclists. We also listened to an audio recording of Mari which was very interesting. She talked about her experiences within the First World War alongside her best friend, Elsie, and how she was in a way “being a grouse” (being shot at)and was joking about not being killed during the war. She explained how they never left the ambulance and was just there to help the soldiers but had an inspiring companion to help her during this time. We also listened to an audio recording of Florence Farnborough. She sounded very posh and came from a very wealthy background in Buckinghamshire. She spoke about how she had met a Russian family during the war and wanted to go to their country to explore.
Following this we fed back the information we had all written about within the first half of the session. We found out that Olive Edis photographed woman mainly and her photos were very serious as she chose very powerful subject matter to capture. We looked at an image of woman engineers working on First World War aircrafts, this reflected other sources we had studied before at different archives. From this set of photos, we learnt that her work evolved during the period and she set her mind to taking these photos, and therefore was very inspiring. We then began looking at Mairi Chisholm’s work. She mainly took images of Elsie and vice versa. As a result, all her work was very casually staged and therefore all her photos were very reserved and calm. In one of her images she had climbed a tree and took a gripping image of a 19 foot shell hole, this showed she was very curious and wanted to capture everything about the war she could.
Finally, we looked at Florence Farnborough’s images. We learnt that she had moved to Moscow and become a nursing sister, even teaching Russian children. We looked at a photograph she had taken of soldiers getting their haircut, this showed a part of the soldier’s lifestyle we had never seen before, they also had a pet goat and this showed they were caring. In a way, this photo showed that the soldiers had to adapt their home lifestyles to fit the war lifestyle. Another image we looked at was very graphic, showing a deceased soldier in a trench, this showed what everyday soldiers had to witness and the traumatic events which happened. The images overall showed she was very adventurous and interested in travelling and was interested in helping others rather than focusing on herself.
Review by Mollie Wiggins
This project is supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund ‘Young Roots’ scheme