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Working lives of women in First World War revealed by Sheringham photographer

Olive Edis. Photo by Cyril Nunn. glass plate negative, 1953.  Picture: Norfolk Museums Service (Cromer Museum)

Olive Edis. Photo by Cyril Nunn. glass plate negative, 1953. Picture: Norfolk Museums Service (Cromer Museum)

© Norfolk Museums Service (Cromer Museum)

Photographs taken by a Sheringham woman which highlight the breadth of women’s roles in the First World War have been revealed to mark International Women’s Day.

Olive Edis took many photos showing women at work in the First World War.  Picture: Olive Edis, copy by Nick ButcherOlive Edis took many photos showing women at work in the First World War. Picture: Olive Edis, copy by Nick Butcher

The images were taken by Olive Edis, a member of the Royal Photographic Society who was commissioned to take photographs of women in France and Belgium - producing 171 pictures during a gruelling tour in the war’s aftermath.

Ms Edis’ photos are part of collection of documents, photographs and paintings showing women in the war which is being shared by the Imperial War Museums (IWM).

Born in London in 1876, Ms Edis set up a photography studio in Sheringham’s Church Street with her sister Katherine at the start of her career in 1905, and lived there for much of her life.

She became most famous for her portraiture, taking evocative photographs of everyone from Norfolk fishermen to the royal family. During the war, she joined Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps, serving in France. The British military authorities made it clear that neither women nor photographers were welcome in the war zone, but in March 1919, shortly after the war’s end, she was finally granted permission to carry out an assignment for the IWM documenting the devastated ‘human landscape’.

Olive Edis took many photos showing women at work in the First World War.  Picture: Olive Edis/Nick Butcher, from an exhibition about her workOlive Edis took many photos showing women at work in the First World War. Picture: Olive Edis/Nick Butcher, from an exhibition about her work

MORE: Work of Britain’s first female war photographer Olive Edis to go on show

Ms Edis was an early user of the autochrome technique of colour photography and she went on to win awards for her skill with the medium.

During her career she also had a smaller, temporary studio in Cromer. After she died in 1955, her ashes were interred at Sheringham Cemetery.

Also in the collection are testaments from women including Isabella Clarke, who described the tough conditions in a munitions factory and the death of her friend from TNT poisoning.

She said: “We were coming home for our Easter holidays and my friend was stopped, and they noticed that both her eyes, and mine, the whites of our eyes were discoloured a little bit, but hers was badly. I came home as usual on my Easter holidays, and then they come and inform me that she had died.”

Olive Edis took many photos showing women at work in the First World War.  Picture: Olive Edis/Nick Butcher, from an exhibition about her workOlive Edis took many photos showing women at work in the First World War. Picture: Olive Edis/Nick Butcher, from an exhibition about her work

The stories and images are being shared as part of the IWM’s WomensWork100, a programme of events, exhibitions and activities. For more, visit www.1914.org/womenswork100














































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