WW I Women Photographers & Ambulance Drivers
December 30, 2017 5:57 PM   Subscribe

These women broke new ground everywhere, both when photographing dead soldiers from Russia to Spain. Also, when driving ambulances on the Western Front under bombardment and in rain and mud. Ambulances. A fictional character, Phryne Fisher, was one of these drivers and, in one of the novels by Kerry Grenwood, painted a horrific picture of what it took and what they endured.
posted by MovableBookLady (13 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Unfortunately, the exhibition of the women photographers closed today. Wish I had found this sooner.
posted by MovableBookLady at 6:00 PM on December 30, 2017

Kerry Grenwood's Phryne Fisher character is the star of the excellent tv series Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 6:47 PM on December 30, 2017 [6 favorites]

Speaking of female war photographers, the same site had a recent article on Dickey Chapelle.

Thank you for this link.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 7:58 PM on December 30, 2017

Masie Dobbs is another lady detective who drove an ambulance in the war. I learned about the wars from those books that I hadn't read about before.
posted by sio42 at 1:57 AM on December 31, 2017 [3 favorites]

The WW1 sections of "The Well of Loneliness" were based on the experiences of Toupie Lowther, who Radclyffe Hall was friends with. I keep intending to read more about Lowther - fencer, tennis player, weightlifter, ju-jitsu practitioner, enthusiast of fast cars, who organised an all-female ambulance corps during the war.
posted by Vortisaur at 2:07 AM on December 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

I too learned about the real horrors of WWI from Phryne Fisher and Maisie Dobbs and other fictional books set in that period and after the war, especially the terrible loses for Britain that echoed for generations. Born in America after WWII, we never even got to WWI in history class, and it was glossed over in popular culture as just another war "America won." Like we won every war we were in. you know? They did teach that, then Vietnam came along.
posted by mermayd at 5:05 AM on December 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

Helen Dore Boylston, who wrote the Sue Barton books about nurses in Boston and New York in the 1910s and 1920s, was a nurse in Europe during WWI and in several years after the armistice. She wrote a book about her experience called Sister: The War Diary of a Nurse, and then she and Rose Wilder Lane drove around Europe in a Model T named Zenobia. Rose is ... a problematic fave ... but the book they wrote about that experience is also very cool.
posted by ChuraChura at 5:46 AM on December 31, 2017 [2 favorites]

Spain? As far as I know Spain wasn't involved in the Great War in any way.

This would have been an interesting exhibit to see. The examples provided and the descriptions of other works makes me wish there was a printed edition.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 5:50 AM on December 31, 2017

Excellent. Wish I were in Britain to catch it in person.

I'm especially glad for Farmborough's work, as the eastern front receives relatively little attention to this day.
posted by doctornemo at 7:12 AM on December 31, 2017

GhostintheMachine, I was just using a little hyperbole to indicate that the women were everywhere. it's true that Spain was officially neutral but it certainly was affected by the war and there was a good deal of unrest. But, yeah, I probably should have just said Europe. Sorry.
posted by MovableBookLady at 8:39 AM on December 31, 2017

Thanks for posting, I've been reading Maisie Dobbs and watching Miss Fisher lately, so this connection to the reality behind the fiction is interesting. I hope we'll see more of this kind of exhibit in the coming years with the WWI remembrances.

MoveableBookLady, I've noticed a ton of fascinating posts from you lately, and tho I mostly lurk, wanted you to know they're appreciated! Thx!
posted by msbubbaclees at 12:47 PM on December 31, 2017 [4 favorites]

And I first learned about women volunteering as drivers in WWI (in addition to being nurses) via Agatha Christie, who was in the Voluntary Aid Detachment as a nurse and then in the pharmacy where she picked up her knowledge about poisons etc for her stories. She gave her character Tuppence (from her Tommy and Tuppence series) a history of being a nurse/driver in WWI.

One of my favorite episodes from "Partners in Crime" -- the original series from the '80s which was fairly light and I think at times self-consciously silly, not the recent reboot -- involves Tuppence meeting old WWI colleagues for lunch where they talk about their VAD days and driving ambulances. Her friends wind up getting caught up in the episode's mystery and help her capture the culprit -- one of them specifically gets behind the wheel of a car.

In retrospect, there's no doubt that one of the reasons the episode made an impression on me was because it was so unusual to see at the time, e.g. featuring the camaraderie of women who had that shared history as war volunteers, later springing into action and working together in a detective show. IIRC her friends in the episode were not working-class folks but pretty well-to-do (there's a reference to someone's driver employee being off for the day). Honestly I would have loved to have seen her friends be regulars in the detective agency, but they were only around for that one episode; then it was back to Tuppence being the only regular female character on the show. Was very pleased when the Phryne Fisher series came along.

(Although it might not work with the Christie canon or timeline of Poirot stories, I can also imagine Miss Lemon being an ambulance driver or WWI volunteer who takes comfort in impeccable organization in her post-war work.)
posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 2:38 PM on December 31, 2017

In one of the Phryne Fisher books, her two comrades, the "red-raggers," detail what it was like at Gallipoli. Harrowing is the word. The author certainly knows how to set a horrific scene and take us into it.
posted by MovableBookLady at 8:19 PM on December 31, 2017

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