Interesting Photographic Discovery.

I have been working on a WWI nurse’s photograph album for work, processing and analyzing the photographs.  Eventually I’ll be posting a better entry on that entire collection on the Special Collections blog.  For the present though I will share that it belongs to Sister Alice Welford (1887-1918), born in Crathorne, Yorkshire. She trained at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London and served in the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve from 1915 until her death. She drowned in a boat collision near Basra, 15 January 1918.

On April 29, 1917, a Sunday, she was on a friendly outing with two other women, and three young men to a beach (‘Il Blata Steps’, probably Il Il-Blata l-Bajda, on the coast of the island, although it might also be Il Blata tal Mehl) and that experience was recorded by the two cameras that were present.  One was probably a Vest Pocket Kodak, while the other may have been a Houghton Box Ensign.

Alice Welford Photograph Album. Department of Special Collections, McFarlin Library. The University of Tulsa.

Alice Welford Photograph Album. Department of Special Collections, McFarlin Library. The University of Tulsa.

These are the photos we are looking at.  The three in the center are the most interesting to me at this point.

Alice Welford Photograph Album. Department of Special Collections, McFarlin Library. The University of Tulsa.

Alice Welford Photograph Album. Department of Special Collections, McFarlin Library. The University of Tulsa.

The women are Alice Welford, on the left (in the white naval cap belonging to one of the two uniformed men).  She is sitting next to a man who appears at other times in the album.  He is a Naval Lieutenant, but is not in uniform on this day, therefore the cap is unlikely to be his.  His name is unclear when it is written elsewhere in the album.

Next to him in the dark hat is a woman who was tentatively identified as Isabelle Stenhouse although it appears she is not.  Stenhouse, one of the few woman surgeons in the First World War, does appear elsewhere in the album.  In this period she was at St. Ignatius Hospital in Malta, as was Sister Welford.  Further information including photographs may be found at:

Alice Welford Photograph Album. Department of Special Collections, McFarlin Library. The University of Tulsa.

Alice Welford Photograph Album. Department of Special Collections, McFarlin Library. The University of Tulsa.

There are two Naval Sub-Lieutenants and an unidentified Nursing Sister.  The two Sub-Lieutenants appear elsewhere in the album identified as Melville and Lt. Leslie.  We may presume that the cap Sister Welford is wearing belongs to the Sublieutenant who is taking the photograph, possibly the one she is on a first name basis with.

They’ve clearly packed a picnic, with baskets, thermoses, and a few bottles we might conjecture are beer.

It looks like the woman who might be Dr. Stenhouse has actually brought her medical bag.

One of the details that could help identify the location is the time of the day.  Il Il-Blata l-Bajda is on the east coast, while Il Blata tal Mehl is on the west coast.  If the pictures were taken at l-Bajda, then these young people skipped church for their picnic.  If they did go to church, then the outing must be late afternoon at tal Mehl.

Alice Welford Photograph Album. Department of Special Collections, McFarlin Library. The University of Tulsa.

Alice Welford Photograph Album. Department of Special Collections, McFarlin Library. The University of Tulsa.

The reason this is interesting is that the center image can not only be identified as to date, and possible location, but we have a picture taken at the same time showing the camera it was made with.  And we know that the unidentified Nursing Sister took the picture (because she’s clearly not in this picture, but she is in both images that the Sub-Lieutenant took).

One of the details that helps identify this sort of thing is that while photographic enlargers existed by the First World War, most photograph developers didn’t have convenient access to them, so the images you are seeing were made as contact prints, that is, the negative was placed on the photographic paper and then the light was shone through the negative.  The size of the image can then reveal the type of film used and often the sort of camera.

The vast majority of photographs taken by normal people during the First World War where made with the Vest Pocket Kodak, on 127 film.  The small images at 1.38” x 2.1” are consistent with the VPK. The larger image was made on 620 film, and while there were a number of Brownie style cameras, the actual image is 2” x  3”, an unusual image size.  The Houghton Box Ensign is close.

About marccarlson20

Historical Researcher, Librarian
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7 Responses to Interesting Photographic Discovery.

  1. Lucy London says:

    That is utterly fascinating Marc – an amazing piece of detection work. Bravo.

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  2. John Sandstrom says:

    Very interesting Marc. I didn’t know you could tell so much around a camera from the print.

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    • One of the things I find really fun is that with older cameras you can tell things like whether the shutter’s dirty, or if it has a light leak in the bellows. One of things that helps guarantee that one of the cameras is a VPK is that in 1917 someone accidentally opened the side-loading door causing a light flood on one side. (bottom right photo on the album page)

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  3. Note this has been edited, 5/3/2016 to reflect that Stenhouse’s granddaughter has ruled her out as being the woman in the hat. Stenhouse, does appear elsewhere in the album however.

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  4. Pingback: WWI photography | Website of a Historical Polymath

  5. Pingback: Revisiting Alice Welford | Website of a Historical Polymath

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