19th March 1919

On Wednesday morning, 19th March, we were to start at 8.30. They did not call me, through a misunderstanding, but the Cathedral chimes woke me…it was rather a scramble to be packed and ready by 8.30, but we started soon after that.

We went right on through [Sermaise] until we arrived at the old house which the Friends [War Victim Relief Committee] had made their headquarters. We found Miss Hobson and her friends in the last stages of packing up, and everything was very untidy as they were leaving next day. She had established a school of embroidery and kindly unpacked enough of it to enable me to get a descriptive picture, which I took from outside the room.

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Miss Hobson of the Friends’ War Victims Relief Committee Embroidery Centra at Sermaize © IWM (Q 8067)

It’s interesting to read that this shot was entirely set up for Edis to photograph. She seems to have had a rare talent for being persuasive without being pushy, a useful skill in her line of work, and one that she seems to have taken full advantage of. There are a good few examples in the journal of occasions where she and the party arrived to find that no one was expecting them – but she gets her photos anyway!

We went on through a rather knocked-about place called Royaumont to the dearest little place called Charmont, where we found another settlement of the Friends, a Mr and Mrs Harvey, and a woman doctor, who quite refused to be photographed and went off on her rounds.

They housed a few old ladies who had been left homeless. Each occupied her own room, and a very happy and sweet set they looked. I was taken to call on one named Mme Poitiers, whose house at Verdun had been shattered. She was brought away in a cart, and all she had been able to save was a book of devotions and photographs of her family. She was a humourous old soul. When told that she was to be photographed she made up her mind that she would grimace for the occasion, and when the time came she first pretended to play the violin with her walking stick, and then put out her tongue to a quite astonishing length. However, that over, I got her fine handsome old face looking more like its usual wont, and “Grannie” was quite an adornment to the picture.

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Mr and Mrs Harvey with Madame Poitiers on the steps of a home run by the Friends War Relief Committee at Clermont, © IWM (Q 8069)

One thing I have noticed while going through the journal in more detail to write these posts is how much attention Edis pays to peoples’ faces when she meets them. She describes Mr. Harvey as having a “strong, striking face”, and a Miss Pym who she met later that day as having “a faded, lined face”. The head of the station canteen at Vitry that they visited in the morning she describes as “a very striking, handsome woman”. As an experienced portrait photographer, this must have been a skill she perfected over the course of her career. She certainly seemed drawn to interesting faces, like those of the Norfolk fishermen and their families who were some of her very earliest subjects.

Another big day tomorrow – four A4 sides in the journal – and a very delicious sounding chocolate cake. See you then.

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