COMMEMORATIONS marking the centenary of the First World War have focused largely on the experiences of men in the conflict. But what of the women who played vital roles in the war?

No Man’s Land, an exhibition at Bradford’s Impressions Gallery until December 30, offers rarely-seen female

perspectives on the First World War, featuring images taken by women who worked as nurses, ambulance drivers and official and amateur photographers, and contemporary artists.

Highlights include frontline images by nurses Mairi Chisholm and Florence Farmborough, photographs by Olive Edis, the UK’s first female official war photographer, and portraits of women in the Armed Forces by contemporary photographer and former soldier Alison Baskerville.

Accompanying No Man’s Land is a beautifully presented book created by a group of young people aged 16-25 working with Impressions Gallery. The £35,000 Heritage Lottery-funded project saw the New Focus group investigate women in the war, carrying out research at the Peace Museum in Bradford, the University of Leeds and the Imperial War Museum in London. “A century after the First World War, the term ‘No Man’s Land’ has come to mean a barren, uninhabited place. We felt this was a good metaphor for the way women’s photography has been forgotten or ignored in history,” said Asiya Hussain of New Focus. “We’ve rescued women’s stories from the No Man’s Land of history and helped to show the First World War through the eyes of women.”

New Focus was set up at Impressions in 2012 to get young people involved with exhibitions and events, make decisions on projects and develop skills. Copies of their book have been sent to schools.

“The best bit about today was handling 100-year-old pictures and reading their messages,” said one New Focus member.

“You can physically touch a period of history. It was moving to be handling photos and analysing someone’s life who probably never anticipated her personal scrapbooks to be seen,” said another.

The book includes profiles of women such as motorcyclist-turned-ambulance driver Mairi Chisholm, who set up a First Aid post on the Western Front and, using a snapshot camera, recorded life under fire yards from the trenches, and Olive Edis, commissioned to photograph the British Army’s auxiliary services in France and Flanders.

Images show women at work and leisure, including a group of Wrens taking part in a tug-of-war game during training exercises. There is a personal touch to the book, with handwritten women's quotes and photographs arranged as if in an old album, surrounded by notes and floral designs. On one page a reproduction of a poignant letter from a member of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps to her brother lies beneath an envelope bearing the word ‘Deceased’. On another page is a flyer by women opposing the war, from the Peace Museum archives.

And a timeline put together by New Focus traces women’s stories, during and after the war, and the backdrop of the Women’s Suffrage Movement.

* For more about the project visit

Emma Clayton