Emily Maxwell Stuart. British nursing in Calais, photographs, postacards, etc., 1914-1918. Album: page with gelatin silver prints, Overall: 28 x 38.2 x 5.5 cm. Anonymous Gift, 2004. © Art Gallery of Ontario 2004/599.1.1
The First World War was the first global conflict documented by both professional and amateur photographers in real time. With the invention of the first compact camera in 1912, almost anyone could take a picture anywhere, in any conditions, including the trenches. Between 1914 and 1918, over 90,000 British volunteers supported the war effort at home and abroad, and many, despite British Army orders, brought their cameras along – including Emily Maxwell-Stuart, a Red Cross Nurse.
In 2005, the AGO received an anonymous gift of some 500 photo albums, all from the period of the First World War (1914–18). Each precious and unique, they provide an incredible record of that time as seen through the lens of one person or family. The AGO displayed hundreds of these works back in November 2018, with a two-part exhibition entitled First World War, 1914–1918 (I) and (II).
At 61 pages, the Maxwell-Stuart album is a scrapbook, photo album and family Bible all in one. It variously features her own work as part of St. Millicent’s Ambulance crew in Northern France, as well as family occasions (her sister’s wedding announcement from the London Times, her brothers’ obituaries) and candid portraits of her colleagues – those who tended to the wounded and administered medical care in the dark. Maxwell-Stuart’s eye for detail is considerable and often witty. Her portrait of the King and Queen, as they visit a field hospital, is notable for the evident discomfort of its subjects.
One of eleven children, her father was the youngest son of a Scottish Laird. She was 28 years old when she enlisted in May 1917. According to her overseas record, she served in France, attached to the No. 9 Red Cross Hospital, variously located in Calais - Saint-Omer, Hazelbrouck and then Roubaix. Her character was listed as “satisfactory” and under honours received, she was said to have been “mentioned in dispatches”.