Photos of women in World War I uniforms baffle experts

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Images of women in World War I uniform have been found, sparking a mystery of who the females are and why they were wearing the military outfits.

The photos of the women dressed as soldiers were found during a project to identify images of World War I soldiers from photographic plates at a studio in Wellington.

Researchers at New Zealand’s Te Papa museum do not know who the women are or why they were wearing the World War I uniforms, with curators hoping the public may be able to identify the women. “There’s a chance someone may recognize them from later in life,” Te Papa’s Michael Fitzgerald says of photos in the museum’s William Berry Collection. He hopes family members of those pictured may be able to shed some light on the women.

Experts were looking through thousands of glass plate negatives, which were found in a cupboard in the nineties on the site of where portrait photographers Berry & Co was previously based. Among these plates, images of nearly 200 New Zealand soldiers were discovered – who experts called ‘The Berry Boys’. Over half of the men were identified by looking at their World War I uniforms, caps and badges. However, curators were taken aback when the spotted something they were not expecting. “The hair was too long for a start. They just didn’t look like soldiers,” Fitzgerald said after examining the photographs of what they thought were exclusively of men.

Dubbed ‘The Berry Girls’, Fitzgerald says the women may have been raising money or taking part in a theatre production, the reports.

Before the brutality of the War became revealed to those back home, it was not uncommon for women to dress-up in World War I uniforms. “Later on it wasn’t as popular,” Fitzgerald says. It is thought one of the women in the pictures could be Edith Butler, who became the wife of Private John O’Brien. This was because the name ‘O’Brien’ was carved into the plate. It is unknown who the other woman is, who posed with a sword. The name on her plate is ‘Johnson’.


Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE