Sunday, 30 March 2014

Museum of London photo collection features tragic son Kipling sent to war

The grinning young officer with the thick spectacles is called Jack, and it was because of his terrible eyesight that his father had to pull strings to get him into the army and out to the western front. A year after the image was taken he was dead at the Battle of Loos.

The father in question was Rudyard Kipling who, as is well known, was wracked with guilt over the death, writing about it in his poem My Boy Jack.

The photograph is just one part of a new acquisition to be announced by the Museum of London, a remarkable trove of around 2,500 photographs taken by Christina Broom, the UK’s first female press photographer.


King George V and Queen Mary host a tea party for wounded soldiers and sailors at the Royal Mews in March 1916. Photograph: Christina Broom/Museum of London

The Kipling photograph is “an amazing, poignant shot” said the museum’s curator of photographs, Anna Sparham. But it is one of many individual stories in a collection that also includes images of university boat races, suffragette marches and royal events.

Broom came to photography late. She was in her 40s when a cricket accident incapacitated her husband and she became the main breadwinner. She decided to try photography, to cash in on the then booming photographic postcard business, and she got noticed almost straight away, photographing the winning horse at the 1903 derby.


A lieutenant poses for Broom in August 1914. He was later recorded as missing presumed killed. Photograph: Christina Broom/Museum of London

Broom was skilled and had a way of getting the shots she wanted. Sparham said you could see it in the faces of the soldiers and their families, whom she photographed as they left for the front – there is none of the stiffness that might have been expected if a male colleague had been taking the picture.

Broom became a sort of official photographer to the household guard and her admirers included the royal family. “She starts getting exclusives to take photographs of people like the Prince of Wales and accompanies them on royal occasions in London,” said Sparham. “She has a royal connection which she is very protective of.”

The collection shows that Broom was a witness to the key moments of early 20th century life in London including being one of only two people allowed to photograph Edward VII lying in state. Her photographs were used extensively by newspapers including the Daily Sketch, Sunday Herald and Evening News, always with the credit Mrs Alfred Broom. Sparham said the images had strength and relevance in their own right but “it is the photographer’s own fascinating story of determination and entrepreneurialism that makes them truly come alive”.

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Friends from the 2nd Grenadier Guards appear at ease inside their base at Wellington Barracks in 1914 or 1915. Photograph: Christina Broom/Museum of London

As well as the photographs there are various items of ephemera including notes, press passes and notebooks including one that documents the famous people that she and her daughter, Winifred, who was responsible for all the printing, met.

The museum plans to digitise the collection and will stage an exhibition telling the full story of Broom’s life and work in 2015. From Friday 4 April, there will be a small display of Broom’s moving photographs showing soldiers leaving London for the western front.

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