Over 3000 women worked at ‘The Powder Mills’ during the First World War. This is a fascinating photographic display highlighting the vital and varied role women played during the First World War. Although over 3000 women were employed here in Waltham Abbey, they are not reflected in this exhibit, these photographs depict work at other factories such as Woolwich.

The Munitionettes 

The Home Front during the First World War is exceptionally well recorded in photographs, especially the roles of women in the munitions industry.  In 1918 in particular the Women’s Work Committee was actively collecting for the newly formed Imperial War Museum.  They commissioned a great deal of photographic work.

The images in this exhibition have been drawn from the collections of the Imperial War Museum.  They are mostly the work of Horace Nicholls, the first full time official photographer of the Home Front, appointed in 1917, and G.P. Lewis, appointed in 1918.  Both photographers were commissioned by the Women’s Work Committee.  Their coverage of women’s work and the munitionettes is fascinatingly different.  The spontaneous, documentary style of G.P. Lewis contrasts with the staged approach of Horace Nicholls whose beautifully lit images recall the work of painters such as Vermeer and George de la Tour.

The photographs have been organised to show the range of tasks carried out by women in the war industries: making munitions, dangerous processes, and uniform recycling are some of the themes illustrated here.

The Royal Gunpowder Mills is grateful to the Imperial War Museum for enabling this project to happen.