'This picture both reminds me of her and throws into sharp relief the extraordinary advances made in military medicine and clinical rehabilitation since then.'
In an Ambulance: A VAD lighting a cigarette for a patient, 1917–19, by Olive Mudie-Cooke (1890–1925), 11½in by 8½in, Imperial War Museum, London
Sue Laing says:
My mother was an ambulance driver during the Second World War. Then, rather against her father’s wishes, she became one of the first women doctors to qualify at Edinburgh. Despite this, she remained a committed smoker until her death, aged 88. This picture both reminds me of her and throws into sharp relief the extraordinary advances made in military medicine and clinical rehabilitation since then. One of my clients, the Duke of Westminster, is leading an initiative to build a Defence and National Rehabilitation Centre, a new project that will deliver state-of-the-art facilities to repair seriously wounded members of the armed forces.
Sue Laing is a partner in the Private Client & Tax Department of Boodle Hatfield
John McEwen comments on In an Ambulance:
The first official British war artists were appointed in 1916 for propaganda purposes. Propaganda evolved into a memorialising scheme controlled from 1917 by the new Department of Information. The Imperial War Museum (IWM) opened the same year with a brief to collect material documenting the war, including art. As well as collecting the official war artists’ work, it commissioned its own artists, several of them women selected by its Women’s Work Sub-Committee.
Women were ineligible to fight, but, as ambulance drivers and nurses, they offered a distinctive view of the battlefields. Olive Mudie-Cooke, a nurse and ambulance driver on the western front and in Italy, was one of the IMW’s chosen few. This little watercolour still struck a compassionate chord.
Brought up in London, where her father was a carpet dealer, she studied art at St John’s Wood Art School and Goldsmith’s College. In January 1916, she and her elder sister, Phyllis, went to France as volunteers of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY). Olive’s fluent French, Italian and German meant she was also an interpreter. In 1919, she was commissioned by the IWM to document the British Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) units in France.
Although there were frequent casualties after the armistice from unexploded ordnance littering the abandoned front, this picture may have been painted earlier in the course of her wartime duties. In 1925, having returned to France, she committed suicide. Following her death, more of her pictures were donated by her sister to the IWM collection.